After our final day at Disneyland Paris, we went to bed early in our Airbnb in Serris, with the plan of a leisurely checkout the following morning. We were awoken with a start at 5am when the smoke alarm went off. My wife and I and our son were sleeping upstairs (the boy was on a mattress on the floor), and our daughter was downstairs, down some very steep spiral stairs, sleeping on the sofa. The first thing you do in that situation is to take a big whiff of air, and I was happy to not smell even a little smoke. But my wife and I bounded down the steep stairs. Towards the bottom, she lost her footing and slid down several stairs before regaining her balance. Sure enough, the smoke alarm was blaring, but there was no sign of any fire. I reached up to the ceiling and pressed the alarm's button for a second or two before it granted us blissful silence. The alarm was right by the door, so I unlocked the door and stuck my head out to make sure there were no sources of combustion, before putting it down to machine error. Neither child was risen from their slumber by the noise. As you might imagine, it was tough to get back to sleep.
Having a croissant every morning for breakfast can get tiring pretty quickly, so most of us had fruit for breakfast. We loaded up the car left the key on the dining room table as instructed, and set off for The City of Love.
Our original plan had been to take our transition day, Wednesday, very calmly, to not rush ourselves into anything, and just change houses and go for a leisurely stroll, later enjoying two full days, Thursday and Friday, in Paris as tourists. This was a brilliantly laid plan, but then came the weather forecast. Our phones told us that Thursday and Friday were going to be very rainy, so the only logical course of action was to nix relaxing and get some things checked off the list on Wednesday.
There was no parking near our apartment, aside from the expensive hour-long option, but we found the place, and parked, paying like 3€ for 45 minutes, just long enough to move our crap into our room and then go park the car at a more long term parking location.
The Airbnb host had sent me two numeric codes to get into the building, one on the outside door, to where the mailboxes were, and then another one to get to the stairwell and elevator. The key was going to be waiting for us under the welcome mat. I took a couple suitcases and myself up the elevator to the second floor (third if you're American) and sent the elevator back down for more people/supplies. I looked under the mat and was distraught to find…no key!!
There's a pretty famous tower in Paris that we wanted to visit.
I opened the Airbnb app and tapped "Call host". Someone picked up and explained that checkin wasn't until 3pm, and that the previous guests had the apartment for another 15 minutes until 11am checkout. Gah!! Details, details!! As I hung up the phone, the door opened and three little Japanese girls spilled out, locking the door, but not leaving the key, and walked down the stairs. By this time, another load of our suitcases and family had been sent up to me. I had to send them back down and communicate the bad news that we had to load all our stuff back into the car, find parking somewhere, and then come back at 3pm.
It was quite difficult to find a place to park. Several of the ones that were on Google Maps did not appear to actually be where they were supposed to be, adding to the frustration driving down narrow foreign streets. Eventually we found a place and then had a few hours to kill, and the clouds were literally on the horizon. We decided to do the number one item on the list: there's a pretty famous tower in Paris that we wanted to visit. We had waited too long to book tickets to go to the top online, but we figured we could use our Disneyland superpower and wait in line for two hours.
By the time we got to the base of The Tower, it was already 1pm and the troops were complaining of empty stomachs. Luckily, near the two hour line to take the elevator up to the second floor, there was a one hour line to get sandwiches. It was our fourth day eating baguette sandwiches and we swore it would be our last.
The angled elevator up to the second floor was pretty cool. And the views from the second floor were, well…let's just say there's a reason it was at the top of our Must Do list. While we were up there, it started drizzling with a hard wind that made the drops sting your face. In general, I don't have much anxiety being that high up, with solid railings, but it gets scarier with a strong wind.
Waiting in line under one of the most iconic structures on the planet.
It certainly is a photogenic structure for being that drab color.
I was under the impression that Paris didn't have any skyscrapers.
The Seine. Notre Dame is in there somewhere.
Photobombed high above Paris.
Glass floors are an interesting exercise of trust.
Even from the first floor, the people looked like ants.
Here's a pro travel tip for you. Normal people are absolute shite at taking photos. If you just ask a random stranger to take a photo of your group, 50% of the photo will be either ground or sky. The trick is to find someone with a really expensive DSLR hanging around their neck (even better if you can observe them using it like they know what they're doing), and ask them. Look at how perfectly aligned and constructed this shot is (only had to crop out a little of a dumpster). Très magnifique!
By the time we got back down to the ground, the sun had come out again. Then it was time to go back to the car and walk all of our luggage five blocks to our apartment. On the way from the metro stop to the car, wed came upon a book store.
I don't know if this is a thing or not, but it should be.
One of the things on our todo list was to buy some books written for ten year olds that Nora could read with her French tutor. We tentatively said, "Anglais?" upon entering and a young man jumped out of his seat to ask us in excellent English what we were looking for. We told him, and he had follow up questions about whether she preferred stories of history, mystery, adventure, science, or what? We said mystery and adventure, and he immediately went to the shelf and pulled out a hardback almost-comic book and told us a bit of the story, saying it was one of the best stories in this genre he's read. Dude was an amazing salesman, in a second language. To give you an idea of his fluency, the only word he stumbled on was "bird cage". We left with several books, and some photos of others we might want to order later. One I remember was called Les Enfants de la Résistance. I'd forgotten how important the Resistance is to the French national psyche.
