Our time in Paris flew by, but we really crammed in a lot of activities without feeling overwhelmed. To read about where we stayed and our first 2 days in Paris, catch up here.
My goal for the day was to visit the Marmottan Museum, which is on the far West side of Paris (another location fitting the theme of “I never had time to visit when I lived there.”). It doesn’t open until 10 a.m., so we decided to walk there leisurely via the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some construction going on, accompanied by serious security lines. I had to ask some soldiers going by where to get in, but it turns out the security line is for everyone that wants to go into the Tower area, not just people who want to go up. Luckily, the line was quick and the security guards were really friendly with Julia. Perhaps as a result of the chaos below, the line to get tickets would have been really short, but we really were just there to check out the view. I had been hoping to stroll down the Champ de Mars, which is the open grassy area where you see lots of pictures of people “holding” the tower, but Julia was in a cuddly/sad mood and it seemed complicated to get there, so we just kept moving after taking advantage of the free restrooms.
We also made our way past an outpost of Pierre Hermé, which is my preferred macaron
dealer seller to pick up a dozen delicious little cookies.
The museum had a sizeable line and some stairs to get in, but we were waved past the line because of the baby (chalk another one up to the list of “pros of traveling with small kids”). It was a little awkward to cut people off at the front to pay for our tickets, but worth saving the time. I absolutely adored the museum and found it similar in charm to the Jacquemart-André that I had visited in college – it’s basically a beautiful urban mansion filled with impressive art collections, rather than a large institution (nothing against the Louvre). The homey feel lends itself to exploring with little ones – it just doesn’t feel as overwhelming. Julia would have been too young to participae, but there was also a really fun sounding workshop (atélier) for kids on the day we were there that would have involved a tour and an art class. In addition to the spectacular collection of Monet’s work that is hidden away in the basement, there was also an exhibit of beautiful illuminated manuscripts and a room full of Berthe Morisot (a female impressionist) paintings.
Julia mostly enjoyed climbing the grand staircase, but also managed to stay interested in the paintings for longer than we expected, particularly when we talked about all the colors in the water lily paintings.
After exiting the museum, we stopped at the tiny playground in the Jardin du Ranelagh, but it was pretty disastrous. An entire class of kindergartners arrived at exactly the same time, it started to rain, and Julia slipped on wet sand while climbing and gave herself a nose bleed. We huddled under the bathroom shelter for a few minutes while planning our escape and made it to the metro stop to head home and wait out the rain/eat leftovers for lunch/nap.
Peter was still feeling a little tired and we had another date night that I wanted him to feel rested for, so I took Julia out to the Jardin du Luxembourg to visit the infamous playground. I’ve never paid for playground access before (least of all for adults – what?!), but it was about 5 EUR for both of us to go in. Had I realized, we might have gone in the morning before our trip to the museum since admission is good for the whole day, but it was a pretty impressive playground that Julia loved, so I’m still glad we went. There are tons of things to climb and enough places for little ones, so Julia felt ready to play. I noticed two things during our visit – the first was that she was much more independent at this playground. She would run off to play structures and insert herself into the group, whereas at home she’ll normally want me to come with her if there’s a large group of unknown kids. Second, French kids were so polite and good at sharing! There were at least 3 occasions where Julia wanted to play on something that was already occupied, usually by an older boy in the 5-10 age range. Without fail, they would climb off and say “Oh, she wants to play. Here you go!” and move on to something else so she could have a turn. Is that an age range thing or a cultural thing? I was blown away since it seems like most kids in the U.S. will at least complete their turn before letting anyone else so much as glance at their toy.
We walked back and stopped at bakery Mulot for some takeaway pizza and little appetizer treats for Julia and our babysitter, Hilary, to have for dinner. We got back just in time to meet her and Peter and I headed out for date night #2.
We stopped at a little sidewalk café for a drink and bought a couple of La Durée macarons to tide us over for our walk towards dinner (they have almond flour and egg whites, so it’s practically real food!). The Formula E races were due to start a day or two after we left and they were being set up, so we went and checked out the tents and tried to spy some of the cars and the track en route to dinner at L’Ami Jean. This restaurant had come up in all of my research (like this Food and Wine list) and it was really cozy, although another place that I would not have brought Julia. The place is very intimate (read: they had to pull out our table so we could squeeze in next to another couple) and does not have an English menu. I speak some French, but culinary vocabulary is sometimes more than I can handle, so we got some assistance from our waiter. I also heard him telling another table “I am the English menu” when they asked for one. Ha! The menu was interesting because it had some easy choices for us, as well as some additions that took us out of our comfort zone. We shared a light asparagus dish as an appetizer. Peter had a roasted veal dish that had head cheese, braised tongue and beef cheek, all of which were very good, but the cheek and tongue (tongue in cheek? #momjokes) were the winners. I had pollock with vegetables that was served on top of charred oregano (fun fact: it smells like pot) that was good, but the vegetables were much better than the fish. They also sent out a sharing plate of the most creamy and delectable mashed potatoes I have ever had. It reminded me of aligot, a smooth potato and cheese dish that I would add to my last meal on earth. We were also able to chat with the couple next to us, who ended up being the owners of Stony Brook winery in South Africa on a holiday to visit their grandchild with a stopover in Paris. Adding a visit to my bucket list! Dessert was meh – our desserts were worded very differently, but were basically the same thing – meringue with sauce (mine was macerated strawberries and Peter’s was a black licorice). Dinner was twice as much as at Pomze the night before. It was mostly delicious and came with a beautiful atmosphere and the epitome of French service (efficient and knowledgeable, but not your next best friend), but I don’t feel the need to go back.
