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We're back from our European excursion to Paris and Berlin! We've seen and done so much in only 10 days and now it's time to share some of our experiences. I'm going to start with a detailed day-by-day trip report of our time in Paris, so grab a cup of cafè and enjoy the stories, photos and tips!
Living in Israel, the flight to Paris is not a very long one. More like a domestic flight within the US. We embarked on our Easyjet flight at 7PM and arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport just before midnight, after a blissfully uneventful flight.
Within 20 minutes we were outside the airport. My husband had pre-purchased a data plan for Europe for the duration of our trip, so we could call an Uber cab right away. We had reservations for the Première Classe Roissy - Aéroport CDG - Le Mesnil-Amelot - a hotel located 10 minutes away from the airport. The long name is important because there's a different - and more expensive - hotel of the same network within the airport.
Spending the night in a cheap hotel near the airport turned out to be a good choice. We were in bed by 1 a.m. and had a good night's sleep without paying too much. At € 55.44, this hotel cost us about a third of the price compared to hotels within the airport or hotels in Paris itself.
Day 1 - Arrival at Paris - A guided walk - The Eiffel Tower - Champs-Élysées
Our first order of the morning was to check into the apartment I had booked through AirBNB. I used Whatsapp to let our greeter know at what time we had left the hotel and kept him up to date with our estimated arrival time according to the Uber driver's Waze app. Thanks to these wonders of modern technology, we arrived right on time and found our friendly greeter waiting for us in the apartment.
If you're looking for an affordable place to stay in Le Marais, leave me a comment and I'll provide more information about that apartment. I don't think it's a good fit for any traveler, so I'm not recommending it in the post itself. It can be good for some. A complicated kind of place.
Taking a "free" guided walk in Paris
Having left our luggage in the apartment, we went out to tour Paris. Our first destination was Place St. Michel where we joined a free guided walk with the Sandeman company.
How come it's free? Ok, so it's not really a free walk per se. The idea is that you join the walk and at the end they let you decide how much you pay (which in theory could be zero if you're a very rude and nasty person... After all, if the guide really sucks you can just leave the tour early on).
Our guide didn't suck at all. In fact, he was a lovely Dutch man with an Italian-sounding name - Ono - who guided us through the heart of Île de la Cité. He shared many stories and anecdotes that really helped bring the area's history to life.
We started by walking along the Seine -
We stopped to appreciate Pont Neuf - the paradoxically named "New Bridge" which is actually the oldest bridge in Paris. Well, it used to be the "new" bridge at some point in history and the name stuck, as names tend to do.
From there we climbed the stairs and found ourselves in the love locks square. If you've visited Paris several years ago, you may remember the locks covered the Bridge of Arts. The city authorities have since removed them from that bridge because they were afraid the combined weight of the locks would bring the bridge down! Ah, the power of love! Lovers can now attach their locks in the square right above Pont Neuf, and of course, throw the key away into the Seine.
Ono pointed out more distant Paris landmarks such as the Notre Dame and the Eiffel tower as well as unique historical buildings on our way to the majestic Louvre museum.
Crossing over from the courtyard to see the famous glass pyramids, we stopped for a while. Ono spent some time helping everyone get some creative - though probably not very original - shots of the pyramids.
Our guided walk ended in the Tuileries Gardens area. We were told that our kids don't count as participants, so we paid a total of 30€ for the tour. Left to our own devices, we bought sandwiches and drinks and sat down on the stone steps of the nearby Eglise Saint Roch church, to let our feet rest for awhile.
Visiting Le Tour Eiffel, Arc De Triomphe and Champs-Elysées
Continuing our day, we took a bus to the Eiffel Tower. First, we went down the entrance of the nearest Metro station and bought a packet of reduced-price tickets, aka "Carnet". Armed with our tickets, we boarded the bus to the Eiffel Tower.
Once there, we went through the security lines which weren't too bad and only delayed us by a couple of minutes. As expected, the lines for going up the tower were longer, so we decided to skip that particular experience and just enjoyed appreciating the sheer size of the monument while standing underneath it.