Much more relaxed having moved into our apartment, we decided to have a leisurely walk, maybe grab a beer, and find a place to eat dinner. France is in the same timezone as Spain, but crossing the border causes jet lag to your stomach, as the French eat their meals two hours earlier than the Spanish. This is not quite so true in the city, where we saw people sitting down to eat at up to 10pm. We stopped at a place to have a couple of pints of Stella Artois, which used to be our go-to lager in pubs in England. There was nothing of interest for the kids on the drinks menu, but the waitress told us that kids got a glass of red sugar water for free. They slurped it down with an anxiousness of kids that almost never get sugar water.
Just an alleyway that I noticed. This is way more European than anything at Disneyland.
We did a great job of picking a restaurant the first night, a French Bistrot. Additionally, I ordered well, optimizing for stuff that I can't prepare at home. My steak tartare was amazing.
My tartare, and some sugar water.
I consider my children to be pretty affectionate, considering their roles of brother and sister, but even so, this is an extreme outlier. Paris brings out even brotherly love. What's in that sugar water!?
Walking back to our apartment, we discovered that we were staying two blocks – the perfect distance – away from a street with about 2,000 cocktail bars. At 9pm on a Wednesday, the place was packed full of young, attractive, pre-procreation, adult professionals laughing and flirting over drinks. Think of every "night life" travel brochure photo you've ever seen; that's what it was like. Ours were the only children for blocks.
Alas, we are living a different chapter at the moment; so back to the apartment and bed. Our youngest was turning six years old the following day.
That's a bar. Beware the gorillas.
This is the most brilliant thing I've ever seen. So you're out drinking with your friends, it's 3am, and man, you could really go for a pizza right about now, but all the restaurants stopped serving hours ago! You could heat up a frozen pizza back at your place, but you're out partying, you don't want to be putting things in the oven! There, shimmering in the distance, you see…is that what you think it is? It's…a pizza vending machine!!! I imagine the internals working exactly like an old vinyl jukebox, pulling frozen pizzas out of slots, and inserting them, horizontal into an oven. Genius, French people! Genius!
After a light cereal breakfast in our apartment, we set out to see the city. First stop was a fresh fruit and seafood and meat market right in front of our door. It was pretty spectacular. Not having access to exotic fresh stuff is one of the worst parts of living in a small town.
This guy knows a thing or two about tomatoes.
There was a young Japanese couple just out of frame slurping down raw oysters for breakfast. Yum!
First stop was the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacré-Cœur). I know so little about Paris, that I'd never really heard of this place. We chose to not wait in another queue to go inside it, but it was a nice view from up on the hill where it is.
Proof we were there, a phrase that I think describes the majority of photos people take at places like this.
Obligatory shot. My first instinct was that this would be a great place for someone to come practice picking locks, but then I noticed that 90% of them are specially designed locks with no keyhole, never meant to be unlocked, which a gaggle of Moroccans were trying to sell to us for 5€. No thanks.
Going for a little walk around the basilica, we fell into the tourism funnel that placed us in a place to be ambushed by portrait artists, all dying to draw our faces. There were so many of them. And when we learned that they charge 30-40€ for 20 minutes of work, it made sense that there would be so many of them. We finally chose one of them, but he didn't do a very good job.
The artist awkwardly Biden-ing my daughter.
Here's a better view of his work. Ian looks sort of Ian-y, but Nora looks like most women.
It was lunch time, so we found a crêperie, but the crêpes were crap, barely edible.
Before actually tasting the crappy crêperie crêpes.
Thursday was not going well. We decided to try another artist that might do a better job drawing our kids. He did a better job.
It started so promising, but at some point the drawing switched genders, and turned into a girl.
This guy was good at seeing you with magazine-cover photoshop lens.
After lunch, we took the metro to a particularly triumphant arch. It was about as I expected.
I didn't feel the need to cross into the center of the most famous roundabout to see it up close.
From the Arc, we walked the entire Champs-Élysées, which I'd vaguely heard of, but came to discover it's basically Paris' equivalent of 5th Avenue, full of the best retail experiences that the richest corporations can afford to put on, often squandering the pricy real estate with cavernous stores with very few items. The Apple Store even had trees inside! I follow Apple quite closely, and I remember when they were so proud to be announcing all the foliage they were gonna put into their stores around the world.
The standard watch table in literally every Apple Store in the world.
This guy was teaching a course with this iPad app blown up on this enormous screen.
Calling this a cathedral of my religion is a little too on-the-nose.
Pretty cool projection "VR" game in the Adidas store. We went in because we had a sock emergency.
The distance from the Arc to the Louvre looked pretty short on the map, but it turns out it's a really long way! Eventually we made it, first to the Luxor Obelisk, and then to the iconic glass pyramid. I've seen some prehistoric cave paintings, but the obelisk might be the oldest man-made object I've seen. Having exhausted our capacity to wait in lines, there was a 0% chance we'd spend the time and money to go inside the museum and certainly not to see Mona.