I asked Peter if I could take Julia out for a girls’ morning and he was happy to oblige. Our first stop was the Angelina tea salon. They open quite early for Paris – 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. on weekends, so this was a great morning stop for us and there wasn’t a wait. They had sweet little brunch tea towers, but we were most interested in the chocolat à l’ancienne, which is very rich and filling, so I had a tartine (grilled bread) with jam and butter and Julia got a pain au raisin. The chestnut jam is to die for and I bought several miniature ones to take home to my co-workers. The service was also phenomenal – Julia charmed our waitress with her enthusiasm about the chocolate and there were crayons to color with when people watching got boring. This is a touristy stop on the rue du Rivoli (across from the Tuileries), but it’s been one of my favorite splurges forever and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take Julia.
Next, we walked leisurely through the Place de la Concorde towards Galeries Lafayette, arriving literally moments before they opened. I was on a mission to pick up a new stuffed animal for Julia since we had accidentally left her Elmo at our B&B in Normandy and it’s tradition after I brought back a little stuffie for my niece when she was a baby. I also wanted a couple of the classic Longchamp pliage bags that are less expensive in France. Julia was happy to help me shop and kept announcing “I like that one!” about most things on the rack.
The flagship Galeries Lafayette location is beautiful, with a gorgeous dome and old-fashioned elevators. However, probably because it’s such a tourist destination, they are serious about security. We had to have our bags checked and get waved by a metal detector wand when entering. Also, I’m used to leaving my stroller next to the aisle when shopping in the U.S. so that I can browse the racks more easily. I got in trouble for this because I wasn’t quite close enough to the stroller and the security guard was about to take it away. Yikes! They claimed they were just trying to protect me from pick pockets, but seeing as how there was no one in the kids’ section, I think it’s a sad reminder of the plethora of recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Throughout our visit, there was a large police/military presence that didn’t bother us, but was very noticeably different from the last time I was here in 2010. We picked up a cute little stuffed hippo and new purses and headed for home. There were some closures and construction in the metro, plus I had the stroller with me that required taking elevators (not always available and usually out of the way – beware), so our trip home took more than 40 minutes and probably would have been faster to walk. C’est la vie!
After Julia’s nap nap, we headed back to the Jardin du Luxembourg to rent a little wooden sailboat (I felt really grateful for our apartment’s location near the garden – as you can see, we visited daily). You push these adorable country-themed boats around a small pond with a wooden stick and can rent them for 4 EUR for half an hour. Julia could have happily played for much longer, especially since our Greece-themed boat got stuck in the middle by the fountain for awhile and we had to wait patiently for it (I maintain that it must have been Odysseus’ boat and was pulled in by some Sirens).
We climbed up and down stairs and walked past the playgrond after our sailing time was over, but it was still too early to reasonably eat dinner, so we decided to walk to La Grande Mosquée de Paris to have tea in their tea salon (I had read about it in this review). The atmosphere was really lovely – full of beautiful tiles and lamps. Another guest kindly explained when we arrived that we could just seat ourselves and wait until a server with a tray of tea came around. It’s 2 EUR for each cup of delightfully sweet mint tea (you pay them in cash). You can visit a counter by the entrance to pick up assorted pastries, also 2 EUR each. It was a perfect break and Julia is a little tea lover, so we drank something like 4 or 5 cups of tea.
We walked towards dinner via the Pantheon. It ended up being closed, which a nice French family we chatted with told us was because President Macron was going to speak there the following day. However, Julia just wanted to run around and climb the curb in front of the building anyway.
We made it to dinner at Relais de l’Entrecote to have delectable steak frites. It was a great example of how friendly French people can be. I had long forgotten how to order steak in French and did a super fast Google search as we were walking in. The site bumped up the levels of doneness and I accidentally ordered medium for myself and medium well for Peter. I explained my error to our waitress and she miraculously got it fixed for us – having our steaks completely redone. That sounds like an obvious outcome at an American restaurant, but for someone to do that in France was amazing and so kind. Also, I could eat those steak frites every day of the week and twice on Sunday. For the record, here’s what you want to order according to our waitress:
Medium rare: Saignant
A point: Medium
Bien cuit: Medium well
Très bien cuit: Well done
We ended the day by stealing a little bit more time on our balcony.
We packed up and headed out to the metro. We had been planning to take the RER directly from the Notre Dame area, but unfortunately while the RER C line was closed (due to recent flooding), they neglected to note on the sign that this also applied to the B line that goes to the airport. I was pretty flustered (traveling is very slowly teaching me to go with the flow, but I love planning and am still learning to deal when things don’t go according to plan) and wanted to hop in the first cab, but that also seemed daunting since there aren’t cab stands in Paris like in American big cities, and an Uber was going to have huge surge pricing since it was close to rush hour. I asked at the ticket counter what we should do and we ended up taking line 4 to Les Halles and winding around a lot of corners to get on the crowded B line to the airport.
The Charles de Gaulle airport is right up there with London’s Heathrow in terms of worst organized and least efficient. However, all of the Air France employees were really kind and did their best to be helpful, and I had Peter there to remind me that these were first world problems. Travel days are stressful even wthout kids, so it’s nice to have someone along to keep things in perspective.
We loved our visit to Paris – it was my favorite part of the trip (ok, after the treehouse) because it felt so much like coming home. The food was delicious, the people were kind and appreciated any effort we made to speak French, and the city is beautiful in its own special way. At one point during our trip, Peter suggested that we probably need to come back more often (it had been 8 years) so I can practice my French. Je suis d’accord!