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Trip Report Paris w/ Kids -- A family's first trip [report]

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Hello All. I thought I would share our experience from our recent trip to Paris. There is much good advice on this forum from the experts but it might help to have some comments from a novice as well. Hopefully the details are helpful and the verbosity is forgiven.

We are recent (2+ months) expats living in the UK. As we’ve been more focused on settling in here, we didn’t have much time to pull this together. Flights and apartment were only booked about a month in advance. But, we had a school break and some time off work so we couldn’t let it pass. Off to Paris we went; a family of 4 (DD 12 & DS 9).

Paris might not be the perfect family vacation/holiday but there is a lot to see and experience. We try to keep the kinds in mind but we don't set out to entertain them (e.g. no Disney on this trip). They roll with it quite well.

A friend of mine has said that the problem with family vacations is that you have to take them with your family! :D Now, we had a few minor squabbles but I wouldn't have it any other way. The few times I've traveled on business all I could think about was sharing the experience with my wife and kids.

We are not experienced European travelers but we have been in countries that do not speak English. We know very little French but knew we would like to visit this great city. We stayed for 6 nights (5 full days for sites).

Although we may return, it won't likely be during the 3 years we are here in the UK (and the kids at this age) -- too many other places to see. So, I tried to hit the things we wanted to see the most.

Day 0 – Arrival and checking in

The major benefit of living in the UK is obviously the much shorter distance to the Continent and in this case, Paris. No jet lag here. We flew from Birmingham and were in the air less than an hour. In seemed to take longer to taxi and bus to the terminal. Immigration was also very slow, about 45 minutes, but no issues. We each had a small rollerboard and a personal bag so no checked luggage. It was also good to not have large luggage to tote around.

I consider myself frugal but not necessarily cheap. I thought quite a bit about how to get from CDG to the city (again, for the first time and with family in tow). I erred on the side of caution and used the service recommended by the landlord. It was expensive (98E) but worked well. They were waiting for us; communicated with our welcome agent and knew where to go. It was quite a ride in. As far as I can tell, the Parisian government has decided to save money on paint and has foregone any lane demarcations. We even had a bump/touch and our driver got out to yell at the other guy; faces inches apart but no fisticuffs. Quite a welcome to Paris! There is no need and certainly no interest on my part to drive here.

Our apartment was steps from the Louvre-Rivoli Metro stop in the 1st Arrondissement. Without adequate time to plan, I went for something close to the sites so that we could hopefully walk to most of them. 1290E plus a 300E deposit. I’m not sure how that stacks up since I didn’t have that many options. The location was good, but dining was somewhat limited. It’s not that difficult to get around in general so I wouldn’t put that as a firm requirement. More on the location later . . .

We enjoyed the extra space and [very small] kitchen even though we didn't cook (just prepped lunch and ate breakfast). It had its quirks though I'll save the full apartment review (I'm wordy enough as it is!).

Check in was probably the worst experience of the trip. Keep in mind the first-timers point of view. We just been dropped off at a café, luggage in tow, passports clutched and 1200E in cash for the balance, deposit and some initial spending money. Our greeter was there but they had a rule (from the building??) that only 1 person could go up to check in. He said it would be 5 minutes and I went with him behind a solid locked door. My very even tempered wife started to worry and then panic after 15 minutes and her imagination got away from her as all she knew was that I left with a stranger and a wad of cash (and the passports . . .). It’s just one of those things about being in a strange country that can get you off your game. Fortunately, I finally returned and the rest of the check in went fine. I’ve never seen her that frazzled in our 16+ years together.

Unpacked and settled, we opted for cheap and easy with crepes and sandwiches at the corner stand.

Day 1 – Eiffel Tower and More

With 5 days to tour and a 4-day Museum Pass in our plans, I opted for the non MP sites on the first day. What a better way to start than to see the Eiffel Tower. The tower is slightly off to the west and just outside of our walking range (though that definition was always changing). I knew to book ahead but unfortunately did not allow enough time for that so we tried to get there early (slightly before it opened at 9). We did not have a chance to buy groceries the previous night so we ate breakfast (crepes) at the corner café. That slowed us down a bit (we sat down) and then set off to the tower.

