We had two main reasons for making Paris our first stop on this leg of our European adventure. One was to collect a car we’ve leased for 4 months, which was cheaper to pick up in Paris than most other cities. The other was to fulfill Tia’s wish of visiting the Eiffel Tower for her birthday. So, after 28 hours flying and in transit, the kids and I made it to Charles De Gaulle airport, where we found Paul waiting in the baggage area.
Paul watching us arrive in CDG airport from the baggage area!
Completely wrecked but willing to explore, we dropped our bags at the hotel, then headed straight out for a ‘short’ stroll. As the temperature plummeted and the sun set at 4.45pm, so too did the kids waning enthusiasm. Their body clocks were telling them it was roughly 1am, and it was time to sleep after only managing 6 or so hours in 2 days. After 5km of wandering through the city streets, we found a restaurant and headed inside. Within minutes of ordering, Ty was fast asleep with Indi following closely behind. Much hilarity for other patrons ensued as they fell face first time and again, being caught by Paul or I before they landed in their meals. Tia and Noah happily ate the extra food, and we somehow managed to wrangle them out of the restaurant and back onto the streets.
Ty completely passed out
Indi followed closely behind!
Paul was determined to visit the Louvre as Friday night was free entry night for kids saving significant $$$. To put it mildly, I think we’ve cured out kids of the Louvre forever. They all declared they never want to go there again (it didn’t help that we got lost and couldn’t find a way out for about an hour!). No interest in the Egyptian artifacts, not a care about the Mona Lisa, paintings by the world’s most famous artists were ‘puff’, and Napoleon who?! Note to self: don’t do anything significant with kids after flying from one country to another long haul.
I was happy to be back in Paris!
Still some enthusiasm
Ty showing Mona some respect
Sleep walking the halls
Tia’s birthday dawned a pretty overcast day and very heavy pollution. After a breakfast of chocolate mousse with a candle and ‘Joyeux Anniversaire’ sung by the hotel staff (who doesn’t want chocolate mousse for breakfast?!), we headed out to the Eiffel Tower. Passing the Concergerie along the way, as well as a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, we took in as many sights as we could. Tia was adamant we would climb the Tower at night, so we took some happy snaps together, wandered underneath the structure, then headed for the Arc de Triomphe.
Early morning walk in Paris
One of the Rose stain glass windows in Notre Dame
She made it!!
First views of the tower
Luxembourg Gardens and the Statue of Liberty
The Pantheon.. where Indi got stuck inside his jacket!
We all loved the Arc de Triomphe, more for the round about entertainment than anything. Though the fact that Napoleon built it to celebrate the French Army’s success and took 30 years to complete is a pretty cool fact! One of the kids declared sitting on a bench at the Arc better than watching TV! With no marked lanes, yet traffic coming from all directions and merging, turning and changing directions, it is a good half hour entertainment of near misses and collisions!
After a wee nap in the late afternoon, we grabbed another train, and popped out at a Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées. Famous for multiple reasons, (the Tour de France finish line is here, Bastille Day parade occurs here, loads of cafes, etc), it felt like every mana and his dog had descended upon the avenue. It was crazy packed, with hundreds of people squeezed in to a very small walkway. At times, breathing was only possible if you could expand your chest far enough. We managed to escape the crowds, grab some crepes, and head towards the tower. The pollution was very heavy still and it wasn’t until we were right upon the tower you could actually see it. Tia was gutted as we made the decision not to climb it that night, as the visibility was so bad. She was naturally very upset, and there ended the evening!
Waking on the Sunday morning, we discovered it had rained, washing away much of the pollution. We quickly headed out, making a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. Somehow we managed to arrive there 5 minutes before opening, Paul got us first in line to buy tickets to climb up (the massive queues were for people who were using the elevators), Ty ran ahead completely in his element, and we were the first ones up on level 1! Walking around just the 6 of us with one other couple was quite surreal and eerie. Who gets the Eiffel Tower to themselves?! The view was stunning, with visibility well past Sacre-Couer. Tia understood our decision we’d made the night before and there were many “I’m sorry’s” and kisses and hugs.
Next up we headed to Montmartre District, and Sacre-Coeur. I personally love this area for all it’s colour and diversity. The streets are fun, filled with little cafes and restaurants, there are artists everywhere, and the vibe is palpable. We had a lovely time wandering through Sacre-Couer, taking in some of the Sunday church service during communion time. We also had the added bonus of being spotted by a good friend from New Zealand, and having a silent very excited reunion within the church! A big catch up ensued outside with views of Paris in the background. Very surreal but we’ll take it!
Wandering inside whilst listening to the service
Ordering crepes to go
As you do! In Montmartre.
