Someone once said, Paris is always a good idea. And I couldn’t agree more. And for me, experiencing the “good idea” of Paris first hand, left me with a few important lessons to pass along.
10 Things I learned in my travels to Paris (with and without the kids)
Take the road (or bridge) less traveled. When it comes to sightseeing in Paris, hitting the touristy areas is a given, especially if it’s your first time. However, if you have a little extra time – even a few hours – don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path. When we took our two children to Paris a few years ago, we had the typical plans of hitting the museums, shops, restaurants, etc. However, one afternoon we decided to change our plans to find a out of the way gelato shop. Little did we know that our quest would lead us over one of the Locks of Love bridges to Ile Saint-Louis, an island right in the middle of Paris. Not only did we venture into an incredibly charming collection of shops and restaurants, but I was also pleasantly surprised at the lack of crowds to navigate. Such a breath of fresh air after spending time at the very busy Notre Dame.
Closer does not mean better. One evening, while searching for a place for dinner, we connected with the hotel concierge to get his recommendations. Knowing that we were headed to the Eiffel Tower post-nosh, he recommended a Michelin starred restaurant just a couple blocks away from the Tower. We thought…Michelin starred, it must be good right? We could not have been more wrong. Although the atmosphere was elegant and the proximity to the Tower was perfect, the food ended up being the worst meal we had in Paris. From the nearly raw hamburger they gave my daughter, to the less than edible “macaroni and cheese” dish they tried to pass off as “gourmet”, we left the restaurant quite hungry after spending nearly $200 for four meals. A bit of advice….stick to restaurants, like neighborhood bistros and cafes, that are at least a few blocks away from busy tourist destinations, and leave the Michelin star recommendations to other unsuspecting tourists.
A menu can be full of surprises. Although most Parisian restaurants have menus in English, don’t be surprised if what you order in English is something different than what you expected. One morning while settling into our hotel bar for breakfast, we were all craving breakfast sausage and were so excited to see it on the English version of the menu. We expected the classic large sausage link or juicy sausage patties, but instead, received what looked and tasted like mini hot dogs sans bun. After having a good laugh, we refrained from ordering sausages the rest of our trip. Now, I can’t eat a hot dog without thinking of that morning.
Size can make a difference. It is true that the Louvre is one of the most amazing museums in the world. But it is also one of the busiest and most overwhelming museums to visit. Although I would definitely visit the Louvre – spreading my time there over a couple of days – we absolutely loved the smaller, more manageable museums around Paris. These included the Musee de l’Orangerie which is full of impressionist paintings aka huge Monets, and the even smaller Musee de Cluny, featuring the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
Not all macarons are created equal. Nearly any macaron made and consumed in Paris will taste better than a macaron in the United States. However, within Paris, where macarons can be found everywhere from corner stores to McDonalds – there is definitely a macaron hierarchy. My advice, stick to upper scale macarons for the best flavors and delicate taste, but try one or two “basic” macarons as a comparison.
Service is outstanding, even when the food is not. In spite of less than stellar food near the Eiffel Tower, questionable meats, and fancy dishes that are anything but….nearly everywhere we ate had impeccable service. As long as we were respectful, restaurant staff were, for the most part, helpful, attentive and accommodating, and quite pleasant overall….simply nothing like the snooty reputation they have been given.
Goats = lawnmowers. As we were walking to the Louvre one morning, we were surprised to see several goats roaming around the grassy berms in Tuileries Gardens. They seemed calm and quite content to roam around the gardens, grazing away. Come to find out, the goats are brought there purposely to “mow” the grass, keeping the lawns manicured in a much more natural way.
The bread really does taste better. And it’s not just in Paris…the bread tastes better all over France. From the long, crusty baguettes to the flaky croissants to the beautifully round pain de campagne – Paris is not the place to start your Keto diet.
Get the painting from Montmartre. Whether it’s a dainty espresso cup, a fancy handbag, or a unique picture…if you find a Parisian treasure you fall in love with, don’t pass it up. I still regret not buying a beautiful, hand painted canvas in Montmartre, just steps away from the Sacre Coeur. Trust me, if you love it and you will use it, buy it.
Love is not the only universal language. While taking a break one sunny afternoon in Tuileries Gardens, our family happened upon a park filled with children playing on swings, merry go rounds and more. We loved seeing our children mix with local, Parisian children and just be “kids” for a few hours, instead of tourists. As other parents began to corral their offspring to take them home, we witnessed many attempts by the French children to convince their parents to stay just five more minutes. And as five minutes turned to 10 or more, stern looks and voices prompted the ever-familiar sounds of protests. Ahh….whining sounds the same in any language.
And Voila! I’m sure there are dozens of other life lessons others can share from their adventures in the City of Light, but these lessons are definitely top of mind for me.
Happy Travels everyone!