Paris

I am not a huge city person, especially when I have two toddlers in tow. We much prefer outdoorsy trips. When my sister and a friend had a couple days overlapping in Europe we all decided to head to Paris and leave the kids with their Daddy. This was my first trip away from both the boys, and it was a little hard but I have to admit I needed a getaway after a couple months of solo parenting.

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When you are traveling kid free and it’s an empty flight. Score!

Where we stayed 

This was a pretty last minute trip so getting a hotel in the arrondissement we wanted was impossible. August is a busy month is Paris. Hotel des 3 Poussins in the 9th arr. was a good last minute find. It’s a cute boutique style hotel near a metro station and about 10 minutes walk from the Moulin Rouge. The area was pretty quiet and we felt safe walking around at night. No views of the Eiffel Tower but we were happy!

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Wish we could have seen a show but tickets here are not cheap

 

How we got around

We took a flight to Paris but took the Eurostar train back. I highly recommend the train over flying. Easier check in, no long lines, more comfortable, and we had no luggage restriction. Plus, there were some shady characters circling us at CDG. We had men stopping very close to us and pretending to tie their non-existent shoelaces, etc. Paris is the only place I’ve visited in Europe where I was constantly paranoid of being robbed.

From the airport and within the city we took the metro. It was very cheap, especially compared to the London underground…but it was also pretty grotesque. It smelled of urine everywhere and we generally just didn’t feel safe, especially walking through the metro stations at night. Next time I would just spend the extra money on a cab. Erica and I had an incident where the doors shut behind me before she had hopped on and we got separated without her having a phone. We thankfully found each other at the next station but that was pretty nerve wracking.

We did spend some time on the hop on hop off bus which is a great way to see the city on limited time. We only had one full day and two half days. Even being busy tourist season is ran very efficiently.

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Where we ate

Honestly, all the food in Paris was great. Probably one of my favorite things about the city. I was excited at all the possibilities of eating out without children and wasn’t disappointed! Erica had cravings for pistachio macarons and pasta so we had plenty of that. Our favorite restaurant was near our hotel in the 9th arrondissement, Ristorante al Caratello. We had the best meal, some drinks and great conversation with another patron and the owner.

Our only negative experience was outside of the train station before we went home. While the food was good, we chose to eat outside and there were beggars constantly stopping and asking us for money and food. One woman actually took my plate of fries and dumped them into her bag when I said I was done with them. You can avoid the harassment by simply eating inside the restaurant.

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Pizza place near the train station.

The Eiffel Tower

Shame on me… but I didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower. Partly because I don’t like heights all that much and partly because I didn’t want to waste half a day with ticketing and lines. Paris in August y’all- it’s busy. Instead, we chose to enjoy from below. We walked around, took pictures and spent a good amount of time frantically looking for toilets for my sister and niece. Something that’s majorly lacking at one of the largest tourist destinations in the world? Bathrooms. You could probably spend just as much time waiting in line for a toilet as getting up the tower.

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View from Trocadero, a good place to get full pictures of the tower
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At night the tower lights up and sparkles for the first ten minutes of the hour

My favorite thing about being at the Eiffel Tower was getting to experience it with my niece Emily. My boys are little and I am sure there is plenty Kellan will remember when he is older. But Emily is definitely old enough to remember that she got to travel around Europe with her Aunt. I also loved being able to tell she appreciated what she was experiencing. I am really big on experiences and making memories over having things. This is a special memory we will always have together.

The Louvre

We spent a couple hours walking around the Louvre which was pretty grand and at first a little confusing to navigate. Not quite as maze-like as Vatican City but you can definitely spend a lot of time here. At first we were unsure if we wanted to spend time here, knowing it would be very crowded and seeing the Mona Lisa would be a spectacle. However, I am really glad we decided to go. Afterall, it’s the most famous paintings and the most famous museum in the entire world. We also didn’t have any issues buying tickets on site and walking straight into the museum because we took the entrance from the metro below ground.

And yes, seeing the Mona Lisa was an event. Pretty sure it’s the closest I’ll ever feel to being part of a cow herd. You enter the back of the herd and slowly inch forward while your body is pressed up against strangers on all sides. Once you get to the front you have to take a minimum of ten pictures and then turn around and get a selfie with her too. It’s all a part of the experience and I am still thankful we got to see her. Erica mentioned to me that no one actually gets to sit and admire the painting, and it’s true, which is quite sad. If that’s something you would like to do- don’t go to the Louvre in the summer.

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behind bullet proof glass

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My fave painting I saw

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Champs-Elysees

This is the famous avenue surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a touristy area everyone has to visit when they come to Paris. Lots of shopping, dining, and the views of the Arc are amazing. Don’t buy your souvenirs here though as they are twice as expensive as you pay elsewhere.

