An American Family In Paris

First of all, I know that this is long overdue. I have been putting off writing about Paris because I knew that as soon as I started going through all my pictures I would start getting homesick. Yes homesick. I can feel you rolling your eyes at me, but I’m telling you. It’s very much possible to have that achy, heart-longing feeling for a place that you do not actually live in. It’s a thing and it happened to me.

Second, we saw so much when we were there that I decided to divide it into two posts. This first one is all the touristy things that we got to see while we were there. First up, Notre-Dame Cathedral…

We actually visited Notre-Dame twice. The first time we were exploring the city with family, so we just walked around the grounds and admired the cathedral from the outside.

It was quite a rainy, gloomy day our first trip there, which made for a very moody experience. What with all the stone gargoyles glowering down at you and skeletal spires towering overhead.

Another cool thing we discovered was that in the back of the cathedral there was this beautiful little garden. (Esmé is pouting in the picture because there was a swing that was there, and there was also someone on said swing therefore preventing her from reaching full joy potential. Don’t worry though because about 5 minutes after we made her take a picture, the person got off, and she got to swing to her hearts content)

The second time we went we explored the interior, and the inside of the cathedral was just as impressive, if not more so, than the outside.

For me, churches are one of my favorite things to see when we travel. I think it’s because they are generally hundreds and hundreds of years old and there is so much history behind them.

It always makes me wonder about the kind of people who have come to worship, and what kind of lives they lived in whatever time they happened to be living them.

We got to see The Eiffel Tower!!! It is massive. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It is fabulously French. We went and saw it in the day time and were pretty flabbergasted until we saw it at night time…

Every night as soon as it’s dark, for five minutes, every hour, on the hour, the tower sparkles! We took a river cruise down the Seine and the boat was right next to the tower when it started sparkling. I can not even begin to explain how absolutely beautiful it was. Esmé loved it so much, she got upset any time it went out of sight on the way back. I’m pretty sure that it’s the closest I’ll come to seeing magic happen. It was spectacular.

Speaking of spectacular, we saw the spectacular spectacular! Well, we saw the outside. The reviews for this place were too mixed for me to actually pay to go and see the show, but it was so cool seeing the place that inspired one of my favorite movies.

The gardens in Paris are all so pristine! We actually figured out why while we were visiting the Luxembourg gardens. Do you see how there are chairs lining the lawn in the picture above? Well, those chairs are all around the gardens so that people don’t sit on the grass. They have these signs posted everywhere telling you to keep off of the lawns, and while we were there we actually saw security chase this woman out of the garden! He had a whistle and everything, so they take their garden maintenance very seriously.

When the grounds look this amazing though, I really don’t blame them. I honestly wish that I had taken more photos there because all the tree-lined promenades were so perfectly manicured you had to see it to believe it.

All throughout the garden there were these mini gardens, if you will. You would be walking along and all of a sudden it opened up into another perfect lawn with a sculpture of some sort in the middle, surrounded by beautiful flowers. There was literally perfection hiding in every nook and cranny of this place.

Esmé was happy because she got a chance to stretch her legs a bit and run around, as they had a huuuuge playground inside. Emile and I were happy because there was a little place just outside the playground, that sold the most amazing custard pastries. We all were happy because we ended the trip with a trip to Angelina’s for hot chocolate. It was basically like drinking a hot brownie batter. Heaven. The Luxembourg gardens were a smash hit for the whole family.

Versailles! I literally have to take a breath before I think about describing this place. Versailles is a gilded, very ornate, monster of a palace. It’s absolutely massive and is so over-the-top that it’s very easy to see why there was a revolution. You actually can’t get the whole of it in the picture frame unless you’re standing very, very, very, VERY far away.

You know what? I lied, because you see that building way up at the front there in this picture? That’s the palace. And not all of it is in the frame. Sorry guys. Though this was taken behind the palace in the gardens, so maybe it’s possible if you try from the front?

Here’s part of the back of the palace, and actually the middle floor of the central building is the hall of mirrors.

The inside of which looked like this. Pretty amazing, no? We got the audio guides and tried our hardest to listen to all the history about how magnificent this place was, and what went into making it.

However, Esmé thought it was a race to see who could get through the palace the fastest, so we really only caught snippets here and there. For instance we know that this was King Louis XIV’s chapel, but that’s all I got before I went running off to catch up to my little love.

You know what? That’s OK. Because as beautiful and amazing as the Palace was, the gardens were even better. They were so vast, that even though we must have walked 5 miles, we only saw a small bit of them. In the picture above, they literally stretch all the way to the horizon.

