Wednesday, February 18, 2015


PARIS Vacation:   13-21 February 2015

Friday after school we put the last items into our suitcases and took a taxi to JFK. Unfortunately, there was heavy traffic the entire way. We had left in plenty of time but it was a very slow – 20mph – trip to the airport.  When we got there we quickly checked in, went through security, bought some duty-free libations, hurried to the gate and got directly on the plane. Our bags made the flight which was the worry so we got settled and had some sleep (except Miranda) on the 5.5 hour flight to Paris.

DAY 1 Valentine’s Day

We arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport Saturday morning around 8am. After navigating our way through the immigration we found the Information Center and bought 4 carnets of metro tickets, 2 museum passes (kids are free!), and RER tickets to train to the center of Paris. The RER B line took us within a block of our AirBnB apartment that Charles had arranged for us. On the way into town Charles gave us all Valentine’s Day Chocolates.  We ate them straightaway!  We exited at St. Michel and climbed four flights of stairs to Clément’s apartment.  He gave us a very quick overview of what was what and how we worked this and that before bidding us adieu. We unloaded our bags and decided upon the day’s events.

First stop – Notre Dame, it was, after all, across the street from our apartment.  We had the perfect location. The day was fine, about 50 degrees and sunny so we walked across the bridge to the plaza in front of the church. We wanted to climb the stairs to the tower but there was a huge line. So we went into the cathedral and enjoyed the rose windows and the magnificent architecture. We left the church and saw a long line for Sainte-Chapelle so continued across the bridge to the Right Bank. As we were walking across the bridge Riley commented that he’d been in Paris for 5 hours and still had not seen the Eiffel Tower. Just then it came into our view, ta dah!  We saw the Chatelet Theatre and the 14th century Tour St. Jacques then stopped in a café for a coffee and hot chocolate. We strolled to the Pompidou Centre and Place Igor Stravinsky before going home to do some grocery shopping. A very close Fran Prix had nearly everything we needed so we felt well supplied.

We took a rest, had some dinner then took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. The metro exit was directly across the street from the Arc just by the stairs leading under the roadway to the center of the star where all 12 roads intersect. This monument is a testament to the military victories of Napoleon. The view from the top is magnificent, even more beautiful given it was dark and the "The City of Light" was all lit up including the Eiffel Tower which displayed a light show every hour. 

After the Arc de Triomphe, we walked down the Champs Elysees for a bit. No one wanted to have a burger and fries at McDonalds so we went on further. The weather turned rainy so we returned to the apartment via the metro to Chatalet then we walked across the Île de la Cité past Notre Dame once again. All in all, it was a terrific first day in Paris.

DAY 2 

We woke late, had breakfast and decided to take the #69 bus to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit the graves of Chopin, Proust, Rossini and other famous people. There were a surprising number of people walking through the cemetery.  We found Chopin’s grave but took a miss on Jim Morrison. We stopped for lunch at Café Au Rond Point and were going to take the #69 back and to the Eiffel Tower but there was some sort of demonstration coming down the road and all traffic was diverted. So instead we took the metro to Pigalle to see Sacré-Coeur. 

We took the funicular up the hill for a spectacular view of Paris. After a visit inside the church we made our way around to Place de Tertre, the famous market known for its Montmartre artists who paint portraits and caricatures. As it was Sunday afternoon the square was packed with people but we found an artist and the boys had their portraits sketched. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets of Montmartre. Before entering the metro at Abbesses we saw “The Wall of Love” then jumped onto the train and home for dinner.

There was a minor disturbance on the train. We were in the front car and there was a man smoking sitting very close to the conductor. She came out of her booth and told him to put out his cigarette and he didn’t. She phoned ahead and the police met the train at the next stop.  She physically threw him off the train! She was strong and unrelenting. Later that evening we walked through the Left Bank; Rue di Buci, Rue de Seine, to Boulevard Saint-Germain, then home for sleep.


Today we took a taxi to the Louvre. We had museum passes which allowed us to bypass the enormous queue and get into the museum tout de suite. Charles had made a wonderful itinerary which included the best art and narrowed down the field of things to see. The Louvre is like the MET. It is impossible to see everything you want to see in one visit. We already planned to go back on Wednesday evening and revisit some of what we saw and perhaps some new paintings too.

What we saw today surpassed our wildest dreams. The Venus di Milo was first, the epitome of Greek Classism, then the Hellenic Winged Victory of Samothrace perched at the top of one of the grand staircases at the Louvre. Before we entered the Denon Wing to see their amazing collection of Italian paintings we walked through the Apollo Gallery and it was amazing. The Louvre has 5 di Vinci’s, an amazing number considering there are only about 15 in the world.  We had to fight our way through the tourists to see the Mona Lisa. We did make it to the front eventually and took a few photos, but we hope on Wednesday eve there will be less of the aggressiveness we encountered today.

