Assorted thoughts on Paris

A few thoughts and notes about our most recent trip to Paris:

* The last time we went to Paris, I was surprised at how beautiful it was.  It’s one of those things, like hearing how green Ireland is, that you hear so often that you figure it can’t live up to the hype.  But, it does.  And then, if anything, it was even more beautiful this time of year.  The roses have bloomed, the twilight lasts for hours, and the color of the Seine during the long dusk is amazing.


* The late, long evening really messed with our heads.  One night, we accidentally kept the kids out until 10:15, when it had just started to get dark.  The next night, wiser and more aware, we accidentally stayed out until 10:40.  The following night, we were out until after 11.  Oops.

* Beignets!  How did I live for 36 years without ever eating one?  My life is now complete (or would be, if I lived across the street from the bakery that made the ones we ate in Paris).  Last visit, we swooned over the macaroons, this time, the beignets.  Our current theory is that we might have to try every bakery in France to determine what their particular speciality is.  Ah, France!

* For the first time ever in our air travel with the kids, we checked our stroller (complete with gliding board) at the ticket counter, instead of at the gate.  We were pleasantly surprised to find it easier to move through the airport without it (except that Vienna now has a separate security line for people with strollers, which would have been nice).  So often, a gate-checked stroller isn’t returned until baggage claim anyway, so it didn’t make any difference on the arrival end, and it made us feel even less encumbered by stuff prior to departure.  Not sure we’ll do it every time, but it’s probably something we’ll try again.  (The kids did have their Trunkis to ride instead.  Not sure I would have ditched the stroller otherwise.)

* We bypassed the stroller hell of the Paris Metro by taking a cab from the airport to our apartment.  I didn’t have a concrete plan for getting back, though, other than the phone book.  But, lo & behold, I found an advertisement for a taxi service, listing reasonable fares, attached to a street light near our apartment.  In what might have been a major lapse in judgement, I contacted them.  And it turned out perfectly.  Our driver, Raphael, showed up right on time and got us quickly, comfortably & safely to the airport (for a good fare — a few Euro less than it cost us to go the other direction).  It was a gamble that paid off.  (Info: ).  I would absolutely use them again.


Liam, with the world’s largest lollipop (actually, 15 of them, cleverly packaged), and Benjamin, afraid he won’t get any (he did)

* Since the kids are off of bottles and don’t use pacis, we’ve struggle with how to handle ear pain from pressure changes during the flights.  They usually get so upset so quickly that we can’t coax them into drinking water, milk, or even juice from their sippy cups, and they end up just having to tough it out.  This time, we tried something new that worked great — lollipops!  The kids feel like they’re getting a special treat, and they last long enough to get through the pressure change (wait until you’re rolling for takeoff to hand them out, though).  Coming home, we were out, and had to go shopping.  Our only success was a mega-pack at the Duty Free shop at the airport.  (Now we have some for our next trip!)

I think that’s it from our trip to Paris.  More soon from Vienna again!

Visiting the Louvre


On our first trip to Paris, we had a busy itinerary, and, when the trip was over, there was one thing on our “must see” list that we’d had to skip — a visit to the Louvre.  I was disappointed, but it was the right decision.  By the day we had planned to go, the kids were tired of waiting in lines and having to be patient and quiet.  A trip to a massive art museum just wasn’t the right choice.  So, we skipped it, but I knew I’d want to go back.


I’m not an art person.  My mind appreciates art made with words, and art made of movement, but somehow I’m lacking the ability to understand or appreciate most fine art.  I don’t know why — it’s just not a skill a possess.  But I do still like to try.  I can appreciate art on a basic level (a philosophy professor in college described people with my aesthetic sense as being from the “me likey/me no likey” school of thought) and I’m always interested in the social/cultural/religious context of art.  I guess I’m a better sociologist than I am an appreciator of art (and I’m not a sociologist, either).