I could have happily spent a week here, wandering around exploring every square inch of the beautiful grounds. Esmé on the other hand could not.

I don’t know if it was the fact that she was sick, or the fact that we were doing this around her nap time, but she had a rough day.

Basically, this was not as big a hit for us as a family. My husband and I loved it, but if you have younger kids who still take a nap, this is a bit of a stretch for them. Totally worth it, mind you, but you will have a serious cranky-pants on your hands at the end of the day.

Last, but definitely not least…the Louvre! I really wish we had done a bit more research on this place because it’s massive. It is actually the world’s largest museum, and it’s impossible to see everything in one trip.

I think the reason why I didn’t bother to research the museum, was that I knew we were going to have our toddler with us, and I wasn’t expecting to see all that much. I know it’s super touristy, and probably reveals my lack of art history/ interest, but all I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa. Anything else that we were able to see would just be icing on top of the cake. So that’s where we headed first!

Everyone always talks about how disappointed they are because the painting is so small, and it’s too crowded, so I had low expectations. However I was pleasantly surprised when we made our way over to the exhibit. I mean, it’s definitely not the biggest painting there is, but I still felt like it was such a treat to see. It also wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. It was definitely the busiest exhibit we saw while we were there, but it was no where near the horror stories I’d read about online. So so happy that we got to see her!

We actually were able to see a lot more than I had anticipated. We saw Napolean III apartments (above), Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, The Coronation of Napoléon (an enormous canvas!), the French Crown Jewels (serious drooling), and we even got to see the original foundations of the Louvre itself in the Medieval section. Our trip to the Louvre ended up being the perfect way to wrap up our trip to Paris.

Something we learned by accident, because we had a late nap, is that it’s actually a lot better to go at night time, than first thing in the morning (This was also the case for Versailles, because we went early afternoon, around 2, and there was no line). We didn’t have to wait at all to buy tickets, and the line for security had maybe five people in front of us? I think we got there around 6 pm, and it was perfect. That may have also been why it wasn’t so crowded in the Mona Lisa room. Also they allow you to take your stroller inside (something we could not do at the Palace of Versailles)! It’s a bit of a mission going up and down lots of stairs if you’re not close to an elevator, but it was such a help for us.

Did we have a favorite after seeing and doing all these things? Hands down, all three of us loved the river cruise at night past the Eiffel Tower. It was kid friendly, so I was more relaxed because I didn’t have to worry about keeping her under control. They also had mini bottles of wine to purchase, so we sat, cuddled together (because it was freezing), and drank our wine as Paris floated by. It was magic.

When Traveling With A Toddler Works, And When It Doesn’t

Traveling with a toddler is always a bit of a schlep, but we tend to think that it’s worth it. We love getting to show Esmé new places, and having her try new things. It can also be a risk. It’s easy to look at all the nice photos on Instagram and think that it’s all picture perfect. The truth is that sometimes it works out, and everyone has an amazing time. Other times you question your sanity for trying to satisfy your sense of wanderlust with a child in tow.

Generally we land somewhere in the middle, but in the past couple weeks, we experienced two situations that were so polar opposite of each other, I thought I would share. That way you can get an idea of what’s really going on behind those photos. Let’s start with Monaco:

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Monaco was a destination that my husband had been particularly excited to see. He loves Formula 1 racing, and was intrigued about all the hype of it being the world’s wealthy playground. I had a few reservations because I knew that it was a smaller place that a lot of people come to visit, and I’m not crazy about crowded cramped areas. However, I also was curious about this glamorous place I had always seen in movies.

The first hurdle was traffic. We were staying only a half an hour away in Saint-Paul, so we thought we would just make a morning of it, but what should have only taken a half an hour, ended up tripling due to traffic. We weren’t off to a great start because it was late morning, almost afternoon by the time we arrived.

Our moods improved once we found parking, and walked out to take in the views near the harbor. We were in a beautiful, new city, and we were excited to go explore!

IMG_4548Our next hurdle was finding a place to sit and eat, and a bathroom. The unexpected traffic made for very full bladders, and very empty tummies. We had brought our lunch with us, we just needed to find a place that was somewhat child friendly.

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This was a very fancy place and I was wary of letting loose our little monkey too near the nice shops and cars that were parked in front of the Monte Carlo Casino.

I tried asking a couple of people where the nearest bathroom was. The first man actually rolled his eyes at me, then looked away when he responded with mumbled directions (that weren’t correct). Obviously I was a serious waste of his time.