After tripping round Montmartre we made our way back into Paris, and headed to the Musee D’Armee. This seemed to capture the kids attention more than anything else we’d done. With room after room of different wars and battles, they loved looking at all the various uniforms, weapons and battlefields. We also chanced upon a live demonstration in the court yard and enjoyed watching the catapult and cannons in action.
Triple barrel gun… triggered!
The Monday morning we headed to the rental location to pick up our lease car. Upon arrival, we were informed that the car wasn’t able to be brought into the city as the pollution was too bad (if the car hasn’t got prior permission on high pollution days it is not allowed inside certain limits). The car was at another location waiting for us to pick up, about another half an hours drive. Jumping in two taxis, with no idea where we were going, we headed off into the unknown! Eventually we arrived in Roissy, right near the airport, and were shown our car. Small by Australian standards for a people mover, teeny tiny by Texan standards, but big for Europe, we managed to somehow fit our luggage in and finally made our way out of Paris, only 3 hours later than we had hoped. With a 7 hour drive ahead of us, we skipped a visit to Versailles as we had planned, and headed for Toulouse. Let’s just say small car, tightly packed = grumpy kids and even grumpier parents. Long drive!
Heated seat, heated steering wheel, and massage chairs. Yeah baby!
I seem to have a knack for finding dodgy locations (note to self, don’t book hotels close to major train terminals) and Toulouse was no exception. Thankfully we had secure parking (though I almost took out the side of the car whilst parking) and a very secure apartment. Dinner was bread, cheese and meats from the local supermarket, and we all crashed out for the night. Only an hour from Toulouse is the town of Carcassonne. We made our way there early the next morning, to visit the Chateau Comtal. As far as Castles go, it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen! We had a fun hour running around the walls, climbing the turrets and imaging ourselves pouring hot oil and flaming arrows at our enemies!
Perfectly acceptable to walk around like this in France!
The medieval town of Aigues-Morte was our next car break. Over crowded in summer, we experienced a nearly empty town within the fortified walls. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a bio-organic cafe, specializing in homemade burgers, crepes and wine! Random combination but it suited all of us just fandandy (fine and dandy!). Leaving the town we got to witness the famous Camargue horses running through a field in the Camargue National Park, dozens of flamingoes in the water, and the local breed of black bulls.
The fortified wall surrounding Auiges-Mortes
An empty square!
Arriving late in the day to Cavalaire-sur-mer, a seaside town about 10km from St.Tropez, we were greeted by our hostess at Villa la Clarte. Accommodation in the French Riviera is pretty steep for a big family, especially if you’re staying one night, so a B n B was a great option for this stop. We were the only guests, and were given the run of the place. Our hostess was lovely, and cooked us a beautiful breakfast the next morning, with homemade pastries and breads. Hello winter weight!
Villa la clarte
Street view as the sun sets
A short walk down a very steep hill saw us arrive along the main drag. With the kids still adjusting to eating late (nothing opens before 7pm) we headed to one of the few restaurants open. Our host at LC Caffe was fabulous. He had very little English, we had very little French, but between us and another couple who got in on the fun, we managed to order a wonderful meal using google translate and charades. The poor guy was exhausted after taking our order, but it was well worth the effort! One thing we noticed eating in different locations throughout France, was very few children out with their families. We are used to being stared at being an above average family size, but here we stood out more the usual. Loads of couples out eating, big groups of adults with friends, but barely any children.
The following day was a relatively short drive, though we did loads of stops to check out: St.Tropez, Saint Maxime, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and Roqueburne-Cap-Martin. The architecture was so very different between all the different seaside towns, from humungous mansions complete with heli-pads, to apartments set on the edge of cliffs. Walking along the promenade in Cannes was gorgeous, with glorious winter sunshine and several elderly people swimming in the sea. We climbed up multiple flights of stairs to a tower that overlooks the city of Cannes, which gave us a great overview of the area.
Enjoying the beach and beautiful sunshine in Cannes
Seafood linguini completely with a cray
Noah loved Monaco and declared one day he is going to live there and drive a Lambo! If I never go back again I will be just fine (I was the driver… the only positive was it helped prepare me for driving in Rome)! We decided to park in an underground paid carpark and walk into the main area of Monaco, avoiding the potential difficulty of negotiating a bigger car on tiny one way streets. Big mistake. We parked in a garage with two different signs which we didn’t realize until we were stuck. One way was for smaller vehicles, and the other for bigger vehicles. Yep, I went the smaller vehicle way. And got stuck. Next to a pole and a wall. With another (tiny) car behind me.
The Monaco Palace
Not a bad entrance to ones home!
Shame he’s already had his mid-life crisis… he could’ve made a push for this badboy complete with his initials!
