I posted previously about how I love using Google’s My Maps product to plot out things I want to do in a city we’re visiting, which then helps me decide where we might want to stay, as well as plan specific days’ activities based on proximity to each other.
When I was planning the Rome portion of our recent trip, for example, I had originally booked an apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood, which is on the south bank of the Tiber river. It has a great reputation as being beautiful and walkable and feeling kind of artsy, which was true. However, when I started plotting out the things we wanted to do, particularly our day trip to Tivoli and getting to and from the airport, it became clear that staying in the area would make using public transit more difficult, primarily because of the length of the train trips or number of transfers. By switching awhile before our actual trip, we found a great studio near the Termini station that allowed us to walk 5-10 minutes to the train, and it was easier to walk to other destinations (like the Colosseum and the Villa Borghese). We still visited Trastevere for an evening, but didn’t spend large chunks of our stay commuting across town.
Since we were going to have date nights in Paris and my husband has several dietary restrictions (and was testing out gluten and dairy intolerance shortly before our trip), I also made a separate map for restaurants in Paris and categorized them by type (e.g., ones from a Food and Wine list I found that just looked like they would have options, vs. places that were specifically mentioned by other blogs or sources as accommodating restrictions).
If you’re looking to plan trips to Paris, Normandy or Rome, I invite you to take a look at the maps I created as good starting points. I’m no professional, but I loved using layers to split out things to do, restaurants, our apartment and transit stations (as well as markets in Paris, although we never ended up going to one), as well as using different colors and markers to differentiate sites from each other.
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!
We stayed in a studio in the Saint Germain-des-Près area (6th arrondissement) that I found on Booking.com (use the link and get $20 towards your stay). Check in was earlier than typical (1 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.), which was great since we were driving back to Paris from Normandy and wanted to return the car earlier. Stephane, our host who also manages many other properties under the Edenoz brand name, met us and gave us a quick tour. The studio is classic downtown Paris – fairly small with a microscopic bathroom. That being said, the location was perfect to get around Paris (a short walk to Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Jardin du Luxembourg, etc). There was also a (small) elevator that made going up and down to the 6th floor easy and a balcony with peekaboo views of the Eiffel Tower. We wish we had been more insistent on the crib – Stephane mentioned that the cleaning lady hadn’t brought it yet and said it would probably be too small for Julia, recommending that we just keep her in the single bed. However, she typically fell out of the bed several times a night (including one particularly hard fall before I learned to cover the floor in extra pillows). Travel learning: it’s okay to insist on something if you think it will make your stay more comfortable (especially if you requested it months in advance and confirmed via e-mail ahead of time) and don’t assume your child is going to magically learn a new skill (like a big girl bed) just because you’re on vacation.
What We Did And Where We Ate
After we met up with Stephane at the apartment, we took a little stroll to Sainte Chapelle.The general theme of our visit to Paris was “Do things I never had a chance to do during college” (when I studied abroad and lived in Paris for about 6 months). For some reason, this was one of the monuments I never made it to, despite being in the center of town. The site shares its entrance with a courthouse, so we trudged through security with people who were there for a court date. Presumably impressed that Julia hadn’t stolen her first car yet, the nice security guards let me keep her in the stroller through the metal detector. The building wasn’t particularly big, but the inside is stunningly beautiful. The windows are so intricate and the colors are so vivid! To be honest, while Julia did great inside and enjoyed noticing the animals and people I pointed out to her, this wasn’t the most toddler-friendly destination. We had to leave our stroller downstairs, there wasn’t much room to move around, and the windows were less meaningful without one of the information cards stored at the front that Julia refused to let me read. Peter took a picture of the card for me to read later, but I’d love to go back someday so I can spend some time there.
We stopped by the Pont des Arts for one of several visits on our way back to the apartment for a nap. Taking time out for Julia to rest was essential in Paris – and was nice for us, too. We grabbed ice cream at Amorino after Julia’s nap, where she freaked out because my ice cream touched hers and I may have accidentally eaten some. She’s generally a pretty good traveler, but there were moments on this trip (particularly in Rome) where it was really apparent that she’s just a toddler and that she loves to freak out when she doesn’t get her way.
We headed to a dinner reservation at Breizh Caféthat we were early for. I had found the restaurant when researching places that would be compatible with Peter’s dietary restrictions (he has a number of them, including corn/soy/peanuts, but prior to this trip he had also been experimenting with dairy and gluten avoidance). The galettes were good (Peter had one with smoked salmon and I had one with langoustines), but a little dry and the presentation made them seem fancier than they were. However, we loved our cider and being able to people watch from our sidewalk table. There was even a tiny sliver of sidewalk where Julia could play. We still had a lot of daylight left after our early dinner, so we headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg to watch koi fish in the pond before we got kicked out (they close before sunset because of the Senate building).
