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Surviving (and Thriving!) in Paris with Kids

Surviving (and Thriving!) in Paris with Kids

Apr 21st, 2019, 03:50 PM
  #1  
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Surviving (and Thriving!) in Paris with Kids

We had a great trip to Paris with our kids, and Iím excited to once again share our adventures (and misadventures) with the folks who are always so generous in sharing their knowledge during the planning phase. The Notre-Dame fire has made me all the more reflective on and grateful for our trip, and I hope to strike the right tone.

First, Iíd like to offer a big thank you to everyone who answered my questions. This trip required less planning than our Italy trip back in 2013 (trip report here for those interested: Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome) but itís still nice to get a collective perspective on certain things before arriving. And in general, I have learned so much about my travel style in the last 20 years, and this forum has been a large part of that in the last decade. So THANK YOU!

I am overly verbose, so feel free to skim the minutiae that I tend to include in trip reports! As before, in addition to the day-by-day, I will try to discuss how I made certain decisions because I think that can be as helpful as actually reading about what we did. With the prologue out of the way, letís get to the intro! (I wasnít kidding about the verbosityÖ)
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Apr 21st, 2019, 04:02 PM
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INTRO

Our family of 4 spent two weeks in Paris, March 23-April 5, 2019. My husband (44) and I (40) love travel of all kinds, but our ďmajorĒ travel has definitely been sparser since we had kids. I canít believe that our trip to Italy was 6 years ago! This year, I finally convinced my husband that we could manage a big international trip with our daughter (7) and son (4). We had all sorts of reason to consider waiting, but plenty to push us to go now. Letís just say that it took me 2 years to win the argument!

To those who may remember, Iím a very type-A planner, but prefer to use that extensive research to build a medium-paced itinerary, not a death march. I like to have as much cafť-sitting, wandering around, and wine-drinking, as I do hitting up the sights. Food and wine are two of my primary reasons for traveling. Basically, denisea takes my dream trip every time, and maybe someday, I can be a stalker and ask her to take a couplesí trip with us Ė I think weíd have a blast! But that was NOT this trip. Given that our kids were joining us, an even slower pace was mandatory. Food and wine also took a backseat. My kids (despite being excellent eaters) are not the type to enjoy at Michelin-starred tasting menu, or even last through a food tour. Do those kids exist at all? Be prepared for us to visit as many sights in 2 weeks as some folks visit in 4 days. But we might break the playground record!

At any rate, we chose Paris because I had already seen most of the sights, which I hoped would enable me to relax a little bit and not panic if my kids had a meltdown and we had to bail on an activity. Iíve visited Paris several times in the past (but mostly when I was much younger), and also spent a month living in the suburbs during an exchange program in high school. My husband spent 12 hours there with me (where we did visit the Louvre, Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower) during a stopover on our honeymoon on the way to Spain. I also speak ďtourist French,Ē Paris has lots of playgrounds, yummy and familiar food, and generally it is an easier travel experience then say, Southeast Asia. I thought it would be a good choice for a first family international trip (Mexico beaches notwithstanding), and I think I was right. For all of those reasons and more, I definitely recommend Paris as a family travel destination, especially with young kids.
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Apr 21st, 2019, 04:50 PM
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SATURDAY, MARCH 23 & SUNDAY, MARCH 24 – FLIGHT/ARRIVAL

We found a great deal on flights through Expedia, $650 each on Delta, SLC-CDG nonstop. I almost never book through an OTA but could only find that price by booking through Expedia, so I went with it. I think they were pulling prices from the Air France website, that weren’t available to US customers when booking through the airline. At any rate, we had no problems, though I still think it’s best to book directly with the airline whenever possible, and the prices are usually the same. We had originally planned to make the 4-hour drive to the SLC airport from our small town in the Rockies, mainly because the only option on the return flight to get to our small home airport, included an 8 hour layover (it’s the off-season here, so we have very few flights in April). In the end, my husband really did not want to do the drive, so we used minimal miles to book the short flight from our home airport to SLC. I hoped we would survive the layover on the way home.

