A little over a year ago my parents took their first European vacation together and visited us in Toulouse before their cruise kicked off. They must’ve had an amazing time because almost as soon as they returned from said trip, they immediately planned their next trip: Paris & Normandy, France in the spring of 2018.
I was excited about this trip for a number of reasons. First because I love spending time with my parents. Second because this would mean I’d get to spend my birthday in Paris visiting with them. And third because we’d get to visit Paris one more time…and who doesn’t love visiting Paris?
My parents flew into Paris the day before my birthday, and I met them at their hotel that morning after flying up from Toulouse. They were exhausted but still game for my extensive first day walking tour. What did I have on the agenda? We’d walk over to the Musée de Louvre, through the Jardins des Tuileries, through Place de la Concorde, down the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. I’d figured we’d grab lunch and a snack (macarons from Pierre Hermes – YUM) along the way, taking the metro if we got tired or wanted a break.
It was a lovely day, not too cold and not too hot with just a few clouds in the skies. I had mentioned to my parents the entirety of the Louvre used to be the palace but it was “too cramped” so they built Versailles. They, like Jim and I on our first trip, were amazed as the sheer size of the building with my mom declaring, “I bet it would take you a whole week to see all the art in there, at least!” I think she’s correct. I was pretty excited about them seeing the Jardin des Tuileries, but unfortunately since it’s been such a prolonged winter (it had snowed about a week and a half before their trip) many of the trees were still bare. Meaning, the garden wasn’t quite as lush as it was during our trips in the fall. Regardless, they were able to fall in love with the lounge chairs around the fountains just like me (I admit it, I made them both sit in the chairs declaring them amazing).
I think my parents got their second wind as we walked the entire stretch and only decided to take the subway back to St. Germain-Des-Pres to enjoy our macarons and rest up before dinner. While I cannot speak for my parents, I think they were quite the fans of the macarons. Both commented, “They’re so light, but so flavorful!” I probably made a mistake in having them sample the best macarons, first. But, I say, “When in Paris…eat only the best macarons, even if they’re expensive.”
That evening we decided to grab dinner at a little bistro not too far from our hotel called Le Bonaparte. My dad eyed the awning from the main street and the large menu with relatively affordable prices (and the fact that it was open at 6pm) made it the perfect dinner spot. My parents both ordered steaks while I had the chicken. I was able to handle the entire conversation with the waiter in French (I think he was even a little impressed I knew about cooking temperatures), only upsetting him when I didn’t understand what he’d said when I asked for the check. I think my parents were relieved to have a translator. We decided to call it an early night so we could both hit the hay early and be refreshed the next day.
My parents definitely woke up the next morning incredibly refreshed. In fact, I think my call around 10 or 10:30 might’ve even woken them up! I met them at their hotel with fresh squeezed OJ and warm croissants, pain au chocolat, as well as a pain aux raisin (my ideal French breakfast). While they enjoyed these tasty treats, I think they were more appreciative of the brioche I’d baked and brought for them to nibble on if they had jet lag during their first night.
Once cleaned up and fed, we decided we’d start the day with a trip to the Musée Rodin to see the sculpture garden. I picked this because my parents love gardens AND I hadn’t been yet. It wasn’t too far from our hotels and we made it there without any rain. Unfortunately & similarly to the Jardin des Tuileries, much of the gardens weren’t in bloom. I think, though, it was still quite pretty.
I think my favorite part is probably The Gates of Hell. There’s a reproduction of this as well as The Thinker at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia (also, apparently, the only Rodin museum outside of France), so I’d spent a decent amount of time looking at both while I was living in Philadelphia, but they had a bit of a different look/feel in Paris.
From there I asked my parents if they’d like to head over to the Eiffel Tower during the day (we were going there at night for dinner & a cruise down the Seine) as we weren’t terribly far. They thought that sounded like a great idea. We were able to pass through the Invalides neighborhood, which housed the Musée de l’Armée as well as a hospital. I believe Napoleon is buried there. This was a building my mom was a bit infatuated with as a cab driver had mentioned it and she was quite curious about that building with the gold dome. I tried to tell her it was just an Army Museum, not a hospital, but she was redeemed when Jim arrived that night and confirmed it was both.
