Thursday, April 4, 2019

Paris in the Springtime (Family Style!)

The amazing thing about travel - and kids - and maybe especially travel with kids, is how quickly we forget the hard parts and only remember the joys.  We all loved our time in Paris, and if you asked me how it went, I would say it was amazing.  And yet, as I read these travel journals now a few months after our trip, it reminds me how sick I felt, how hard it was, and how everyone took a turn to be cranky.  It's real life.  But maybe that's all the more reason to take the adventures and do the hard things.  The day-to-day routine at home is hard too - why not do it in Paris?!
While I think we overdid it in our two days in Paris, we knew we wanted to make the most of our time there, and also knew that the rest of our trip would be taken at a much more leisurely pace. It was such a great whirlwind tour of the city and we were so pleasantly surprised with how kid-friendly it was and how much we all loved it.  For a place that started as a flight connection, we are so thrilled we made it a stop along the way.

We were so relieved that everyone slept well on our first night, and realized very quickly that we were going to survive jet lag - and European culture - by staying on a much later schedule throughout our trip. The kids (and parents!) started to wake up around 9am and we all got dressed and ready to head out for the day. I still wasn't feeling 100% but was exponentially better than the day before, and it was a beautiful day for exploring. During our time in Paris, it was sunny and ranged from the high 40s in the mornings to mid 60s during the afternoons. We were glad to have our down sweater jackets and peeled off layers as we went.

Everyone was ready for the day and starting to get hungry around 10am. We had a breakfast recommendation from Aunt Lael so we headed out around in search of Cafe Carette. It was a short walk from our apartment, through the Trocadero, where we stopped for some amazing views and photos with the Eiffel Tower.
The restaurant was bustling when we arrived, but we loved it immediately. It was adorable and so Parisian - black and white tile floor, open window front, and a glass case filled with macarons in every color of the rainbow. There was a woman behind the counter tying little pink ribbons around the necks of these adorable rooster-shaped chocolates, and the kids were fascinated.
I was worried about getting in because it was pretty crowded with businessmen reading their newspapers and ladies who brunch, and we weren't a subtle group - six people, four kids, and a stroller! But the staff was so friendly and welcoming, and they found us a great spot right in the window.
Zach and I each ordered the Carette brunch, which was absolutely delicious. It came with juice, coffee, toast with jam, a choice of pastry (I chose a brioche and Zach chose the pain au chocolat), and scrambled eggs. We supplemented with crepes for the girls and hot chocolate for the boys and shared everything around. It was the perfect amount of food and everything was excellent - the most delicious hot chocolate I've ever tasted! We also took a box of macarons to go, which made for great snacks later in the day. Nettie had a little moment of tears when she couldn't take a chocolate rooster home, but we knew it wouldn't survive the long day of walking around we had ahead. I still have a little regret about not buying one though. We weren't fully in vacation-mode yet!
The cafe was on a little roundabout behind the Trocadero and there was a stop right there for our hop on/hop off bus, which worked out perfectly. We hopped on the red line bus after brunch and rode straight to the Louvre. One of the key things we did going into this trip was to set expectations at a kid-friendly level. We had no disillusions that we would be spending hours in all the museums or eating out in fancy restaurants. It was a family vacation and we approached it with those expectations so no one would be disappointed. We aimed to accomplish one or two touristy goals per day, and interspersed them with plenty of kid-friendly activities. The boys were not psyched about going to the Louvre, but we made a deal that we would do the museum for Mommy and Daddy, followed by a return trip to the trampoline park for the kids. We made those kinds of deals pretty much constantly throughout the day, and the days that followed!
We had our museum pass from the bus package so we got right into the Louvre. There were lots of things to find in the Mission: Paris book so the kids enjoyed counting the glass pyramids and taking the escalator under ground into the museum. I had a moment of anxiety when we split up to find the Mona Lisa - half of us took the elevator while the others took the stairs. The thing you learn pretty quickly when traveling abroad is how resourceful and patient you have to be when you don't have access to your phone! I was a little panicked when we couldn't find Zach right away and I didn't have the option to call or text him, but we made our way to the Mona Lisa and met up again there. For the record, we used the Verizon Wireless travel pass, which costs $10/day (per phone) when you activate it by sending a text, making or receiving a call, or activating data. Our goal going into the trip was to do that as infrequently as possible, and we did pretty well.