We chose these dates because it is our school spring break. In a perfect world, I would have liked to go a month or so later, but alas, we have little flexibility. Honestly, we got so lucky with the weather and everything was less crowded, so it worked out great.

On our departure day, we slept in, finished packing, and then headed to the airport after lunch. We took our short flight to SLC, had about 2 hours in the airport, and then boarded for our 6PM departure to CDG. Our plane was a 2-3-2 configuration and we booked 2 rows on the side right behind each other. My kids had been very excited about the idea of taking an overnight flight and their first that actually served meals. I sat next to my daughter for the first half, and she was in awe of how “fancy” she thought everything was. The little things like being given pillows and eye masks, moist towelettes, and a menu/schedule for what to expect on the flight. I can’t imagine what she would think if we were in first class!

The flight went more smoothly than expected. I did switch seats with my husband before we all went to sleep, as my son was having some trouble getting settled down and was acting a little crazy. But it didn’t last for more than 20 minutes, so I’d say it wasn’t too terrible. But once he settled down, he slept for much of the rest of the flight, as did my daughter. We had brought their real pillows from home, which greatly helped their ability to get comfortable leaning against the windows. My son moved around quite a bit during the night, which kept me from getting much sleep, but I survived.

We arrived at CDG, didn’t wait long for passport control, and quickly got our luggage. We booked an apartment with Paris Perfect in the 7th.

https://www.parisperfect.com/apartme...le-blanche.php

We had originally booked a 1BR apartment in the 6th about a year in advance (3200E for 12 nights), but about 6 months prior to our arrival, Paris Perfect contacted me that that apartment would not be available and “upgraded” us to this one for the same price. At first, I was bummed because I preferred to stay in the 6th and liked the layout of the original apartment better. But in the end, I think the 7th worked better for a family. We were steps from Champs de Mars so always had a place to blow off steam, the kids loved the view of the Eiffel Tower since that screams Paris in their minds, and the neighborhood was much quieter than the location of our original apartment.

We booked a private transfer (Victor’s Cabs) that was recommended by Paris Perfect. We are normally public transportation people, but with kids, everything changed. I didn’t think I could manage the train with kids and suitcases, and a cab or UberXL that fit us would cost almost as much, so I considered it a worthy investment. Definitely the right call. After we exited the baggage claim area around 1PM, our driver was waiting with our name on a sign, and escorted us to his van nearby. He called Paris Perfect, and our apartment was ready even though we were a few hours before official check-in. Great news! We drove to the apartment, getting to circle around the Arc de Triomphe, and were met by a Paris Perfect representative. She showed us around the apartment and how to work the appliances, and even told us that Paris Perfect was providing a complimentary mid-stay cleaning. Renting an apartment was a must for us, to have more space and to be able to make meals (especially lazy breakfasts) in the apartment. Paris Perfect was easy to work with in all phases of planning and during our stay, so I certainly recommend them, as do most people on these boards.

Our plan was to get outside to let the sun help with our jet lag, and to take care of some basics like getting Euros from an ATM and grocery shopping. We went to the first ATM, and had no luck with our card. But weirdly, it seemed to be closed, not just a problem with our card. We were close to some of the protest areas, and I think that some of the bank branches had closed nearby. So we continued to wander the neighborhood streets trying ATMs, and on our 4th try, finally found a working ATM that would accept our card. Then I was going to go to the grocery store, but the one near our apartment was closed because it was Sunday. Oh well. We just headed to Champs de Mars to marvel at the Eiffel Tower, and my kids got their first taste of chasing pigeons – easily their favorite activity of the trip. Eventually, we went to the playground in the park (there are actually two – one for very young kids and one for bigger kids). This became our “home” playground and was a lifesaver throughout our trip. My daughter even made a friend who lived nearby (she was French but spoke English very fluently from her time at an international school when they lived in another country), and we exchanged contact info with her mom in the hopes of meeting up later in the trip.

