The One with Paris, France Day 1

Monday, July 14, 2014

We went to Paris last weekend! Let the recap begin!
Attempting to catch the "Welcome to France" sign, ha!
No matter where we were in the United States, and no matter how long we drove, we were never able to drive to Paris, France. But when you're in Europe it's totally within driving distance! I never want to leave :)
We left at noon and arrived around 9pm after 3 stops (gas with a bad route back onto the autobahn, potty, and potty) and a little bit of a stau (traffic jam) getting into Paris. The hardest part was when we drove right by Disneyland Paris! Oh how we wanted to just pull over and play! We must go back before our time is up.

We found an apartment in Paris on airbnb for $170/night. Not the cheapest place in the world, but the cheapest we could find in Paris! The apartment was super chic and had awesome décor. However I absolutely do NOT recommend staying here with 2 toddlers. The owner wrote us a very mean review because our kids were super hyper the 10 minutes she met with us after we were trapped in the car for 9 hours... mean people suck. Moving on.
Since it was late we put the kids to bed without the usual bathtime routine. They fell asleep quickly, and so did we, anxious and ready to start our adventures in Paris! It felt like Christmas because I knew in the morning the first thing we were doing was seeing the most amazing view of the Eiffel Tower!

We woke up, got dressed, and ate breakfast in the cutest retro kitchen! I love how Jane just adores her big brother. 
Paris - the City of Light - has been a beacon of culture for centuries. As a world capital of art, fashion, food, literature, and ideas, it stands as a symbol of all the fine things human civilization can offer. Paris offers sweeping boulevards, crêpe stands, chic boutiques, and world-class art galleries. Paris (population of city center: 2,234,000) is split in half by the Seine River, divided by 20 arrondissements (proud and independent governmental jurisdictions), circled by a ring-road freeway, and speckled with Métro stations. Most sightseeing takes place within five blocks of the river. We kept in mind that many museums and attractions are closed on certain days of the week and planned our itinerary around these closures. A lot of places are free the first Saturday of the month, which we were there for, but nothing we could do about that! It also happened to be raining practically the entire time we were there, making lots of people run indoors for cover, turning museums into sardine cans. But no matter, everywhere was awesome and we made the best of it rather than complain about things we had no control over. We've learned to cope with bad weather (for Pete's sake it's Europe, what can we expect!) and come prepared with jackets, umbrellas, and a stroller cover. Bring it on! 

First things first - we found the Metro, purchased a 10 pack of tickets, and then rode to the Tracadéro stop.
My heart was pounding so hard as we rounded the corner and saw THIS!:
Before our trip I checked the Eiffel Tower website for weeks on end, hitting "refresh" at least 10 times a day in hopes that tickets would open up to get to the top. They were always sold out except once in awhile a random day, random time would open up. I was doubtful a time slot would open on any day that we were in Paris. But then, miracle of all miracles, tickets opened up for Friday morning at 9am - the most ideal day, the most ideal time! Score! I pressed "purchase" lightning fast before anyone could beat me to it. 
It started our trip off on such a high note!
Visiting the 1000 foot tall tower is a must.
It was a 10 minute walk from the Tracadéro down to the Eiffel Tower.
We had about 30 minutes before our slotted time to go up so we took lots of pictures.
Fox and Jane under the Eiffel Tower on Friday July 4th 2014. Oh yeah, Happy 4th of July :)
Jane and Fox in the elevator on the way to the top. | The big wheels that somehow spin and get the elevators where they need to be.
We made it to the top! Note to self for next time or those traveling with children - you have to bring your stroller folded up with you everywhere or they'll destroy it. Poor Chris had to lug our beast of a stroller through skinny turnstiles and impossibly skinny switchback waiting lines and sprouted 5 gray stress hairs in the process...
Sweet Jane at the summit!
Looking up. | Looking out.
Paris as far as the eye can see.
The opposite way we came. | The way we came, from the Trocadéro.
It was fun to spot and point out historic landmarks, museums, and buildings from up high before visiting them down below.
Pretty Paris. 
We didn't stay too long at the top, lots of places to go! Back down I couldn't stop taking pictures of this awesome structure.
Built on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution (and in the spirit of the Industrial Revolution) the tower was the centerpiece of a World Expo designed simply to show off what people could build in 1889. Bridge-builder Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) won the contest to construct the fair's centerpiece by beating out rival proposals such as a giant guillotine. To a generation hooked on technology the tower was the marvel of the age, a symbol of progress and human ingenuity. Delicate and graceful when seen from afar, the Eiffel Tower is MASSIVE close up. You don't appreciate its size until you walk toward it; like a mountain it seems so close but takes forever to reach. Despite the tower's 7300 tons of metal and 60 tons of paint, it is so well-engineered that it weighs no more per square inch at its base than a linebacker on tip toes.
Then it was time to start our first Rick Steves walk which began at the Notre-Dame. First I must tell a story. We have been prepping Fox for our trip to Paris for months now and he has become fascinated with the movie The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. We've told him about visiting the Notre-Dame and he's been so excited. When we got off the Metro stop and the Notre-Dame came into view, you should have seen Fox's face light up like a Christmas tree! He was literally bursting with happiness! I wish we had caught it on camera.
Fox in front of the Notre-Dame. I love how the Rose Window is making a "halo" around his head.

