I am the consummate fan of a Travel Channel show called Big Crazy Family Adventure where a new age Mom and Dad take their two sons, age 7 and 4, on a 13,000 mile journey from British Columbia to Ladakh, India sans air travel. Surely, if the Kirkby Family of four can handle that adventure, I should be able to plan a trip for my family of four that includes something befitting everyone’s tastes? Right?
By all accounts, the more people you travel with the more difficult planning can get. My rather untraditional family consists of two kids born fifteen years apart. Traveling with four people bridging three different generations can be a challenge. How does a Parisian travel itinerary include something to capture the attention of two fifty year olds, a twenty something and a ten year old?
Like many visitors to Paris, I awoke on my second day ready to explore. Our family set off on foot heading in the direction of the Seine. As we walked swiftly through the historic district of Le Marais, a brasserie quickly caught our attention.
First Stop: Breakfast at Le Drapeau, 10 Rue du Temple
On our short hike to breakfast my ten year old son announced that he wanted a chocolate croissant and café mocha and my daughter and husband wanted a seated breakfast preferably sans pastries. I dismissed my son’s request and told him he could have his croissant another time. We found this lovely café located on Rue du Temple where we enjoyed a truly delightful breakfast. My husband and daughter had a ham and cheese crepe with egg on top and salad on the side while I enjoyed Crepes Suzette (essentially a crepe with Grand Marnier sauce). My son refused to eat. Despite this battle of the wills, breakfast was a feast and enjoyed by all but one member of the family.
A very short walk later, we found ourselves in front of the Hotel de Ville, a building that houses the city administration (city hall and mayor’s offices) and has done so since 1357. I thought this looked like an elegant hotel (after all it is called the Hotel de Ville) and made a mental note to check it out on Expedia.com later. (It’s not there – it really is a municipal building!)
After we took a load of pictures in front of the Hotel de Ville we made our way across the street and began strolling along the Seine River.
Artists lined the banks selling watercolor scenes of Paris and souvenir tents selling mini Eiffel Tower key chains and scarves were everywhere. It was not too far from here that we discovered a Big Bus Tour stop where lines were forming and as soon as the bus pulled up, we hopped aboard.
I had purchased tickets at the airport in Paris as we were making our way from the gate to our luggage. Many vendors were selling tickets to tours throughout the city at the airport. As we boarded the bus, I handed the driver all four tickets and he graciously accepted them. We stayed on the bus and soaked up the sights for quite a long time while listening to lovely French music and risqué stories of celebs and politicians, past and present, piped in through complimentary ear buds. Unfortunately, many of the stories and history lessons from this Big Bus Tour were timed ever so slightly late so I often found myself standing up and looking backwards to see the sight trailing me. Also, a number of the ear bud jacks were not in working order so I had to hop around the upper deck in order to find a jack that worked.
The bus rolled along for hours and I snapped pictures of everything — the Arc de Triomphe, Musee d’Orsay, Louvre, the Champs de Elysee, Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde and the list goes on and on.
When we finally attempted to exit the big bus, we learned we needed our tickets to get back on board. When I approached the bus driver I handed our tickets to, I discovered a stranger, an entirely new bus driver. He told us to sit and he would try to locate replacement tickets for us. An hour or more later the bus driver did not know what to do. He just looked at me and shrugged!
Meanwhile, my starving son proclaimed that he wanted to go to a Subway Sandwich Shop and a toy store as soon as possible. I impatiently told him he would not be going to Subway today and mentioned that he should eat a baguette with some meat and cheese when in Paris. This did not make him happy and he continued to refuse to eat all that was offered to him. He insisted on a turkey and cheese sandwich from Subway and a toy store as soon as we could find one. Coincidentally, Paris does have a Subway Sandwich Shop, but it just seems criminal to seek out this establishment when you are visiting a country known for their baguettes.