151Regardless, I like to try to look at art even though I struggle to see what others do.  And it feels to me like visiting the Louvre is an important part of being in Paris — especially because they have art I’ve actually heard of (although when I went to the Vatican Museum I was pleasantly surprised to find that my favorite things turned out to not be things I’d heard of before).

Last time, we visited the exterior of the Louvre, and this time we made a point to actually go in.  We planned to go the day that it was supposed to rain, and although there was a little rain in the morning, mostly it ended up just being a very hot day.  By the time we got over to the Louvre, just before lunchtime, it was hot and sunny and I wasn’t looking forward to waiting in the sun in the long line to get in.  Luckily, I’d read up beforehand, and in Rick Steves’ guide for Paris, he outlined a few other alternative (underground) entrances, which was nice, because although we had to wait a bit (although not as long as I expected) to get in, we did it in the shade and relative cool underground shopping area.

158After waiting through the security line, we finally made it to the main entrance of the Louvre, under the giant pyramid.  Since the kids were tired, and we wanted to enjoy as much time there as possible, we went to the information desk and borrowed (for free!) two strollers for the boys.  (As a note — I’ve said before that I love Paris, except for how much crime there is.  As we were waiting at the information desk, a man came up who had been pickpocketed just steps away from where we were standing.  It really does happen just about everywhere tourists go in the city.)  After the security line, the ticket line was so short as to be a complete non-event.

The Louvre is massive, and it’s a little overwhelming, especially for someone without a good sense for art.  I really couldn’t tell which sections we’d enjoy the most, or where we should start, so we just chose 4 things we really wanted to see (and likely the most touristy items in the entire museum — Cupid & Psyche, Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa) and decided to start with those.  Although the strollers were a nice touch, and the elevators were plentiful, it was still a pain to get around the museum.  Even *with* the elevators, there were stairs to traverse everywhere, and the wait to get into an elevator was VERY long at times.  (Still, I’m glad we did the strollers.  The kids each slept through part of the museum, and I suspect that we all enjoyed a longer and more peaceful visit because of it.  The museum was also very hot the day we were there, and I think we all would have been uncomfortable if we’d been carrying the kids around, which is probably what would have happened if we hadn’t had the strollers.)


Even with my limited aesthetics, I really enjoyed the museum.  There was just so much to see.  The sculptures we chose in particular were all lovely (Winged Victory was my favorite — and I loved the way it was presented) and we were treated to many other fine items as we walked along.  Each of the boys was fascinated with different Greek statues, and they actually enjoyed studying them for a bit (which was a nice surprise).  We were lucky enough to happen upon a hidden no-stairs access to the area where the Mona Lisa was housed, and the woman who was guarding the entrance was nice enough to let us through.

167I’d heard — a lot — prior to going how underwhelming the Mona Lisa could be.  And I get that.  There’s so much build up about it, and it’s so revered, that actually looking at it, you definitely might expect it to be bigger.  But since I’d been so prepared to be unimpressed by it, I was pleased to find that I wasn’t.  I really liked it.  (Although I can’t say why, because, as I’ve said, I have no art sense.)  It is stunning to see the level of attention and protection that this one little painting gets.  But I was glad to get the chance to see it, and happy to wait, along with the kids, to get our turn at the front of the crowd.  (At the end of the day, B said it had been his favorite part of the Louvre, and that the Louvre had been his favorite part of Paris, although he’s since revised his opinion and bestowed that honor on the Jardin du Luxembourg.)

If I had it to do over again . . . I’d probably do almost exactly what we did (which I almost never get to say).  We went in the late morning, and I think that contributed to the crowds not being too bad (even though it was a Monday, which is supposed to be quite crowded).  Entering via the Galerie du Carrousel underground mall entrance was really functional (we left via the main pyramid entrance to get the full effect).  We were lucky that we weren’t victim to any sort of pickpocketing, but I think if I went again I would be sure to bring absolutely nothing of value.  It’s so easy to get distracted looking at the art, and take your eyes off of your bag for a second.  Even though the stairs were a pain, I think borrowing the strollers was a great idea — and if we had gotten tired of pushing them around, we could have just returned them, too.  And I think that choosing a few iconic items to see first, and then seeing what state the kids were in, was a good idea.  By the time we negotiated the stairs and elevators and saw the things we really wanted to see, we had actually seen a significant portion of two wings of the museum, so it worked out.