That should be easy – Line 1 to Line 6 to Trocadero or Bir-Hakem. Hmm. Why is our metro stop barred shut? We walked down to the next stop (Palais Royale / Louvre) and bought our carnet (10 pack) of tickets. Note, we were told that you can only do this at a machine. We have a UK chip/pin card. Not sure if bills or a swipe card would have worked. Who was 12E in coins at this point??

At this stop, it became apparent that the entire Line 1 was closed and the work around would have involved 3 trains. [It seemed something was closed about every day for maintenance or work stoppage of some sort.] I knew from reading Rick Steve’s that bus 69 also went close to the tower so we ventured back to street level. Fortunately there was a stop near the metro station. This ended up being our only bus ride. Many say that it is a good way to get around (better view, less stairs, etc.) as long as it isn’t rush hour(s). However, I found it difficult to determine which buses were going where so we used the Metro the rest of the time. If you want to try the buses, then do some research ahead of time.

By the time we got to the tower it was 9:30. So much for my early intentions. It is an impressive site from the ground. The lines were already very long and it is a bit confusing on which line to enter. The pre-booked line seemed just as long to me. We finally found the right line for tickets. Tickets, security, elevator to 2nd floor and then elevator to summit. All told, it took 90 minutes from when we first got there. Boy was it worth it. 48E I believe for the family. I think we only had to shoo away 27 vendors selling Eiffel Towers, toys and water.

Side note: it was amusing (alarming?) to see the military police types walk through with LARGE automatic rifles/guns. The illegal vendors would quickly wrap up and scurry away just out of reach but they did seem to realize it was for show and would wait a few minutes before coming back again.

It was a clear day and a little cool still in the morning and at the top. Views were outstanding and it really is a must see. A definite “Wow.” We explored all 3 levels and enjoyed the different views. We walked down from the last level and headed across the street while doing the weave through the souvenir stalkers.

We purchased our first/last lunch outside Bateaux Parisiens along the Seine. For the rest of the trip we purchased some meat, cheese, bread and snacks for a packed lunch/picnic. That helped with costs quite a bit as it can add up quickly. Drinks, in particular, are expensive (3-5E each) so we toted water around for lunches.

We took the BP river cruise after lunch. It had started to warm up quite a bit (80F?) and it was a little uncomfortable. Although it was good to see the city from the river, we were distracted by the heat. I thought the kids would enjoy it but they were actually pretty bored (and hot). The most impressive aspect was the tour guide speaking in 6 languages; all with a smile. 34E. Probably would skip this, but to each their own. Do factor in the weather when going though.

Next, we walked to Jardins du Trocadero for a quick rest in the shade and also enjoyed the performers near Trocadero. There was a roller blading demonstration of some sort and a free-style dance group/gang performing. DS was particularly amused with the talented break dancers.

We took the Metro a few stops to Arc de Triomphe. Again, very impressive site. Note that there is a tunnel to get to the center of the roundabout where the Arc is. We did not go up, but enjoyed the site nonetheless.

We continued our touristy ways by walking down Champ Elysees. The shops seemed to be at the Arc end. We windowed shopped briefly ( I was not able to explain why anyone would want a [Mont Blanc] pen for 12,500E!) and then found the McDonalds. Not for the food, but for the toilets! (when all else fails McD’s is always there).

I think I frightened everyone into thinking that we would be walking this much every day. It was a quite a haul from the Arc down Champ Elysees to Place de la Concorde, though the Tuileries Gardin, pass the Louvre and to our apartment. Fortunately, that was the heaviest day. We were all pooped by 4-5 pm though and that was common throughout the week. DD snapped a picture of DW and me with mouths agape on the sofa, snoozing away.

Being Sunday, many of the nearby recommended restaurants were closed and we were too tired to venture out further. We ended up at the corner pizza bar and it was actually quite nice (~50E). We also had a chance to buy some groceries for lunch the next day.

More to come . . .

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    Interesting report. I am seeing a lot of first-timer mistakes and others due to inattention. It is posted everywhere in 3 or 4 languages that metro line 1 is closed every Sunday morning until 10 a.m. That's because the line is going 100% automatic (driverless) at the end of the year and they need some private moments to crash their trains.

    Of course 98€ for a shuttle service was just plain silly when a taxi would have cost you half as much. Live and learn.

