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Trip to France with 2 Grandkids (and their Moms) - Magical

Trip to France with 2 Grandkids (and their Moms) - Magical

Old Feb 24th, 2024, 10:29 AM
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Trip to France with 2 Grandkids (and their Moms) - Magical

This trip was originally planned for June, 2020. Obviously, that trip didn't happen. Three years later, however, we were off on a revised version of our first itinerary, and truthfully, the new plan was probably better than the original. The grandkids were now 3 years older and I think that made a difference in their stamina and their ability to absorb new sights and experiences. Plus, we made some improvements in our accommodation and transportation choices which worked out well for us.

My husband and myself are fairly seasoned travelers who love France and so we put a lot of thought into our planning for this adventure. We had taken our twin daughters to France when they were teenagers but they had not been back since. Our grandson is 13 and our granddaughter is 10 so we wanted to design a trip that would be memorable and fun for them. Of course, it also needed to be enjoyable for all of us, and as stress-free as possible. I believe we succeeded on all counts.

My husband and I traveled to Italy for the first part of our trip, spending a week in Puglia before heading to Matera, then Naples, and finally to Milan by train before arriving in Paris the day before our kids were scheduled to fly in from Baltimore. Our plan was to settle into our Airbnb rental apartment in Paris and stock it up with provisions before their arrival the next day. That way we figured that they could immediately crash at the apartment rather than dragging around the city waiting for a 3:00 check in somewhere. A pre-booked airport transfer delivered them that morning and the grandkids, after a snack and a drink, flopped into the beds that were waiting for them in a darkened room. After not sleeping much all night, they both had a good refreshing nap. Their mothers, on the other hand, did not want to waste a minute, and after relaxing a bit, took off together to begin exploring the city. Because our daughters live several hours apart (one near Louisville, Ky. and one near Charlottesville, Va.) they don't see each other as often as they'd like, and so they really value spending time together.

We spent many hours online searching for the perfect apartment in Paris. Of course, an apartment that sleeps six in a good location without a luxury price tag is not easy to find. And then I had certain other requirements that I hoped our chosen rental would include, such as plenty of windows providing lots of light, a balcony with a street view for some good people-watching, a comfortable lounge area and a large dining table with seating for all of us. A nearby mini market, bakery and pastry shop would be wonderful too. Amazingly, we ticked off most of these boxes with the place we finally rented near Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement, an area my husband and I had never stayed in before in all our 6 plus visits to Paris. The place was not entirely perfect. There was only one small toilet, and there were some problems caused by the late checkout of the previous guests, but overall it worked out well for our needs.

With two nights in Paris, the kids had one full day to get a taste of the city. They walked for miles and loved it all, from the Champs-Elysees to the Champs de Mars, along the Seine to Notre Dame and on to the Isle St. Louis. Unfortunately, two of the sights on the top of our grandson's list, the Eiffel Tower and the Catacombs, weren't possible to tour though my daughter tried to book tickets on the day they became available on line. He took the disappointment well and says he will just have to return sometime to visit what he missed. Perfect solution! Our granddaughter was happy with everything, from observing the many nearby pigeons while having lunch at a sidewalk cafe, to buying a tiny pigeon statuette, found in the toy department of the Galleries Lafayette.

While our family was out and about, my husband and I spent the day close by the apartment. My husband has some mobility issues so we didn't walk far but we enjoyed strolling through the Parc Monceau, shopping for groceries, planning dinner, people watching from our wonderful wraparound balcony, and finally having a glass of wine at a nearby cafe. It was a perfect day for us too. When everyone returned from their sightseeing adventures, we all had dinner together at the apartment, topped off by pastries chosen by the grandkids from the beautiful shop on the floor below us, where they were already becoming favorite customers. Lovely!

We left Paris the next day, traveling by train to Brive-la-Guillarde where we picked up a car and drove to the bastide town of Domme in the Dordogne region where we had rented a house for 7 days. Many years ago, my husband and I stayed in our first ever rental cottage near Beynac et Cazenac for a week and loved it. Even though we had no grandchildren at the time, we decided than that the Dordogne area, with its castles, caves, and canoeing on the river, would be the perfect place to bring children. Turns out, we were right!