We went to the food stand next to the playground and ordered our first crepes of the trip, along with a croque monsieur. This was a great start to the trip – the kids were laughing and having fun in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, while we enjoyed crepes. Just what I envisioned when planning the trip!

After awhile, I really started fading and we headed back to the apartment where we dozed a bit. I just couldn’t last! Around dinner time, we dragged ourselves out of the apartment, and because most stores and boulangeries nearby were closed on Sunday, we ended up finding a lackluster Italian restaurant. Pizza and pasta just seemed easy. My husband walked my son around outside while we waited for our food as he was in no mood to sit down at first. We all ate, my son fell asleep in the restaurant chair, and then we headed back to the apartment. We set up the living room with two separate twin beds, using the sofa trundle bed, and the kids were asleep at 7:30PM. My husband and I followed at 8PM, feeling like we’d had a successful start to the trip!
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Apr 21st, 2019, 07:23 PM
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following
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Apr 21st, 2019, 07:24 PM
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Looking forward to reading all about your trip!
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Apr 21st, 2019, 11:54 PM
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Looking forward to reading more of your adventures in a Paris with your kids. We have stayed in the same apartment. We love the location because it is so close to our favorite bakery, grocery store and the market.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 03:12 AM
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I don't find you verbose, but if you are, you're verbose in a good way! Excellent report with just the right amount of detail.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 05:27 AM
  #8  
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I am enjoying reading about your trip. We first took our kids overseas when they were 7 and 4 as well, and it got all of us hooked! So your report makes me look back fondly as they are in their 20's now.
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 01:00 AM
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What a great start to your TR. Enjoying the details!
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 04:32 AM
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following!
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 02:27 PM
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Following and enjoying. Not too verbose at all! I love detail.
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Apr 24th, 2019, 09:25 AM
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Following! Just returned from a trip to London and Paris with my own young children!9
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Apr 24th, 2019, 10:26 AM
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Pretty apartment. Allons-y!
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Apr 28th, 2019, 11:30 AM
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MONDAY, MARCH 25 Ė NOTRE DAME/ST CHAPELLE

My husband and kids woke up at 1AM, and were up for about two hours before they were able to fall asleep. I woke up when my husband got back in bed and then it was my turn to lay awake for 2 hours (though at least I didnít have to entertain the kids!). Then we all slept til 9AM, so we actually felt pretty refreshed. Jet lag was our #1 concern when preparing for the trip, and it turned out not to be a big deal at all. It was a beautiful day Ė we had also been concerned because the weather forecast had been rainy before we left, but we managed to eek out some great weather for most of the trip.

I walked to the bakery a few doors down and bought croissants, pain au chocolat, and quiches. With some fruit, oj, and espresso (all provided by Paris Perfect), it was a perfect first breakfast. Our plan today was to visit Notre Dame and St. Chapelle. After breakfast, I got on the ďDuck the LineĒ app to reserve a time for the Notre Dame tower climb. It was so easy and Iím glad I knew about it in advance. We walked to the nearest metro/RER station, only to find that it was closed for construction. That was a bummer to find out! There was another metro station near our apartment, but this one had better connections for most of our sightseeing, so I knew we would need to come up with a plan B for the remainder of the trip. On this morning, we just walked along the Seine to next station. We bought several carnets of tickets, and I realized later that I had not purchased reduced fare tickets for the kids. Oh well.

We rode the metro to Ile de la Cite and walked to St. Chapelle with the intentions of buying a museum pass. This was another mistake. Because we had gotten a much later start than originally intended, there was a huge line for tickets. And of course, no line for entry if you had prepurchased tickets, but that was not for us! We waited about 45 minutes playing ďI spyĒ and the kids managed okay. We got to the front of the line, bought two 6-day museum passes (kids are always free at the corresponding sights), and then went inside. My husband started poking around the lower level, but I immediately shooed him up the stairs to the main chapel to make sure that we got to enjoy it before my kids staged a coup. My husband had no idea what to expect (letís just say that Iím the planner in the family), so he was surprised how amazing it was. The kids and I loved it too. The sun was shining through the stained glass so we really hit it perfectly. We stayed about 15 minutes before needing to head out, in order to make our tower reservation.