We split up then, so that my husband could get us settled in a park that we found, while I continued my hunt for a bathroom. The second man I asked worked at a very fancy jewelry store, and didn’t speak English, so I said ‘WC?’ ( which is what bathrooms are referred to quite a bit over here). He said ‘Ah, oi!’ and happily moved me to a window where there were very beautiful watches of a brand called IWC. I shook my head no, and then guessed ‘toilettes?’ to which he then pointed me, nicely, in the right direction.

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The park was actually a lovely reprieve from the crowds and craziness that is in Casino Square. Esmé toddled all around chasing after birds, only stopping to come back for a bite or two of food. Once we were all fed and had used the facilities, I wanted to take her on the LaDuree carousel. It’s a gorgeous white one that is right behind the casino. She had also really enjoyed the last one she went on, so I was eager to take her on another.

Third hurdle…getting on the darned carousel. There didn’t appear to be anyone manning the carousel, so I tried to flag down the waitress who was working at the cafe right next to it. She was very good at ignoring me, so I actually had to chase her down, get right next to her and ask if we could ride the carousel. She told us ‘It is for customers only,’ and hurried away to her two tables, out of 20 or so, that had customers.

Well! What was there to do but buy a macaron from the little shop and try again. I even asked the lady inside if we could ride the carousel if I bought a macaron. She was very friendly, and assured me that yes, of course I could. After I bought the macaron, I went, with bag visibly in hand, to stand near the carousel and try to catch the waitress, who still had only 2 tables, attention once more. Again, she was very good at avoiding me, and so after chasing her down, again, I said ‘We bought a macaron, can we ride the carousel now please?’ She responded saying ‘You have to eat here at the tables to get on.’ I plunked our cookie and our things down at the nearest table and then said ‘Now? Can we please ride the carousel now???’ and she finally had the guy let us on.

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At this point in time we were all feeling very disappointed with our trip. Casino Square was very crowded; there weren’t any beaches to check out really; and there were very few child friendly things that we found to do, one of which I had to fight to get my child on. Really, you’d think I was asking her to part with a limb or something. I realize that we are probably not the target clientele for Monte-Carlo, but that’s no excuse for poor manners.

Now let’s look at when we got to stay in a castle in the north of Spain:

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We checked into Castillo de Arteaga on the last night of a road trip back home after spending a week with family. We were on the fence about going out again after checking in to see the northern coast of Spain, because we were all a little tired. Once we arrived, and saw all the steps that led up to the check in area, we heaved a huge sigh before each of us grabbed a side of the stroller to carry her up (something we have to do at least once a day wherever we travel) until a woman came running out and said ‘No! No! No!’

She guided us to the elevator and took up the rest of our bags herself. The concierge showed us up to our rooms and told us that ‘The room you will be seeing is actually a suite. You have been upgraded because we have to think of the baby, and what will be better for you, and also other guests,’ before showing us into our room.

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You guys. This place was a castle. Well obviously it’s a castle, but the room they gave us was quite literally a castle. It was enormous! It was also the fanciest place I think I have ever stayed in my life.

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If you scroll back up a couple pictures to the one where I’m standing in front of the castle our windows were the ones right at the top, underneath the arches, so we also had this magnificent view. Of course once they showed us our room, we knew there would be no trip out to explore the coast. As Esmé would tell you there was far too much exploring of castle grounds to be done…

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Her personal favorite was the bathtub, which was big enough to walk in. She had the best time moving candles from side to side, and fitting the plug into the drain, and then pulling it back out again. They provided us with an actual plastic baby tub to use, but we filled up the big one instead and had ourselves a pool party :).

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A little later in the evening, when we heard our neighbors arrive in their room, we figured out why they let us have the suite. Our neighbors had three children of their own, that we could hear, so I’m pretty sure their strategy was to keep the noise isolated to one area that was farther away from other guests.

I don’t blame them. If I had a hotel that had a restaurant with a Michelin star, I think I would also try to keep the noise level to a minimum to keep my wealthy patrons happy. Even if they hadn’t upgraded us, the staff went out of their way to be helpful and friendly, and that really made the trip for us.

Monaco was a bust for us. I think in order to enjoy your time there you need to be child free and willing to spend some money. Then you can take everything in at your leisure, and go shopping or gambling in between.  Castillo de Arteaga, on the other hand, was beyond anything we could have ever expected; but we never would have gotten such a fancy room if not for Esmé.

Now you see. Sometimes traveling with a toddler doesn’t work out at all like you had hoped. Even though you have a few nice pictures, the trip ends up being a disappointment. Other times it works to your advantage, and the trip ends up being even better than you could have ever dreamed.