[Continued from Paris, Part One]
On our fourth night in Paris, we met the babysitter we had arranged months earlier. Ana came over around 6:45 in the evening—we met her outside the apartment as we were coming home from the park, in fact—and I could tell it was going to go well immediately. I think Hudson thought she was our friend, Rhiannon (“Ana” sounding a bit similar and there being a resemblance), because he immediately reached up for a hug and asked after Rhiannon’s son. So they were off to a good start, with him eager to show her his toys.
I had actually written Jordan (who I’ve been lucky to get to chat with on a few occasions at blog events), about her experience with babysitters in Paris and she sent me a suggestion. In the end, that woman wasn’t available, but she passed along Ana’s contact. Ana only had experience with small children in her own family, but she struck me as intelligent and warm and I got a good feeling about her. In the end, she came three nights (Wednesday Thursday, and Saturday) and her friend came one night (Friday). I communicated with both over email before our trip, did a little web-stalking, and sent documents with all of our rules and routines ahead of time so that we could address specifics and be more brief about such things in person.
By the time the evening came, we knew that Hudson was waking in the middle of the night but that he was falling asleep and staying asleep during the babysitter’s hours easily—a big relief—and that he felt comfortable in our new home. We also purchased a cheap mobile phone for use in France, so that the babysitters could reach us in case of emergency and asked that they text us an update at least once while we were out.
If you’re considering using a babysitter, this book and our Rick Steves’ guidebook had additional babysitting resources they recommended. I would also suggest asking your hotel concierge for help, if you have one.
As much fun as we were having as a family of three, it was such a relief to leave that evening and step out into the glowing light as a couple, to know that we would have the chance to experience the romantic side of Paris (that we had once so loved) again and linger over wine and flickering candles.
As I alluded to in Part One, I never saw children out in restaurants at dinner (save for the occasional tourist), and it really seemed a challenge to bring ones as young as Hudson. We mentioned this to our babysitter, and she—without missing a beat—agreed and said “yes, you can bring the dog but not the child.” Ha! If you’re living in France, I’d love to hear if you think this is accurate.
In any case, though it adds a significant expense to pay for babysitting (around 10euro/hour seems normal), for us it was worth it.
That first evening out, we headed for Restaurant Le Gaigne, just around the corner from these stunning vertical gardens on rue Pecquay. The restaurant was booked (and now appears to be closed until a new location opens), and their chic wine bar across the way had a wait for tables, so we headed back up rue des Petits-Carreaux a bit and popped into L’Assiette à Carreaux just as the rain started falling; it was buzzing with people smoking cigarettes outside and drinking champagne inside. It looked promising, and we were happy we stayed.
The next morning, we took the Métro to the Place de la Bastille to begin Rick Steves’ Maris Walk tour. While I often prefer looking to sources like blogs, magazines, and the TimeOut Guides for a few hip spots (and like mixing references), I have to say that I’m a big fan of the Rick Steves’ European guides. They tend to have really wonderful, very practical walking tours, with plenty of history, and they are a wonderful source for comfortable yet affordable lodging. One note: I believe his Paris guidebook is one of the best-selling guides to Paris on Amazon, so do be prepared to see plenty of other American readers at the restaurants he calls his favorites.
Our plan was to stop pretty early in the tour and have our usual pastry breakfast in the Place des Vosges.
We asked around a bit and got a recommendation for the boulangerie Le Moulin de Rosa (32 Rue de Turenne). Of all of the bakeries we randomly stopped in, this remains one of my favorite. Especially wonderful were the buttery, almond-y financiers. I had bought some to put in my pocket and slip to Hudson when needed but Aron and I found ourselves reluctant to share. Everything was delicious.
No one sells small cups of milk for children, by the way, so we would also usually stop at a small market and pick up an UltraHeat Pasteurized (shelf-stable) milk to keep with us in the stroller until needed. Once opened, however, they have the same need for refrigeration as any milk would.
We found some other children there! Hudson “borrowed” a shovel briefly… the cute girl in grey was none too happy about it, though.
The Place de Vosges is a beautiful square, Paris’s first planned one, that is flanked by early 17th-century stone buildings with pitched roofs. Victor Hugo once lived there, so there are a few establishments that make reference to the writer.
From the Place de Vosges, we continued the Marais walk past fashionable shops on Rue des Francs Bourgeois (that I mentally bookmarked with hopes of returning to later) and into the Jewish quarter.
And though we had barely finished breakfast, Aron couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to try the famous L’As du Fallafel before a line had formed. I’ve heard equally good things about Chez Hanna, down the block, which seemed like a slightly nicer atmosphere if you’re planning on sitting down to eat your shawarma or falafel.
Our tour ended in front of the Centre Pompidou (or Beaubourg), the modern art museum which is one of my favorite museums to visit in Paris (of the larger sites, the Musée D’Orsay is completely wonderful, too). Even if you don’t make it to the collections, be sure to pay to take the escalators up to see the incredible view from the restaurant. (We took this photo from there on New Year’s Day in 2004).