Something to consider when you visit this area is preparing your children for what they may see. There are many homeless refugees lying right in the middle of the sidewalks either sleeping or begging for money. At one point I saw three small children sleeping with their mother on a mattress right under a window display. This kind of stuff just tugs at your heartstrings and I imagined the questions my 4 year old would have had had he seen those children. How do you explain to a small child why some children don’t have a home? Why people walk right around them and pretend they aren’t there?

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Other sites from the HOHO bus

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Notre Dame
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Notre Dame

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Strasbourg

We spent a few days in Strasbourg at an amazing airbnb outside the city center. We had the most gracious hosts that spoiled the kids. They completely stocked our fridge with breakfast items, made sure the boys had toys and candy,  and even set up a Christmas tree for us. I tell ya…I am loving airbnb! We saved money by buying other groceries at the market down the street. Crazy cheap prices! As much as I love french food, you have to cut costs where you can when travelling… and frozen pizzas help with that.

We walked around Petite France a bit, eating crepes, stopping at playgrounds, and feeding ducks along the canals. This is a charming historic quarter with half timbered homes, cafe’s and shops. If I were to stay in Strasbourg again this is the area I would choose. Very picturesque! This was the day before the opening Christmas market so the business owners and home owners were all out decorating.

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The reason we came to Strasbourg was for the opening night of the famous Christmas market. It’s called the Capitol of Christmas as its been held since 1570! There are 12 market locations spread over the city and they really do go all out with decorating. We almost didn’t make it to the event as just days before there was an arrest of some men in the city  whom had been planning a terrorist attack. We read and reread every piece of media pertaining to the arrests and whether the event would be cancelled or if it was even smart to go. There wasn’t a lot of information released as to where the attacks were planned, just that the attack was “long envisioned” and “multiple locations”.  By the day of the market opening information started to trickle out that the attacks had been planned for December 1 (a few days later) and that the market would go on (with heavy security). So we decided to go but not to linger in the areas that were heavily populated.

I’m so glad we went because it was such a magical event. The Notre Dame Strasbourg was absolutely stunning at night. The food was amazing, the street performers, and the ambiance was just a fun experience. I preferred the smaller, more intimate markets with the boys but it was worth going just to experience how grand it was. I didn’t get too many pictures because we were on high alert with the terrorist scare but here are a few of the ones I was able to shoot. Wish I had more to do it justice!

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Strasbourg Notre Dame

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Pretzel beignet. We bought one to share and it was so good we had to go back for more.

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We’ve now visited a few French cities in the north and now we need to plan  Paris and French Riviera trips! Oh, and Normandy too. There is just so much to see in this country I don’t know where we will find the time.

Colmar

We had a day in France where we had no plans so we decided to visit a small city an hour south of Strasbourg. It has such a well preserved, charming, and picturesque old town. There are cobblestone streets, canals, and of course plenty of amazing food. There is nothing like eating crepes in France! Colmar is on the Alsace wine route so it’s a popular destination for wine lovers.

You really could spend an entire day walking around old town but it was cold and we opted to take the little green train tour. The tour is about 45 minutes long and provided headphones to listen to information on the sites. I imagine this city would be gorgeous in late spring but Christmas is such a magical time to visit cities in Europe. Europeans do Christmas right with the homes and shops so festively decorated. We visited the day before the opening of the Christmas market but I can imagine it would be beautiful.

A fun fact about Colmar: the creator of the Statue of Liberty was born here!

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Beautiful half timbered homes in Old Town

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Kellan said this green house was his favorite

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chocolate!!!!!

 

Lille

During our three days in Belgium we decided to take a day trip into France. I pretty much looked at the map and randomly picked a city not far from the border. Lille, France it is! We knew we wanted to do something outdoors so I just looked for green patches of land indicating a park and we headed straight there. It took about an hour driving from Bruges.

Thankfully we ended up at a complete gem. This park was beautiful; right on the Deule river with a carnival, cafe, playground, and best of all a free zoo! It ended up being a perfect outing for the kids. I couldn’t believe it didn’t  cost anything! In England we would have paid at least £10 per person. I never did catch the actual name of the park but the zoo is called Zoo de Lille if you are ever in the area.

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After the zoo we drove into the city center and spent about an hour walking around the square. We didnt go into anything, just admired the architecture and took pictures. The day was very windy and cold so the kids weren’t exactly feeling it anymore. Naps were much needed. So we cut the day a little short and headed back to Belgium. All in all it was a good day trip and would be a good place to stop if you were driving through the area.

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