We were fortunate to have great weather during most of our stay, and the sunset was so beautiful that we just couldn’t bear to head back to the apartment yet, so we headed for the Pont des Arts one more time. Peter proposed to me on this bridge in 2010, so it holds special meaning for us. They have since replaced the famous sides with glass so that people can’t hang their locks and weigh down the bridge too much, but lovers have found a way to show their affection by hanging them on bicycle locks strung around light poles. Julia was most excited about a pedestrian bridge where she could run to her heart’s content, and pleased that lots of the other visitors to the bridge paid her all kinds of attention. My heart just about burst with happiness being in my favorite city with my favorite people on such a wonderful evening.
I woke up earlier than the family (around 6:30) and tried to hit the Carrefour grocery store up the street from us, but they didn’t open until 8:30. It wasn’t something I’d had to think about when I lived in Paris since I rarely did grocery shopping in the morning. Not to worry – I made a stop at the Mulotbakery up the street just after they opened at 7 and bought croissants and a baguette that were still warm. After breakfast, we also stopped at the café downstairs for hot chocolate and coffee, but it was a good reminder that drinking your coffee at the counter is significantly less expensive (my tiny latté was something like 6 EUR, whereas an espresso at the counter of a nearby café of similar quality a couple of days later was 1.25). However, the grin on Julia’s face from being able to mix her steamed milk into the chocolate made it much more worth it.
Next, we headed on a quick walk down by the Seine to meet the boat for our cruise down the Canal St. Martin with ParisCanal. I’d taken a cruise down the Seine in high school and thought that while it was a touristy thing to do, it was a cool way to see some of the larger landmarks and get some quick facts about them. The Canal St. Martin cruises in our direction start on the Seine, so you still get a bit of that experience, but then you move into the canal, which is completely different. The best part of the canals was going through the tunnels – it felt like something out of Phantom of the Opera. You go through 9 locks in all and get some great commentary in French and English. Julia enjoyed bouncing around on both decks and standing in the front of the boat. She started to get a little antsy towards the end of the 2.5 hour cruise, but having a lot of snacks on board saved us. We loved the cruise and it was a perfect day for it, but did wish the boats were electric – the smog at the back was really thick and made going near the back of the boat uncomfortable.
We got off the boat and started to think about lunch, but got distracted by the fantastic playground at Parc de la Villette. I loved the creativity of the play structures (like rubber trampolines) and the way that age appropriate areas were separated. The regular changing area’s lock was broken, so we went to the other family restrooms and they had THREE SIZES of kids’ toilets (from itty bitty to a standard kids’ size toilet). I have no idea why, but that made me laugh hysterically and wish Julia was closer to potty training. We stayed way longer than planned because Julia was having so much fun. Peter was also pretty tired and used the conveniently set up parent lounge chairs for a quick snooze.
Julia fell asleep in the baby carrier basically immediately after we left the park. We stopped at a little Lebanese bakery to grab picnic supplies (a pizza with tuna and olives and a smoked salmon sandwich along with some pistachio pastries). I never made it up to the North side of Paris much (other than one or two trips to Montmartre) and this neighborhood was so cool – there were grocery stores run by Jewish people and bakeries run by Muslim people. I’m sure there’s more to the area than meets the eye, but from a tourist’s perspective, it was nice to see people of different belief systems living peacefully together. We walked to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont to make our way up to the gazebo and check out the view. It had turned to be a slightly hazy day, but it’s really a beautiful park (there was even an American wedding party at the top waiting for pictures) and we loved walking around. Julia woke up shortly after we got to the top, so she was happy to run around while we ate lunch.
Peter was feeling tired (Julia and I have a tendency to wear him out, but I can’t imagine why…), so we took the metro half way back to the apartment with him and Julia and I walked through the Marais to stop at L’As du Fallafel (mostly to get dinner for the babysitter) and snack on some delicious fallafel in a little pocket park. It was fun being back in a city I enjoyed in college – I never noticed all the little parks hidden around every corner, which made it extra special to discover them with Julia.