We rushed over to Notre Dame and went to the side where the line for the tower climb is, making our time just barely. They let us inside and we walked up a few flights of stairs until we waited in the gift shop for a bit. I realized then, that we probably could have bought museum passes there with no wait, so we should have swapped the order of our sightseeing that day. Or I should have run out that morning to a small museum on the pass near our apartment and bought passes where there was likely no line. Sharing these lessons in case they are helpful for others.

Waiting in the gift shop, our kids began a common theme of asking to buy things over and over. I knew that would happen, so for Christmas, we had given each kid 50 euros to spend on souvenirs in Paris. I thought that would help with the gift-grabbiness. In some ways, I donít think that helped very much and may have even made it worse. Our kids know that we donít often buy them gift-shop-type gifts or random presents so maybe they wouldnít have wasted their breath asking for so much. But because they had their 50 euros, they seemed more focused on shopping and always wanted to spend time looking at things and considering a purchase. Perhaps I should have just let them blow it all in the first day or two, but we were attempting to help them buy something they would enjoy and not use it all right away, so again, Iím not sure it helped much with ridding ourselves of begging aggravation!

After 5 or 10 minutes, we were called to climb the tower and managed to exit the gift shop with no purchases. I had asked a timing question on this forum that turned into everyone expressing concern that my 4-year-old would never make it up the tower. Well, all I can say, is that we need to be far more concerned with all of the adults who attempt this climb. 😊 We live in the mountains and are incredibly active, so none of us batted an eye when climbing any of the things we climbed in Paris. I intentionally let everyone go ahead of us to start the climb, so that we could go at our own pace, but instead, we were waiting on those ahead of us! I know that my kids are not like others, but you know your own family, so judge for yourself what you can do.

I donít think it took more than 10 minutes to get to the top and then we enjoyed the gorgeous sights of Paris and got a good look at the gargoyles. My daughter was being a little grumpy but we managed. We did go up into the bell tower section which was really interesting to see. From there, we went down to the courtyard in front of the cathedral and it was swarming with pigeons. My kids had a ball chasing them, and there was a man with birdseed who would put it on their heads so that the pigeons would land on them. They were loving it. The weather was gorgeous, so we just let them play for awhile. I asked the kids if they wanted to go inside the main cathedral and they said no. I didnít want to push it, so I just went inside by myself, enjoying the ambiance, the windows, and lit a candle in memory of loved ones. Given the recent fire, Iím so glad that I took advantage of the moment, though I wish my kids had too. When I first saw images from the fire, I thought that the whole cathedral would be lost. Iím glad that the main towers were saved and that hopefully, it will be restored in the near-ish future, so that my kids can enjoy it down the road. Though we are not religious, Notre Dame still has such an impact on me. It is full of history and such an important landmark, and Iím so glad (as everyone is) that Paris and its citizens have made such a commitment to restoring it.

Though my kids could have continued chasing pigeons indefinitely, it was about 1PM and I was hungry, so I convinced them to take a break for lunch. We walked to Ile St. Louis and stopped at a boulangerie for quiche and sandwiches to go. We walked to the river and ate there, enjoying the nice weather. At that point, my husband needed to use the bathroom, so he walked back to Notre Dame to use the public WC there. I took the kids for ice cream at Le Berthillon but it was closed! The kids never noticed, as I then just directed them to Amarini instead. We all ordered a couple of flavors, which were beautifully shaped into roses Ė the kids were in heaven!

We walked back to Notre Dame to meet up with my husband for some more pigeon chasing. Eventually, we caught the #69 bus back to our apartment. My son exhibited his worst behavior of the trip while riding the bus, to the point that we almost got off early so as not to disturb other passengers so much. But eventually we made it home. The kids watched their ipads and I headed to the grocery store around the corner. I made sausages with roasted potatoes and green beans for dinner, and we all crashed early. Truly an enjoyable day and my kids loved the pigeons and ice cream!
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May 5th, 2019, 10:29 AM
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TUESDAY, MARCH 26 – ATELIER DES LUMIERES

I was awake again for awhile in the middle of the night, but we all slept until after 9, so from here on out, we were on a good schedule. But another lesson, was not to expect that my family would be able to get an early start while fighting jet lag in the first few days. It was better to just accept that we would need some extra time and do activities that didn’t need us to arrive early.

