Having my family here for two weeks still didn't feel long enough, but I was grateful that it wasn't just a rushed one week trip. We had enough time to have a few lazy days around the apartment, just catching up or exploring the neighbourhood. Still, I made sure that there were some incredible experiences for my niece before she went home.
This day we decided to take a bit of a panoramic tour of the city, but instead of taking a bus tour we took a boat tour. The Batobus is a bit like the traditional Bateaux Mouches in that it takes passengers up and down the Seine, except it's different because a pass allows guests to "Hop On and Off" at a variety of stops along the way. The kids loved taking a boat, and it was a bit cooler on the water than it was on land.
We got on the boat at the Beaugrenelle stop, which is the first stop on the route. It then stops at major tourist points like the Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, and more. My dad took the kids to the deck at the back of the boat, and I got some photos of the city from a new perspective.
We hopped off at the last stop before the boat turns around, the Cite de la Mode et du Design. It looks a bit run down from the outside, with its green panels and graffiti-covered walls, but it's actually a very cool spot. The graffiti walls are part of the design, and there are interesting art and video installations. At night a disco opens up on the banks of the Seine, and during the day there was a bar open with a sandy beach to enjoy. We ordered milkshakes and fries for the kids and relaxed before getting back on the boat.
The entire tour takes about two hours, but with our break we spent almost an entire afternoon out on the river.
That evening we took my dad and sister out for a birthday dinner at Noglu, a 100% gluten free restaurant in the Passage des Panoramas. The restaurant is quite small, and the menu is limited, but it was nice to be able to order anything my son wanted without worrying about whether it would be safe for him to eat.
The food was good, although the portions were a bit small for the price. We also had them make a birthday cake so that we didn't have to order from another location and bring it along with us. I have a lot to say about our experience at Noglu, both good and bad, but I'll save it for a review post that I'll be writing soon.
Day Nine was a busy, busy day. We took the bus in the morning to the Invalides, which is home to Napoleon's tomb, the military museum, and a veteran's hospital. The hospital is obviously off limits to tourists, but the golden-domed chapel that houses the tomb of Napoleon and other notable military figures and the military museum are worth a visit.
We didn't go through the military museum this time because my parents have seen it before, but it's actually quite interesting. The chapel area where the tomb is located is full of marble and is beautiful in and of itself, and the kids were impressed with how big everything was.
The tomb itself is located on a lower floor, with a circular viewing area where people can look down from the top floor. Rumour has it that he wanted his tomb put there so that people would have to bow to him, even in death. True or not, it's worth a visit.
Around the other area of the building is where the courtyard is, leading onto the Esplanade des Invalides, a gigantic green space with a large avenue that leads down to the Seine and the Pont Alexandre III. The bridge is one of Paris's most recognizable, with its large statues and golden accents.
We walked down the stairs at the bridge and spent some time wandering down the quay of the Seine. There are tons of activities set up for the summer, including petanque courts, chess and checkers tables, cafes, and more.
Since we had a two day Batobus ticket, we took the boat again, this time getting off at Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame is located. My sister wanted to walk through it, and then we spent some time shopping for souvenirs for friends and family in Canada.
We then walked across Hotel de Ville and up to the Centre Pompidou. It's a modern art museum with an excellent children's area that has special exhibits and workshops for kids. The building itself is an attraction because it stands out from all the other more traditional buildings around it.
It was built with all of the venting and escalators on the outside of the building to allow for a larger display space within. The pipes are painted bright colours, and there is a whimsical fountain located just to the side.
For those not interested in the art, it also boasts a panoramic terrace that offers views of almost every major monument in the city. For 3 Euros you can bypass the museum (although I don't recommend it, the kids area alone is worth the entrance fee) and take the outdoor escalators all the way to the top terrace.
For more information on the Pompidou Center and its children's activities, check out THIS POST I wrote a few months back.
Later we explored the neighbouring pedestrian area, popping into some of the unique shops. We also let the kids spend a few minutes chasing the gigantic bubbles that one of the street performers created for the children. We then hopped back on the Batobus and went home for dinner. We went out later that evening to check out the Champs Elysees all lit up, and got some beautiful night photos of the Arc de Triomphe. We wanted to climb it, but the last access had already passed so we saved it for another day.
We got up early and headed for the Eiffel Tower. Usually you can buy tickets online to skip the line-up, but being high tourist season the tickets were all sold out. The trip up and down took up a good three hours, between waiting in line to get in and then waiting in line for the various elevators to take you up and down the different levels.
Level One has been redone recently, and now has several cafes and a restaurant, as well shops and places to sit. Unfortunately the outdoor stand selling drinks only had one employee working, so the line-up stretched too far for us to want to wait in line. The tables have swing seats though, so the two year old had a great time trying to swing despite the fact that they are secured to the floor so they don't swing much.
The second floor has a nice outdoor observation area and isn't as packed as the top, and it also has bathrooms. I was a bit disappointed with the disorganization of the lines for the elevators. The signs weren't helpful, and people were confused as to where to get in, despite several employees standing around talking to each other but not to the customers. Eventually one employee opened up a second line, only to try and merge it with the first, which annoyed people who had been in the first line for a long time already.
Despite that, we made it to the top and got some really great panoramic shots of the city, including one of my neighbourhood!
We decided to grab a snack once we got out of the tower, and I found a few gluten free items at the snack stands that line the side of the tower, including Magnum Ice Cream bars, which made my son very happy.