In the interest of convenience, we had arranged for a van to pick us up at our Paris apartment and transport us all to the Gare d'Austerlitz. We arrived at the station in plenty of time with tickets pre-booked before we left home. I had purchased first class tickets with 6 seats grouped together in a unit but for some reason the train we were on did not have seats in that configuration. We worked it out and it didn't really matter that we weren't all together. In fact, as often happens on train trips, one of our daughters had an interesting conversation with her French seat mate. After about 5 hours, we arrived in Brive, the only town near Domme with an available rental car large enough for the 6 of us. The Renault mid-size van was a tight fit once once our luggage was loaded in but it was workable otherwise and after about an hour's drive arrived at our rental house within the Domme town walls. We quickly settled in for our week-long vacation in the Dordogne.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 10:59 AM
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This sounds promising…
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 02:34 PM
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Looking forward to hearing more. How lovely to be able to spend time with your daughters and grandchildren in the Dordogne.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 07:51 PM
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A nice read so far! We have fond memories of Parc Monceau. On our first visit to Paris, before Google maps, we were standing on a corner trying to find our way when a well dressed businessman stopped to help with directions. He recommended instead of taking the most direct path, that we should take a walk through Parc Monceau, a bit longer but much nicer. How right he was! It was late May and all the roses were blooming, and we were absolutely enchanted! It was a little slice of Parisian life. Most in the park were locals strolling through or visiting while enjoying the beautiful bench seats. What a wonderful introduction to that beautiful city, and we will always remember the kindness of that gentleman.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 11:47 PM
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Following, wesiblings used to do multi generation trips with our mom and she loved the time with her grandkids.
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 06:08 AM
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Thanks, FTOttawa, for your encouraging feedback. Yes, rhon and geetika, it was lovely to be able to travel with our daughters and grandkids, making great memories together. Natylou, we walked through Parc Monceau during lunchtime on a beautiful June weekday and like you said it felt like we had a little glimpse into the life of everyday Parisians. The park was bustling with groups picnicking on the lawn, participating in yoga sessions, and there was even what appeared to be a boxing class. Lots of joggers flew by us, obviously taking advantage of their lunch hour to keep up on their fitness routines. One playground was full of school kids and it was fun to watch the playground dynamics, which seem to be the same in France as they are at home. The multiple park benches allowed us to stop frequently and just watch the people passing us by. And yes, the roses were blooming. So pretty!

More on our time in the Dordogne to come.
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 08:19 AM
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on for the ride
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 09:54 AM
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In the Dordogne, as in Paris, we looked long and hard to find a house that would be right for us. The village of Domme was not our first choice as a location but after hours of scrolling through rental options, we kept returning to this one house. Again, I had my priorities: comfortable indoor and outdoor seating and dining areas, a nice pool, good options for walks and hikes, easy accessibility and parking, and of course pretty surroundings and attractive decor. Even after we finally committed to this house, I still questioned whether it would be the right place for a week long stay. Thankfully, it was just about perfect. The 3 bedroom house was beautifully decorated and spacious, with a fully equipped kitchen and 3 &1/2 bathrooms. The patio off the kitchen worked wonderfully for our dinners together and there was a pretty little path from the patio, past rose bushes and magnolias, to the beautiful pool perched in the garden high on the town wall. Accessing the rental house by car through the narrow streets of Domme was tricky at first but it didn't take long to learn the way and there were no problems with parking as there was a good sized private parking area right next to the house.

Surprisingly, however, the best part of this rental experience turned out to be the town of Domme itself. My husband and I had stopped briefly in Domme during our trip to the Dordogne years ago, but it didn't make a lasting impression. On this trip, we had the time to appreciate how lovely it is. And with its surrounding wall, compact size, and limited vehicle access, it felt very safe, so we were soon comfortable allowing the grandkids to explore the town on their own. As it was still early June, the streets of Domme were relatively quiet and any fellow tourists strolling through the village seemed to be mainly French speaking senior citizens. With our grandson in the lead, the kids found their way around easily and soon became regulars at the little supermarket, the ice cream shop, and various intriguing souvenir shops. They traveled the circumference of the walls often, discovering interesting nooks and crannies along the way. By the end of the week they knew the town well and one of my best memories of the trip was the morning the two of them took me on a guided tour of their favorite places. If we had stayed in a house in the countryside as we had originally planned, they wouldn't have had this experience of living, however briefly, in a a beautiful French village like Domme.

