We still had some extra time in August to travel before the boys headed to school and Chuck back to long days at work, so we took a long weekend to Paris.
Paris is a 4 hour drive north from Clermont-Ferrand. It’s a well known fact that traffic coming into Paris can be terrible. We’d been advised by many people that, unless we felt like sitting in traffic for awhile (sometimes hours), it’s better to take the slow train from Clermont to Paris, a 3 hour ride.
We decided to risk it. The area we were staying in in Paris was easily accessible from the outer loop and we were in no rush, so we hopped into the car Thursday morning. The boys were excited to see Paris!
Our ride to Paris went very smoothly! Travelling on French highways is so different from back home. There are virtually no restaurants lining the highway to stop and eat and very few exits along the way. Every once in awhile, there is a rest stop with restaurants, bathrooms, etc etc. but options are super limited. There is often a sit down restaurant with hot lunch buffets where people will sit and have a big meal or there are a few options to grab and go. Some people even bring picnic lunches and just stop to eat outside their car or in a nearby picnic area. After holding out for a McDonald’s (this is our go-to on trips) but not finding one, we stopped at one of the only rest stops along the way and grabbed some sandwiches. Unfortunately, all of the ham and cheese sandwiches we bought were slathered in butter (Charlie does not do butter) and so after doing some rearranging of sandwich tops, etc and supplementing with several bags of chips/pretzels and fruit, we were good to go.
One thing we have not seen a lot of here in France are confederate flags, so when this guy pulled up next to us at a tollbooth, we had to snap a pic!
As we neared Paris, we kept waiting to run into traffic, but it never happened! We literally sailed into Paris and headed right to our apartment after parking in a nearby garage. I’m afraid we may have used up all our traffic luck on this one trip!
We stayed in the 2nd arrondissement neighborhood, on Rue St. Denis. The 2nd arrondissement is the smallest and home to Paris’ stock exchange (Bourse) and business district. Chuck had researched the area and it looked great from a cultural standpoint- tons of amazing looking cafes/restaurants, wine bars, and boutiques/shops and in a great location, easily walkable to the Louvre, the Seine, etc. so we decided to check it out!
We stayed in a cute one bedroom apartment on the first floor, tucked back off the street and surprisingly very quiet! My guess is that the guy that owned it was an artist -there was all sorts of different decor hanging on the walls… hockey sticks, elk horns, cool lighting, big art books on the table and even a bald armless mannequin sitting up in the loft where the boys slept.
Directly next door to our apartment building was a large covered passageway that was one of several in this district, these passageways are long walkways lined with art galleries, shops. I read that the concept of these passageways extends back to the 1800s when metallic structures and glass roofs were a new concept. They are great for rainy day shopping!
We headed out to explore and wandered past the Louvre. Though we didn’t have plans to visit the museum on this trip, it was still fun for the boys to see the outside.
Across from the Louvre, in the opposite direction, the boys found the Eiffel Tower off in the distance….
After walking around a bit, we found ourselves in the St. Germain district (huge shopping area) for dinner. We sat in a cafe- Le Relais and had dinner, while enjoying the bustling Friday night traffic up and down Blvd San Germain. The boys were so excited to find ginger ale on the menu and our waitress was absolutely wonderful 🙂
We walked pretty far that night back to our apartment but it was such a pretty night…
One thing that was very impressionable on this visit to Paris was the degree of homelessness on the streets. There were literally families laying on streets, bridges, in corners. Moms/Dads with babies, toddlers, young children, even adolescents, all begging for money/food. I have never seen so many homeless children. I have since spoken with a friend here who lived in Paris for years and has told me that the homelessness in Paris has become an epidemic that the French government is unable to come up with a solution for. It’s very very sad!
The next morning, we headed to Angelina, where we had reservations for breakfast at 9:00. In my opinion, a visit to Angelina is a MUST when visiting Paris, but only IF you love chocolate! Our younger sister, Maureen first introduced Jen and I to it years ago when she was studying in Paris and we’ve all been hooked ever since. I drag Chuck with me every time and then try (and fail) to get him to try their most incredible, famous hot chocolate. The Parisian breakfast comes with a tower of pastries, baguettes, butter, jam, chestnut spread, along with juice and either hot chocolate or coffee. The hot chocolate is served in a pitcher along with a bowl of freshly whipped cream to spoon into your mug. It is so thick you almost need a spoon to eat it! It is literally heaven! I think I was so consumed by the magic of it all that I didn’t snap a pic of all the wonderful pastries- they are completely worth the expense (nothing on the menu is cheap)!
