Here is part two of my trip report of my recent trip to Paris with my husband and two sons (age 8 and 10).
EATING IN PARIS - I have to make a little plug here for Chez Clement. I know, I know, it's a chain. But, it was perfect for us. We went to the one on Marbeuf - just a few streets from the Champs Elysees in the 8th. We went at 7:00 on a Thursday. It wasn't very crowded and no reservations were needed. The food was good (no fruit cocktail here!). I had a salad with goat cheese wrapped in a kind of phyllo dough with raspberries. And for dinner I had salmon. It was served with zuchinni (sp?). Again, nothing fancy, but good and the atmosphere was VERY pleasant. No fussy, harried waiters. My kids had hamburger steak and fries. Husband had chicken with herbs and potatoes. We met a very nice couple who used to live in Maryland. They had the "fixed price" meal which was a variety of braised meats with a big serving of mashed potatoes. It looked quite good, but a little heavy for me. For dessert I had a little chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet. The whole dinner with two glasses of wine and coffee for my husband set us back 71 euro. I didn't think that was too terrible. It would have been less had we gone for the fixed price meal. It did start to fill up about 8:30 and there were even french speaking people dining, so you know it can't be all that bad.
GETTING AROUND IN PARIS: We used the metro and RER train to hop around Paris. It is quite easy once you get the hang of it. Although I did get a little confused in the RER stations, but that's probably just me. I have a HORRIBLE sense of direction. Again, the map I carried around was extremely useful. I never had to ask for directions. The major sites are also very clearly marked on street signs as you get out of the metro stations. I bought a carnet (10 tickets) and I'll just tell you to be sure and put the USED tickets in one pocket and the UNUSED tickets in your other pocket. The first time I wasn't paying attention and stuck the ticket I just used in with all the other unused tickets. Didn't turn out to be a problem, but it might have been. Also I have to relay my run in with "mean metro man" I had carefully done my research and knew that I could by a "demi-carnet" of tickets for my kids. Kids between 5 and 10 years can ride at 1/2 the price. I had it all planned out and knew how to say 8 years and 10 years old in french. When I went to buy the tickets for the kids the guy at the ticket counter looked at me and asked in French "How old?" to which I replied in French "8 and 10 years old." I had my kids standing by so he could see. He looked right at my older son and just shook his head and said "NO!" And he said something else that I didn't quite catch but he was NOT going to let me buy his ticket for 1/2 price. I was furious. Unfortunately, my French wasn't quite good enough to continue the argument and I didn't think to bring his passport to prove his age. I can tell you that if looks could kill, that "mean metro man" would not be alive today. We had a fierce stare down that didn't need any interpretation. I was that mad. The next day I went back to another station and the very nice lady selling the tickets just looked up at my two kids and said "OK" when I asked for the demi-carnet. So I guess the lesson learned is "Don't get pushed around if your kids are less than 10 and bring a passport just in case."
SITES WE ENJOYED: Kids loved the Arc and we didn't have to pay anything to get in. I thought I read somewhere that there was a charge, but we just stood in line and walked up to the top. There are bathrooms up at the top, but only one of the women's stall was working so we got a little held up there. I also took my kids to the George Pompidou Center to see the modern art. I'm intrigued by modern art. My kids had fun giving their "expert" opinions on what each piece was trying to communicate and they had fun naming the pieces. Names like: scribble scrabble - big and my personal favorite "aliens on a stick." We also walked along the Champs Elysees and I found the famous Laduree and bought a little sample of macaroons. Just for the record my husband thought the rose flavored one tasted like eating an air freshener. The chocolate flavor ones were heavenly. The boys went into the Sephora store and had fun spraying the little sample sticks with perfume. In return for their patience I went to the Disney store and bought my son a little Stitch key chain. He's just crazy for Stitch. Of course, we went to the Eiffel tower. We went about 8:00 in the evening and the line to get tickets was very light. However, getting to the top proved to be difficult. After waiting a very long time, we finally bailed and just walked around the second floor. We also walked through the Orsay museum. I absolutely love this museum. It is much more managable than the Louvre. I had gone to the website before we left and printed out about 20 famous paintings which I put together for the boys as a little "scavenger hunt." Their mission was to try and find all 20 of the paintings. They loved it - and got very competitive with one another over who could spot them first. I'm not a true art lover, but seeing the Monets up close was really something I won't forget. We did pop into the Louvre, but really only to see the Mona Lisa. It's funny - everyone knows what she looks like, and so when you finally see the real thing you kind of say to yourself: "Yes, there she is."!! And she sort of has that smile that seems to say:"Yes, they're all here to see me." I want to know who was behind her PR campaign to make her the most famous face on the planet. We did go on Wednesday evening when the Louvre is open a little later, but it was still a little crowded. Oh, and you can not take pictures of Mona Lisa, but it did seem ok to take pictures of everything else.