Looking back at the Arc.
180º from the previous photo, the Obelisk, and beyond is the Louvre.
Seeing this perfect laser alignment, I was flooded with memories of Robert Langdon racing to find the Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code.
What a cool place to be on your sixth birthday!
The light was amazing, and that pyramid is crazy photogenic!
Angles for days!!
We went back to the apartment to regroup, and poorly chose a nearby pizzeria for dinner. It was okay, but completely unmemorable, so a failure when you're trying to create great memories in a foreign land.
After dinner it was dark, but we still wanted to see the Eiffel Tower at night, preferably from a boat cruise on the Seine. My wife has a really fond memory of a Seine cruise from the last time she came to Paris. We went to near Notre Dame, speculating that there might be a tour boat dock near there, but we found nothing. Walking along the particular part of the Seine at night was not the romantic scene you might be imagining; we felt tired, stressed, lost, and uneasy walking in a poorly lit area of a large city at night.
It got to be so late that the Apple Maps app on my phone – which is so much better than Google Maps when it comes to navigating a big city with public transportation, especially subways – had stopped showing me metro stations as transport options and was only showing me bus stations. Not being a very seasoned big city traveler, I was unaware that our 3-day metro passes were also valid for the buses. What a revelation! We were able to find a bus directly to the Tower.
Not gonna lie. It was pretty doggone spectacular.
Criminals. I learned that it's illegal to post photos of the Eiffel Tower at night.
We caught the midnight bus back to our apartment. It was a long hassle of a night, but in the end, we're glad we got to see the lit tower.
The weather forecast that had predicted rain on Thursday and Friday turned out to be quite erroneous. For our final day in Paris, we only had two items on our todo list, Notre Dame and a Seine boat tour.
We began our day with a leisurely Full French Breakfast: coffee, orange juice, and a pastry, and then it was off towards the most famous cathedral in the world.
Petit-déjeuner de champions.
Breakfast diner contemplating this first six years.
Because we're just lucky like that, the roof of Notre Dame had caught fire and burned literally 4 days before we left for our trip, so no one was allowed anywhere near the cathedral. In fact, there was a two-block police perimeter set up around the it. It was guarded by cops with enormous assault rifles.
As close as we could get.
Adjacent to the cathedral police perimeter, there were dozens of tourist-trap stalls set up selling paintings and artwork, almost all of the artworks included a conspicuous tower. We were interested in purchasing a memory of this trip for our wall, but we wanted something a little more subtly Parisian.
This is the painting/print we purchased. It's extraordinarily French.
This was the other painting that jumped out at me. How extremely Parisian!
With the cathedral checked off the list, as much as we could, it was time to figure out how to get on the Seine. We did some research and concluded that right by the Tower was the best place to catch one of these boats, so we asked Apple how best to get there, and went to the train station to wait for our train to the Eiffel. There is literally a train on the C line called "NORA".
While we were waiting for our train, my phone buzzed. I had an email from Airbnb asking me to "Please rate the apartment you just checked out of". Umm.. We weren't planning on leaving until the following morning. Oh shit! I immediately messaged the Airbnb host, apologizing for the misunderstanding, and asking if we could please stay another night. She said that the apartment was already booked for Friday night, and that the new occupants were arriving at 3pm. I looked at my watch: it was currently 1pm, and we were an hour away from the apartment! I send her another message saying, "Sorry, sorry, sorry! We can have our stuff out by 2:15pm!" Then it was a race!
We made it back to the apartment, after spending an hour contemplating what our options were. A hotel in Paris on such short notice was going to cost a fortune. We managed to get all of our crap out of the apartment, literally handing the key to the cleaning person as we left. We got all of it back to the car, and we found ourselves homeless in Paris. My wife had the brilliant idea that we should take a deep breath, and go have one final special meal in Paris. We found the perfect spot. I did a great job of ordering, having a special plate of duck that I'd have no idea how to prepare myself. The kids were happy with a pile of pomme frite and a piece of meat.
My duck. Quack.
Cheers to the end of a long visit to Paris!
After discussing it, we decided we'd start heading south, and consider along the way if we wanted to stop midway. For example, I wouldn't mind waking up on a Saturday morning in the center of Orléans. But, after doing some iPhone based research, we discovered that that was also going to be really expensive, and we were kind of tired, so we ended up driving the entire 10.5 hours back home that night. We left Paris at 4pm and opened our front door at 2:30am. We had planned to have the Sunday to decompress and rest after our trip, but now we had both Saturday and Sunday, and boy, did we ever need it!
Everyone talks about Paris as being so "beautiful" and "romantic". 🙄 I had never been, but I've been to many cities in Europe, and I have a pretty good understanding of what a European City is. I was skeptical of all the people who told me, "Yeah, but Paris is different." The truth is that most of Paris is just what I expected, straight out of central casting for European City. But, mon dieu, there are some parts of Paris that gave me magical euphoric sensations similar to those of falling in love. I cannot deny it; there really is something unique about Paris.
Merçi beaucoup, Paris! I hope to see you again, soon!