Where We Stayed
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 Café that 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 Mulot bakery 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?