The most moving moment of the trip for me was going to Notre Dame on Sunday. They were having a service, so you could hear the sermon (in French) booming over the speakers. There was also a woman singing and the organ playing. It was all just a little too much for me and thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. I just cried standing in that church - despite the throngs of tourists, it still moved me in a way that I'll never be able to explain. My kids just sort of laughed and said: "Oh no, Mom's having a moment again." I had a few of these, when I would just sort of look a little dazed and start to cry from the joy of the moment.
Another huge hit with my kids was our bike tour of Versailles. We signed up with the Fattire Bike Tour company. It was such a wonderful experience. My kids are very comfortable on bikes, so if you plan to do this with young children, make sure they are comfortable on bikes. You do have to ride through the streets of Paris to get to the train station, and it can be a little scary. We asked that our kids be given helmets, and the people at Fattires had some ready. And they also had smaller bikes set aside for them. We had about 22 people in our group, but no other kids. Our tour guide, Nick, kept reminding us to stay together. As he said: '"There is safety in numbers, they are less likely to hit all of us at once." When we got to the town of Versailles we stopped for about 1/2 hour to shop for our lunch. The market was HUGE and so much to choose from. Even if you don't know any French, you can still just point to what you want and there is no problem. We got some roasted chicken, some wonderful toubile (sp?) salad, cookies, the best tasting white peaches I've ever had and a small bottle of wine. We rode our bikes way out in the gardens and had our lunch near the water. It was a beautiful sunny day and such a treat. Versailles is beautiful and like everyone says, very crowded. But we still enjoyed every bit of it.
One other thing my kids really enjoyed was playing in the park - Luxenmbourg. We went on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed with french families. The kids loved playing on the play equipment (which cost 2.50 euro each) and I have to admit some of the play equipment looked a bit risky but the kids had fun and it helped them burn off some energy.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS: It is true what they say about the French woman. They are thin and have a special talent for dressing with a subtle air of sophistication. And oh those shoes! I just loved them. They were very pointy toed with a high heel. All colors and so stylish. They just can't be comfortable, but french woman know how to wear them. I know the topic of shoes comes up all the time. I beg you not to give into vanity, you are what you are: an American tourist. Just wear your most comfortable shoes and don't even give it a second thought. You will be walking a lot, so start getting in shape before you go. I thought I was in pretty decent shape, but my legs ached after a very full day.
We did see the dog poop on the streets, but I have to say I did see one man picking up after his dog. And the french do seem to love their dogs. I love dogs too so I thought it was refreshing.
The parts of Paris we were in did seem safe, even at night. As we were driving out to the airport I did see what could be described as the "less desirable" parts of town. Just be careful. And I did manage to lose my ATM card. It happened on the very last day. I got money out of the ATM machine and I remember I had to take the card before I could get the bills out. A few hours later when I was shopping I reached into my purse to buy something and I noticed the ATM card was gone. Everything else, including my other credit card and money, were still there. I really don't think it was stolen. I think it's very possible it may have dropped out of the purse right after I got the money from the machine. I had copied the card and phone numbers and made a quick call to cancel the card. So far, no strange purchases have been made so I think I caught it in time. Still, it sort of put a damper on my day and I'm so glad I had copied the card and phone numbers.
SOUVENIRS AND SHOPPING: I brought back little souvenirs for friends and family. The best buy was a package of lavender sachets. They came in a package of 4 for about 5 euro. My boys had fun collecting the gold souvenir coins from each of the major sites. They cost 2 euro and there is something kind of cool about seeing this big, shiny gold coin drop out of the machine. My regret is not getting one from the Arc (that was our first day, and we weren't clued in to the fact that the coins were made for each key attraction). In all they each collected 5 of the coins. A small price to pay for something they view as very special. I wish I had bought more scarves. They were in all the little shops near Notre Dame. I hesitated because when I turned one over it said" Made in India" That just didn't seem quite right to me, but I wish I had bought a few anyway. I also regret not buying a very cute pair of shoes that I tried on in a little store near St. Chappelle. I'll never find the same kind here.
Well, I think this report is long enough so I'll close now. Hope it's helpful for anyone who may be traveling with kids in the near future.