We had a great time.  I’m so glad we went.  The kids enjoyed it, the museum was lovely, and it felt really nice to experience a piece that had been missing from our Parisian adventures.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Last spring, when we visited Paris, we made sure to visit most of the major sights — the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame.  And although there were still a few we wanted to see (or see again) this time, already having seen many of the major tourist attractions gave us a sense of freedom on our most recent visit.  We felt like we could wander more, and go further a field in terms of exploring Paris.


One place we’d wanted to go last time, but which didn’t quite make the cut in terms of the time we had, was the Jardin du Luxembourg.  As we were planning this trip, we found out that a friend was going to be visiting Paris with her daughter at the same time as we were, so we planned to meet up, and it seemed like the Jardin du Luxembourg might be a good place.


I didn’t know much about it except that Rick Steves recommended it for people visiting Paris with kids — I was picturing a big park, with some fun things for the kids.  And, it was certainly that, but it exceeded my expectations.

20130625-153726.jpgIt’s a huge park.  Much of it has trees and lots of shade.  There were also grassy areas (without any of the “keep off the grass” signs that we’re used to in Vienna) with Parisian families relaxing with their little kids.  There was a palace (which apparently houses the French Senate) and a museum on the grounds.  It was really beautiful.

We met up with our friends, and the kids took turns choosing from the fun activities — they rode the carousel, went on pony rides, rode kid-powered cars and played in the extensive playground before we took a break for lunch.  And then we went to sit by the pond behind the palace and watch dozens of you sailboats float around, chased by kids of all ages.  It was an excellent place to spend an afternoon.  It was beautiful and fun and the boys just loved it.


After our late night flight on Friday, followed by an only moderately successful day of sightseeing Saturday, our day at Jardin du Luxembourg was a real treat, and a great way to let the kids get to make the plans for the day.  All they had to do was play and enjoy and just be kids.  It was a great day in Paris, and a wonderful part of our trip.

Return to Paris

024We weren’t sure it was going to happen (much like last year!) but we did make it to Paris late last Friday night.  Charles de Gaulle airport is stunning in its size.  Having travelled a lot, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an airport that covered so much real estate.  (We flew in and out of Orly last time.)  Many major airports have multiple terminals, but I don’t think they’re usually quite so far apart.  (There are 3 separate terminals, and I think we had been in the cab and on our way for nearly 10 minutes by the time we passed the last terminal.)

032We’d been thinking that a late night flight would be ok — from Vienna, it’s only a 2 hour flight — we’d get in late and be exhausted, but we’d all probably sleep in on Saturday, and then be able to enjoy a full day in Paris (as opposed to flying mid-day on Saturday, which might have made all of Saturday feel like a non-day in Paris).  Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.  We got in late (though earlier than we expected, and rather disoriented by the fact that we landed after 10:00, but the sun wasn’t finished setting yet) but the kids still got up at their usual time (before 7) on Saturday.  So, Saturday didn’t go as planned.

048Although the kids were up and ready to go, they were anything but well-rested.  Stopping in to the boulangerie across the street to pick up breakfast turned into a screaming “I want a cookie!” disaster.  After managing to get everyone fed, the boys focused their attention on finding gelato (Benjamin was set on getting apple gelato, which we never found).  They were fussy, short-tempered and tired.  So were we, so we dedicated the morning to running around in the park behind Notre Dame between several tantrums and crying spells.  The kids were just so tired, and we were tired, and we got to a point where we just wanted to make them happy, so we abandoned all illusion of plans for the morning.  But they were really too tired to be very happy, so it didn’t quite work until we all got to take naps.  We didn’t really have much of a usable day until late in the afternoon, after we’d all gotten some rest (so, in reality, arriving in Paris early Saturday afternoon would probably have given us a very similar day).