    As for drinks costing 3-5€, what are you talking about? Sitting down in a café? You could have saved 75% at the supermarket.

    I frankly believe that staying in the tourist center is a big mistake if you don't already know the city. In the tourist center, you only see tourist prices and not the normal price of items in cafés, restaurants and shops. People leave town thinking they have been to one of the most expensive cities in the world when they would have had a totally different perception by choosing to stay 3 or 4 metro stations away.

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    @trvlgirlmq -- glad you are finding this helpful. Enjoy your trip.

    @kerouac -- that's the point of the post. What is obvious to some might not be to the novice. Concerning the drinks, we arrived late at night and were off early the next day so no groceries yet and they are expensive at restaurants in the evening. Have faith though, because we did learn throughout the week.

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    Day 2 (Monday)– Along Ile de La Cite

    We started to get more comfortable and began hitting our groove. The plan today was to do the Rick Steve’s walk through Ile de La Cite, Ile St-Louis and a brief foray to the Latin Quarter. Per normal, I arose early and set off to the bakery around the corner close to its opening time of 7:00. Four chocolate croissants (pan de chocolat) and a baguette for about 6€ plus a stop at the café for 2 coffees and then back to the apartment where the others were started to stir. I was not aware of any special meat or cheese (fromaggerie?) shops so I had purchased those at the grocery the night before. This became our norm for the week as we mixed up pastries, meats and cheeses for a little variety (the “regular” ham and the Comte cheese were our favorites—the ham tastes better here than in the US in our opinion). We didn’t bring much, but it we did bring a small lunch cooler, some small freezer packs and two small containers (1 meat, 1 cheese) that were very helpful (Ziplocs would have also worked). I pre-sliced the meat, cheese and baguette such that only assembly was required at lunch.

    After the appropriate gastronomical tasks were out of the way, we set off to Notre Dame via the Pont Neuf bridge. Along the way, we stopped off at a Tabac across from Ste Chapelle on Blvd Du Palais to get two 4-day Museum passes for the adults (50€ each). Very easy and no line. I highly recommend the passes for the line skipping (in some cases) and the freedom it gives to try various museums that you might otherwise be afraid to part with the cash. We arrived around 9 (tower opens at 10) and had a look around. The kids liked the “Point Zero” marker and concept as well as the story of St. Denis (head in hand) and the corollary of the Kings of Judah losing their heads during the Revolution. Do spend some time looking at the masonry on the outside. We then ventured inside for a look around. Notre Dame is an active church so there were always a few guards shushing everyone along. It’s fairly dark as well so some of the details are harder to see, but it is still worthwhile.

    We lined up for the tower climb slightly before 10 where a line was already forming. The climb is covered by the MP but no line jumping since there isn’t a separate ticket and security line. The line gets the brunt of the morning sun. It was warm for us at the end of May. I can image it would be quite miserable in the heat of the summer.

    The kids enjoyed the climb. 396 steps by both official counters (not counting the detour to the gift shop). The gargoyles were neat to see and the views were very nice as well. It does get crowded up there as it is single file in many places. I guess the climb itself would weed out the unfit, but there were certainly some turns that someone with a wide aspect ratio would have trouble clearing.

    After clambering back down (all in one go as opposed to the staggered climb) we took a snack break out front. There we saw an Asian man with some sweet bread hand feeding the chickadees. Half a dozen or more would fly up to his hand and take a bite – quite a sight and one of those random events that everyone will remember.

    The crypt was closed (Monday) so we skipped that. We then walked around Notre Dame to the Deportation Memorial which was unfortunately also closed (seems they could have simply left the gate open). We had our picnic in the small park and then touched our feet on Ile St. Louis where we had to try the Berhtillon ice cream. It was good, but we had some better later in the trip.

    The next part of the walk took us briefly to the Left Bank and on the fringe of the Latin Quarter. This looked like a much livelier restaurant scene. In fact, we spotted Chez Clement and noted it for later. After crossing the bridge back to Ile de la Cite, we stopped by Ste Chapelle where there appeared to be another random closing (or pausing) from 1-2. So, we walked down to the Conciergerie; a former state house, then prison (including Marie Antionette’s last days). Interesting architecture for a prison (since I assume it didn’t start that way) and worth a quick diversion with the MP.

