"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." - St. Augustine
While I have traveled to some amazing places for work (Finland, Portugal, Bahrain, Singapore etc), it’s always been somewhat of a solitary experience and I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt of leaving my family behind particularly as my kids have gotten older. I have chosen to embrace these opportunities not only for experiencing the world and learning about education systems outside the US, but to prove to myself that I can make my way through the world. I grew up seeing my mother not being able to handle her life competently, and I swore that I always will be able to take care of myself. Traveling and navigating other cultures can be a confidence booster and a reality check on one’s world view.
While we have epically traveled as a family mostly within the US, we have never immersed ourselves as a family in an adventure like this one. The trip’s genesis came after a hard few months supporting my dad and our desire to celebrate some significant milestones including big birthdays for Pete and Julia and our 25th wedding anniversary. The Normandy portion of the trip was also complementary to what my son, Henry, is studying in his American history class this year.
We found that it was more affordable to go to Europe than to a warm place at this time of year and started looking at Costco travel packages at a friend’s suggestion who had a good experience with Costco while traveling to Spain. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Those were really reasonably priced and there was a London/Paris trip that was a special offer. That didn’t work out due to blackout dates, but I would encourage others to check out their deals. I found a good deal on Expedia and away we went.
Here are some additional thoughts and resources that I’ve culled post-trip in case others would like to do a similar trip.
- Additional travel sites that are helpful are Google Flights, Kayak, and Hopper which will help you track flight prices.
-Citymapper is a good transportation app. We loved biking and scooting throughout Paris via Lime and Jump.
-I am really glad I upgraded my iPhone before this trip. The new camera is worth it.
-Join Facebook groups to research your destination. Certain groups were invaluable for our Glacier National Park trip last summer and with this trip. I also searched the NYT food group for Paris suggestions and posted some of my pics there. Be aware that some groups may have an agenda promoting services. Also, make sure to search a group for previous posts with information before posting a question. Also, don’t ask questions that can be answered simply if you do a Google search. Be mindful of people’s expertise and time.
-Solid shoes were crucial on this trip. We averaged 16,000 steps a day over the last week. A new pair of Merrill hiking shoes, gym shoes and my trusty Blundstones were necessities. We also spent most of the time in casual clothes and did laundry once at a local laundromat rather than pay through the nose at our hotel for items to be washed.
-We discovered this brand of travel pillow and bought one light version. The full version made us laugh.
-Our hotel was the biggest disappointment of the trip. We got a deal on a Novotel in the 15th arrondissement. I thought I had booked something in the 7th. It was 1970s modern, had no character, and was run down. It was the most unParis-like hotel I’ve stayed at during my four trips to that city. It had a pool for Peter, and we didn’t really care that much about the hotel as we were out and about all the time.
-By the way, I looked into AirBnB when researching options and there didn’t seem to be many affordable options near the city centre.
-Strolling through the big fancy department stores in Paris is a treat and totally out of our league. Their food and housewares emporiums are really amazing! And, the rooftop of Galleries Lafayette offers some of the best views of the city.
-It was hard to fit in visits to suggested restaurants around visits to sites. This was due to the holidays and transportation strike. The metro was running only on two lines. We rarely are a full breakfast and grabbed amazing croissants, coffee and juice most mornings. Dinner was typically in a corner cafe. I’d love to go back just to focus on food alone in Paris. My favorite meals were the Breton crepes and pizza in Caen plus an omelette in Marais.
-My favorite museum was the National Picasso Museum. It was not what I expected and I loved its building and location.
-My kids loved the museums more than they let on at first and I think they have a point about how museums engage young people. They found that audio tours helped them engage in museums more, and they liked how the Louvre uses Nintendo 3DS devices for this. My son did find some of the language used in museums to describe works to be very pretentious and he was very irritated by this. As a former student of art history, I found this amusing.
- I also really loved the Van Gogh experience at the Digital Atelier... if this exhibition travels around, go see it. It was incredible!
-Make sure to turn on the TV and watch local channels when traveling. My husband and I watched a lot of sports and marveled at soccer, rugby, and auto-racing. Additionally, we watched a lot of news. CNN International is a bit repetitive with its content but very different than their US version. We also liked BBC News.
-Paris is such an amazing city which may seem obvious. I think I love it more than NYC. Not sure how to articulate how I feel about it. We saw a great deal, but it was only a fraction of the possibilities. My dream would be to live in a few cities like this for longer amounts of time. Maybe one day!
