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Though this trip was perhaps my 9th or 10th to Paris, it was my first with my family and I still found the podcast so helpful. The four of us were there the first week of April, (arrived on Norwegian March 29, left April 6) and that includes my 16 year old daughter and 13 year old son. We had a blast and were pleasantly surprised with something different every day. The Top 20 Thoughts and Highlights:
1. Surprisingly sparse crowds everywhere made early spring a great time to visit. NO line walking into the Louvre at 3:30 on a Wednesday or the Orsay at a similar time on a Thursday. Museum Pass made it all even faster…wave the pass and keep walking and the kids tag along for free. Avoiding lines then is a real bonus for the kids. Sainte-Chapelle warrented oohs and ahhs. Orangerie is quick and simple, beautiful and painless. Rodin too. Fast moving line to enter Notre Dame, none at Sacre Couer. Short line to buy stair tickets for the 1re and 2eme etage at the Tour Eiffel on a beautiful Saturday. Short line at the Catacombs. Only really hectic crowd was around Montmartre on Sunday afternoon.
2. Doing the stairs up and down at the Eiffel Tower is a great way to be crowd-free and see the building very up-close. And cool for photos and instragramming.
3. As usual, people were overwhelming kind, helpful and even chatty. I speak some French and all of them speak some English. No language challenges. Many ready to interact and chat with teens.
4. Using the TGV to go to Luxembourg was wonderful and amazingly simple! Being in Luxembourg with my wife, whom I met in Luxembourg when we were kids, was a refreshing break from the frenetic pace of Paris. Getting out in the countryside to see castles and forests was perfect mid-trip. The same can be done within France and would be worth it.
5. Having an AirBnB in the heart of the city (across from Metro Etienne Marcel) was priceless! Staying in the city for 7 out of 9 days allowed us to relax, unpack…to move in and immerse ourselves.
6. The rental scooters were a godsend for our 13 year old who wasn’t really all that excited about the trip. Download apps like Lime, Bird and Wind before you go. Not dirt cheap, but not pricey…consider it the cost of peace.
7. If you enjoy bread and don’t have a great bakery near you in the States, you can’t go wrong in Paris. Sure there are better boulangeries than others, but even the ok baguettes or croissants are better than the States’. Along food themes – try everything and discoveries can be made. We had frog legs, brains, lamb chops, veal chops, mussels, foie gras, lots of pastries. Trying things most Americans don’t only endears you and establishes a good relationship.
8. Sandwiches in boulangeries are a cheap way to avoid a lunch stop and to save money.
9. Using the Metro is as easy as it has always been but the 4 and the 6 are crowded all the time….squeeze in. Download the NextStopParis app for route planning if you want to avoid the maps on the walls. Buy a couple carnets so you’re stocked. Teach the kids how to use the Metro and then make them lead.
10. No sign of pickpockets, but that means nothing. They’re still there. Teach the kids to be street smart – aware of crowds, bumps. Valuables should be hidden. Awareness, not fear. Similarly, men pushing tickets and trinkets were a minor issue at the Louvre and Eiffel – just politely say no, a gentle wave-off and keep walking.
11. I still really believe that muted colors, small bags, small voices, low-maintenance food ordering and an effort with the language can make a huge difference in your experience in Paris.
12. Walk around a grocery store like Monoprix. Try some new flavors of familiar snacks. Printemps, Bon Marche, Galleries Lafayette, those are great too, but a little special.
13. Grabbing dinner between 7 and 8 can avoid the need for reservations. The couple times I made an online reservation I got the impression that the message never made it to the actual restaurant anyway.
14. While getting out of the touristy areas is nice and important, for first-timers, the touristy areas will be friendly and helpful…and you will still hear plenty of French. We walked Rue Montorgueil a few times and never felt surrounded by tourists. Seeing the highlights kept the kids engaged and teaching them how to use the Metro opens the entire city to them someday when they return. That said, Eiffel, around the Louvre, Left Bank, Notre Dame and Champs Elysees – now those are other stories – nothing but tourists.
15. The Gilets Jeunes – only an issue on Saturdays. Only an issue in the immediate neighborhoods where a protest is happening. Keep eyes open for large numbers of seriously equipped gendarmes – vans, wagons, serious weapons. Then just stay out of that area. We saw a protest in front of the Eiffel Tower and Trocedero, kept our distance and no big deal. But it was also a chance to talk about wealth stratification, employment benefits, protest methods – all sorts of issues.
16. A carafe of Bordeaux with dinner is the way to go. With teens, you can give them a chance to sample and learn about responsible drinking for flavor. In the meantime, you’re drinking some delicious wine very, very inexpensively.
17. Take advantage of restrooms in restaurants and McDonalds.
18. Explore a food market and check out the fish and meat diversity and the beauty of the produce. Ask questions, chat – merchants often love to chat about their products.
19. Try to restrict phone use to the end of the day – the hotel or apartment. Help them focus on the world in front of them.
20. Explore local flavor for souvenirs – the green boxes on the Seine, Shakespeare and Co, The Little Prince Store, candies and snacks – and avoid the cheap Eiffel Towers or berets.