I will say though, Monaco is full of beautiful people and I would’ve loved some people watching time. We visited the palace and watched as dozens of children exited the palace gates, arms filled with goodie bags and presents. Later we discovered that at Christmas time with royal family host two parties: one is for the children of the palace staff, and the other is for underprivileged children of Monaco. The royal family are present throughout both parties, and hand each child a named gift, chatting with every child individually. Seeing the joy on the kids faces was pretty cool. It helps that the palace is in an amazing location, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean!
Making our way along the roads to Roqueburne-Cap-Martin in the dark probably wasn’t the best plan in the world (it makes the Great Ocean Road look like a walk in the park), but we managed to negotiate the tiny roads and constant hair-pin bends to arrive safely. After dinner at another local haunt (we always try and eat where the locals frequent, not the tourists), we enjoyed walking the quiet promenade at night. Somehow in our decision making, we decided a decent walk before crossing the border into Italy was in order. We missed visiting the Monte Carlo Casino, so we made that our walking destination. The walk was spectacular, but by the time we got to the Casino we’d already done 10km, and still had to get back! Tia fell along the way too so we had a skinned knee and swollen hand to contend with, as well as a grumpy (older) teenager who has decided all walking is evil. The only thing that saved the walk for him was seeing the cars lined up outside the casino. Once again, public transport came to our rescue as we ran for a train that deposited us back within 1/2km walk of our apartment. We missed check out time (ops) and had a tricky half an hour where we had to decide what to do with the old fashioned keys (no key cards here) and remote for the garage entry. Best not to miss check out time when it’s off peak season and the reception desks are staffed infrequently throughout the day. Ops again.
Stunning views on our ‘short’ stroll to Monte Carlo
Another rough view to embrace
A lot of faith involved in walking across ledges like these!
Next stop, Genoa, Italy. Famous for winding streets, chaos, and pesto genovese, it lived up to all 3 trademarks! We enjoyed a lovely stroll around the old town city streets at night, a hike up to Spianatta Castelletto for a view over the entire city, and dining on chick pea fries, purple cauliflower and gnocchi pesto at Il Genovese. Then back to Hotel Nologo for a very cosy sleep (we were all lined up in a row next to each other!).
A chilly night in the piazza
Friday we left Genoa early (several circles around town before we finally found our way out!), pointing the car towards Roma. Due to a few accidents, we took the coastal route via San Remo (meh… I prefer San Remo Victoria far more!) and Pisa. A quick stop in Pisa for the obligatory photos, then flat out to Rome before peak hour traffic set in. We made it by 4pm, found a car park in the street near our apartment, managed the 6 flights of stairs to our new abode, and we are in!
Stay tuned for more adventures as the exploration of Rome and our new neighbourhood begins.
Tips for sightseeing in Paris with kids:
- Air B n B is a good place to look for accommodation for larger families, although we found a great deal with the Novotel in Bercy. It it is right on the Metro and provides quick and easy access to anywhere you want to explore. The staff are lovely and speak multiple languages, and the rooms were spacious by European standards.
- Grab a tourist map of the city and circle the main places you want to visit. Plot out a rough plan of where you’ll head each day, based on the map and closest Metro locations. This way, you won’t be doubling back or walking needlessly in circles.
- Kids (especially when jet lagged), will inevitably crash at some point. Like adults, there is only so long adrenaline can keep them going. Make plans for each day so you have a rough idea of what direction you are moving in, but be flexible and be prepared to alter your plans at a moments notice. Children aren’t convenient and will not all crash at the same time. They will drag it out, over multiple days, and tag in and out with each other in the game we call, ‘Who’s going to crack it today?’ Just roll with it! We tell the kids that they all take it in turns, and to be extra kind and tolerant of the kid who’s cracking it, as they might be next!
- Tickets are usually cheaper if you buy them at the entrance gates. We found that there were unwritten deals at every place we went to saving us major $$$.
- The Metro is the easiest and best way to get around. Once again, buy tickets at the counter as they were half the price of the electronic machines. If pollution is bad Monday-Friday, the Metro is free!
- Go to the major tourist areas to eat if you’re feeling intimidated or unsure, then walk behind the tourist areas a street or two. The food is better, the service more authentic and once again, it’s far cheaper!
- Teach the kids basic phrases. A Merci Beaucoup, S’il vous plait, and Bonjour! Ca va? goes a long way when you are trying to negotiate a situation and need assistance.
- Breakfasts and lunches can be done super easy by eating at corner store creperies, patisseries, and buying meats and cheeses from a delicatessen.
- Kids don’t like to walk all day! Where an adult might walk 10 – 12 hours exploring a new city, our kids were struggling after 6 – 8 hours. We averaged 15km walking per day in Paris, and covered a lot of ground by also using the Metro to rest and get around the areas we weren’t interested in seeing.
- If you are planning on visiting Monaco and surrounds, I highly recommend taking your private helicopter or jet to avoid car parking issues.