Our babysitter (yes! babysitter! see notes below) arrived right on schedule at 6 and Julia got over her shyness really quickly. I had talked to her about it a few times throughout the day and how she would have a friend to show her toys to, so she was really excited to show Hilary her sticker book right when she arrived. Peter and I had left ourselves time to be able to walk leisurely to dinner and possibly grab a drink. We decided to ride the giant ferris wheel that was a temporary exhibition by the Tuileries. It was a beautiful day and we could see so many of the famous landmarks – it wasn’t something we would normally choose to do, but it felt freeing to have a babysitter and extra time before dinner.
We ate at Pomze, another place that I had found while doing research on restaurants that would be friendly to gluten intolerance. The food was amazing and the staff was so kind and welcoming. The restaurant is apple centric and most of our dishes had various apple components to them, but in a refreshing way. Tarte tatin is one of my most favorite desserts and theirs was delicious. We also loved our bottle of cider and probably could have gone through 2 or 3 more if we didn’t know Julia would wake up too early for that. We had talked about going out afterwards, but were so exhausted from the long day that we just took a bus home after dinner.
Note on our babysitter: I knew I would really appreciate a babysitter after our great experience in Lisbon last year, but was concerned about finding one. I reached out to a couple of agencies that had really high fees, e-mailed a couple of bloggers that had used babysitters in Paris in previous trips, asked our apartment manager (no leads) and tried Yoopies. The number of responses I got on Yoopies was overwhelming and the fee structure for a non-French person seemed confusing, although it probably would have been fine, but also difficult to interview a person ahead of time. One of the bloggers suggested I reach out on social media (I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, duh) and we had two strong leads – one from my former roommate in Paris and one from a friend that I had sung with in a choir in France. Hilary was a friend of this friend who’s getting a graduate degree in Paris and worked out perfectly. She was great with Julia, friendly, and we really trusted her.
Have you traveled with dietary restrictions? Any tips and tricks that worked for you?
In addition to our time near the D-Day beaches, which was mostly requested and even planned by Peter, we also did some short trips to two of the other beautiful key sites in Normandy: Mont Saint-Michel and Giverny.
We decided to detour to Mont Saint-Michel in between our stay in the treehouse and the D-Day beaches. This abbey on a rock out past the tides is visually stunning from a mile away and we were lucky enough to come on a beautiful clear day.
There’s an easy shuttle from the parking lot that takes you right to the base of the mountain, where the driver literally hops out, walks to the other end, and drives back. The walk up to the abbey wasn’t too difficult, but it was really crowded even in April and we saw a few people struggling to push strollers up the streets (why though?!). I don’t think strollers are allowed inside, so we were grateful for a baby carrier, even if Julia was less excited about it. She was in a toddler mood that afternoon and really didn’t want to spend much time inside, but luckily it’s not absurdly expensive to go in the abbey and there are are outdoor spaces to run around towards the end of the visit, as well as viewpoints along the way where she could use her outdoor voice. It was also busy enough that her noise wasn’t atrocious.
On the way down, we stopped for ice cream and an apple tart at one of several shops. The ice cream was really and truly terrible (strawberry soft serve that tasted like a bad 7-11 icee), but Peter liked the apple tart. We visited the Skelligs in Ireland for our 1st anniversary years ago, and I kept expecting a similar other worldly experience since this is also an extremely challenging feat of religiously-oriented engineering, but it just didn’t hit me the same way. If I had to do it all over again, I might have spent more time at the beach and less time with the hordes of other tourists. That said, they really do make it easy for you to visit, so if you’re in the area, I would at least recommend driving by (the parking lot has a much lower rate for less than 2 hours, which would be impossible to do for a real visit, but would be useful for a quick one).
Giverny was a really picturesque village and I wish we had more time there just to relax around the beautiful springtime blooms. We stayed at a lovely little B&B called the Forest Farm, which I found on Booking.com. It’s technically in Bois Jérôme Saint-Ouen, but it’s a 10-15 minute drive to Giverny, so it’s much easier than crossing over into Vernon (which is where your train would arrive if that was your travel mode). There was a little playhouse out on a lawn, and our large triple room with a private bathroom was the only place we stayed with a bathtub, which Julia appreciated since she’d been forced to shower with me in a tiny European shower everywhere else.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and our B&B owner recommended the restaurant at the Hotel Baudyfor dinner since most places are closed on Sunday. It had a lovely and bustling terrace and Julia even got to play in the gravel with another little boy her age and order fish off the kids’ menu. My Normandy salad and lamb skewers were delicious, and Peter like the goat cheese terrine and duck confit.