Since we were all tired from the tower, we decided to take the kids somewhere less touristy. We crossed the bridge and headed up the walkway of the Palais Chaillot. From the top there is a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower, but instead we veered off to the right to head into the Paris Aquarium.
It's not as big as some of the aquariums I've been to in other cities, but it still has enough to interest kids and to pass an hour or so of an afternoon. The highlights for the kids were the shark tunnel, where you stand beneath a shark tank and watch the sharks swim above you, and the petting pool where kids can stick their hands in and pet the fish.
By the time we were finished there everyone was exhausted, so we went home and had an early night since we had Disneyland Paris plans for the next day.
Disneyland Paris! This spot deserves its own post as well, but I'll try and sum it up here. We took the early morning RER train to Disneyland Paris, located less than an hour from the city. The gates open at 10, and we only had to wait in line about 20 minutes, and that was mostly to get through security.
There are two Disney parks located side by side, so we started with the Studios one so that my youngest could go on the Cars ride. He was so excited to see his favourite Cars characters! That park alone took up almost half a day, and we only saw a portion of it. We rode some magic carpets, checked out Monster U, and explored the world of Disney films.
We stopped and had lunch before heading over to the main park. My niece was excited to see Sleeping Beauty's castle, and my oldest son was excited for all the rides! The line-ups could be quite long for some rides, but nothing too crazy. I guess going on a weekday was a better idea than a weekend!
We checked out the castle, watched Elsa ride through town singing her favourite song in a variety of languages, and had dinner before tackling the park again. I was a bit disappointed at the gluten free aspect of things, because the Disneyland Paris website is very well organized and has great resources for those with any type of food allergy. It lists several restaurants that have safe options, and even mentions that there are special meals that one can order in those locations.
While the restaurants did have a nutrition list, most didn't have much in the way of gluten free options. Also, to find the special plate listed on the website we had to run around to three or four places before one of them actually had it. It was a plate of rice with meatballs in tomato sauce. Not awful, but not very exciting for a kid. Also, it took almost an hour to find a place with options and then finally get our meal.
Other than that, the day at Disney was exciting. The castle lights up when it gets dark, and there's a show at closing. We hopped back on the RER and just made it in time to catch the last bus back to our place.
The day after Disney was a lazy, lazy day. The kids all slept in, and by the time we got them up, fed, and bathed the day was half over! We let them just relax and watch a few movies for most of the day. When my husband got home from work he and my dad took them to the park, and I went out with my mom and sister to do a bit of shopping. Not very exciting, but we all needed a rest!
This morning we hopped on the bus into the heart of the city so my Dad and sister could take the kids up the towers of Notre Dame. Since my Mom wasn't going to climb them, I stayed down with her and Xavier. We dropped off the climbing crew to wait in the line that snaked around the back of the cathedral, and then walked over to a local bakery to pick up a few pastries to enjoy while watching boats sail down the river.
Then we made our way to BHV department store to buy some gifts for two of my cousins who are pregnant and due in the fall. I may have gotten caught up in the book store for a while, purchasing books not only for the babies but for my son as well. We then wandered back over to the vicinity of Notre Dame to wait for the rest of the family to come down.
Everyone was hot after their climb, so we stopped at the closest Baskin Robbins for some ice cream. They have an allergen list so I was able to choose a gluten free flavour for my son. The employee used a new scoop and took from a part that was untouched, so I was happy.
Paris Plages was in full swing, which meant that the area in fron of the Hotel de Ville had been covered in sand to create an area for beach volleyball. We watched a bit of a volleyball game while my niece went to the Post Office to mail some postcards.
Then we spent the afternoon exploring the Rue de Rivoli, a mid-range shopping street that follows the length of the Louvre. My sister and my niece bought some new shoes, and we checked out some of the souvenirs as well.
We spent the morning getting everyone packed, since they were leaving the next morning. The kids went out for a walk with my Dad, and my Mom and sister made sure that everything was packed for the trip.
After lunch we made our way back to the Champs Elysee. This time we walked down and then back up. We had ordered tickets online that allowed us to skip the line to climb up, and went to pick them up at the Fnac store. Then we crossed over to the Laduree shop where my mom bought some amazing macarons and some handmade marshmallows. After enjoying a treat, we met up with my husband and headed down the underground passageway under the crazy roundabout of traffic to where the Arch was waiting.
There is an elevator that is reserved for those with limited mobility, and although it has a photo of a stroller on it, it seems to be at the whim of the employee as to whether children in strollers are actually allowed to take it. They let my Mom take it up, but made our two year old climb. He didn't complain though, and kept up the pace the whole way.
The view from the top of the Arch de Triomphe is spectacular, and is perfect for orienting yourself in the city. You can get incredible photos of pretty much every area of the city, but particularly of the Arch de la Defense and the Eiffel Tower. The view is incredible both day and night.
After taking many, many photos we walked back down the spiral staircase to the bottom, and then caught the bus to a local restaurant for dinner. We were able to sit outside where we could see the Eiffel tower in the distance, and the kids were excited when it began to sparkle. Honestly, the sparkling never gets old!
Saying goodbye is always tough, but I think it's harder when you're not the one leaving. I may have cried for the better part of the morning after they left for the airport, but who's counting?
Overall it was a great visit, and I was happy they got to come and spend time with us in our little corner of Paris. I can't wait to see them again soon!