Charlie and I were totally into it, Wells was lukewarm about it, Owen not so much- too rich for him. Unfortunately, Chuck had to leave for a work call not long after we got there, so it was coffee only for him (tragedy!) and then he rented a nearby bike to ride back to the apartment. We were on our own for the day!
As soon as the boys and I finished up and headed outside to start exploring, the sky literally opened up and it started pouring. The weather forecast had mentioned nothing about rain, so we didn’t have an umbrella. We ran a block or two and found a metro station underground that we ducked into to wait it out.
The Paris metro has always completely intimidated me with all of its crazy colors, lines, numbers, French names, etc. that I have either completely let Chuck guide us or I’ve just avoided it all together and walked to wherever I was wanting to go.
We waited and waited inside the metro station and the rain continued so the longer we waited, it began to look more and more like we were going to need to use the metro to get over to the Champs Elyseès where the boys and I were going to hit up some big American chain stores 🙂 Way back in the deep crevices of my brain, I remember my very sweet French instructor, Hortense, spending an entire morning teaching me about how to use the Paris Metro map to get from one point to another. So it was time to dig up what I’d learned.
We made it to the right stop (yay!) and it continued to pour. We decided we would just stop at the first place selling umbrellas and just be ok with being soaked in the meantime. Of course, by then, we all needed to find a bathroom, which has always been near impossible in the rest of France, but we thought surely, here in Paris, it might be different? We walked a ways, in and out of a mall with strange graffiti art and didn’t find one so we ducked into the Adidas store to look around and wait out the rain.
We stopped at a tabac to buy an umbrella, but he did not take debit cards, so we had to go find an ATM. Luckily, there was one one block up but when we got there, it was out of service. We were able to find another one and then got our umbrella.
As you can imagine, by this point, our bathroom hunt started to become emergent, so off we went, back out into the rain, searching for a “WC” or “toilettes” or whatever we could find. Alas! There was a mall with arrows pointing us to the toilettes, but when we got there, we discovered that it was not actually a public bathroom, but rather, a toilet “boutique”.
The attendant would not let any the boys share a bathroom (of course not) so 6 euro later, off we went. After hitting up Gap, Under Armour, we wanted to go to Nike- the boys needed shoes and wanted to “design” their own using the computers they had in the stores. 2 hours later, after losing our order several times due to computer malfunctions and trying to figure out the French keyboard (I could NOT find an “M”), we left and headed to McDonald’s where Wells accidentally got shoved into a table and hit his eye. What a morning!
We decided it was time to head back and so after meeting up with Chuck we had a late lunch at a cute bakery (Cafe Menieur) nearby with all kinds of delicious organic baked breads (even a chocolate baguette!) and then back to the apartment to change clothes and rest.
Chuck and I wandered out to find a Starbucks and explore the nearby Montorgueil neighborhood, another really cool area nearby where we were staying. We saw all kinds of open air markets selling the freshest fruits and vegetables (the biggest figs I’ve ever seen!) along with different places to find after-dinner treats! There were much fewer gelato places, but many more creperies, bakeries and briocheries (brioches are like donuts, but big fluffy rolls topped with everything imaginable). Their desserts are so perfect, they are actually art!
We found a cool surf shop selling all kinds of boys/mens’ items with a California-type vibe-Le Garçonnerie- we made a mental note to bring Charlie back the next day.
That night, we ate at Cesar, an Italian restaurant we had come across in our exploration which was super. They were able to seat us at a nice table near the window and we all had a super yummy dinner, reminding of us of Italy. The decor was so nice, there were candles lit everywhere, all kinds of Italian phrases written on the chalkboard ceiling; it was small and cozy, super nice wait staff also.
After dinner, we went to a nearby grocery store and the kids were thrilled to see that they were selling all kinds of American goods (think Kraft Mac’n’cheese-$6 a box!, white chocolate Reese’s cups, pop tarts, you name it- junk food galore!) we let them each grab a few items and we headed home for the night, laughing about what suckers we are for expensive American junk food in France.
