April 15, 2009

Two days in Paris

It was a whirlwind. We rose early on Monday and made it to the airport in about 18 minutes instead of the 90 or so it took us to find the house on the first day. (When you're totally jet lagged and unsure of the difference between dusk and dawn, what's "early"?) British Air from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle was pleasant and quick, and the train in to the center of Paris was simple and enjoyable.

We exited at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame (purple dot on map), and because we had no idea which exit to take we accidentally walked up into the gorgeous Paris afternoon right in front of the cathedral. Last time I was here, it was dark and rainy and freezing, and the whole front of the cathedral was under scaffolding. This time, it was festive with hundreds of tourists wandering about, taking photographs. It was about 70 degrees and sunny-hazy.

We hauled our bag across the bridge and down a few streets to our hotel (red dot right near the center of the map), the Best Western Left Bank-St. Germain. I would say we had a wonderful experience with this hotel. The staff were courteous and friendly (as friendly as any Parisian I met, anyway), they gave us two adjoining rooms on the top floor, and breakfast Tuesday morning was pleasant enough. The rooms were tight but not cramped, and each had its own bathroom. I'd recommend the hotel to first time Paris visitors for sure.

After checking in (one of our two rooms was actually ready at noon) and depositing our gear, we walked across Pont Neuf to the Louvre (orange dot).

Maria had read a travel writer's article that said, "In all the times I've been to the Louvre, I have never seen a child under the age of twelve look happy there." I am sad to report that he is entirely correct.

While our boys loved the pyramids and the plaza, it was too crowded, too hot, too free from the burden of drinking fountains, and too full of boring old art for their taste. We did get this photo of some guy, and as luck would have it we think there's something of interest in the background. (Yes, that is I in the extreme foreground. No, it was not the 9 year old who took the picture.)

After the Louvre, we hiked back across the Seine and down to Jardin du Luxembourg, an enormous park south of the Left Bank area we were staying in. The park must have had the entire vacationing population of Europe in it, and most of them were taking up the benches and chairs. We sat on a stone wall and within 30 seconds were shooed away by a polite but insistent Gendarme; I don't know what building this is, but it has lovely flowers.

The rest of the park was quite pretty and serene despite the billions of people. Pretty much everyone seemed happy. There were tulips that had blooms the size of small dogs. We stopped to get some ice cream, and I was momentarily confused by the wild gestures and French babbling from the poor girl who served us, until I realized I had tried to hand her a five-pound note instead of a five-Euro note.

Refreshed from the park, we returned to our hotel for some rest before heading out for dinner. From our 5th floor windows, you can see the candy shop at the end of the road where we spent half our children's inheritance. (It was mostly worth it.)

Maria wanted to walk through the Latin Quarter, so we tried and mostly failed, having gone straight through an interesting plaza instead of turning left. We ended up meandering among some monstrously granite university buildings (Sorbonne?), which would have been pretty if we hadn't been trying to find something else while dragging along two reluctant, tired, hungry children.

Eventually we made our way back to the restaurant (lime green dot), a traditional bistro called Cremerie Restaurant Polidor that Maria had found online reputed to be family-friendly.

I would have to agree, and although it is more expensive than we're used to, we had a fine dinner. Poor Sam was so tired that between ordering and receiving the starter course, he took a five minute nap in his chair with his head on the table. Poor Ethan didn't like anything we ordered, but we pieced together a dinner for him mostly of bread and chicken with the sauce wiped off.

After dinner, we wanted to have a wander so we gave the children the map and had them guide us back to the hotel. We are pretty sure we walked most of the Latin Quarter before finally returning to the candy shop right outside the Metro stop Odeon. But at least the children were yelling at each other and not at us. It was quite a pleasant walk.

The elegance of these areas is inspiring--I kept wanting to stop and just sit in a cafe and watch people, but with the two boys that was impossible. It's easy to get a sense of the rich history and culture of Paris just wandering the streets. Some are tight little alleys filled with boutiques; others are wider avenues strewn with people and color and energy.

We had our breakfast in the hotel Tuesday morning around 8:30 and checked out at 9:30ish, our adventurous goal to navigate the Metro system straight away. The breakfast attendant was efficient and polite, but not quite the quality we had come to expect from our stop at Holiday Inn in St. Paul, MN a couple of years ago. (Then again, that was the Holiday Inn Breakfast Bar Attendant of the Year.)

Our first mission: A stroll up the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe. Another gorgeous morning filled with the vibrancy of tourists everywhere. Tourists seem to smile a lot in Paris. We did see a lot of Brits along the way (or rather, hear a lot of Brits).
From the Arch we Metroed a few stops to Trocadero, which provides a brilliant walk to the Eiffel Tower.