We then crossed the road to view the tower from the Place Du Trocadero -
What's next? Why not walk all the way back to the apartment? And no need for it to be the shortest possible route either - let's go see the Arc De Triomphe first! Never mind that we've been on our feet the entire day and it was late afternoon.
And so we made our way from one Paris landmark to the next. Located in the middle of the huge roundabout that is Place Charles De Gaulle, the Arc De Triomphe is as monumental as the Eiffel.
From there strolled along the entire length of Champs-Elysées all the way back to the Louvre. Our ambitious plan was to make the most of the Louvre's long Friday opening hours on. By the time we made it to the Louvre we could see that the line outside was just as long as it had been before. All of the secret entrances mentioned in my post are closed during late hours. Standing in line AND then walk for yet another hour or two inside was out of the question. Who needs to see the Mona Lisa anyway? We decided to just walk the rest of the way to the apartment.
Day 2 - Versailles
I will be posting a separate and more detailed report of our visit to Versailles at a later date. I have a few more tips based on our experience and a "step-by-step" review would be too long to incorporate here. So, just a few words and pictures today.
I had thoroughly researched Versailles before our trip and even put together a guide with tips: Visiting Versailles With Kids – The Cheat Sheet. We ended up visiting the great palace, the Trianon, Marie Antoinette's Hamlet and the gardens - and had a great time, mostly. In a nutshell: The queue to see the palace was too long and the main palace itself was a bit underwhelming but everything else was awesome. All in all, we had a terrific day with awesome weather. More details in a future Versailles trip report. For now, a few photos -
Day 3 - Paying our tributes to Napoleon
On that day we met my friend Jenny. A fascinating lady who has lived in France for several years she is a former military correspondent. Jenny is a fan of Napoleon, so she joined us in visiting Hotel Des Invalides, where the little corporal is buried. I had never met Jenny IRL before and our interaction up to that point was in the virtual world. I cherish these opportunities and they are always great fun. You get to meet someone you actually know quite well, only now their avatar is three-dimensional and comes at an excellent resolution!
I wasn't sure whether the army museum will be interesting enough for our teenaged boys but fortunately they loved it. In fact, it proved to be one of their favorite museums in Europe, thanks to the extensive display of medieval armors and weaponry.
There were even cool Japanese and Chinese armoured suits!
By the time we got to the 20th century section, we were walking by the displays at a faster pace. It was time for lunch, so we skipped the modern French army's weapon systems. Of course, before heading out for lunch, we had to pay our tribute to Napoleon and went to see his grave, in the huge cathedral at the end of the courtyard.
The tomb itself is very impressive though I suspect it makes people discuss Napoleon's size more than he would have liked. At least, we couldn't help bring up that topic. According to our friend Jenny, he wasn't particularly short - only portrayed as such by his enemies.
We didn't want to walk far to find a restaurant so let the TripAdvisor app recommend a nearby restaurant by the name of Le Vauban. It was a few minutes past three and they were closing down the kitchen for lunch but agreed to make us a few simple dishes. Our friend had the lasagna, my husband and I each had an cheese omelette and the kids shared one large portion of french fries - which they said were the best they've ever had.
For dessert we had creme brulee, an apple tart and ice cream for the boys.
The bill came to 140 euros (including soft drinks and coffee) which we felt was a bit steep considering the simple dishes but at least the food was delicious and we had a great time.
Seeing the Catacombs (not really)
Jenny left for the train station and we decided to make the most of the rest of the beautiful day by walking to our next destination: The catacombs. I knew about ordering tickets online to avoid the long queue but didn't like the fact you had to pay double the price for that online option. We figured we'd just walk over and decide on the spot if the line was too long for us.
We crossed the Montparnasse neighborhood on the way to the catacombs and even peeked at the famous Montparnasse cemetery -
And yes, the line at the catacombs was very long. We all agreed we did not want to see the old bones that much and so took the metro back to our apartment at Le Marais.
Day 4 - The Latin Quarter and the Opera
Our fourth and last day in Paris was a Monday. I had originally thought we might spend the morning in the Louvre. However, after Versailles we decided nothing was worth queuing for over an hour for. Instead, we decided to go to the Latin Quarter and visit the national French medieval museum, Musée de Cluny.