    Ste Chapelle still appeared closed so we set out for the small park on the other side of the Palais de Justice (Place Dauphine?) for a rest. Perhaps this is more of a city thing, but we were disappointed in most of the “parks” that we saw. Most were dirt/sand/gravel and not much grass. Where there was grass, you weren’t allowed on it! Granted, we didn’t venture out to the bigger parks like Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes so perhaps I was misinformed. Another negative were all the cigarette butts everywhere. Smoking is certainly more common here and it is unfortunate that the smokers can't be troubled to dispose of their litter.

    <Rant over> Back to Ste Chapelle. MP holders can skip the long line here and go through the adjacent Palais de Justice line (though it’s not really stated so clearly anywhere). Woo-hoo!
    Ste Chapelle is all about the stained glass. It’s neat to take in the big picture and then try to find some of the individual scenes. There’s too much to see, really, but we enjoyed looking for a few specific items mentioned in the guidebooks.

    We ran out of steam around 4 and walked back to the apartment to enjoy some wine and down time. I had to wrestle with the old fashion cork screw and longed for one with some leverage. Does anyone know if you can carry one on a plane or not (for next time)?

    For dinner, we tried a nearby restaurant called the Garde Robe which was recommended by our greeter. It turned out to be more of a wine bar with meat, cheese and other things that didn’t need to be cooked. It was fine and the kids actually liked it. We got a meat plate, cheese plate and a smoked salmon plate to go along with bread and wine. 54€. We’ll aim for a proper meal another time . . .

    In general the kids did well at dinner. No one in the family is particular artistic, but the kids decided to have a drawing “contest” while waiting for the food (we brought the paper and pencils). I would name an animal and then judge the best. This was going well but I could tell that DS did not like “losing” and was taking this far too seriously. By the end of the night, he had quite a fit and needed some redirection. No nutella crepe for dessert for him that night. The game continued the rest of the week with better results. It didn’t hurt that the judge had a way of making the score even by the end of the night. :D

    Next day – ready for some museums . . .

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    sounds good indy and kudos to you for not trekking to Disney; there see so much to see in Paris and kids can be entertained and educated all at the same time!

    don't feel too bad about not knowing it all and making a few travel mistakes...even with research some times it can just be overwhelming and you forget the stuff you learned. we have made countless errors and we get a little better with every trip. am sure others will appreciate the information and will learn from your experiences.

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    Hi indy dad - glad to hear that you learnt from your experiences.

    Some of the things that I've said and done out of sheer ignorance/stupidity [starting our canadian trip from toronto airport at rush hour in a strange hire car and driving 300 kms after a 7 hour flight with our then one year old daughter strapped into her incorrectly attached car seat springs to mind] turn my blood cold now. but we survived!

    even on my most recent trip to Italy, a place I've been a dozen times or so, I completely missed the lifts and ramps at the stations I passed through first time round. so missing the notices saying that the Line 1 is closed at certain times is hardly surprising.

    your experience with only one of you being allowed in the apartment to check in was weird though - I've never heard of that before. and as you'd got the money, I'd have said that you had the upper hand!

    and I've learnt something new - that you can buy a museum pass from a tabac.

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    Good report so far, indy_dad. Those little details really are helpful.

    I have to say that your anecdotes do really make me glad I'm only traveling with one teen for this summer's trip! When we were in England a few years ago, we had both of our youngest, who were then 18 & 10. Despite the age difference, they spent a majority of the time bickering in the back seat while my husband nearly lost both mind and temper listening to them and driving on the "wrong" side of the road at the same time.

    Looking forward to your next installment.

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    Day 3 (Tues) – Museums in the 7th (I think)

    Today’s goal was to see Rodin, Military Museum and the Sewer Tour (time, energy and olfactory senses permitting). Since the Rodin didn’t open until 10, we had a more casual start. Same routine though – grocery the night before for meat, cheese (and drinks ;)), bakery & café in the morning and lunch prep. Although walkable, we took the Metro to Varenne (line 1 to 13). The tourist information office mentioned the possibility of a museum workers strike. Lo and behold, there was a delay in the opening but I couldn’t tell if it was a normal delay or a strike. They did have a printed sign just for the occasion though so it probably wasn’t too rare. :)

    We all absolutely loved the museum. I guess we are more three dimensional people. I had the kids pick their favorite in each room and that worked out well. Rick Steve’s also had some helpful background. DS liked the Man with the Broken Nose and the open hole in the back. DD liked the Bronze Age and my favorite was actually done by Camille Claudel (Maturity). DW liked the larger ones outside. Excellent all around.

