La Vie en Rose. It means seeing life through rose colored glasses, but only in Paris where the light is pink does that song make sense.
-Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina-
If you ask anyone what cities they hope to see in their lifetime, Paris will most likely be near the top. And for good reason. The “City of Light and Love” has a spell cast over it, something in the air that you can’t quite put a finger on. It simply washes over you, drawing you into it’s heart as you pass under the Eiffel Tower or stroll thru the Louvre, sharing it’s soul with those crossing legendary bridges over the Seine to shop high end stores, catch an opera, or sit in the peace of Luxembourg Gardens. Meandering streets, millions of people, heavenly cathedrals, stunning architecture, fashion runways and incredible food beckon to be seen and indulged. It’s the city that has you lock up your love and throw away the key, forever binding you to both it’s history and it’s future.
I’m not sure you can ever have enough time to explore such an iconic city. As with so many European destinations, there is simply so much to see, do, taste and discover. You can’t possibly begin to even appreciate the city, monuments or people of Paris in a mere 34 hours, but we sure tried our best. Because we jam packed so much into that time, I’ve chosen to break it into two parts rather than one horridly long post!
After having spent the first few days of our adventure 32 km away in Disneyland Paris (read about Magic en Francais here ) we made the journey into France’s capital city for a single night, before catching the night train to Venice. Arriving via the RER A was a quick but scenic ride, passing thru countryside and eventually into the sights and sounds of Paris. Gare de Lyon is a massive station which found us utterly lost, and after a very long walk to our hotel with suitcases and kids in tow, we realized we could have gotten off a stop early at Nation and saved ourselves many steps and 45 minutes. These are the lessons, and even the joys, of travel. I will forever be an optimistic adventurer.
Firstly, I chose a hotel over a private stay for several reasons. Most apartment accommodations did not allow for a single night stay, I wanted something that was close to Gare de Lyon and with the schedule we had, luggage storage before and after checkout was essential. Based on excellent reviews and price, I chose Hotel du Printemps. We enjoyed a wonderfully clean, bright and spacious room in this beautiful little hotel, located in a safe and upscale section of the 13th arrondissement. I would highly recommend this to anyone, including those with children. With the metro being so efficient, it makes getting around Paris quick and simple, something I wish I would have been more aware of when agonizing over where to stay. We arrived early in the morning, so our room was not yet ready, however, alongside their impeccable service, they happily provided free luggage storage while we went out to explore. The Picpus metro entrance was across the street, and with some helpful tips from staff, we began our Parisian adventure.
First stop? Well of course it was Sydney’s bucket list ‘numero uno’, the iconic Eiffel Tower. I will never forget the excitement of riding the metro, as we began catching glimpses of it between buildings, this unbelievable structure showing itself to us in brief, teasing moments. And after a short walk, it stands before you in all it’s glory, appearing like a genie from a bottle, stretching into the air, granting wishes and making dreams come true. I had this vision of the perfect afternoon, the girls running around as Sam and I lounged around a wealth of Parisian delicacies, sitting among all the other families on the picturesque green grass with the Eiffel Tower playing backdrop. We had stopped at a store near our hotel and purchased sandwiches and drinks for said picnic scenario, and I have to say my heart sank slightly as we arrived at the base. The grounds surrounding the Eiffel tower were not as I had envisioned. The grounds that were probably once so lush and welcoming were now simply dirt and garbage, enclosed by a menacing metal fence. Lining the sidewalks were intimidating hawkers selling everything from knockoff LV’s to selfie sticks (seriously, I had more than my fill of the selfie stick guys on this trip), and so we found ourselves eating our perfect picnic next to a dried out fountain and an overflowing garbage can. However, I refused to let this dampen my spirits or taint my views. After we polished off our lunch, we walked a bit further away, and we finally found those squares of grass I’d envisioned, or close enough. We took some fun photos, and captured perhaps my favorite photo of Sam and I, ever. Good job Sydney.
