Paris is the one place that I have dreamed of visiting for as long as I can remember. I think it goes back even farther than when I started taking French in middle school but I know for sure it was no later than seventh grade. For various reasons, even though I (we) have visited many other places both in Europe and else where, I never made it to Paris.
Until a few weeks ago.
Because of how busy the big cities get during high tourist season, we try to do our traveling when everyone else is at home. This works well for us as most places we are interested in visiting can be explored well in long weekend seeing as we are only a short flight or reasonable drive away.
Unfortunately, due to conflicts with Jeff's schedule, both of the breaks this semester wouldn't work for a trip. In true Italian fashion, we received a notice in early February that the schools would be closed during elections. So we jumped on the chance and booked a trip to Paris for two weeks later.
In the nearly eighteen months that we have lived here in Italy the five of us have all adjusted very well to what vacations in Europe actually look like with kids. As Americans, we are used to having each second "programmed" with things to do at every stop along the way. Here, a trip is more about experiences, looking at old buildings and walking a whole lot. Jeff and I have also learned to modify our expecations of what a family trip (let's be honest, it's not really a vacation!) will be.
That being said, I was a little nervous as he and I discussed our hopes and plans for our time in Paris. We all wanted to see and climb the Eifel Tower, Morgan wanted to see all of the fashion designers (love!) and the boys were interested in the castles but all three kids were adament about not being that excited about the art. This was a problem given that Jeff hoped to spend at least several hours in the Louvre. There were gentle reminders about meeting the needs and tolerance levels of everyone and off we went.
Once we got situated in our flat we headed immediately to the Eifel Tower. Because I had looked forward to this trip for so long, I was nervous that I would be dissapointed. I was afraid that Paris would live up to all of the hype especialy since my first visit wasn't the romantic getaway that I had always envisioned our first trip would be.
The Eifel Tower did not disappoint. As soon as we climbed the stairs out of the Metro station we spotted it and all five of us stopped in our tracks. It really was amazing. We grabbed some dinner. And headed over to the tower to make the assent. We had decided in advance that we would walk the 700 or so steps rather than take the elevator in an effort to save a little money and get some exercise.
Everyone was on board except one who may or may not have cried the entire way up. In he defense, it was really cold, windy and there were a lot of steps.
Once we got up, it was stunning with lights of the city surrounding us. Eventually, we made our (tearless) way down and found our way "home."
We were up bright and early, as usual, on day two. After the Eifel Tower, Jeff had ventured out to the supermarket to get breakfast items (and French wine!) while I got the kids settled. He cooked breakfast and we were out the door by 8:00. In hopes of seeing more of the city than taking the metro allows we decided to walk from our flat in the Latin Quarter to the Louvre. It was a great plan, except that it was about 30 degrees, windy and snowing. We persisted and enjoyed getting to know the city. The kids especially loved the Pont des Arts (Lock Bridge). As with the Eifel Tower, seeing the pyramid at the Louvre took my breath away. We headed in, got passes and headed toward the Mona Lisa stopping at things that caught our attention along the way.
We got to the Mona Lisa and the crowds weren't as bad as we had been told to expect. The problem was that none of us were that blown away by her. One of the kids actually said "I don't get what the big deal is."
To be honest, neither did I.
I thought that "The Wedding Feast at Cana" (the piece Mona Lisa spends her days gazing at) was much more impressive and I loved seeing artists copying different pieces throughout the museum.
But what do we know?
We ended up wandering through this amazing museum for nearly four hours. While that isn't enough time to even scratch the surface of all that there is to see, I was thrilled with how we all hung in there. After lunch and spending the morning having to be quiet, still and extra respectful of others, we head out to explore Tuileries Garden, play on the playground there and then head to l' Arc de Triomphe. The walk down Champs Elysees was a bit underwhelming. There were tons of people, everyone was cold and we may or may not have had a crier. Maybe we should have gone at night and been more impressed.
We made it to l'Arc and climbed up to the top. It was fun to see the city in the daylight but we didn't spend a ton of time up there. We headed to the Metro station, got a bit lost, found a great place for beers and pommes frites before heading home where Jeff picked up take out and we settled in for an early night.
Day two brought us to the Musee d'Orsay. What I most looking forward too. Again we were up early. Jeff cooked while I prepped the kids. We were out by 8:00 and again walked in the cold and snow. This where we forgot the cardinal rule of travling with kids…visit your must sees first. It seems obvious, but our natural inclination is to start at the ground floor and work our way up. That's great except when the Monets, Manets and Reniors are on the 5th floor and it takes over an hour to explore lovely but unknown art on the main floor. Throw in four hours of art at the Louvre the day before and even after skipping floors 1-4 (remember in Europe there is a "0") we had limited time in the best part.
Let me say here and now, I could have spent hours examining each piece. The detail, thought and stories all strike me as so beautiful. Maybe it's simply because these are the pieces that are familiar to me, the ones I've studied most (though still limitedly).
Regardless, it was amazing.
I really should have gone back later in the day as Jeff suggested but hated to leave the family. As I kept reminding Jeff, this wasn't our only visit.
We headed out, grabbed lunch and then spent much of the day simply exploring the city. I was really hoping to find pockets of the "true" Paris in the midst of all of the tourism and we did. We made our way over to Rue Cler to shop for dinner (cheese, meat, baguette and wine…yum!!) and then headed home for an early dinner and bedtime.
Day three was probably the overall highlight. We were up early (yes, again!) and grabbed a train to Versailles. We were met with two inches of snow on the ground and an amazing display of wealth and grandure. The Palace was interesting to walk through, much of the history from high school and college I retained only to get through the next test so this was a good refresher. (note: I'd love to take some history classes as I'm so much more interested now than I was then.)
There were two things that bothered me about the Palace. First, it was so crowded. Jeff and I commented to each other through out the trip that if Paris was this crowded in February then what would it be like in the summer. Second, the oppulance kind of offended me. So much of what was built was for show and to make the king(s) feel worthy. That makes me sad and a bit sick. While this is a different time, I'm not sure that much has really changed but that's a different post all together.
Without a doubt, exploring the grounds at Versailles and Marie Antoinette's home was the best few hours of our trip. We all enjoyed the vastness of the grounds, the peace, the freedom to run and the animals (chickens, sheep, cows and even rats!). I can only imagine what it (and all of Paris) looks like in full bloom.
The time we spent wandering those acres not only refreshed our sprits and burned off energy but reminded us of how much we want a good amount of space to call our own.
It was a breath of fresh air.
Literally and figuratively.
Our final full day was a bit of a catch up day. Because we were staying so close to Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle they seemed like stops we would just squeeze in. That worked fine except for the fact that there was construction going on at Notre Dame and the towers were only open in the afternoon.
Then is started raining. And they closed.
So, while we visted both and both were amazing (though at some point I have to wonder how many churches we will visit in our four years here) we weren't able to go up in the towers of Notre Dame which seems to be the highlight.
Another trip is in order, indeed.
Our final few hours were spent with more wandering and a stop at the crepe stand. We had tried a few already but these were really good. I'm not sure if it was the hot crepes on a cold, rainy day, the Emeril like man that made them for us or the Grand Marnier that Jeff and I had in ours but these were so good.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back, pack up and settle in for a good night's sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.