We are lucky that our grandkids, being the only child in each of their families, seem almost like siblings, with our grandson assuming the role of big brother while our granddaughter acts like his adoring younger sister. They get along really well. In the 10 days we traveled together, there was never an angry word, a whine, or any other unpleasantness between them. Whether swimming in the pool or touring a castle, they were a happy twosome, enjoying the experience whatever it was. Part of this might be attributed also to the relaxed pace of our planning for each day's activities, designed to insure that no one, Gramma and Grampa included, got overtired. During our first full day in Domme, we just spent time wandering around town, visiting the weekly farmers market, enjoying the views of the river below the wall, and watching the games of pétanque taking place in park. Back at the house, the grandkids were constantly in and out of the pool, which they loved. That day our daughters started out on the first of the many hikes they took each day beyond the walls, threading their way down the hill and along the river, so happy to be doing something they love, like hiking, together. In the evening, we cooked a great dinner using some of the local ingredients we had purchased at the farmers market and ate it sitting together around the big table on the patio. Dinner was duck breast with new potatoes and fresh asparagus, finished off with the most gorgeous huge strawberries I've ever seen. What a perfect end to that first day in Domme.
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 10:16 AM
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This is just lovely! Thank you for taking the time to share.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 12:35 PM
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Bilbobuglar and Vonse, I appreciate you following along.

On the days that followed, we visited Castelnaud, Beynac, and Lascaux II, the facsimile of the prehistoric cave with its amazing art. One full day was devoted to canoeing and kayaking on the Dordogne River. The grandparents, who had canoed on the Dordogne many years before, did not participate in that adventure. But we all enjoyed touring the two different castles together. Both grandkids had studied different aspects medieval life in school, so they were familiar with the basics. Our granddaughter knows all about the social structure of the times and was intrigued by the knights and their accoutrements. Our grandson was most interested in the weaponry of the Middle Ages, especially the trebuchets. The Chateau de Castelnaud delighted him with many examples of trebuchets, along with an array of crossbows and swords. Castelnaud's castle also had some good audio-visual features which helped bring the history to life for all of us. Beynac's castle, across the river from its nemesis at Castelnaud, has such a gorgeous setting above the town that we loved wandering the ramparts and imagining Richard the Lionhearted strolling those ramparts himself. The kids thought his bedroom was pretty grand, too. Our tour of Lascaux II was fascinating. We chose Lascaux II instead of the more extensive new Lascaux site because it seemed less complicated for the kids, and the torchlight bit sounded like an authentic touch. Our English speaking guide did a great job of explaining the cave and its drawings to us. We all thought it was a pretty special part of our trip.

On our final evening in Domme, we had dinner at the Pizzeria des Templiers just up the street from our rental house. The pizzas got varying reviews but the atmosphere was pleasant. Looking back on our week in the Dordogne, we all agreed that we loved it. With the time we had, we probably could have seen many more of the sights in the area, but we were all satisfied that we had made the best use of our time with our slower, relaxed approach. Some of the smaller things we did made for good memories. For my husband, who loves to cook, it was shopping for groceries at the supermarket in the neighboring town, then preparing family meals using some of the special local ingredients we found. For our daughters, it was following those centuries old paths that wound for miles down wooded hillsides past little hamlets and along the river, from Domme to Beynac or Castelnaud. For the grandkids, I believe it was having the freedom to explore a place, on their own far from home, with a different culture, much less a different language. I'm hoping they will never forget it. For me, it was drinking my coffee in the kitchen in the morning as everyone gathered around, fixing breakfast and making plans for the day. At day's end, it was sharing not just dinner but the experiences we had all enjoyed.

We were all up early the next morning. Even though we had done most of our packing the previous evening, we needed to make sure we were leaving the rental house in pristine condition before we packed the car and drove to the Hertz office in Brive to drop it off. Our train to Paris departed Brive at 9:50 and although we had a few small issues at the rental car office, we were at the station in plenty of time. This time we had 6 seats together for the trip and in a little over 5 hours we back in Paris. Everything went smoothly until we tried to find 2 cabs at the Gare d'Austerlitz to take us to our hotel. I should have arranged for a transfer service again, but I figured the station would have plenty of cabs available. Not so! Then I remembered that the Gare de Lyon right across the Seine was a much larger station which would surely have a taxi stand. Thankfully it did, and we were soon on our way to our hotel, the Citadines Tour Eiffel.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 12:45 PM
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The metro would have been a good option.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 12:53 PM
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Candance, you did well to go at a slower pace. What a thrilling experience for your grandkids, they’ll always remember this vacation and it’s sure to kindle in them a love of travel and exploring new places and cultures.