We took a quick look at the famous Delacroix and Gericault iconic French paintings before going downstairs to see Michelangelo’s Slaves and Canova’s Psyche Revived by a Kiss. Before leaving we had a quick introduction to Greek sculpture starting with Cycladic figures to the static kouros and finally the kouros with bended knee.

We made our way from the Louvre into the Tuileries Gardens and had a picnic on one of the many benches.  The boys played in a playground and let off a bit of energy before we went to l’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous Lilies. We were constantly instructed, “NO PHOTO” by various signs and guards but this didn’t stop Riley from sneaking a few shots! We walked back to the Rue Rivoli for some hot chocolate at Angelina’s. The chocolate wasn’t as thick as I remembered but nonetheless delicious. We jumped into a taxi to the Eiffel Tower.

We had passes to ascend the tower by elevator for Friday evening but we decided that now we would climb the 750 stairs to the 2nd level.  The boys were way ahead of us the entire way – what a surprise. The views were naturally spectacular.  We took more photos in the Champs de Mars then walked to Rue Cler where we bought some wine and stinky cheese.  We couldn’t find a taxi so we took the metro to the Cluny and walked home though the fun back streets of the Left Bank. A pretty full day.


We woke rather late, at 9am, and rushed to Notre Dame to line up for the bell tower. After a short wait we climbed the stairs to the top of the south tower and took some video and photos. It was pretty cool that morning so we descended fairly quickly. We walked along the Seine behind Notre Dame and found another playground where the boys played for a bit. We walked across 2 bridges, one where the mesh work is completely covered with locks left by lovers and another to the Ile Saint Louis.  We had to queue for an hour to see Sainte-Chapelle but it was worth every minute. Gorgeous stain glass windows will be forever in our memory. It was a very special church.
We decided to go home for lunch before venturing out for crepes avec nutella and a taxi ride to the Musée d’Orsay.  

This museum has France’s vast collection of Impressionist paintings. It was once a railway station but was cleverly converted into a museum and is home to some great works of Ingres, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, and Pissarro to name but  a few. The boys were pretty tired from our previous day of climbing the Eiffel Tower, as were we, so our stay was not incredibly long, just long enough to absorb the best of the museum and then a taxi ride to Saint Germain des Prés. We had hoped to have a little refreshment at the café Les Deux Margots which is across the street from the church but unfortunately it was being renovated. That will have to wait until our next trip I guess. On our walk back to our apartment we bought some amazing bread and a lemon tart for Riles from the Boulangerie Paul – a famous Parisian bread store. We ate some dinner and enjoyed our bread and pastry enormously. Charles and Max went out for a walk around the neighborhood while Riles and I stayed home.  Tomorrow we intend to visit the Catacombs, the Cluny, plus another visit to the Met in the evening. We will go with the flow, and see how the weather is…. So far, so good. We are escaping the cold, cold, cold of New York, and are extremely happy about it.


Today we woke early and made a beeline for the metro which took us to the Catacombs. As the guide books warned, the line grew quickly and wound its way down the street way behind us within 10 minutes of our arrival. We struck up conversation with some Brits that were behind us and Charles ducked away and came back with croissants for all of us which helped pass the time. A large tour group of students came just before us and jumped the queue. Grrrrrrrr, but our wait was no longer than 40 minutes which is better than the 90 minutes that our guide book said is the case. As we descended the spiral staircase Max had one of his chest cramps that come on every now and then. It took him (and us) completely by surprise. Thankfully he recovered quickly and we were on our way to see the bones and lots of bones there were indeed, all lined up in patterns, tibias and fibulas, femurs and sculls neatly arranged inside the carved out wall of the catacombs.

We stopped at the shop outside the Catacombs, and surprise, surprise, it was also full of bones! Miranda suggested we go by bus (great idea) to the Musée de Cluny which has some of the most gorgeous tapestries decorated with a woman, a unicorn and other assorted animals and flowers depicting the story of the 5 senses. Next stop our apartment for lunch and a quick rest.

After lunch we took a walk around the Marais. The Marais, meaning swamp used to be just that, a swamp. Now it is filled with fancy shops, cafés and the Jewish area which is full of cobblestone streets that make for an interesting and in our case somewhat frustrating walk. We walked to the Pompidou Centre and had a hot chocolate then tried to find the Van Gogh Museum. It proved elusive and when we finally found it our museum passes did not allow is to get in without waiting on a 50 minute queue. A little disappointed and somewhat frustrated we decided to skip the museum and taxied back to the Notre Dame playground then back to our apartment for dinner.