One of the favorite books we read before the trip was from the series "The Adventures of Bella and Harry" - they are two Chihuahuas who travel all over the world and visit different cities. Henry loved the Paris one and was excited to see the Mona Lisa after reading about their journey. He did ask where Harry was too, which was pretty funny.
Another thing that worked really well on our trip was that the big kids had their own cameras. They had gotten them for birthdays and Christmas the year before, and I bought these handy carrying cases so they could be independently responsible for them walking around. They brought them almost everywhere and it really kept them entertained. I also treated myself to a new camera for this trip and am obsessed!  It is the Sony Alpha a6000 with this lens and I totally recommend it! The quality is as good as my old DSLR but it's smaller and lighter for toting around - it fit well into my bag and I used it every day. The best thing is that it has a built in Wifi connection, so I was able to upload my photos every night directly to my phone for easy saving and posting. My biggest gripe with using "the good camera" in the past was that it was such a pain to find the cords, plug it into the computer, and download everything - this eliminates all of that hassle! 
After we saw the Mona Lisa, the kids were begging for the trip to the trampolines so we didn't stay in the Louvre much longer. We walked through a couple more rooms of paintings on our way out, which was totally worth it for the laughs we had when Henry pointed out all the curly blonde cherubs in the paintings and asked why the artists had painted him!
We left the museum and explored a new section of the Tuileries that had some cool tree mazes on our way back to the trampoline park.
We bought the 8 pack of tickets so the kids could have two rounds of jumping, and they used their own euros to go a third time. It was a huge hit. Ryan would have stayed all day, but we lured him out with an awesome playground right next to it and they all played for another 30 minutes or so.
We knew we needed to move along if we wanted to do anything else, which wasn't a popular decision. We basically dragged them out of there kicking and screaming, with the promise of finding food. Bakeries and food shops were once again harder to come by than we had expected, so we were all pretty starving at that point.

We walked along the Rue de Rivoli, parallel to the gardens.  We walked past all the fancy stores and popped into a couple of not-fancy stores for postcards. The girls loved watching all of the street artists and we stopped to buy a watercolor painting from one of them. She was the sweetest woman, and despite the language barrier, she helped us select our favorite. We actually got two favorites - Ryan, rough and tumble as he may be, has the sweetest little sensitive soul and was dead set on choosing the pink flower shop print! I thought it would be perfect for my office, but we've had a few negotiations since we got home on whether that is actually his or mine! The artist gave the kids each a hand-painted bookmark as a thank you, which was very sweet.
The paintings buoyed everyone's mood for a bit, but when the thrill of that stop wore off, we relapsed into cranky mode when we realized how hungry and tired we all were. We walked back to the Big Bus office in hopes of catching the blue line to Sacre Coeur. We asked about a bakery where we could grab a baguette for lunch and they pointed us to the Monoprix around the corner. We never would have found this on our own - it looked like a department store from the front and was basically like a Target - there was food in the back, and I was desperate for lip balm by this point (airplane dehydration?) so it was a win win. The food wasn't anything to write home about, but the baguettes were fresh and delicious and we grabbed some cheese, fruit, and water as well, along with a few sandwiches.