The next morning, we ate breakfast on the early side and tried to get to Monet’s House as soon as possible. We over-achieved and arrived before they opened, so I asked if there was a bakery nearby to pick up sandwiches for a picnic later. It was a lovely example of how sweet French people are when asked for help – the bakery didn’t technically have sandwiches until much later, but they saw Julia and offered to make a coupe of the more simple ones for us. Unfortunately, the bakery was further from Monet’s House than expected so we got back a bit late and were stuck at the pre-booked ticket entrance behind several tour groups (might have been faster at the main entrance, but you just never know). However, the sweet employee remembered our little family and waved us to a spot in between groups so we could get in (do people who don’t want to travel with kids know how many awesome perks they’re missing out on?). The gardens don’t open until 9, so you can forget your dreams of seeing them in the early morning light, and we probably would have had fewer tour groups in the late afternoon, but we had to return the car in Paris by 1, so we leveraged Julia’s cuteness to squeeze by the groups. She is obsessed with bridges right now and there were plenty of them (including the iconic bridge from Linnea in Monet’s Garden) to race across.
I felt like the spring timing of our visit to the gardens was perfect. Roses won’t come along for awhile yet, but who cares when you have yards of tulips, my favorite flower? The house was beautiful and full of art, but also difficult to pause and enjoy because of all the people. Luckily, there was no one in the large kitchen, so we got to stop and admire it for a bit before a few last glimpses at the gardens and the gift shop.
We had a little over an hour in the gardens before we left to eat our sandwiches in the courtyard at the Impressionist Museum and drive to Paris to return our rental car.
These were both totally unique day trips that made our tour through Normandy more diverse and definitely kept my interest up (you just can only see so many WWII museums with a toddler…).
I’m glad we visited Mont Saint-Michel since it’s been on my bucket list for a long time, but it was really most beautiful from the bottom looking up, so we could have enjoyed a trip to the beach with the same views (and better ice cream).
I could have spent another day or two in the Giverny area, however. The whole village was full of beautiful gardens (are the homeowners part of some crazy Southern California-type HOA?) and there are a couple of other art museums and galleries that I would have loved to explore, and it would have been fun to come back to Monet’s House in the late afternoon after the buses of tour groups left. I also would have loved to rent bikes to get around since the town has really terrible car access and winding streets that would be lovely on a bike. We’ll just have to go back!
Do you plan day trips from your central location on vacation? What has been your favorite day trip so far?
Peter and I have been married long enough now that I can usually plan things on a trip that he’ll enjoy, but I still try to ask whether there’s anything he’s particularly dying to do. On this trip, he asked if we could go see some World War II sights. I’d always wanted to see Mont Saint Michel and Giverny, so it was a good area to combine our mutual interests. Most of the things we did around the D-Day beaches were more for Peter’s education and enjoyment, and Julia and I were there as willing supporters, so I’ll list things we did more succinctly with some more brief commentary than normal.
Where We Stayed
We found the B&B Ferme de la Tourelle on Booking.com (use the link and get $20 towards your stay) and it had great ratings, plus it seemed like it would be nice to have a space further out from a town where Julia could run. Delphine, our host, was very warm and welcoming and we enjoyed getting to chat with other guests over breakfast in the morning. There was a little mix-up with our room – I had reserved a triple room (double bed + single bed) and Delphine needed the triple room for another family and thought she had e-mailed through Booking to ask if we would be alright with a double and a pack and play. I never got the e-mail, but Julia slept fine in the pack and play and we paid slightly less for the room. We really loved our stay, but in hindsight I might have chosen to book somewhere in Bayeux center since we mostly ate and explored there after sightseeing and it might have been nice to walk, but it was only a 15 minute drive.
What We Did And Where We Ate
Sainte-Mère-Eglise: little village where a paratrooper most famously parachuted in and landed on the church steeple before being captured. The church was really beautiful (a touching Our Lady of Peace stands guard) and the Airborne Museum was very well done (especially the Operation Neptune building with an exhibit that makes you feel like you’re jumping out of the plane). We ate sandwiches in the square from a bakery before heading to…
Utah Beach: The Utah Beach Landing Museumwas also well done, but less accessible for a toddler (more things to read, less things to see). Luckily, the beach is literally just outside and it’s quite lovely. Julia and I played on the beach for close to an hour while we waited for Peter – the water was a perfect temperature and there were plenty of shells to use as makeshift shovels and buckets. We had a muslin blanket to use as a towel and I dragged our lightweight stroller onto the sand without much difficulty.