With that in mind, we decided to go to Atelier des Lumieres today. This was first suggested to me on this forum by Kerouac and then underscored by several others – many thanks! I got online and booked tickets for that afternoon at 2PM. I know that some days sell out, but there were plenty of times available for us on the same day.

We ate breakfast at home and then my husband took the kids to Champ de Mars for more pigeon chasing while I was working on ticket buying. Eventually, I bought some more sandwiches and quiche, and brought it over to eat in the park. From there, we walked to a different metro station across the Seine, which was also closed. Apparently, I need to better research construction closures, because forcing your kids to walk around looking for metro stations is not ideal. We again walked down to the next station, and then rode to our stop, barely making our 2PM entry time – scanning ticket barcodes off of my phone worked fine…I did not need a printed copy.

The current exhibit was on Van Gogh, which was ideal since it is one of the few artists that my kids are familiar with (cutting off your ear tends to capture their imagination!). We walked in and found a spot off to the side to sit on the floor. We were all enthralled by the exhibit. It is truly unlike anything I’ve experienced and is such an immersive way to experience art. I can’t recommend this enough, for kids and adults alike. And if you are traveling with kids, skip the Louvre and do this! It will be the only time you aren’t shushing them and keeping them from touching the artwork; you can actually enjoy the experience too. I was a bit nervous that it would ruin them for “normal” art museums the rest of the trip, so it might be better to do this towards the end of your trip if possible.

From there, we walked a block and unintentionally bumped into a playground (which happened to us many times, again highlighting why Paris is such a kid-friendly city). We let the kids play for quite a bit, and I bought some snacks nearby that we enjoyed as well. Eventually, we caught the metro home, transferring to a different station near us that was open. We had another mellow night at home – I cooked pesto pasta with chicken and veggies. We went to bed with the hopes of being time-adjusted and ready to hit the streets a little earlier the next day.
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May 5th, 2019, 01:02 PM
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I'm glad you liked the Atelier des LumiŤres, but frankly I don't think it would ever turn kids away from museums, especially if they can find the same images in a "real" museum.
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May 5th, 2019, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by kerouac View Post
I'm glad you liked the Atelier des LumiŤres, but frankly I don't think it would ever turn kids away from museums, especially if they can find the same images in a "real" museum.
You are right, as it did help my son in particular stay enthralled in the Van Gogh section of the Orsay. We kept asking, "do you remember seeing this?"

So maybe it won't negatively affect them, but it was a far engaging experience for my kids than the other museums we went too. So maybe it's just to set my own expectations correctly!
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May 13th, 2019, 03:50 PM
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Hello

Wondering how long to plan to spend at the Atelier des Lumieres? I plan to get tickets for our trip to Paris in July with our teens. But wondering how much time to plan for as we have dinner plans afterwards - would 1.5 hours be sufficient?

Thank you!
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May 13th, 2019, 07:13 PM
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@jacolis - I believe that the main Van Gogh exhibit is 30-40 minutes long, and then there is another show that plays as well. We skipped the second show. Some people stay through multiple viewings to get different perspectives, but yes, I think that 1.5 hours would be plenty. Enjoy!
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May 13th, 2019, 07:14 PM
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WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27 – MUSEE D’ORSAY, GALLERIES LAFAYETTE, LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, LES COCOTTES

We really hit our stride today! We got up a little earlier than we had been (though I was a disturbed a bit in my sleep by the noise from the apartment above), and made it out the door around 9:30AM. We took the bus to Musee d’Orsay. With a major bus stop so close to our apartment, we realized how useful the bus was for so many of our destinations and started using it a lot more.