In conclusion, it is most definitely a privilege to travel like this, but the lesson I’ve learned is to explore whatever corner of the world you have access to. Find your state or national park, an amazing library, or a museum within your reach as a starting place. I am so glad I did this with my family as these experiences will marinate with my kids for a long time as a friend wrote on FB in the comments of an earlier post. My ultimate hope is that they will grow up to have a zest for life and an insatiable curiosity about the world. These past 10 days helped us be more present with each other, too, and I’m impressed with how my family trooped through everything.
Here’s our day-to-day itinerary:
Sunday, December 22
Walked to the Eiffel Tower
Ate dinner at the Christmas Market in the Tuileries Garden
Checked out the Louvre Pyramid
Monday, December 23
Drove to Normandy
Visited the Caen Memorial
Went to Omaha Beach & the American Cemetery
Visited the Bayeux Cathedral
Tuesday, December 24
Went to the Paris Zoo to see “the blob” - the zoo was phenomenal, but the blob was underwhelming
Saw the Van Gogh Exhibit at the Atelier des Lumieres
Visited Jim Morrison’s grave in the Père Lachaise Cemetery
Dinner at the Christmas Market again
Wednesday, December 25th
Went to Disneyland Paris - food in the Ratatouille section is very good and various stands provide an opportunity to sample some typical French food
Thursday, December 26th
Dined at the Relais de l’Entrecote back in Paris
Friday, December 27th
Rode scooters to the Musée d’Orsay
Took the red line Big Bus
Went to the Arc de Triomphe
Ate dinner near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at Chez Barbara
Saturday, December 28th
Rode scooters to Musée de l'Orangerie
Ate croissants in the Tuileries
Visited the Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Took the Big Bus
Ate dinner in the 1st arr. at an average bistro
Sunday, December 29th
Visited to the Louvre (we should have booked a ThatMuse hunt, but I forgot about it)
Had a snack at Angelina’s which was overrated
Went to the National Picasso Museum
Took a taxi to Sacré-Coeur
Monday, December 30th
Bought chocolates at Patrick Roger
Saw St. Sulpice
Went to Shakespeare and Company
Ate at Café de Flore - overpriced and not worth it
Peter and Henry went to the Musée de l'Armée
Tuesday, December 31st
Sat on the steps of the opera building Palais Garnier
Walked to the Marais
Had lunch in Marais at Café Charlot
Walked through Marché couvert les Enfants Rouge
Had ice cream at Berthillon - best ice cream I’ve ever had
Took Seine boat ride - avoid Vedettes de Paris Seine which was recommended by our concierge; I had a better experience with this company on another trip
Had dinner at a café that preyed upon tourists near the Eiffel Tower - make sure to read Yelp reviews before choosing a restaurant
Wednesday, January 1
Had brunch at a local café
Rode bikes and scooter to the Grand Palais using Jump app
Went ice skating at the Grand Palais - overpriced for the experience, but kids enjoyed it
Did a skip-the-line tour of the Eiffel Tour - it was nice, but not needed. It was not crowded at 8 PM at night, but perhaps that is because it was very foggy. We booked this through our concierge.
- Rick Steves' Paris Guide
- Google Map of Places I Researched
- Apps and Sites: Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, Localites, Swarm, Four Square, Google Maps, Expedia, Trip Advisor, Waze, City Mapper, Jump, Lime, Kayak, Hopper, Google Flights
- Ostrich Travel Pillow
- Paris Month by Month - Lonely Planet
- Paris Museum Pass (make sure to get this pass rather than the Paris Pass; they are two different things)
- Transportation Information Related to the Transportation Strike
- Upcoming Transportation Strikes in France
- French Cookbooks I Want to Check Out
- Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local - Clotilde Dusoulier
- My Paris Kitchen - David Lebovitz
- Around My French Table - Dorie Greenspan
- Bistro Cooking - Patricia Wells
- Les Halles - Anthony Bourdain
- Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home: A Cookbook - Ina Garten
Paris-Related Movies Recommended by Friends
- American in Paris
- Before Sunrise
- Before Sunset
- Before Midnight
- Bourne Supremacy movies
- La Creche
- Les Enfants du Paradis
- Everyone Says I Love You
- Forget Paris
- French Kiss
- La Haine
- Les Misérables
- The Last Metro
- Last Tango in Paris
- Midnight in Paris
- Moulin Rouge
- One Day
- Paris Je T’Aime
- The Red Balloon
- La Vie En Rose
- Site with Trailers
Apple Music Playlists