    The weather was a bit cool and there were a few sprinkles so we ducked into the cafeteria of the Military museum and had our “picnic” there. After that we took a look at Napoleons tomb (massive) and then walked through the World War I and II wings. [Note: you need to get the kids a free ticket to go with the MP, but the line wasn’t long.] Lots of information– one could certainly spend a whole day here. We didn’t do as good a job of engaging the kids here as we were trying to read up on the history ourselves. My history classes always seemed to peter out before the 20th century. Alas, we were a little too fatigued (mentally and physically) to do it properly.

    I thought the sewer tour would be a neat experience so we walked through the Invalides park to the Quai D’Orsay down to the sewer tour. This was the one place that the kids had to pay (ours was covered by the MP). The tour was okay, but it could have been better. Not all the displays were in English but the worst part was all the school groups that we ran into. Poor timing I guess. Probably tried to do too much today as well.

    We took the Metro back (Alma Marceau to FDR to Louvre-Rivoli). We found the Metro very easy to navigate and convenient to use. There are many different trains/lines so it is likely that you will have to switch at least once, but we never switched twice.

    Now for a brief aside about pick-pockets. After reading the forums, I was somewhere between healthy awareness and paranoia (hopefully closer to the former). I’m not a big city guy and am probably a little naïve. I did use a money belt which took some getting used to but did help my comfort level. I was alert around the Metro in particular. As we were leaving the Metro, we had the lady with the scribble map scam attempted on me. I stopped for a few seconds to listen and then walked on. I looked back and actually got a smile of recognition from the partner in crime. They would have just gotten an empty lunch bag, but I was glad to be aware as well. During the week, we also saw someone “pick up” a “gold” ring in front of us and we saw a lot of petitioners with clipboards (not sure if they were legit or not). It didn’t seem rampant but perhaps I was not aware of all that was going on.

    After our typical afternoon siesta, we ventured out a little further for dinner. Since I recalled Chez Clement being recommended we went there. It was nice. DW had a 3-course meal while I had escargot and a seafood lettuce salad. [I did my best not to pull a Julia Roberts/Pretty Women and shoot the shells across the room.] The best part was that had actual children’s meals that came with a drink and dessert for less than 10€ each (86€ total).

    TBC . . .

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    During the week, we also saw someone “pick up” a “gold” ring in front of us and we saw a lot of petitioners with clipboards (not sure if they were legit or not).>>

    amazingly the petitioner with the clip-board scam had even got to the obscure tuscan town I was in a few weeks ago. the local I was with was even going to stop! After I had ignored them and been abused in english and german for doing so I pointed out that if they were truly charitable, they would not have sworn at me!

    looking forward to more!

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    @sap -- we've been in the UK for almost 3 months and the yelling to be quiet in the back has finally subdued. I still don't turn on the radio though. :) Driving takes mores concentration here for a lot of reasons.

    The bickering was mild and normal sister/brother stuff. It was really that one night where DS needed a cooling off period.

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    indy-dad,

    I know that this is a bit off point, but seeing as you've mentioned the radio, have you found BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 extra yet? Stimulating speech-based radio programmes with up to the minute news, drama, comedy, classics, etc. and if you're sports fans, Radio 5 and 5 live extra are for you! it'll give you something to listen to besides the bickering.

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    Hi Indy-dad,
    Looking forward to your next installment. I will be traveling to Paris in August with 3 teens 12-14-16 year old girls. So I am planning on committing your experiences to memory. So far I am taking ziplock baggies with me from the US in anticipation of lunch!

