A Paris "Crash Course"
Well, yeah, so... it turns out a whole month in December wasn't enough for us. Paris is Andrew's favorite place in the world, and I've been pretty charmed by it too, so it's not hard to reel us back in. Somehow all our gushing about Paris back in the fall and winter was enough to convince both my parents and my Aunt Bev and Uncle Dave to make a stop here after their Rhine river cruise before flying home (and Aunt Vikki and Uncle Bob were here before the cruise, and while I can't take total credit for convincing them to come, I'm sure our blog posts around Christmastime didn't hurt...).
However, while my mom and Dave and Bev had nearly a week to check out this famous city, my dad only had one more night he could really squeeze in before going back to work. While I'm sure he's genuinely curious about Paris for himself, I know the bending-over-backwards travel days he's endured to get 24 hours here is a testament to his love for me; when the opportunity was available to see this place his kid kept talking about, he made sure to be there.
But how on Earth do you squeeze in all of Paris in one night? We wanted to get quality time with Dad before saying goodbye for another three-plus months, while showing him some of the major sights, while also showing him what Andrew and I love about the city which is completely separate from the sights. That's a lot, but we did our best.
Part One: Park picnic by the Seine
Picnic culture in Paris is real. I think it's an often-missed thing for tourists, because when visiting you want to enjoy nice French cuisine or you're grabbing a quick bite in between lots and lots of walking around. If you stroll the parks though, especially around meal times, you'll see tons of people sitting in the grass with blankets or on benches, munching on something yummy and maybe even enjoying a beer or bottle of wine. We were lucky enough to be invited to an evening picnic in the Tuileries Gardens with a bunch of locals a couple days before my parents arrived, where popular lawn games were being played. (Super fun!)
Picnic game night at the Tuileries a few nights before my parents got into town.
So Andrew and I went to the grocery store and a boulangerie before my parents' train got in and picked up a couple of baguettes, dried meats (salami, prosciutto, sausage), camembert and saint nectaire cheeses, butter, peaches, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and chilled white wine, and greeted Mom and Dad at Gare de Lyon with a full backpack of treats. We walked a short ways (it felt longer than it was, carrying luggage) to a patch of green next to the Seine called the Tino-Rossi Garden, and while it's not the most picturesque park in Paris, it was nearby (because luggage) and close to the river.
The next step was checking into our family Airbnb over in the 15th arrondissement, but the metro is so easy to use and navigate, despite the sweltering heat that appeared difficult to manage in the older train cars...
Part Two: Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe
We hopped on the metro from the 15th towards the Champs-Élysées. We didn't feel like transferring lines, so we got off at Concorde, though if we were to do it again I think I would have us get on line one and go a little further to save walking time. Still, it was an enjoyable stroll all the way up the Champs-Élysées, which got steadily more crowded, until we arrived at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe. There was some kind of parade going on when we walked up. We didn't have time to go up to the top, but we viewed it from a few angles and Dad remarked on the insanity going on between the motor vehicles in the enormous traffic circle, so the most important points were hit!
The Arc with my dad!
Part Three: A French Dinner, and Boulevard de Clichy
Okay, so if you're familiar with Paris you'll wonder why we included Place/Boulevard de Clichy in our very limited tour. It's true that while it's somewhat near the Sacré Cœur and Montmartre, there's not a whole lot to really see in the neighborhood itself (besides walk past the Moulin Rouge!). However, Andrew and I stayed in a flat in Place de Clichy for a month in December, so the area started to feel like home. We wanted Dad to get to see our stomping grounds. There was also a fantastic restaurant recommended to us in the area called Lorette & les Garçons where we'd booked a table.
The restaurant choice was perfect. Our servers were fantastic (they even ran across the street to get beer for my parents, as their keg hadn't been delivered that morning) and the food was amazing. Dad and Andrew got the plat de jour (steak frites), Mom got a light and tasty smoked haddock, and I tried the salmon with a cream sauce. We also nibbled on escargot as an appetizer and got two desserts. We took our time and really enjoyed ourselves. The place was French without being intimidating; they didn't have an English version of the menu, for example, but the servers were very friendly and helpful!
Our dinner spot.
Part Four: The Louvre in the Evening
Our last big sights for the evening were supposed to be the Louvre lit up at night, with a walk from there to the illuminated Eiffel Tower. Nobody wanted to take the metro after dinner, so we walked from the restaurant in that direction, but got distracted just before we made it and stopped for another beer. (Worth it.) This walk also allowed us to pass the Galleries at Lafayette and the Opera house, so no regrets! A highlight for me was seeing my Dad's amazement at the sheer mass of the Louvre itself and how over-the-top it is, just on the outside. He'll have to come back and go in someday.
We got to peek at the gardens at night, though they are officially closed, and you could see the Eiffel Tower glittering in the distance. We were quite pooped by this point and it was nearly midnight, so we decided to take the metro home. The night was a success.