For family selfies we prop the camera on the stroller and set the timer. It works!
The 700-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral is packed with history and dedicated to "Our Lady". Mary is center stage - cradling God, right in the heart of the facade, surrounded by the halo of the rose window. Adam is on the left and Eve is on the right. 
The bronze plaque 50 yards in front of the cathedral marked "Point Zero" is the center of the country; it's the point from which all distances in France are measured.
Fox was BEGGING to go inside! It's the only time, ever, of all the places we've been, and never since, that he's been so impatient to go inside a church! What a funny guy!
The line to get in was really long, but moved really fast, thank goodness because Fox was having fits to get inside!

Notre-Dame has the typical basilica floor plan shared by so many Catholic churches: a long central nave lined with columns and flanked by side aisles. 
It's designed in the shape of a cross with the altar placed where the crossbeam intersects. The church can hold up to 10,000 faithful.
We were impressed with the amounts of pretty stained glass windows.
Details inside the Notre-Dame.
Back outside we walked around the church through the park on the riverside for a close look at the flying buttresses. The 300-foot spire is a product of the 1860 reconstruction of the dilapidated old church.
Next on the walk was the Deportation Memorial to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps.
France was quickly overrun by Nazi Germany and Paris spent the war years under Nazi occupation. Jews and dissidents were rounded up and deported - many never returned. The Memorial, however, was closed so we just took a couple pictures of the solemn outside.
Then we walked to the Pont Arch (Arch Bridge). 
It's absolutely COVERED in locks, the newest rage in Europe.
These padlocks adorning the railing are akin to lighting candles in a church. Locals and tourists alike honor loved ones by writing a brief message on the lock and attaching it to the bridge. 
Think there's any room for a lovelock for me and Chris?!?
We turned right after crossing the bridge for a fine view of the Notre-Dame. She's so pretty :)
We walked through a little park. How quaint!
We were hungry and had to use the facilities and spotted a friendly Subway across the street. So we got some lunch and then found an ice cream stand. Done and done, happy travelers are we!
St. Severin is a Roman Catholic church in the Latin Quarter of Paris, located on the lively tourist street Rue Saint-Séverin. It is one of the oldest churches that remains standing on the Left Bank and it continues in use as a place of worship. 
We passed the Shakespeare and Company bookshop - an atmospheric reincarnation of the original 1920s shop. | Everything in Paris is simply cute!
We arrived at the Latin Quarter - this area's touristy fame relates to its intriguing, artsy, bohemian character. This was perhaps Europe's leading university district in the Middle Ages when Latin was the language of higher education. 
The neighborhood's main boulevards are lined with cafés - once the haunts of great poets and philosophers. In the days before plumbing and toilets when people still went to the river or neighborhood wells for their water, flushing meant throwing it out a window. At certain times of day, maids on the fourth floor would holler, "Garde de l'eau!" ("Watch out for the water!") and heave it into the streets where it would eventually wash down into the Seine. 
We walked to the Place St. Michel. This square is the traditional core of the Left Bank's artsy, hippie, bohemian district of poets and philosophers.
During WWII the locals rose up against their Nazi oppressors here. Even today, whenever there's a student demonstration, it starts here. 
Then we headed to the Sainte-Chapelle and passed the iron and golden gate of the Palais de Justice. 
There was a long line of people waiting to get into the Sainte-Chapelle, but I've been here before and it is not to be missed! So into the queue we went.
The line went quickly and soon we found ourselves in the courtyard.
We finally purchased our Paris Museum Passes. As Rick Steves says, in Paris there are two classes of sightseers - those with a Paris Museum Pass, and those who stand in line. The pass admits you to most of Paris' most popular sights, allowing you to skip super long ticket-buying lines. You'll save time and lots of money (if you plan to visit more than 4 key attractions) with this pass. The pass includes, for example, entrance to the Louvre, Orsay Museum, Notre-Dame Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, Army Museum, entire complex of Versailles (25 euro entrance fee alone!), Arc de Triomphe, Pompidou Center, Panthéon, Orangerie Museum, and many others. Totally worth it in every way. So we purchased two adult passes for 4 days for about 100 euros and were on our merry way into the Sainte-Chapelle.
This triumph of Gothic church architecture is a cathedral of glass like no other. It was speedily built between 1242 and 1248 for King Louis IX - the only French king who is now a saint - to house the supposed Crown of Thorns. Its architectural harmony is due to the fact that it was completed under the direction of one architect and in only six years - unheard of in Gothic times. In contrast, Notre-Dame took over 200 years.
The stained glass is a.m.a.z.i.n.g! No words, no photos, no nothin' will ever do this place justice, you just have to see it with your own eyes. 
Light shines through the stained glass like God's grace shining down on earth.
There are 15 separate panels (some of which are still under construction from the decade or so renovation project and not visible in my photos, bummer) of stained glass (6500 square feet - two thirds of it are 13th-century original), with more than 1100 different scenes, mostly from the Bible.
The altar was raised up high to better display the Crown of Thorns, the relic around which this chapel was built. The supposed crown cost King Louis more than three times as much as this church. But it's not even kept here anymore! It's now in the Notre-Dame Treasury, only brought out for display occasionally. 
Me'n'Jane inside the Sainte-Chapelle. 
Even the floors look like some kind of stained glass.