Then it was time to tackle the tower itself. Prior to leaving on our trip, I had attempted to prebook tickets to the 3rd floor via the elevator. I was disheartened that they were sold out, but all was not lost. We struck it lucky and there was very little lineup for tickets. We purchased “walk up” tickets that granted us access to the second floor, and away we went, stair by stair, ascending those massive metal legs. Arriving at the first floor made all the dirt and climbing melt away. It was not only the stunning views over the city, Sacre Coeur perched in the distance, boats winding down the river below, it was a moment of elation for me. We were standing inside the Eiffel-fricken-tower. We walked around leisurely, the girls enjoying the views from the telescopes and looking at the ground 57 meters beneath the transparent floor, before stopping for a treat and a rest in the buffet. Sharing mini bottles of wine over that view is something I’ll never forget. Brooke was exhausted by the schedule and the climb, so she and I sat and enjoyed it a bit longer, while Sam and Sydney went to enjoy the second floor. My biggest regret is not seeing the tower lit up and sparkling in the night, but we simply didn’t have time. I’ll save that magic for our next visit. But we’ve finally seen this amazing and massive structure in person. Eiffel Tower…. Check.
We were off once again, crossing Le Ponte d’lina towards Trocadaro, home of Palais de Chaillot and the 16th arondissement, visually the best place to capture the tower in all it’s glory.
We weren’t quite sure where we were headed or how far it would be, but we started off in the direction of The Louvre, winding our way along the Right Bank of the Seine. Along our journey we passed the infamous pont Alexandre III, a visually stunning deck arch bridge connecting the Champs-Élysées quarter with that of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower. Paris’ most extravagant bridge was built between 1896 and 1900, and is guarded by four massive guilt bronze fames as well as being adorned with Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs and winged horses at either end.
And what would a trip to Paris be without seeing the Love Lock Bridge, Pont des Arts. It now stands lockless, covered in newly replaced artwork. Only weeks before we arrived, an estimated 700,000 locks were removed as the sheer weight was causing the bridge to collapse. Not to worry, we found another more recently claimed lock bridge, the footbridge, Pont de Solferino. We purchased our lock, wrote ‘B4″ for our family, had a quiet moment making wishes and watched as the girls each threw a key into the Seine below. Falling in love and throwing away the key…..Check.
As the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds and the day warmed, we found ourselves outside the historic and beautiful Louvre, it’s impressive architecture surrounding the glass pyramid entrance in the centre. In my head we would race inside, whip by hundreds of historic pieces to stand in front of the infamous da Vinci painting and then race back out. In reality, we simply viewed the outside of the building. I just felt we couldn’t remotely do one of the world’s greatest and largest museums justice on this trip. To simply head in and out for a single painting would be a slap across Mona Lisa’s perfect face. So we chose to move along, saving the mysteries and character of it’s inner offerings for another trip.
We did however find time to stop at a small stand offering thin slices of handmade heaven, operated by a very kind Parisian man who never stopped smiling. The girls were in food heaven as they each devoured the warm, sugar coated treat. Fresh crepes in Paris….Check.
We then made our way to Notre Dame. Beginning in 1163 and completed in 1345, this Catholic Cathedral is absolutely worth seeing, and from every angle. The famous bell towers looming high above the ground, the setting sun catching it and adding to the holy aspect, it was an incredible sight. Unfortunately we also missed the admission time by about 15 minutes. Lighting a candle in honor of a loved one in the major cathedrals of Europe is something close to my heart, so we decided to try again the next day if time permitted (and it did).
By this point we had walked, climbed, and photo-opped ourselves into oblivion. After stopping to buy official Paris berets (one of our only purchases the entire month which is slightly amazing and embarrassing at the same time) and a moment of chasing pigeons thru the square, we decided to hop on the metro and return to the hotel for a good nights sleep and a fresh start in the morning. Not to mention a single night meant that we also had to have everything packed and ready to be stored in the morning until we caught the evening train. We found a nearby store and stocked up on cheese, meats, fresh bread and foreign beer. We enjoyed this in-room feast and let the girls vegetate to the glow of ipad lighting.
I pinched myself, it was another monumental day with my favorite people next to me. We had less than 24 hours remaining in Paris, including actually getting some sleep. So I finished reorganizing suitcases and cheers’d Sam to another amazing day done and dusted. I had said from the moment we began planning this month long adventure, “If we can survive Disney, Paris and Venice, we will be ok”, and we had now made the halfway mark of those cities unscathed. Living to tell the tale…Check.
“Bonne nuit Paris, jusqu’à demain.”