This was another tense moment because we had left Zach and Henry behind to wait for the blue line and with no means of communication, crossed our fingers that our timing would work out. Thankfully the blue line took forever and we made it back in plenty of time. We all felt better after resting our legs and filling our bellies, and the kids were excited to climb on the bus again.
Look, it's the ballet from Leap!
Things kind of went south from there, and if I had to do it again, I would skip the blue line entirely. It was not nearly as user-friendly as the red line - they didn't announce the stops and the map was confusing, unlike the red line where everything was really easy and obvious. As a result, we missed our stop. We should have pulled the plug and changed our plans at that point, but we decided to power on and ride the loop around again. The kids were having fun listening to the audio tour, Henry fell asleep on the bus, and we had food, so no one except Zach and I really knew that things were going awry. We finally got off at Sacre Coeur, but unfortunately the driver had gone a little too far so our directions were thrown off and we got totally lost. We took a really long way through some very sketchy neighborhoods, and finally turned on my phone for a Google map that wasn't even that helpful. Low point!!
Eventually we found a roadside sign and got ourselves straightened out. We found Sacre Coeur and it was gorgeous. Zach and the big kids climbed to the top, which they thought was scary but cool. Henry and I waited at the bottom and were able to see them up above, which was also scary but cool!
If you look really closely in this picture, you can see Zach and the big kids way up there!
We scouted out the funicular and got tickets for the ride down, which everyone loved. We bought some fruit from a street vendor and found ourselves on the right side of the Montmartre neighborhood, which was way more appealing than the creepy way we had come in!
The last thing Zach and I wanted to do at that point was get back on that darned blue bus, and we remembered at just the right time that we had free Metro tickets in our bus pass. There was a station right there and it was super easy to navigate, even having to ride two different lines to get to the Ile de la Cite stop, where we hoped to catch a glimpse of Notre Dame. We didn't go inside, which I regret given the events that happened soon after we returned home, but we admired it from the outside and the kids had fun counting the statues and finding the gargoyles, according to their Mission: Paris book.
We went in search of Berthillon gelato, which is supposedly the best in Paris and "right around the corner from Notre Dame". Let me tell you, it is neither. There are a million restaurants in the neighborhood that serve this gelato (kind of like the "we proudly brew Starbucks" at home), but all the guidebooks had encouraged finding the real thing. We finally did, and admittedly, in our "family style" vacation, it was a little disappointing. The flavors were really fancy and exotic, and therefore not kid friendly. The mint was made with real mint leaves and tasted very herbal, and the fruit flavors had things like rose water infusions, so no one really loved it. I'm glad we could check it off our list, but I would file this under the too ambitious category for the day.
By this point, it was almost 8pm and we were still far from home and it was dark. The city looked so pretty all lit up and the kids were hanging in there remarkably well, but we knew we couldn't walk all the way back to our neighborhood. We hopped the Metro again, which was a great call. Paris Metro for the win - totally recommend! We were intimidated but it was totally doable. We got off about 3 stops from the Eiffel Tower, and walked along the river where a nice American couple offered to take our picture with the tower lit up behind us.
We walked past our apartment and decided to eat at the other bistro that was across the street from Firmine, where we had gone the night before. It was called Le Petit Sufren, and it hit the spot. It was convenient and tasty and the waiters were very friendly, which was important when we ordered escargot and couldn't figure out how to eat them!

Ryan and Erin shared a burger, Nettie and Henry ordered fish and chips from the kids' menu, I had a goat cheese salad and Zach got the steak frites. We had a lot of laughs with the escargot! Everyone tried them except Nettie and Henry - even me! Erin and Ryan loved them and went back for seconds.  Henry really wanted to try frog legs, since Bella and Harry ate them in the book, but we never found them on a menu!
We didn't see the twinkling tower again, but everyone was ready to fall into bed after a super long day of exploring. I think we walked 19,000 steps and saw a week's worth of Paris sights in a day!

On Friday morning, Zach and Erin were awake around 8:30 so they walked back to Cafe Carette while the rest of us took a little longer to get ourselves going.  They brought a big box of pastries back for our breakfast (yum) and we enjoyed those while packing up.  We ordered an Uber and headed to the airport around 9:40 for our flight to Florence.

We can't wait to return to Paris for a longer stay!

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