We discovered a clochard (a vagrant) who resides across the street in the park attached to the church Sainte-Julien-le-Pauvre. He seems to have taken a liking to the entrance to our apartment. We have seen him around for the past few days, but today we saw him shaking the front door to our entrance vigorously. This unnerved me which was an amusement to the boys. We decided to duck around the corner to the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop and wait until he had gone. Riley took the responsibility of lookout and in complete ham-like fashion gave us the update on his position. When he had gone we made a dash for our door and up the stairs to our apartment.  After dinner we took a taxi to the Louvre and saw some of what we saw a few days ago and then ventured into the Richelieu Wing to see some Dutch and French paintings. The museum was much less crowded and more enjoyable to walk in. We all slept well that night.

Today was our quiet day, not that it was so quiet. We took the metro to Opera, popped up and voilà, the Palais Garnier.
We had considered a tour but Charles suggested we hold off until he found out whether we could side step security and see the opera house via his connections. We found stage door and as luck would have it, while we were talking to the guard, Benjamin Millepied’s assistant walked in. Charles wanted to see a dress rehearsal tomorrow but -- quel dommage -- it wasn’t scheduled until Monday.

From the stage door we walked across the street to Gallery Lafayette to see the magnificent stain glass ceiling and decorative balconies. We had an ice cream on the 5th floor and descended into the street for a brief look at Au Printemps (another fancy department store) and then a self-guided tour of the Paris Opera House

Afterwards we met some Columbians out in front taking photos and they kindly took ours. We made our way down the Boulevard des Capucines to the Madeleine, a bizarre 19th century Roman temple that was turned into a church after they first considered making it a train station! We continued walking to the Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais, and across the Pont Alexander III. We took a bus up Saint Germain back to our neighborhood.

Charles and I took a brief walk up to the Pantheon (it was under renovation and Charles forgot our museum passes so we didn’t see much) and back to the apartment with a few stops along the way to buy supplies and French pastries for dessert. The boys whom we had left in the apartment barely knew we had gone. They were happy to relax on their bed with their iPads until we returned. Tonight, relax, have dinner and decide how we would like to spend our last day in Paris. 

DAY 7  Last day in Paris -- Versailles
We left the apartment around 9am and took the RER C train to Versailles, only a 40 minute trip, perfect.  We walked through dozens of elaborate rooms and took a quick walk outside to the gardens. After a few hours walking through the chateau of Louis XIV (the Sun King) we jumped on the train back to Paris for lunch in our apartment. Riles and I stayed in and Charles and Max climbed the stairs of Notre Dame one more time. Tonight we visit the Eiffel Tower this time to ascend via elevator instead of by an ambitious 750 stairs.
The rain had returned and so it wasn’t the best night to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower but we had our tickets and we were going.  As we were waiting in the security line Max noticed a TV monitor that was showing a cartoon of a woman with a stroller and inside the stroller was a cartoon-like bomb, looking like a cannon ball with a fuse, right out of a Road Runner episode. He thought that was very funny and so did everyone else around us. It was mild and just a bit rainy at the bottom but when we got up the 1000 feet to the top it was pretty blustery.  Miranda refused to go out onto the open observation deck but the boys were very eager. At one point the wind gusted 60-70 mph and the boys were leaning back against it being supported on an angle.  They had a ball.  We took more photos when we got to the bottom.

Tomorrow we plan to leave the apartment around 11am for the airport. Our flight leaves at 1:55pm. It has been a wonderful trip. I feel sad that it is over but extremely glad that we have had such a rich and wonderful trip together as a family. The boys have been terrific travelers, not an ounce of crankiness, just lots of enthusiasm and eagerness to see and experience it all. Even Riley stayed well this time. We are forever different for experiences such as this one. The boys will never be able to look at another picture of Notre Dame or The Eiffel Tower and see it in the same light again. They have new building blocks to add to their old ones, new insight into this gorgeous city of light, and memories to cherish for a long time to come.

Au revoir dear Paris, thank you for your hospitality.  Until we visit again….

PS  The morning before we left we bought 50 Eiffel Tower key rings, one for each of the kids in the boys’ classes. We had fun negotiating with the tourist shopkeeper.  He said that there were only two types of people who bought key rings in bulk, students and teachers! The trip home was delayed a few hours by snow in New York and other airport problems.  We arrived at our apartment about 8pm (2pm Paris time) and Max and Riley were asleep within moments (they had slept in the taxi).

No comments:

Post a Comment