Next door is the Palais de Justice, home of the French Supreme Court. Here they doled out justice, condemning many to imprisonment in the Conciergerie downstairs or to the guillotine. 
Across and down the street a ways is the Cité Metropolitan stop. Of the 141 original early-20th-century subway entrances this is one of only a few survivors - now preserved as a national art treasure. New York's Museum of Modern Art even exhibits one. It marks Paris at its peak in 1900 - on the cutting edge of Modernism but with an eye for beauty. The curvy, plantlike ironwork is a textbook example of Art Nouveau, the style that rebelled against the erector-set squareness of the Industrial Age. 
The flower and plant market on the Place Louis Lépine is a pleasant detour.
Cutest plant market in the world!
Once upon a time I kept a 12 cent goldfish alive for 12 YEARS! But I can't keep a plant alive for a week... I really wanted to see if my luck had changed for these succulents and cacti because they're so pretty!
Continuing our walk - positioned next to the courthouse, the Conciergerie was the gloomy prison famous as the last stop for 2780 victims of the guillotine including Marie-Antoinette. Before then kings had used the building to torture and execute failed assassins. One of its towers along the river was called "The Babbler" named for the pain-induced sounds that leaked from it, yikes. When the Revolution toppled the king the building kept its same function but without torture. The progressive Revolutionaries proudly unveiled a modern and more humane way to execute people - the guillotine... You can go inside, for free with the Paris Museum Pass, but we had our sights set on something else, keep reading.
Buildings along our walk. 
More bridges from the day. Pont Neuf, or "new bridge", is now Paris' oldest. Built during Henry IV's reign (about 1600) its arches span the widest part of the river. Unlike other bridges, this one never had houses or buildings growing on it.
We walked down the shady Quai des Tuileries.
Finally, we arrived at our next destination: The Louvre! Europe's oldest, biggest, greatest, and second-most crowded museum (after the Vatican). Housed in a U-shaped, 16th-century palace (accentuated by a 20th-century glass pyramid), the Louvre is Paris' top museum and one of its key landmarks. It's home to Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and hall after hall of Greek and Roman masterpieces, medieval jewels, Michelangelo statues, and paintings by the greatest artists from the Renaissance to the Romantics. Thank you to the Monuments Men for rescuing all of the art that was stolen by the Nazis from the Louvre (and maaaaany other museums and churches) during WWII and safely returned. If you haven't seen that movie yet, I highly recommend it. Touring the Louvre can be overwhelming because it's so flippin HUGE.
I didn't see the inverted triangle (made famous by Dan Brown in his The Da Vinci Code) when I was here in 2005 so I wanted to enter the Louvre through the entrance underground by it. Checked that one off my bucketlist!
It was raining outside so the museum was absolutely packed.
We went straight to the main attraction - the Mona Lisa!
There she is!
The Louvre has the greatest collection of Leonardos in the world - five of them including the exquisite Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Virgin of the Rocks, and John the Baptist. | Right photo is a famous one  by Jacques Louis David called The Coronation of Napoleon - where Napoleon is seen crowning himself. 
Top left: Our family in front of the Mona Lisa. | Top right: The other painting in the room with the Mona Lisa that hardly anyone is looking at.
Bottom left: Walking through the Louvre. | Bottom right: Ceilings in the Louvre that once was the king's palace - wow!
Hallways in the Louvre. Seems like they go on for miles!
Looking out the window inside the Louvre.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace was hidden while under restoration! AHHHH! SO SAD! | Venus de Milo.
One of the most famous portraits of King Louis XIV - Hyacinthe Rigaud's Louis XIV King of France. We've seen many replicas and prints and posters of this painting in the over-the-top castles built by Mad King Ludwig who had a slight... erm... fascination with the Sun King so it was really neat to see the original. 
Decadent ceilings in the Louvre. All ceilings should look like this :)
Detailed archway. | The museum never ends!
Looking out into the courtyard of the Louvre.
Hallway after hallway, room after room, inch after inch of paintings! You could probably live your whole life here and not see everything!
Here's how Jane felt about it. I guess we need to work on her art appreciation.
We blitzed through the Louvre at lightning speed. Gotta do what you gotta do with two toddlers. I'm just glad we had the Paris Museum Pass so we didn't feel like we were wasting too much dinero. We saw the main things we wanted to see, and then headed back to our apartment, admiring the Parisian architecture along the way.
Seine riverbank.
We relaxed the rest of the evening, resting after a long morning/afternoon of sightseeing. I can't believe how much we saw in just one day!