While it looks relatively close on the map, it felt longer (at least to me) while we were walking, probably because of the strong winds/cold weather. But we made our way to the Military School, which paves the base of the Jardins du Champ de Mars (the large knoll before the Eiffel Tower). I thought this would make for some great photos.
At this point we decided to figure out where we were supposed to meet up for our dinner and cruise (which took much longer than we anticipated and was complicated by an Easter service in the garden as well as construction ALL around the tower). After a bit of a detour, we decided to hop on the metro and head over to the Luxembourg Gardens, another site I had never visited (you’re probably seeing a bit of a garden theme…my parents both have mighty green thumbs).
After a quick stop for some hot chocolate (it was necessary as my hands were freezing) we made our way into Luxembourg Gardens. Many of the trees were still bare, but I can only imagine on a warmer spring or summer day this is an absolutely gorgeous park (it’s gorgeous even when rainy & cold).
It wasn’t too bad of a walk from there back to our hotel/neighborhood. So we decided to take in some additional sights. This led to walking past Place St. Sulpice (below). I’d seen this many times as a metro stop, but didn’t realize it was also a church. We didn’t go inside, but I was kind of mystified by looking at the outside (I’m wondering if it was damaged in the war or during another time).
We decided we’d take a little rest/nap before dinner, when Jim would join us. That evening we all met up near the base of the Eiffel Tower for our dinner at 58 Eiffel followed by a cruise down the Seine. Dinner was really tasty with amazing views of the city. My dad declared it was also the site of the best wine he’s ever had. I believe they booked the reservation a little over a year in advance, but it was worth it for a one-time experience AND to celebrate my birthday in style! The only odd portion was a mini photoshoot after dinner. I wonder if anyone buys these photos. My favorite was the French table next to us who just refused it. Hah.
Luckily, we were up there while the sun was setting and were allowed to walk around the perimeter, capturing some really beautiful views of the city. Paris is gorgeous.
As the sun was setting we made our way to the boats and the lights of the Eiffel Tower were turned on for the first time (along with the twinkling on the hour). While the boat tour left a little to be desired (the one we took with Jim’s mom was far more informative) and was cut short because of water levels (so no cruise down near Notre Dame), few things are prettier than seeing Paris all lit up at night, especially the Eiffel Tower.
The next morning we met up with my parents and decided to explore Notre Dame Cathedral. What we hadn’t expected was the intense lines, which we assume were larger because it was the Saturday before Easter Sunday. What I also didn’t anticipate was that there would be virtually zero light within the Cathedral. So, it was a little harder to see all of the carvings, but the stained glass really popped.
From there I convinced everyone to board the metro for a sandwich at Frenchie to Go. While I’d never eaten there, I was intrigued by the sandwich options and eager to try it out. My pulled pork sandwich was delicious (and I don’t like BBQ sauce) and Jim’s fried chicken sandwich also tasty. I’d definitely recommend this spot, though be prepared to find a nice park bench to enjoy it as that space is TINY.
Jim spied a coffee place on our way to lunch, so we doubled back to get coffee, hot chocolate, and a couple dessert donuts at Boneshaker Doughnuts. Their espresso machine was temporarily broken, so Jim got his first cup of drip coffee in Europe. I think everyone else but me had a donut, as I got a brownie. There were no complaints on taste.
Then we explored the neighborhood a little bit and walked toward the Modern Art Museum – the Pompidou, as we’d heard it has a “unique” look from the outside. We didn’t go inside, but this (alone) is a sight to see…it looks like a hamster maze!
After a little more walking we found ourselves near the Hotel de Ville (City Hall?), which is really quite pretty and (of course) also features a carousel in front.
At this point my parents went back to the hotel for a nap/rest before dinner while Jim and I decided to explore the Galleries Lafayette not too far away, as we’ve had some gift certificates burning a hole in our pocket that we were hoping to spend. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find a Galleries Lafayette outside of Strasbourg that sells housewares. But, I will say this is probably the prettiest (and busiest) department store I’ve ever been inside.