The wait for the elevator was two hours, but we waited along with everyone else because Sam really wanted to go up, and with all the activity it didn't really seem like two hours even though it was. Be bought some souvenirs while in line and truly enjoyed the view once we got up to the 2nd floor. We didn't go all the way to the top, but we didn't feel the need.

Quote of the week: A woman waiting for the restroom up in the tower said, "This is the only women's room in all Paris that doesn't have a line!" Having just spent two hours waiting for the elevator, I wasn't quite sure of her logic.

Sam was elated that when he looked through the view finder thing, he saw the "one room hotel" with the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower that is supposed to be $10,000 a night or something. He read about this in his Ripley's Believe It or Not book, I think. It was an odd looking thing, sort of a broken-in-half train car on top of a roof across the river.

After the tower, we were pressed for time. A quick trip to Montmartre (not the porn area near Moulin Rouge but the more bohemian feeling part northeast of there, at Anvers Metro stop), where we saw the energetic and touristy market street on the way up to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. Only had time to buy a Coke and then hop back on Metro to retrieve our bag, get a few quick snaps of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame again, then back on RER to the airport for our flight back to London.

I never really thought I liked France much, but these two days have changed my mind. I could spend a few weeks in Paris, easy, just hanging out and really soaking in the feel, watching the people, seeing sights we missed, and writing in cafes. (Also, I say the boys were reluctant and whiny above, but really they had a great time and enjoyed most of the trip quite a lot.)


McKoala said...

You're doing great with your holiday reports; I'm really enjoying them. I've been to Paris a few times (relatives nearby) and loved this update.

fairyhedgehog said...

It was fun to see Paris through your eyes.

We took our lads there in 1997 and we had a room on the fifth floor of a hotel with no lift. It hadn't occurred to me that such places existed.

Later, Neil and I went back on our own and we went up the Eiffel tower at night, which was wonderful.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I am sooooooooooooooooo jealous!!!!
You didn't mention the famous French service of making you wait in a restaurant for 2 hours to get your food and bill. That's the one thing that drove me crazy.

But my favorite picture is the last one!

JaneyV said...

I've never been to Paris. The couple of visits I've had in France avoided it completely. I would love to visit. Is it mean to say that I'd rather go without my kids though? They'd hate all the culture stuff and really don't understand the wish to soak in the ambience.

When you went through Le Jardin du Luxembourg did you see the Statue of Liberty? At least it's her sister - one of the three that were made.

It's great to be on this trip with you.

Anonymous said...

I haven't done Paris and with the current miniskirt trend I doubt I will go until said trend passes but I Lovelovelovelove the picture of Maria in her black shirt in front of the garden.

PJD said...

Thank you all for spending your time looking at this drivel. I'm honored!

McK, thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying the reports but sad we won't have the pleasure of your company in a few days.

FHH, I had no idea they made hotels that tall with no lift either. Fortunately, we had a lift. We thought about trying to do the tower at night, but we would have had to bring the kids, and that would have been totally unfair to them. As it was, one fell asleep at the dinner table in a bistro. I think the boys, after our two days in Paris, identified a little with the men who were marched through Bataan.

Ello, I love that picture, too. I actually didn't mind waiting for our bill at the restaurant, though it would have been nice to have some more wine while waiting.

Jane, it is not at all bad to want to take on Paris without children. In fact, I hope to come back some time and spend some real time there without children. I could spend a week at the Louvre alone, another week wandering streets, and another two weeks just sitting in cafes watching people. (and writing of course)

I failed to see the little sister of Lady Liberty! We saw this giant head statue, but we missed Liberty. Darn, that would have been cool for the boys.

Aerin, YOU have not been to Paris? You seem like the type to have traveled the world twice over and been to all the important places. And don't worry--not everyone wore minis. Only the ones who knew they could pull it off successfully. Which they did.

Anonymous said...

LOL Pete. I've crossed the channel, stayed a night in some snobby little French hotel, and left the next day.

And, yeah, I was a French minor in college, so...there's a disconnect.

Leslie said...

Don't you want to go back and spend a week (or two or three) drinking cafe crèmes (or vin rouge!) and writing all day at one of those pretty sidewalk cafés?

I'm impressed with how much you were able to do and see in just two days! It's fun hearing what your boys thought of everything too. My kids felt pretty much the same way about the Louvre, except for my youngest daughter, Kelsey, who was 9 when we visited Paris the first time and was completely enthralled with the museums-- but then she went on to become an Art History major, so it kind of makes sense now.

I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip. Maria looks so French in those photos!