The next day, we got an early start. By early, I mean early by McFadden standards, so 10:00. We wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and were hoping to avoid long lines and heat! The boys were so excited, they’d been wanting to see the Eiffel Tower since the day we told them we were moving to France.
But first, we went to the cutest breakfast spot- Frenchies-To-Go and grabbed breakfast sandwiches (our first bagels!), muffins, and the most delicious fruit and granola bowl with fromage blanc (similar to greek yogurt) and honey. We couldn’t pass up a few of their warm chocolate chip peanut butter cookies to split, either. The best Americano I’ve ever had!
We got to the Eiffel Tower and walked thru the park towards the tower. Besides being haggled and semi-harassed by street vendors selling all kinds of Eiffel Tower loot, there were tourists everywhere doing all kinds of crazy poses with the Eiffel Tower in the background, it was hilarious to watch! Of course, the selfie stick came along, so you can imagine the fun we had with it 🙂
Charlie loved all the fancy cars pulled up and parked in front of the Eiffel Tower. People actually pay money to get in a sports car and pose for a picture.
We had given the boys the option of either riding the elevator or climbing stairs up the Eiffel Tower and they chose the stairs. Lucky for us, when we got to the ticket counter, we found out that the top level was closed, so the highest you could go was the second level. We quickly realized this was definitely high enough!
Each level has a huge terrace with restaurants, playground, bathrooms, etc so we stopped and took lots of pictures, etc before heading up the the second level.
When we got to the second level, it felt like we were at the top! But when we looked up, we realized there was much more height to this massive tower than we thought!
The views from this high up were insane. It is really hard to appreciate how massive Paris truly is when you are on the ground. Everything is so large scale compared to what we have become used to in Clermont, that it was just mind-blowing.
We walked all the way around the perimeter and stopped to read lots of interesting history about the Eiffel Tower, including the hundreds of movies it has been featured in over many decades.
We stayed up there for awhile and as they usually do when it comes time for a change of scenery (really?), the boys got super crazy. Wells especially! Maybe it was the altitude… ha! He got ahold of my phone at some point and we found this litany of selfies later, including a vid of him quoting his fave movie ever, Despicable Me.
Ok, time to head down.
But, one more Eiffel Tower pic.We crossed the Seine and headed to find food for the crazies. But not before getting COMPLETELY haggled again by all those vendors selling their loot!
We headed up past the Trocadero, which offers a great view looking back at the Eiffel Tower. There was a huge crowd watching a ballroom dancing competition. Kinda random, but interesting to watch for a few minutes.
Later that afternoon, Chuck and I wandered back thru the Grand Passage near our apartment and picked up a few treasures from some antique stores inside. We then walked over towards the Marais neighbourhood and stopped at the huge department store there to look at back-to-school gear and found a backpack “cartable” for Wells. There is just something about all the back to school clothes that are so cute and fashionable here in France. It is a BIG deal over here in France!
We wandered back through Montorgueil to a Brasserie and then back towards a Lebanese gelato shop we had seen in the Marais district. We sat outside the Centre Pompadour, a modern art museum which is a huge building with escalators in tubes up the sides of the building, along with the heating, water, air conditioning elements all coloured differently and visible from the outside! There is a big open space outside where people sit or watch street performers.
There are several floors of art, a design shop, children’s learning spaces, a movie theatre, library inside with a terrace restaurant on top. It’s hard to appreciate how neat this building looks from this pic since it’s dark. Sadly, we didn’t make it inside on this trip, but it is a must-do for our next one!
The next morning, it was time to pack up and go. But not before breakfast at Twinkie’s, next to our apartment and famous for their American breakfast, which the boys opted for- big pancakes, bacon (American! sadly, bacon is not bacon in France) eggs, and freshly squeezed OJ. They also had the most lovely homemade jams that were served in tiny tumbler glasses alongside the bread- that morning- apricot lavender, rhubarb basil and then of course, Nutella 🙂
Our ride home was super smooth as well. What a great weekend! We are armed with lots of ideas and fun things to do when we return with the Springharts in November! Now, time to get in gear for back to school!