Still, it was truly lovely to be back in Paris.  It was nice to come back to somewhere we’d been before.  We stayed in the same apartment as last year, so we knew the place well, and we also knew the neighborhood, the local restaurants, and how to get to the closest landmarks.  It was also really nice to be in a city where we’ve already checked so many big to-dos off of our list — it made this trip feel much more relaxed and laid back, since we didn’t feel like there were many things we HAD to do this time around.  My French was more eclipsed by my German this time (in that I more often opened my mouth to say something in French and had German come out unexpectedly — numbers were particularly difficult), but I’m much braver about using my French and way less discouraged by the (many) mistakes that I made.

060I just really like Paris.  I love the vibe, the energy of the people on the street, the bicycles everywhere, the sound of spoken French, the way older people smile at the kids and other parents encourage their kids to say bonjour to the kids that they meet at the park.  Paris is a city where walking feels like a great way to get around — the streets are alternately wide and inviting or narrow and intriguing.  Parisians really seem to love their city — the people strolling along the Seine and picnicking in the parks seem to speak French more often than not — those aren’t activities just for tourists.

069After nap time, we had some (more) gelato and walked around some parts of the city we hadn’t explored before.  Paris is absolutely beautiful this time of year (as it was in April and May) and I could have walked for hours.  The kids didn’t last long, though (Dan ended up carrying Liam home), so we headed back to the apartment for dinner, but then went back out to stroll around afterwards.

This time of year, dusk in Paris seems to last for hours.  Evening begins after dinner and stretches out for hours.  We walked along the Seine as the light was fading from the sky and marvelled at the color of the river and the feeling of the air.

Paris is just so beautiful, and we lost all track of time.  It takes so long for night to fall that by the time we started thinking it might be time to head home it was after 10:30 at night.  Oops.  So much for getting to bed early!

Paris Paris Paris Paris . . . maybe

We’re going to Paris, and I’m really excited!  We leave tonight, spend a long weekend there, and come back Tuesday.  It’s pretty revolutionary to be going on a weekend trip to Paris — logistically and financially, living in Europe has given us a great opportunity to travel here pretty easily, and I’m loving it.  It’s one of my favorite things about being on this adventure.  (I mean, really, my conversations this week have gone like this: “What are you doing this weekend?”  “Going to Paris!”  Pretty great.)  We’re looking forward to going back to visit again — I love the feel of the city, how beautiful and truly romantic it is, and (of course) the food.  We have a late flight tonight, which may be a challenge for everyone’s patience, but the plan is to get situated tonight so we can spend the day tomorrow relaxing and enjoying the city.  (Since it is “only” a long weekend, we didn’t want to spend all of Saturday at the airport.  I’m not sure whether it’s a good plan, but I’ll soon find out.)

We loved our time in Paris last spring, but there were lots of things we wanted to do that we didn’t get to (visiting the Louvre, seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, spending more time just walking and seeing the city) so I’m excited to go back.  We loved our experience last year so much that we’re staying in the same apartment, so we know where to find the great boulangeries and cremeries and gelato shops (the boys remember Paris for the gelato more than anything else).  Our main excuse for going this time is as an early celebration of my & Dan’s 13th wedding anniversary (which officially happens the 24th).

But, regardless of the excitement and intense anticipation . . .  our plans are a bit up in the air this morning.  Liam had some upset tummy issues yesterday (nothing that seemed major) but he’s got a sore bottom now, so badly that he could not sleep (so neither did we).  He finally fell asleep in my lap at 5:30 this morning.

I’d love to say that we really are going, but I don’t know what our next hours will bring.  He woke up chipper and asking about our trip, but I’ll have to see if it lasts.  Is he still sick or feeling better?  Can he sit down and be comfortable on the flight, or would it just be torture to put him through that?  We’ll have to see as the day goes on.  Travel with little ones is always an adventure — and we haven’t even left yet!  Fingers crossed that my next post is from France . . .