I can’t tell you the last time we did a trip so spontaneously. I think it has been at least a decade. But we decided on Thursday to leave Friday for Paris. How’d it go?
Short version: went great.
Long version: (maybe grab some coffee, I got wordy)
Friday, August 13th
We took a train from Maastricht to Liège, then on to Brussels. Then took the Thalys train from Brussels to Paris. We arrived mid day, took a taxi to our hotel Saint-Marc located near the former stock exchange (now an event space). Our hotel was very nice and quiet, with nice amenities and very friendly staff. A cute garden where you can eat a very European breakfast in the morning and also enjoy a drink in the afternoon.
After checking in we were able to walk just 5 minutes to a cute Italian spot, l’incontro, for pizza and celebratory aperol spritzes for arriving so spontaneously to Paris.
We then went to the Louvre, another 10 minute walk from our lunch spot and explored the museum through the boys’ eyes. You could spend days there…we got about 75-85 minutes before the kids were ready to bail. I considered that a win and both were most excited to have seen the Mona Lisa in person and the Crown Jewels. Next time we go, I’d love to do it with our family’s art history expert, Auntie Brooke.
We returned to the hotel to cool off – it is muy hot in Paris 🥵, found dinner nearby (also near the former stock exchange building). Caleb tried snail and enjoyed it. Mason tried but was not a big fan and then we returned to the hotel to call it a night after a big day.
Saturday, August 14th
Breakfast at the hotel, then a taxi ride to the Eiffel Tower to make sure we were there in time for what we reserved on our tickets. This is the best time of day for the kids. Not quite so hot yet. They are on a sugar high from Nutella and croissants and hot chocolate at breakfast. There’s less of a crowd in the morning I guess and the boys literally ran up the bajillion stairs of the tower. This was a really fun way to start our morning.
After, we walked to the Trocadero, took more pics, took a cab to Champs-Élysées to a lunch spot perfect for people watching. (Side note, Leonel Messi just joined the Paris Saint Germain team and there was a massive crowd outside a store to get his new jersey). Here you see amazing shops (which I could only glimpse since the boys have zero desire to enter any stores), views of the Arc de Triomphe. Made the boys walk allll the way back to hotel where they rested with iPads and Josh and I sat in the hotel garden to plan an upcoming trip in October.
We decide to merge sight seeing with dinner and went a bit further away to Monmarte area where the Basílica Sacré-Cœur is located (along with a beautiful view of Paris). We had hoped to see The Eiffel Tower lit up but ended up not in view of it by the time the lights would be on. We still got to see the church, have a fun rooftop dinner with a cool city view, and a long walk home. Here we experienced a bit of the Parisian night life, but just the early side of it (which is already getting late for me). You could feel the energy in the air with everyone eating outside, live music in many spots, artists around the plaza drawing pictures of tourists…
Sunday, August 15
We allowed ourselves to sleep in in the morning and woke to an email from a TukTuk company I’d written late Saturday night saying they had a reservation available for us. After breakfast we walked to a Royal Palace gardens and took fun photos (everyone there was either running, relaxing, or trying to take the best Instagram photo).
We left after a bit to meet our Tuk Tuk driver Sohil at our hotel and began our electric golf cart on steroids tour. This was a fun way to see the city and get some more information. We thought it would be easier for the kids since they’ve been doing a lot of walking (and it’s hot 🥵). But it was still a hot ride and I think they were tiring of playing tourist. We are going to have to build some touring endurance for sure. At any rate we got to see a few more sites that we’ve not seen, and thanks to Auntie Brookie’s suggestion we toured the Saint-Chappelle with the most amazing stained glass windows I’ve ever seen. It’s less visited than some other Parisian sites, but it is well worth the visit. I’d love to go back with more time.
After our regular afternoon rest/recovery/mom trying to squeeze in a little bit of work period, we left again for dinner, this time trying out the Parisian metro and heading to the Saint-Germain area. This neighborhood was alive and bustling and also a little overwhelming. We snagged a table outside at a place called Maison Sauvage and enjoyed a good dinner and people watching.
We walked from there to Luxembourg Gardens which I’d hoped to see earlier and we only passed by in our tuktuk. Luxembourg gardens is gorgeous. Flowers. Beautiful lawns. People everywhere hanging out, having picnics etc. The outskirts have tennis courts and cafes. We could have spent more time here (and we did try to pass a bit of time here but without picnic items) and we had a goal this evening of seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up. In order to do this we had to get to yet another part of the city (where we had been on Day 2) and also stay up way past bedtime. (If you know me you know I get anxious about the boys staying up too late too many nights in a row – I’m that not fun mom). Anyway – Josh found a dessert place near the Trocadero – the best place to see the tower at night. We had dessert (I think that’s the one millionth dessert in Paris) and crossed the street to the Trocadero and low and behold the tower was aglow!
All my boys were in awe and about 5 minutes after we got there the lights started sparkling. It was perfect. There was a big crowd though and after several minutes the boys and I were chilly (the temps finally dropped here) and we ordered a taxi back to the hotel.
All in all a great time. We are finding our groove as a family that travels. The afternoon break is our saving grace and one that I think we will rely on during trips to come. That and treats. I think that’s how we all still like each other 😂
Some notes on Paris in a mid pandemic world (I thought we were post…but Delta is raging in the US and other places and it is affecting the influx of tourists from there):
- it is quiet and far less crowded right now. This is partly due to Parisians on holiday and partly due to travel restrictions/fewer tourists due to COVID. And while it’s nice for our super spontaneous trip without real plans/reservations and we are able to get in just about everywhere, even last minute for dinner- it is a little eerie. The mornings feel like walking through a ghost town in some spots.
- COVID vaccine proof or a negative test is required for ppl 18+ to get into most places, like as we exited the train in Paris. All churches, museums, and even restaurants where you sit outside. There are even pop up rapid COVID testing sites in front of the Eiffel Tower. Our US vaccine cards have been accepted thankfully.
- Smoking is still very much a thing here. Everywhere. Young and old. And it’s allowed pretty much everywhere. I’m used to dining in Charleston with all kinds of prohibitions on smoking even in outdoor dining spaces. Here – I think there are none. I’m not judging – just observing. My kids are judging tho 😆
- I read in an article sent by a French friend of mine that in years past, many Parisian businesses and restaurants would close down for the month of August (the most popular time in Europe to vacation). In 2019 many had stopped because the tourism was so great they would only close for maybe a week or two. Now, in 2021, they are closing back down for the month because there are not enough tourists from outside of France coming in, the locals are all on holiday elsewhere, and there’s not enough business reason to stay open. We see this on every street. Some seem closed permanently. Others for the month or some other period of time. This adds to the quiet/eerie feeling in the mornings (and in the evenings on certain streets)
- Despite all this, on the nights we stayed out a little later (past the boys bedtime), there are still sections that feel very much alive and full of people. There’s music, artists, bars, restaurants (empty inside but full tables outside). It feels fun and vibrant in those areas.
Stay tuned for future travels! Where do you think we should go?