That night we ate dinner at 52 Faubourg St. Denis. It was in a neighborhood we weren’t too familiar with but once we were in it felt VERY much like Brooklyn or a neighborhood undergoing a recent bit of gentrification. This bistro was warm & cozy and served up some tasty dishes. The only downside was three of us ordered an appetizer that ended up being something else entirely, which wasn’t anyone’s cup of tea. Such is life.
After dinner we hugged my parents goodbye and wished them a wonderful cruise/trip through Normandy. It’s such a treat to get to spend time with family when they’re visiting, and even better to do so exploring a great city like Paris.
The next morning Jim and I decided to take it easy and explore a few of the Detour Tour Guides that one of his coworkers had mentioned to him. Typically I am not a huge fan of audioguides (I am NOT an auditory person), but after reading a few of the options I was intrigued. We decided we’d tackle the Saint Germain one with a focus on expat African American writers: Richard Wright & James Baldwin.
While the above photos do not look all too interesting (it was Easter Sunday in Paris…nothing was open), the host and subject matter of the tour were both fascinating, exploring the relationship between the two authors and culminating in their final fight at Les Deux Magots. This walking tour, more than anything else we’ve done in Paris, reminded us of the movie, Midnight in Paris. It also felt special getting these behind the scene historical stories combined with modern places. We LOVED it.
We enjoyed this first tour so much we decided to tackle another one in the afternoon after lunch (we spied a Chipotle and had burritos…we miss Mexican food, even fast Mexican food, don’t judge us) called Palais Royale, which covered Paris under the Nazi Occupation. This one, I did not appreciate. Maybe because this neighborhood is crawling with tourists (i.e. very crowded) and (again) things were closed because of Easter Sunday. It also focused on French artists and authors who we weren’t as familiar with, so it was a little harder to connect. But, it was nice to explore a new neighborhood.
After our touring day, we had reservations at a little restaurant called Semilla. This was a tasty spot where I had an amazing soup starter and Jim had an onion tart then we split the largest piece of beef I’ve ever seen in my life with an even larger bowl of the creamiest, dreamiest mashed potatoes. We were so full when we left we had to walk almost a mile before turning in for the night.
We were flying home the next evening and only had one thing planned – a fancy lunch at Tomy & Co. When we visited Paris for our first anniversary we had an amazing +/-4 hour lunch at David Toutain (which is incidentally down the street from Tomy & Co) that was pretty outstanding. So, we figured we’d keep the tradition going with another fancy lunch at Tomy & Co. In typically travel fashion, a bird pooped on me. I keep hearing it is good luck, but it doesn’t feel like good luck when it gets on your purse & jacket right before a fancy lunch. Thank goodness for baby wipes…as we were able to clean it all off before reaching the restaurant.
While this lunch didn’t last for nearly as long as our anniversary lunch, I think it was one of our favorite Parisian meals. Jim started with a vegetable plate (it was the most gorgeous plate of blanched veggies with vibrant flowers & a tart mustard vinaigrette) while I had a morel risotto (it was mind blowingly delicious). Then Jim ordered an octopus and pork belly dish (yum) while I had the lamb shoulder (which was shredded and then pan fried with some hash browns on top…I’ve been talking about it for weeks). For dessert I got the chocolate dish and Jim the one with pears…both the perfect ending to a perfect lunch.
After lunch we had an afternoon to kill and decided we’d try out the Grenelle Bread Wars Detour walking tour. This one was pretty amazing, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes bread, cheese, and charcuterie as it will walk you through a number of bakeries and grocery stores (instructing you which breads and cheese to buy) and then enjoy them all at Le Cordon Bleu. Unfortunately, only one bread spot was open (Mondays…) and none of the cheese or charcuterie places were (not that we were hungry), but we believe we had eaten the dark bread from Grenelle and had definitely tasted many white and traditional baguettes as well as the cheese and meat recommended. It was the perfect way to explore yet another neighborhood and learn a little about Parisian breads in the process.
I can’t think of a better way to spend our third trip to Paris than with three of my favorite people. We can’t wait to go back again!