Part Five: Notre Dame
Dad had to be on his way to the airport by 10:45am, so we didn't have much time, but we made the most of it. Andrew ran (literally) to the bakery near our Airbnb to pick up croissants, because you can't miss those. Dad would have needed to transfer twice to get to the airport from the 15th, but there was a direct line from a station near the Notre Dame, so we decided to take him there all together. You can't go inside the cathedral since the tragic fire, but much of the exterior is still visible and worth seeing. He got to lay eyes on it before catching the RER to Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Awesome parents in an awesome place!
It didn't really sink in how fleeting this visit was until we were hugging him goodbye in the cramped RER entrance, and a few eyes got a little teary. I've said it before but I'll say it again: we are incredibly lucky that our family has gotten to join us for a little sliver of this trip; it's impossible to articulate how special that feels. I wish more than anything that Dad could have also stayed, but I'm so grateful for the time we did get in Amsterdam and our 24 hours here--memories were made, and this is certainly not the last trip for our silly clan!
Our Week in the Heat Wave
Uncle Dave and Aunt Bev arrived later in the day that Dad left, and though we originally thought Dad's one day would be the fastest-pace and busiest of our visit, we were wrong! There is SO much to see and do in Paris.
The heat was really quite severe compared to what we're used to--we were kicking ourselves for wishing so hard for summer heat while in the sideways Welsh rain a month ago--so we were making frequent stops at cafes for drinks and a break, though Paris is not exactly prepared for such high temperatures and air conditioning is hard to come by. A beer or chilled wine can do the trick, though! Day two in our AC-free Airbnb, we went on a hunt for some window fans, but to no one's surprise, the big home goods store was completely sold out. Mom couldn't take it and bought one of the $40 miniature fans for sale in the clothing boutique across the mall, though it's whole 6 inches is probably more for aesthetic than function. (Andrew can't stop shaking his head because I brought it with us in my pack to Southern France just in case.)
Traveling with family is super different than traveling on our own, so it was kind of a fun break in the routine. Of course, there was the massive perk of the family's generosity... Mom's logic was, "If you would never do it on your own, but I insist for my own comfort, I'll buy." She was the one shaking her head repeatedly as every mealtime rolled around and we were suggesting homemade sandwiches in the grass or taking things home to cook, though we did have a few picnics. "Vacation" and "backpacking" really do have different definitions, and Andrew and I are pretty firmly in "backpacking" mode. We were certainly spoiled rotten throughout the week as we were showered with meals out at actual tables with servers and everything.
Which ones are for wine...water...beer...??
Visiting Paris with first-timers actually also meant doing things we hadn't done before, as well! Neither of us had ever seen Saint Chapelle with the stunning stained glass, or rented bicycles at Versailles (we tried a tandem bike and discovered surprising success), or done one of those boat tours of the city (which we did at sundown, and it was beautiful). We visited Ateliers de Lumières, which is a new style of art museum in which the artist's work is projected all over the walls of the giant space, slightly animated, and set to music. The Van Gogh exhibition was going on during our visit, and because he's my favorite, we went on my birthday. It was a really unique way to experience paintings, and I definitely recommend it--but tickets sell out several days in advance, so book online ahead of time!
Versailles Gardens adventure
Aunt Bev, amazed by the Palace of Versailles!
Ateliers de Lumières during the van Gogh exhibition.
We ate and drank our way through my birthday, and hiked the many stairs to the Sacré Cœur (what with our Christmas Eve and New Years' celebrations at the top of Montmartre, this made my third "holiday" this trip there). We got drinks at Le Valois, a bar Andrew and I liked in December, and an outstanding dinner at The Little Italy overlooking Place de Clichy. Plus tiramisu, of course.
Our very last night in the city, for us and the family, we met up with Aunt Bev's cousin Charlie and his wife. They are world travelers, enabled by her work which has clients all over the world, and have been living in Paris for three years. We had dinner with them, got ice cream at a famous spot in the Latin Quarter, and they took us on a stroll along the Seine next to Notre Dame. In the park where we had our very first picnic with Mom and Dad, there were groups of mingled locals and tourists ballroom dancing. When I say "groups," what I really mean is crowds. Music, drinks, laughter, and dancing, all the way down the river. Uncle Dave and Aunt Bev have dancing experience, so they were the first to join in, but eventually my mom and Andrew and I had a try! It was such a joyful way to end a special trip, with the late evening summer sky still lit up and all the Parisians enjoying a Saturday night.
Goodbyes are hard, but this time it will be a lot sooner until I get to hug my parents again than the last time we parted. More than anything, having family here in Europe and sharing experiences together means none of us are traveling alone; we each get to be a part of each other's trip, and home feels just a little closer. Maybe when Andrew and I return this fall, this past year won't feel like an isolated thing, because our community was a part of it, too.