The Cluny museum is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Paris, dating back to the 15th century. It's currently being renovated but has a beautiful distinct medieval look -
I plan on creating a separate post dedicated to the Cluny Museum, so for now I'll just share a few photos from our visit -
Those Roman pillars are in an area of the museum which is said to be one of the most ancient spots in the entire city. Pretty cool!
Eating a genuine Parisian crepe!
I knew what I wanted for lunch on our last day in Paris: A good crepe! Fortunately, we were close to one of the most highly recommended creperies in Paris. Créperies Genia is a small hole-in-the-wall establishment favored by the local students. They serve some of the best crepes in Paris for prices you simply can't beat. We had their lunch deal consisting of one savoury (salty) crepe, one nutella (sweet) crepe and a soft drink - all for 5€.
The way this place works is simple: You walk in and order, get a number, grab your drink and go upstairs to a small seating area. You can take your time to admire the authentic stone walls and dark oak beams. We waited for about 20 minutes before our number came up on the electronic board. My husband went to get our plates with the egg and cheese crepes. They are served on paper plates and with plastic fork and knife but at that price, who's complaining?
It didn't take us more than a few minutes to devour our savoury crepes and then we waited for another small eternity for our number to come up again, this time to get our nutella crepes -
The crepes were very fresh and delicious. I can recommend this place for a nice small lunch. Just don't expect it to be a quick lunch. I think it took us about an hour overall to get through the meal and almost all of that time was spent waiting for our food.
Admiring the Opera House
There was one more place I really wanted to see in Paris: The Opera House at Palais Garnier. It was yet again a beautiful day so we decided to walk there. The shortest route from the Latin Quarter takes about two miles but we decided to make the most of it and added a few points of interest. We only saw them from the outside but still got a nice glimpse of Centre Pompidou's modern metal building and the market stalls at Les Halles.
The entire area along our route was beautiful. Gorgeous Haussmannian Paris with huge decorated buildings surrounding us on all sides. Well worth the walk!
Finally, we reached the grandest building of them all -
Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly!) by the time we reached the Opera, the kids announced they've had enough walking. On top of that, a sign at the entrance said that the auditorium is closed due to a rehearsal. The price to enter is the same but you don't get to see the highlight of the visit. I really wanted to see what there was to see though, so the boys stayed with their Dad on a bench by the entrance and I went in alone.
It was well worth the added toll on my aching feet! I even got a glimpse of the forbidden auditorium where a ballet rehearsal was indeed taking place. It happened when I entered an open door that a few other visitors seemed to be going into. A concerned employee soon joined us and asked us to leave so I didn't have time to take pictures so I can just say it looks spectacular and very red.
The halls around the auditorium were pretty awesome in their own right. More fabulous than anything I'd seen in Versailles and yet with fewer visitors and no queues!
I explored the halls for about 15 minutes and finally rejoined the rest of the family. I was eager to get some rest myself, so we spent another half an hour on the steps of the Opera House where a small crowd enjoyed an impromptu karaoke show.
Whew! If you made it till this part, kudos to you. This is a long post! Fortunately, I've come to the end of the fourth day. There was just one more thing we wanted to do in Paris and didn't get around to yet: A boat tour of the Seine.
I had already found a boat company - Vedettes Du Pont Neuf - with decent reviews and a great deal: only 10€ per ticket if you buy them online. In fact, their website mentioned how you can buy the tickets and just show them on your phone screen - no printing needed. While sitting on the steps of the opera house, I ordered four tickets and immediately received a confirmation letter. All set!
We took the metro to Pont Neuf, where our boat tour would be launched. The sun was glaring so we decided to stop for coffee and flan in a nearby cafe until the light became softer. As we embarked, we only had to quickly show them the phone. There was plenty of seating and the boat wasn't crowded at all. The tour lasted one hour. As we sailed along the Seine our guide described the various landmarks and points of interest, using both French and English.
It was a lovely way to end four days in the French capital. As the sun set we said goodbye to the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and headed back to our petite apartment in Le Marais... I'm going to wrap up this post with a few more photos from our cruise.
That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading this trip report! As always, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!