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    Day 4 (Wed) – Art Blitz

    Though none of us are the artsy type, we knew we should visit a few of the museums while we were here. Though touristy, the Louvre was a must (hey, we are unabashedly tourists) and we saved that for the evening to hopefully thin out the crowd. So, we were off to Musee D’Orsay in the morning. We walked after the usual bakery/café/lunch prep routine (of course). We arrived slightly before opening and there were clearly 2 lines (pass and no pass). It was a short wait. While looking around we noticed that there were hardly any kids in either line. Hmmm. Upon entering, we headed to the bookstore/gift shop to see if we could find a book of postcards of various paintings in the museum. The thought was to turn it into a scavenger hunt of sorts. Unfortunately, we didn’t find what we were looking for. We did buy a guidebook and that helped.

    Given the renovations going on, we found that our guidebooks were a little hard to follow. They also had a special (extra) Manet exhibit that took out some of the paintings that we had wanted to see. We preferred the Van Gogh work of what we saw. Worth a look overall, but not our thing.

    After a quick picnic in the Tulieries Garden (again more dirt/sand/gravel) we did a quick visit to the Orangerie Museum (something we would have skipped without the MP). We enjoyed the changing scenes of the water lilies (day/night etc) but found some of the smaller collections more to our liking. We only stayed an hour, but were glad we checked it out.

    Before heading back to the apartment to rest up for the Louvre, we stopped at an ice cream stand called Amorino. This was our favorite. Great presentation of multiple colors and strong flavors.

    After resting up at the apartment, we headed back to the Louvre around 5:30. I didn’t know what to expect since the museums earlier in the day didn’t wow us and I knew it was a HUGE museum. We focused on the biggies listed in the brochure (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc) and had fun finding them in the maze of the museum. DD got further energized when she realized she could see some of the things that they had been talking about in school (ancient history) –the Laws of Hammurabi in particular were a big hit. DS liked the shipwreck scene of “The Raft of Medusa”. DW enjoyed “Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters” (and got a postcard to send to her sisters!). So, we got the personal connection that had been missing from the first two museums of the day. That’s key to the enjoyment and where we missed earlier.

    For dinner, now later than what we have been doing, we stayed close and tried another greeter recommendation: La Poule au Pot. We had a chance to look online before our netbook died and knew that it was going to be pricey – and it was. It felt very French and we enjoyed the food. Fortunately, we had been eating out so much during the week that we could share tonight. The kids split a mussel dish and the adults split a 3-course, with of course, a chicken in a pot (bowl). Still, those pesky drinks again (5€ for an 8 oz beer or soda) rang up the bill to 95€, our most expensive of the week.

    Next up: off to Versailles

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    Day 5 (Thurs) – Versailles

    Versailles seems to get a mixed vote on whether to include on a trip of this length. Multiple friends recommended it and we were ready for a change of venue though. We had once again aimed to get off to an early start to try to beat the crowds. I “opened” the bakery at 7:00 but was too early for the café this time. We headed out around 7:30 after breakfast at the apartment (sans coffee). We had the choice of taking 2 Metro lines to meet up with RER C at Invalides or a 10-15 minute walk to St Michel. We opted for the latter. Unfortunately, we just missed the train and had to wait 30 minutes for the 8:25 train which put us into Versailles just after 9:00 – again so much for planning.

    Note: we bought the tickets at the ticket window to get the under 12 discount. I didn’t see that as an option from the machines though I could have missed it. It was wise to get the return at the same time to save the hassle later. 21.30€ for the 4 of us with return.

    I’ve never been so glad to see a Starbucks as when we got off the train. DW and I both needed our regular caffeine infusion and pit stop all around. It was a short 5-10 minute walk to the palace from there. It’s quite a grand site as you walk up on it and then you quickly realize – my God, look at all those people. The way the line snaked around we couldn’t tell which line it was supposed to be, but we found out that it was the “A” line which is for people with tickets and passes. Good grief. It was a good 30 minutes or more to get through (with the MP again – the actual ticket line to the left looked quite short actually--but then you'd have to get in the A line as well).

    I had fun pulling DS’s leg about how all those tall skinny African guys with the Eiffel Towers for sale ran all the way to Versailles and beat us here. :D

    We really enjoyed the house and the artwork within it. We’ve been to a few stately homes here in the UK and they can seem likes wasteful exuberance for people trying to impress the King/Queen but this was the King’s house and it seemed to fit. It was very crowded though and there are a lot of tours coming through. It was quite comical to see some groups walking through rooms without stopping and people holding their cameras up for a quick click. Kinda misses the point.

