Days 7-10: We arrived in Paris via two loops around the Arc de Triomphe on day seven of our 14 day road trip. Loop one for fun, loop two to make our exit. (catch up on days 1-3.5 here and days 3.5-6 here) It wasn’t a far drive (only like 3-ish hours) from Bayeux, the town we had used as our home-base to explore Normandy. What could I possibly say about Paris that hasn’t already been said? Paris was like Mary Poppins; practically perfect in every way. Miles was pooped on by a pigeon immediately upon arrival. I’ve heard this is good luck and it must have been, because our our time in Paris was, I swear, under some sort of charm. While our stay in Paris was cast in a rose-colored glow, our drive to Paris started out ugly. Since I feel ill-suited to the task of adding anything to the conversation about Paris, I’d like to share three stories from our time there. They perfectly exemplify the overall experience. They are indelibly stamped in my heart and in sharing them I hope the memory of them will not fade.
Part One: It was another rather gloomy day and my mood reflected it. I was tired and grouchy. Everyone in the car was driving me bonkers. The baby puked, we subsequently took a wrong exit, which spit us out in to the town of Versailles. As we drove past the Palace of Versailles my husband pulled over and kindly told me to get out. No one had to tell me twice. I spent the next half hour, or so, creeping on the palace from outside the golden fence and was pleasantly surprised to find the sprawling grounds behind the palace free and open to wandering visitors, such as myself. I walked a slow lap around the nearest gardens, taking a few deep breaths. Recharged and ready, I called my chauffeur husband, he picked me up, and we all made our merry way in to the city, via one of the world’s most famous traffic circles. I’ll never forget this accidental turn and the selfless kindness of my husband in that moment, or the peaceful few minutes I spent refilling my cup.
**two random Versailles takeaways: One, I was shocked to discover the Palace of Versailles is actually right in the town of Versailles. The grounds that spread out behind the palace feel a world-away, but the front of the palace faces the busy city streets, connected to them by a large cobbled courtyard. I guess I always kind of pictured it on its own tree-lined drive, far away estate sort of thing. My imagination can be too much sometimes. Two, someday, when the children are not with us, I would like to return and actually go inside. I cannot imagine being in there, repeating DON’T TOUCH THAT! a thousand times and find the experience to be enjoyable.**
Part Two: On our first night in Paris, we decided to feed the boys a gourmet dinner of PB&J at the Airbnb, put them to bed, and then get takeout for our grown-up selves after bedtime. We narrowed down a few restaurants via Google and Yelp reviews, then, since I am the designated family francophone and general Paris enthusiast, I set out to further investigate the nearby takeout dining options. I walked my second lap of the day, this time around the quintessential Parisian square near our Latin Quarter apartment, lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. I decided upon a friendly looking place with a mouth watering Mediterranean menu, went inside to order and wait to take it home. Through hand gestures, broken French and very little English, I was informed it wasn’t impossible to do take-out, however they did not have disposable take-out dishes. So, I would have to return the plates, bowls, cutlery and whatever else they used to serve and transport our meal. Not a problem, I told the bartender. The apartment was only about 200 yards away. We would eat, and either myself, or Brandon would return the dishes when we were finished.
So, I ordered the food for takeout, a beer to keep me company while I waited and sat down. It wasn’t a long wait. Soon a large tray with covered plates, bowls and a ceramic tangine was delivered from the kitchen. Despite my attempt at protest, the bartender grabbed a patron, who was obviously a friend, to employ with the task of carrying the tray, with our meal, to our home away from home. I frantically called my husband as we made our way down the side street toward home, to meet me downstairs STAT, lest the volunteer gentleman insist upon carrying the tray up the four flights to the door of our walk-up apartment. Brandon quickly met me downstairs, and was surprised to see I had brought company. He took the tray and I thanked the kind helper a thousand times. I don’t know if it was the food, or the experience, but dinner tasted so good that night.
Part three: We went to the Louvre early and made a beeline for La Joconde, aka, the Mona Lisa. I set my expectations quite low when we travel with our kids. . . that might sound really bad, but hear me out. Setting realistic expectations helps buffer disappointment and frustration for definitely not being able to see and do it all, in this season of life, and really sets you up well for success. So, I had set three easily attainable goals I wanted to accomplish in Paris, in order to feel like I had had a satisfactory trip to the city. One, see the Eiffel Tower. Check. You see that thing everywhere. Two, obtain and eat macrons. Also check. Three, see the Mona Lisa in person.
So, I was NOT messing around when we got to the Louvre, because you just never know when Kid A or Kid B is going to decide they’ve had enough of the experience. Having gotten there early (PRO TIP) we beat most of the crowd. As we entered the not-too-crowded (but definitely filling) room, I picked up Miles so he could get a better look over the grown up heads in front of him. A security guard came our way and beckoned. I thought they were going to tell us to keep moving so we didn’t block the door. Instead, the guard lifted the velvet rope and let us in front of the barrier keeping the rest of the viewers back. We were gifted with a few moments as up close and personal as anyone since DaVinci himself. I kid, I kid. But I imagined so (I must confess, I started sweating). It really was a very special and completely unexpected moment. Travel with kids has its perks.
Have you ever pictured something and it turns out to be totally different in real life? Paris was everything I imagined it to be and more. We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral, tragically under repairs, the Eiffel Tower, both in the daylight and sparkling with a million lights as it does on the hour every night after sunset, the Sacre Couer, the Arc de Triomphe. We had coffee at a sidewalk cafe. We walked over famous bridges and through Montmartre, where I bought a souvenir print by an artist at an art show in a square. I ordered a wheel of Camembert cheese for lunch, simply because an entire wheel of cheese presented itself as a menu entree. I have zero regrets about Paris. What I never daydreamed was Paris with two small children in tow. Does anyone ever picture Paris with a child whining at their side, or trying to find a place to change a diaper? No. You don’t really picture that anywhere. Travel will always throw a curve ball or two. Kids add another level of required adaptation and flexibility, as they do in all aspects of life. As always, we’ll forget or, look back and laugh at any bad moments, and keep our memories as a traveling family in a reminiscent glow.