After hours of circling the city on the top deck of the double decker bus, my family made our way down the steps and hopped off, no tickets in hand, cementing our last chance to tour the city in double-decker comfort. To our disoriented delight, we had disembarked right in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Something exciting appeared to be taking place inside, so we followed the crowds and found ourselves inside the cathedral attending an organ recital.
Notre Dame Cathedral is gorgeous in every way. Its ancient, gothic appearance, numerous stained glass windows – many dating from the 13th century (like its famous north and south rose windows-from the year 1250), flying buttresses, gargoyles, tympanum Last Judgment carvings above the entry doors, numerous altars and angels all breathtaking to view. Experiencing the vibrations from the massive pipe organs (7,952 pipes to be exact) literally rattling your very core, is a memory and feeling that will not soon leave us. Our family agrees that we have never heard anything like this and may never again. Some of the guest organists were from America, some from other parts of Europe. Many were from the world of academia. Some played music reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera while others stuck to non-secular compositions.
As we strolled past numerous stained glass windows depicting stories in the bible, spiraling staircases heading upwards, long hallways leading from one altar, chapel or tomb to another, we exhaustedly made our way to the exit. Immediately upon exiting, I heard a little voice reminding me to locate a toy store or Subway Restaurant soon. For the love of Subway!!!
I announced that what we really needed was a perfect French dinner in a perfect French restaurant. There are so many restaurants in Paris to choose from. Not many steps away from the cathedral, we began a slow walk down a quiet little street with very little foot or car traffic. The direction we took was a little off the beaten path and devoid of tourists which is generally how we tend to roll. By this time, we were all pretty exhausted. But alas, we found our restaurant.
Second Stop: Dinner at La Reserve de Quasimodo, 4 Rue de la Colombe
I had a feeling this was going to be a perfect dinner in every way. The restaurant was small, perhaps only eight or so tables. My husband, daughter and I quickly ordered a bottle of wine and immediately felt its effects on our empty stomachs. In reality, this was one of the oldest French restaurants in the Notre Dame neighborhood having been in existence since the early 1200’s hence its authentically old interior resembling a subterranean wine cellar.
My son quickly pointed out that this was not a Subway Restaurant and he would not be eating. This dinner, where the entire family was famished and lacking interest in additional sightseeing, possibly even suffering sensory overload, left us feeling slightly disagreeable. Nothing that some food and rest couldn’t fix.
The restaurant was at capacity this evening. The owner was attentive and pleasant in every way. I highly recommend this little historical restaurant if not for the food and value alone, then certainly for the wine. Vino was the perfect accompaniment to a dinner that started with the finest, most authentic charcuterie tray I’ve sampled.
Following dinner we still had quite a walk back to our hotel located at the Place de la Republique. We walked past Notre Dame Cathedral at night. While crossing the bridge over the Seine we were entertained by a Frenchman playing his guitar, walked by the Hotel de Ville bathed in an elegant evening glow, slowly strolled past the shuttered businesses (open only this morning) in the Le Marais neighborhood where we were shocked to see the same waiters at our breakfast spot, Le Drapeau, still serving evening customers.
As we approached our hotel, my son walked into a little hole in the wall business selling pizza by the slice. He selected a slice of cheese pizza which they wrapped tightly in foil for him. Our family walked across the empty Place de la Republique and returned to our hotel.
As we entered our room at the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique, my son crawled into bed (never touching his slice of pizza) and fell into a deep sleep that lasted until morning. Paris delivers yet another memorable day full of arts and architecture, friendly colorful people from near and far, living in one of the most vibrant and engaging cities I have ever visited.
I recently read on Wikipedia that in 1533, King Francis I decided to endow a fabulous city hall which would be worthy of Paris, the largest city of Europe and Christendom at that time. That is how the Hotel de Ville came to be. Not hard to see why I sometimes compare my family to the Griswold’s from the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series. We arrive in the loveliest city in Europe and Christendom and my son insists on holding out for a Subway sandwich. Bon Appetit Paris and Good Night!