I’d heard nothing but raves about the vendors along Rue Montorgueil for years and couldn’t recall ever visiting, so this was where we ended our morning and picked up lunch. David Lebovitz, the food writer and a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, shared a wonderful food guide for the street on his site, and we followed in his footsteps.
Highlights were the beautiful flower stalls, the bakery, Pâtissier Stohrer (from where we brought home more pastries and a delicious sandwich) and the cheese shop, La Fermette (of which I knew from Nichole’s visits). And we stopped to get Hudson a sandwich at the always reliable chain, Paul.
We took more taxis than usual on this trip, “throwing money at the problem” of rushing around for nap times, but it was sort of fun to do so: Hudson was obsessed with them! He took his time in the back seat very seriously.
Bread & Roses is a beautiful, if pricey, chain boulangerie/épicerie, and we were happy to find the one in our neighborhood had outside seating (a wee bit chilly, but probably the only place we could fit our stroller and watch the street sweepers over a delicious croissant and café au lait).
After breakfast, I couldn’t help but take Aron and Hudson back to the neighborhood around the Tuileries where I’d gone shopping without them that day. More Ladurée macarons and more window-shopping ensued.
We found these cheeky folks cutting leather for Hermès. Pretty incredible.
This time we wandered toward the far end of the Tuileries, where the Avenue des Champs Elysees begins. While we shared a Nutella and banana crêpe, Hudson had a ball chasing pigeons and stomping in puddles. At first, all of the school children were quietly sitting on those benches watching him. Soon, they were all up. I think he inspired a lunch-time mutiny!
We didn’t venture up the Avenue on this trip, but it’s a stunning view—looking down the wide path to the Arc de Triomphe. Walking the length of it is something everyone should probably do, but whereas most of the city didn’t seem too crowded this spring week, the Avenue was packed with tourists.
When it was time to go home for the midday nap, Aron and Hudson caught a cab, and I stayed out a bit longer for some shopping. But the rain grew heavy soon after they left and I came home earlier than planned to find a serene scene and a wedge of my favorite Bleu cheese and a glass of red wine waiting.
It’s funny: St. Agur bleu is one of those specialty cheeses you only find at nice counters here, but in France it’s on every grocery store’s dairy shelf. It’s creamy and delicious and pairs perfectly with honey. Yum!
That afternoon, we boarded Bus #69 for a cheaper alternative to one of the city tour buses (again, Rick Steves’ Paris comes through with a self-guided tour), but miserable traffic prompted us to cut it short. It’s supposed to be a lovely route!
For our dinner date that night, Aron and I walked across the Seine to the Ile St. Louis, with its narrow streets and pretty views across the river, for dinner at Mon Vieil Ami. I loved the modern fixtures inside the stone and beam-filled old room, and appreciated the vegetable-emphasis on the menu. In fact, there was a really creative vegetarian tasting menu available, which can be hard to find! As the large slice of seared foie gras atop my asparagus suggests, I’m not a vegetarian, but I love to see restaurants putting the emphasis on seasonal, fresh food over meat.
We decided to return another day to the Eiffel Tower, arriving early enough to get in the separate line for the inexpensive tickets for the all-stair-climb to the second level (though we did take the elevator down). If you’re planning on taking the elevator all the way to the top, be sure to consider reserving in advance online (far in advance). The lines are enormous, and they close them after a certain number has been reached. I remember being thrilled by trip to the top as a child, visiting with my parents, but I have to say that the views are pretty spectacular from the 2nd deck, too! (And Aron is emphatic that, health willing, you at least climb as far as they let you—”it’s part of the experience.”)
There was major renovation work going on while we were there, as a glass-observation floor is being added to the first deck. Eek!
Afterward, for lunch, we ducked into Bar du Central on Rue Saint-Dominique (a wonderful little street). It reminded me so much of the Keith McNally-style of restaurant in New York (though I think it is supposed to be the other way around). I had a delicious aperatif with elderberry and a giant Croque Madame.
Le Bon Marché, the city’s oldest department store, was not far from our apartment and it was a beautiful place to browse. I could have spent hours more looking around. There are two buildings, one featuring a giant (amazing) gourmet food hall, and another where we found women’s fashion and a children’s floor.
Some of you warned that the toys sold there are priced higher than elsewhere (perhaps like at FAO Schwarz?) but it was a lot of fun to browse. Many of my favorite toys were ones by Vilac, which are also sold in the states now.
Alone again in the evening, we debated renting Vélib’ bicycles, but strolling around in the amber glow proved too enticing. On my solo shopping sojourn, I had sought out the address of a sort of temple to Truffles we’d found once before on a previous trip to the city. I knew that the establishment was around the Bourse and was the all-truffle outpost of a winery in Provence. I was asking after it at a cafe that I thought was nearby and another customer overheard me and walked over an address! What luck!
Turns out the name is Un jour à Peyrassol, