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This was our first trip to Paris with our 7-year old daughter and with our friends--2 other families from Chicago, who have become our extended family after almost 15 years here. We definitely are a challenge for a tour guide--with our 3 kids 7 to 12, our different interests but similar Russian American backgrounds. We wanted it all--to sight see as much as possible, but to also get a feel for Paris we read and heard about so much
apartment rental agency--best we could find. Thanks go Trip Advisor forum, especially Olivia MsLiv--great experience with them.
We arrived a day early, on Saturday, and they were able to accommodate us. Apartment was spotless and exactly as described.
If staying with them again, will remember to get an apartment with washer and dryer--that would be nice, and if staying in the summer months, must have air conditioner--room was somewhat stuffy, but easily fixed with open windows--plus got a view of Parisian courtyard as a bonus
We did the hop-on hop-off tour on our first day in Paris (29 Euro adult for 1 day or 32 Euro for 2 day trip and 15 Euro 2-day child), to get an overview of the city. We started at about one and thought we were doing great on time to see 3 of 4 routes they have, until realizing that Parisian time changed on that day and we have one hour less than expected. This bus tour was a great start to our 8 days in Paris, but if you go--try to sit in the very front of the bus. As suggested by Rick Steves' Paris, this is a great tool to put the city together before beginning the walks. You can use their ticket as a coupon for a night boat tour discount (down to 3 Euro for a child and 8 Euro for adult with coupon)--so save them and present at the ticket booth (Vedettes du Pont Neuf or vedettesdupontneuf.com)
On this 1st night in Paris, we met our friends as they came in from London and enjoyed beautiful sights of Trocadero/ night views of Eiffel tour. As everyone around us, we stood under the Eiffel Tower "mesmerized" (yes, it is my favorite word) by the twinkling lights on the hour. Getting on the lift was out of the question as the single operational lift had a line over 2 hrs long. We'll do it another day! Sat at the overpriced cafe outside talking about our great plans for the week.
2nd day in Paris: Weather is beautiful--22 Celsius in March, line is surrounding the pyramid but our tour is with the company that walks right by the line into the museum--no wait at the security, either!
This is the museum I'd love to spend days and days walking around, but our purpose today is getting our daughter excited--so we plan 2-3 hours "just to get a taste"
We went on our tour of Louvre with Emma from Paris Muse. Here, our daughter got to meet her new friend from San Francisco--we shared the Louvre tour with another family. The tour was 2 hours of fun specifically designed for kids--with clues and hints, and history moments, and of course, Mona Lisa in conclusion. This was crowned with a wonderful gift of a book about Paris. Somewhat surprising, Paris Muse asked us for extra money for the gift for a 2nd child. This did not happen to our friends touring with them at the same time in the same place. Otherwise, the tour was exactly as promised: entertaining and educational for kids, and even adults found information we did not previously know during this tour. Emma was a delight of a tour guide, and we regretted not having more time for another tour with her.
Having looked at and asked TA forum, I went on www.thefork.com to make reservations for some of our meals. Sitting 9 people could be a problem--so we planned ahead. This nice restaurant near Louvre had a lunch special we went for--which ended up not being such a great deal, but they accommodated us with a different manu, when we realized the difference. Nice meal if you are up for a quick lunch in the expensive area. One may do better if you are up for a quick bite or a sandwich to just eat outside.
On the same day (2nd day in Paris), and after a nice lunch with all of our friends, we took a walking tour of Montmartre with City Free Tour. Our tour guide Chris was knowledgeable but the group was too large to really enjoy strolling along the small streets of Montmartre. Also, the dynamics of a free tour are quite different than the private tours we have done before. On the 2nd thought, I would do a private tour instead. Chris would probably be great for it--especially for adults only. Still, this was fun for all of us
This was a wonderful choice for dinner on our 2nd night in Paris--if you have a chance, pick one of the few Chez Fernard restaurants for an authentic and reasonably priced meal with French local immersion. We ate at 13 rue Guisarde-75006 Paris, reserve at 01 43 54 51 47 as they were full entire time. Every one of our meals was delicious and filling, wine great and service--well, typical Parisian if you know what I mean
We started our day 3 in Paris with walk around the Notre Dame and climb to the top of it. I followed Rick Steve's ("the bible") commentary as the rest of the group miserably trutted along. The dark insight was interesting to our kids as far as story of decapitated kings of Judah outside and Joan of Arc's story inside. The climb was fun as we got here 15 minutes before opening and had no line--probably worth the 8Euro per adult (especially since most of our adults stayed below saving their energy for the walking tour). The view was beautiful on this warm and sunny day late March and pictures turned out really well. We almost missed the bell tower--but were reminded before proceeding to the very top to walk in. Kids loved this climb and to us, it was definitely worth the stress (exercise) test associated with 387 steps (yes, the kids counted).
Day 3 in Paris was our Paris along the Seine tour with Hannah from Sight Seekers Delight. There is a reason that this company has been at the top of TA recommended: the pre-booking, helpful advice they gave before arrival (Paris Muse was Karen's recommendation), the tour guide's personality and the knowledge base stood up to all of our expectations. The guides are English (primary) speaking actors learning and living in Paris and doing these tours as their passion for the city.
Karen, the owner, helped us arrange and suggested Hannah realizing 3 out of 9 in our group were kids. Hannah made this tour a true delight--passionate about history, theatrical just to the right degree to keep the kids and adults excited, flexible to see when they got tired and stopping at Tuileries gardens to let them unwind, funny and entertaining, open to questions about life in Paris today--can not say enough. If you have a chance to book a tour with them--you must do it! If you have a chance, ask to go inside while walking by the Shakespeare and Co bookstore.
Part of day 3 was this adult-only evening detour to How to Become Parisian in One Hour. It was definitely worth the time for a relaxing 2 hrs (with wait outside the door, if you are prepared to be squished like sardines in this small theater. Exactly as described on TA. See http://www.cityvox.co.uk for a discount. You have to come in half-an hour early to get reasonable seats as they are first-come first-serve and the room is extremely full.
On day 4, we followed Rick Steve's advice to the word--breakfast at Hotel Ibis (9 Euro per adult) and stop by the Tour sales prior to entering the park. Since only 2:30 tour was available when we got there, we started by touring the park and the Hamlet--lazily getting there by inside-the park tram. The uninspired tour at 2:30 got our kids half-asleep--or even sleeping. If I were to do it again, I'd probably book the private tour here, as well. However, we did get to see the private quarters usually not toured by the groups coming from outside.The park was all we expected, and photographed beautifully in (we were lucky, again) this summer weather in the early spring. Kids especially enjoyed the royal bathroom quarters and the animals in the Hamlet. If you are going to buy any tourist junk (Eiffel tour key chain etc, here were the best prices--right outside Versailles)
Once more recommendation by RS2012, somewhat difficult to match open hours, but worth the wait. The owner himself, Yann-Alan took care of us in this pleasant outdoor /indoor restaurant on a small street steps away from Versaille. He walked us through the menu, including the people in his family who inspired specific dishes. This is a crepe-only restaurant, so if the idea of salad or main dish served as a crepe does not appeal to you--it's not the right place. We did enjoy it, however. I think it's definitely worth the experience.
Our day 4 was finished on this night tour (we took the last departure) of Paris. The hour was well spent, as Paris looked so different at night and from the Seine. This is definitely a must do, however little or much time you have in Paris. Do dress warmly as it was cold on the boat--and remember to use the bathroom before boarding, especially if traveling with kids. No more said...
Only one lift is operational and tickets are sold out, so on day 5 we came here 15 minutes before opening. Our wait time of just under 1 hr was rewarded by views from the top and from the 2nd level (agree with everyone posting--2nd level is much better for a view but can you leave here without being on the top?) I know this is something that I won't have to do again--there are definitely better views around the city. However--it was on the must-do list and now it's checked off :-)
Continuing with our day 5 program, we went to the Army museum to see the Napoleon's tomb. While really interested in WW2 history as told by French, we did not get to spend time in this part of museum--do it if you can. The tomb itself was grandiose and the history surrounding it very interesting, definitely worth a trip. The commentary in Rick Steves' Paris 2012 was wonderful, and I don't think there is any need for the audioguide anywhere he has guides to in this book.
We walked to the left, as suggested by RS2012, to find the museum (closed for a few more days until April 4th,) and the gardens. We did not get the kids' audioguide to the garden as the kids were really tired at this point. If traveling with kids, this audioguide looked wonderful--as it included games and puzzles to keep kids excited. Our kids lasted through RS2012 commentary on the first few sculptures and collapsed on one of many park benches as my friend and I continued walking around to see the rest of this beautiful park, perfectly maintained but going through some loud renovations at this time.
Day 6. We made d'Orangerie at the Tuileries garden our meeting point with a family we met earlier in the trip. This museum is mainly dedicated to Monet's water lilies, that occupy the entire main floor. We prepared our kids by talking to them about Monet and cataracts, and eye surgeries. Once again, RS 2012 (thanks, Rick) came to the rescue to supplement our knowledge. The lower level was also very interesting with some less known works by the already familiar to kids Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse, but also new for them Utrillo, Derain, and others. IMPORTANT: if you are planning to see d'Orsay (and you should), buy your combo tickets here to avoid d'Orsay line.
Day 6. Our friends gone from Paris, we chose to spend some time at Tuileries (we voted against Luxembourg gardens) for our daughter to spend some time with a wonderful girl from San Francisco she met during our trip to Louvre. The girls enjoyed an hour and a half in the park, both at the trampolines and at the playground. We enjoyed people watching as lunch crowds came and left, and followed it all with a nice lunch at a cafe in the park.
We took time this day (afternoon of day 6) to take the Montmartre part of the l'Open Bus Tour with tickets left behind by our friends, as we felt our walking tour was too short to give justice to this neighborhood. However, we realized while on the bus that the walking tour was soooo much better than the bus version of this area. I probably would not do this portion of the l'Open Bus tour again. Then, we got off near one of our favorite Desigual stores to start our shopping in Paris. This store had kids' outlet--score for our daughter and for the Citibank!!!
We ended our day 6 at the outside seating for cafe Marly, inside Louvre. They were full, but our apartment was so close that we made a reservation, went home to change and came back in 1 hr for our meal. The service and the meal were so much better than our expectation eating at the center of tourist attraction. The view was wonderful and the warming light over our heads made this a perfect experience. Our Polish waiter was wonderful with meal suggestions and caring for our daughter. I would love to come back here.
We started our day 7 in Paris in the line at d'Orsay. Yep, I goofed and forgot to get the combo ticket a day earlier at d'Orangerie. However, line at opening time was 15-minute long and not a problem at all as, once again, the weather was on our side. We enjoyed the permanent collection with Rick Steve's commentary, and added the Degas' nudes temporary exhibition to it. This was a nice place for theme souvenirs. As I tried to match them on line since return to the States, it was actually cheaper to buy the books at d'Orsay. Architecturally and content-wise, I think this museum was a lot more meaningful to me than Louvre, and I would love to come back here, again. We followed d'Orsay with Champs Elyssess walk from RS and rest/ Latin quarter shopping for souvenirs for family, and of course unforgettable daily dose of crepes and chocolates on the street.
We ended our Paris touring at this old cabaret. Still wondering if this next step in educating our 7-year-old is a good idea, we walked in the door. Hoping for the famous Can-can, we thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the show--the music, the costume, the ambience were wonderful. After the first 45 minutes, our daughter was tired as it got pretty repetitive. The looks of bare breasts from our bar area was not enough entertainment for a 7-year old. What a surprise.
Saddened by lack of Can can, we left somewhat dissatisfied, but in the very good mood nonetheless. Our mission in Paris was complete! Off to Chicago tomorrow