When we arrived at the museum at 10AM, there was no line for security or passholders, so we waltzed right in and went straight to the 5th floor to see the Impressionist gallery. I had made a scavenger hunt of sorts for my kids in an effort to keep them interested. I printed out postcard-size versions of 12 of the “greatest hits” in the collection. The kids had to locate the paintings, and then choose the correct artist out of the two choices I had written on the cards. I had told them that if they could work together to find them all, I would buy them a small item from the gift shop. This worked really well for my daughter; a little less so for my son, but I would still recommend it as a way to engage them. I loved the collection and could have spent hours staring at the paintings. But alas, this was not the trip for that, and we moved rather quickly, finding the paintings in the hunt. Shoutout to my husband for bearing the brunt of my son’s short attention span and also keeping him from touching the paintings.

Included in the hunt was the Degas statue of a young dancer – my daughter takes ballet, so I took a great photo of her demonstrating the same pose in front of the statue – definitely a keeper! I also took a quick photo of the kids looking out of the clock. We then headed downstairs to the Van Gogh area, where the kids enjoyed seeing some of the paintings that were included in the Atelier des Lumieres exhibit that they had seen the day before. Starry Night Over the Rhone was on loan to a different museum, so the kids got a free pass on that part of the hunt. It had been about an hour at that point, so we skipped the rest of the museum and let the kids peruse the gift shop for a few minutes to each choose a small item as their scavenger hunt prize. I also bought a few magnets for our fridge. I’m not much of a shopper, but I enjoy a few small useful tokens from my travels. And you never realize how many magnets you need, until you start trying to display endless artwork and birthday party invitations that your kids bring home!

After a successful museum visit, we took the metro to Galleries Lafayette. We oohed and aahed over the central atrium and then headed upstairs to the toy department. We let the kids look around for quite awhile, and then told them that we should eat before they made any final decisions. We headed to the cafeteria and enjoyed our meal – nice to have access to a salad bar, and my kids really enjoyed the pasta carbonara. After lunch, we went back to the toy department, and my son decided to buy a truck, while my daughter passed and saved her money for something else in the future. We went up the escalator for a quick look at the view as well.

We then planned to head to the Luxembourg Gardens. I decided we would take a cab and figured I’d call an Uber while I was inside the store. Well, that was a total mistake. When we walked outside, there were dozens of cabs lined up outside which would have been quicker to jump into. And I simply could not find my actual Uber in the sea of traffic and just saying my pickup point was the store, which takes up the entire block. We tried to talk on the phone, but with the language barrier and how loud it was outside, I couldn’t figure it out. In the end, we had to cancel our request, take the 6E hit, and just got in a cab. Oh well.

We entered the Luxembourg Gardens and it was a gorgeous and warm day. We really did luck out with the weather on this trip. We rented boats at the pond and enjoyed that for about 30 minutes. From there, we walked to the playground but it was closed for renovations – what a bummer! This had been the playground we were most excited about before the trip, so it was a letdown. But the kids had fun on the swings and the carousel with the batons to catch rings. We also ordered some beers from the foodstand and just enjoyed letting the kids play in the sandbox.

We took the bus home and relaxed for a bit with the kids watching ipads. My son went into the kitchen at one point to look for a snack, found a whole artichoke in the fridge that I had bought at the store earlier, and then interrupted me in the bathroom, waving it around to ask me what it was. Parenting has some very humorous moments.

We were all feeling relaxed after a good day, so I decided to see if anyone was up for dinner out. Surprisingly, everyone was game, and we walked around the corner to Les Cocottes, which is one of three Christian Constant restaurants on that block. They had no tables available but we got four seats at the bar and proceeded to have a delightful dinner with well-behaved kids. That doesn’t happen often for us, in Paris or otherwise, so we were thrilled. The restaurant serves everything in small crocks or bowls and the food was delicious – the kids thought so too. We had some wonderful wine that the bartender recommended and thoroughly enjoyed dinner. A highlight of the trip.

The kids had a little trouble settling down for bed, but overall this was an incredible day!
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