One of the pleasures of our travels is buying local produce and cooking a simple meal in our apartment or gîte, washed down with a bottle of wine. And sitting around late evening discussing our day only adds to the experience!
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 01:44 PM
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What a wonderful time you had. Sometimes it is not about all the great place you sees, it is more about the little things that happen. We also love shopping for food and cooking at home. When we go to France we are always looking forward to cooking those things we do not at home.

I am sure your grandchildren will remember this for a long time.
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Old Feb 26th, 2024, 02:32 PM
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I am so glad your grandchildren had the freedom to wander. Did they have, or pick up, a bit of French?
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 12:29 AM
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A great holiday. Many years ago I stayed not that far away in a Chateau while Mrs Bilbo took a 10 person woad dying course. As the only, uninterested attendee I had the time to explore the countryside, the local small towns etc all by bicycle. It was at a time in my life of significant change and our evening discussions were all about dying and what I had discovered, who I had met, thoughts we had all had.

Holidays should not be about ticking off art from a guide book or marching up famous church towers, but a time for conversations, laughs, nibbles, wine, swimming, cycling and love. How easy it is to get it right.
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 01:39 AM
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Originally Posted by bilboburgler
Holidays should not be about ticking off art from a guide book or marching up famous church towers, but a time for conversations, laughs, nibbles, wine, swimming, cycling and love. How easy it is to get it right.
Well said bilbo, it’s the small moments which we remember and laugh about.. the joys of travel en famille 😍
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 04:06 AM
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Candace, what a lovely time you had. These will be special memories for all of you.

Bilbo, I applaud your remarks. First-time visitors want to see the sights that everybody else told them they should see, but if they are lucky they'll make their own discoveries as well. These might be sights or they might be experiences. Either way, these are the kind of things that make the happiest memories.
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 06:57 AM
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What a great 3-generational trip!
Would appreciate hearing about your family's (adults and kids) comments on the Citadines Tour Eiffel.
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 11:20 AM
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Kerouac, you are right, the metro would have been the best option. The walk across the bridge and over the river, then through the Gare de Lyon to find the taxi stand, was quite a long haul, something I try to save my husband from doing these days. I don't know why we didn't consider the metro, as he and I have traveled on it plenty during past visits to Paris. I tend to have a one track mind when stressed and my brain was focused on "taxi". Everyone else just followed my lead.

Geetika & Rhon, We've found that shopping in the supermarkets, and of course the street markets, in the different countries we visit can be a big part of the adventure of experiencing a new place. And so many times, we find the quality of the food we purchase and prepare while traveling is so much better than the quality we are used to at home. Not sure why.

FTOttawa, our daughters practiced some essential French phrases with the kids before our trip. We also took care to impress upon them how important it is in France to greet shopkeepers when you enter their store with a polite "Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur!". To be honest, when we were nearby, the kids tended to be pretty quiet, but hopefully, when they were on their own, they made the attempt to communicate politely with their limited French, and remembered the admonishment to always acknowledge the shopkeepers when you step inside their establishments. To be surrounded by people speaking a language that is incomprehensible to you is an experience that many American kids haven't been exposed to, and I think it helps teach those kids who do experience it, the valuable lesson that the world is a bigger and more complicated place than they might have imagined. I remember while boarding the plane during my first trip overseas so many years ago, I heard everyone around me speaking different languages, and I thought, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." That moment was so exciting, and still so scary, that I have never forgotten it.

Bilboburgler, Coquelicot, & Reading54, like you and geetika and rhon have said, it's not about how many sites you see and how many experiences you have on a trip, it's about the memories you make and take home with you. If you share those memories with the ones you love, so much the better!

Reading54, even though the Citadines Tour Eiffel was expensive, we were glad we booked it. I'll share more about the hotel in my next (and last) segment of this report.
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Old Feb 27th, 2024, 11:44 AM
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Candace, it sounds as though your grandchildren were at the perfect age for this trip and they'll have such precious and fond memories of this time spent with family!
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