    We enjoyed the Coronation Room and the Hall of Mirrors. The bedrooms were impressive as well. In fact, all the artwork and ceiling murals were worthwhile.

    Thursday was a bank holiday and the fountains were on with music (good news). Unfortunately, that requires an extra fee (bad news). I had heard good things and didn’t want to miss the gardens since we were there so we coughed up another 28€ to get in.

    The gardens were absolutely massive. We tried walking them all but only got about half way through. Some of the fountains were interesting but only a few of the gardens had flowers (more hedges and things). I guess we’ve been spoiled by the UK gardens that we have seen (and prefer).

    We searched out some ice cream and a cool spot to watch the fountain show at 3:30. Once again, any nice piece of grass was off limits for sitting or standing (really?). So we could stand close to the fountains or sit on a dirt patch off to the side. It would all be worth it when the fountains came on (or so I thought). Not really. One of the fountains (#7 – can’t remember the name) was choreographed but the others were just on. You couldn’t hear the music from all vantage points. We were all disappointed. So the gardens were a dud in our opinion. Don’t pay extra for the fountains (go during the week in general) or skip it all together. (I know others will disagree). Perhaps renting bikes would have been the way to go (again more money). We didn’t make it to the outlying buildings so we can’t comment on those.

    Loved the palace and it is worth it on its own, but I’d skip the rest. We were much more impressed with the gardens we’ve seen in the UK (Chatsworth, Alnwick Castle, etc). Just our opinion . . .

    Easy RER C ride back to St Michel – perhaps should have taken the Metro all the way back to the apartment though after the long day. Wasn’t thinking clearly there.

    TBC . . .

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    Amorino is quite popular and many say it rivals Bertillon (my fav); it's on Ile St Louis....just look for the line.

    Sounds like you are hitting the good spots...i love D'Orsay and don't care for the Louvre, but you have to go there to understand how massive it is!! Too much for me. I hope to make L'Orangerie some day because I love Monet!

    Never done the sewer tour (not my thing); maybe the kids would like the Catacombs?!

    I am sure you may already know this, but in case you don't, you can get a carafe of tap water in restaurants at no charge..."une carafe d'eau" (OON cahr-AHF doh); that could help cut down on the drink bill for you.

    Sounds like you all are having a ball!

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    Yes, we did get tap water most of the nights to go with the wine and/or beer. The main issue was the kids. It didn't feel right making them drink water while we had the good stuff. After the first day the drinks were only an issue at dinner. It wasn't really an issue once we just succumbed to that being the cost of business (limit 1 though). We brought our own water (or refilled) for lunch.

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    Last update . . . thanks for reading this far and hopefully the details were helpful if a little dry.

    The Last Night (Thurs)

    We had heard that you really had to see Paris at night. Well, in early June that means 10:30. Kinda late for 2 kids (and let’s face it, 2 parents who aren’t night owls). But, we had 1 last chance. Why not trek over to the 7th for dinner and then watch the Eiffel Tower. Back on the Metro to Ecole Militare and a quick walk through Rue Cler (carrying a Rick Steve’s book and everything). We looked at a few places and settled on Chez Pierrot (an RS recommendation no less). The kids split a confit de canard (!) main; DW had a fish plat du jour and a I had a mixed grill. All for a tidy 84€ with wine and drinks of course. Nice meal.

    It was twilight more or less at 9:30 when we exited and walked over to the Eiffel Tower. The lights were twinkling and many people were out having a good time. It was a nice outing and we are glad we did it. Metro back and quick crash in bed.

    Flying Home (Fri)

    We were somewhat in no man’s land with an 11:00 checkout and a 3:30 flight. Not enough time to do much and comfortably get to the airport plus the luggage logistics. Well, we had 5 packed days and were satisfied. We slept in and splurged on a breakfast crepe and then cleaned up the apartment.

    For the trip back to CDG, we could now confidently take the train. It was a 4-5 block walk to Chatelet Les Halles. Everyone had a roller bag and we made sure to stay in single file and in order as we walked through the streets. Once at the station, we purchased tickets at the window (again for the under 12 discount). Total cost: 32.20€. Much better than the expensive ride in. FYI, we were flying out of terminal 2 so we were the last stop. Check before you go to make sure which terminal you are flying out of.