Bayeux: We tried to go to the Tapestry Museum, but had the only experience in France with an unfriendly person. We were confused by the odd parking situation (there are these funny disks you can buy at tobacco stores, but it’s only loosely marked) and it felt like we were pulling teeth to try to get information about the options. We wanted to buy tickets and have Peter re-park the car, but the employee told us they were closing soon (it was 10 minutes to 5 and they don’t close till 6:30) and that we should probably just come back another day because we could “only” see the tapestry (we realized later that the museum was also open, so we would only potentially have missed a short film that we didn’t care about anyway). We moved the car and decided to walk around, visiting the beautiful cathedral and its crypt, and playing near the ducks at the Parc Michel Ornano. We ate dinner at Le Petit Normand, which is rated well on TripAdvisor. Julia loved my paté and Peter’s French onion soup, but neither Peter nor I were particularly enamored with the food. They did have a high chair, however, which made feeding Julia easy.
Arromanche-Les-Bains: We loved seeing the remains of the artificial port. The fact that it’s largely still there really brings it to life. Peter enjoyed the model in the Landing Museum (it has moving “water” – impressive) and there was a good slide show and movie that Julia made it through, but then we headed out to watch the carousel and the beach. The restroom at the museum, by the way, is very tiny and would be impossible to change a diaper in, so don’t do that to yourself.
Longues-Sur-Mer: This was a quick stop to see the German gun battery. Julia and I mostly picked dandelions while Peter walked around, but it was a great spot to run around for her.
American Cemetery: The cemetery is really beautiful and touching. Respecting the dead is really important here, so Julia and I had several conversations about what that meant (no running, no climbing, etc) that she did a good job of listening to. If we had felt up to it, it would have also been nice to see the German cemetery to compare and contrast.
Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc: Julia fell asleep soon after leaving the cemetery and I felt really tired, so Peter drove the long way back to Bayeux past Omaha Beach and got out at Pointe du Hoc to walk around a bit.
Maisy Battery: Julia luckily woke up just in time so that I could join Peter with her in the toddler carrier. The Germans hid a gun battery that was only fairly recently uncovered (2006) after being an odd secret after the war. I really wanted to like this site given its interesting back story, but without more information (a guided tour would have been cool), most of the areas looked similar. I’m still glad we went, but am glad the entrance fee (6 EUR/adult) wasn’t atrocious.
Back to Bayeux: We finally made it to the Tapestry Museum! We definitely could have seen it the day prior, but the front desk and other staff were really friendly and helpful, so I’m not sorry we waited. Contrasting to the other things we saw, this was my chosen activity for the area (we studied the tapestry back in my AP Art History class in high school), so Peter took charge of making sure Julia didn’t ruin any millennia old artifacts. They had handheld audio tours (including one for kids, which Julia didn’t listen to, but loved holding) that played automatically as you walked by the tapestry, which is remarkably beautiful and intact. There’s also a small museum on the next floor that gives more information about the tapestry’s history, making and life at the time. It was a really hot day, so we got ice cream, bought Julia a new dress and walked around town before heading to dinner at Moulin de La Galette. The TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews were mostly good, but mixed. We loved the galettes (savory crepes made with buckwheat flour) and the price of our dinner on a beautiful terrace at sunset with a bottle of cider, side salad and fries was significantly less than we had paid elsewhere, so we were ecstatic. We got back to our B&B just as a giant and beautiful thunderstorm broke, so we got to watch it from the common area while we planned for the following day.
Day 3 (last day)
We decided to putter around the Normandy area a bit before heading to Giverny, so we stopped near Juno beach in Courseulles-sur-Mer. Their extremely friendly and helpful tourist office (even open on Sundays) pointed us down the road to Chippie Plage, a tiny little hole in the wall stand that rented bikes. For 2 hours, our two bikes with a baby seat and a helmet for Julia (they didn’t have adult helmets) and extra smiles from the owners was only 9.50 EUR. They weren’t the best bikes in the world, and Julia (who was a little sleepy) didn’t love the fact that her head kept hitting Peter’s back, so we stopped by the beach and ate lunch. Julia and I went down to the beach to play while Peter continued on. She was so excited because there’s a horse riding school nearby and ponies and horses kept walking down the ramp near where we were playing. It was a beautiful day for being outside, and Julia liked the bike ride more on our way back when she was more awake. After our little activity, we stopped for ice cream before driving off towards Giverny!
Do you and your partner take turns switching off with activities and child occupying on vacation? How do you divide and conquer?