  1. How exciting!!!! I had to giggle at the table full of Cacti for sale ... I wouldn't think they would survive there, since they are a desert plant :) And bummer that the owner of the apt. left you a bad review ... rude :(

  2. You were able to seen an incredible amount of things in just one day! I'm beyond impressed - and with two little ones, no less!

  3. Oh my goodness, what an amazing trip!! I truly love reading these posts. But bummer for the owner giving you a bad review. That's just not right!

    And thanks for the tip on using airbnb! I did not even know that site existed until reading your blog :)

  4. Your photos are so beautiful! I love all of the places that you guys got to visit :) Paris is such a wonderful place to go.

  5. What an overwhelming city...that I hope to visit one day!

  6. What a stunning view!! I love that cut photo of Fox and Jane under the Eiffel Tower, and cutie Fox in front of Notre-Dame!!

  7. Thank you for the walk through Paris. We will be there for the first time in August. None of us speak French so I am very, very nervous. Your photos are breathtaking and your children adorable. Some of your stops are on our list too. We only have a limited time and our 13 year old isn't really enthused so we have had to put things on the list that we wouldn't usually think of, like Euro Disney.

    Thank you for posting your tour!!

  8. OHmygoodnessPaige! What a FUN trip to Paris and what an amazing day you had! I'm super happy that you got to go with your favorite peeps!

  9. Man, we packed that day full of awesome adventures! Loved the recap!

  10. One of the many countries I would love to see!! France may be our next stop!! :)


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