    One last gouging before we left was the food court at the terminal. It’s tough to smuggle food in, but that was one overpriced place (around 45€).

    Paris was a great trip but it was also great to come back “home” and see the green grass and fields of the UK. It was good to hear English but then I remembered that everyone here talks funny. :D

    Final Thoughts

    What, he has more to say? How can that be? Yes, a few more general comments.

    First, everyone’s top 3:

    DS: Eiffel Tower, Rodin, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe (I know, that’s 4)

    DD: Eiffel Tower, Rodin, Louvre

    DW: Rodin, Louvre, Ste Chapelle

    Me: Eiffel Tower, Rodin, Versailles (Palace)

    I’m sure there was much we missed due to the language barrier. That being said, we could certainly get around and most everyone was patient and helpful outside of the one surly Metro worker who clearly hated her job.

    Staying in the 1st was convenient but other locations might be similarly convenient and provide some better dining options and perhaps a better “feel” for the “real” Paris (whatever that is).

    The duration was about right for us as it was a pretty full week. Perhaps if we had more days we could have stretched things about a bit and gotten around to the various neighborhoods a bit more. That said, we are more the go-go type and sitting around drinking coffee and watching people doesn’t necessarily go well with the family setting (at least for us).

    I thought the itinerary was about right. We may have fit in 1 or 2 things more than we should, but at least with the Museum Pass we could get a quick overview and leave if we didn’t think it was worth anything further. Highly recommended.

    We enjoy our food, but I would say that we aren’t necessarily French food fanatics. That could simply be our poor choices as it is hard to judge after only a week.

    The Metro was great, but it does cost. 8 tickets for a round trip to dinner is still almost 10€. I guess you could save money in rent to offset that though. We ended up taking 6 Metro trips (2 carnet + 4 single) plus the RER trips to Versailles and CDG.

    Great trip. Glad we did it. Don’t plan on coming back for awhile though. If we make it back to France, we’ll venture out beyond Paris. For now, it’s back to work and then planning the next adventure.

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    Great posting, we are doing a similar trip later this summer, with two pre teens. DW and I haven't been in Paris in many years.

    Regarding Versailles, does anyone know the taxi option to Versailles from downtown Paris, versus the Metro? We will be four people and we are wondering if, cost and time wise it may make more sense for us just to take a taxi?

    For the Eiffel Tower, assuming we don't want to wait on those lines to get up the Tower for the view, is there anyplace similar in Paris where we also could get a great view?

    To the OP: did you get to Montmarte?

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    We did not get to Montmarte.

    My guidebook says a taxi would be about 55€ one way (about 4-5 times the cost of the train) plus you might have traffic. The train is the way to go, IMO. [Careful, you might get called "silly" with those thoughts.]

    It was suggested to me that nice views can be had (of the Eiffel Tower at least) from La Defense and Montparnasse Tower (opposite direction) but how can you go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower? Go for it -- it's not that big a hassle.

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    Thanks for a lovely report. Kudos on your early starts! Very envious. Will definitely visit the Rodin museum next time as it made everyone's top 3 list! You may have enjoyed a picnic at Jardin du Luxembourg, but even there I don't think sitting on the grass is allowed. Lots of park benches, though, if I recall correctly. Best of luck on your next adventures. How lucky to be based in the UK for a while -- so much to see and do there, as well as easy access to the rest of Europe! Enjoy!!!

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    ID - really enjoyed this, thanks. Good to see you did not feel bound to structure your visit around 'entertaining' the kids - too much of that here and generally IMO. And yes, I found even the vacuum packed ham in France miles better than our fresh off the bone stuff.

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    Hi Indy-dad,
    Great pictures.. I hope to have many of the same with three girls in front of the sights. Thank you for sharing your trip and knowledge with us. We have added London to our travel plans. I am in the process of organizing that leg of the trip right now. Any suggestions???? Enjoy a wonderful summer with your family.
    Mieneke

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    I actually haven't been to London since we moved here. We did go for a short trip 2 years ago when visiting friends (Tower of London, Windsor) but I wouldn't be much help (might want a separate post). Look into the Eurostar and open-jaw flying -- that seems to be standard advice. Good luck!

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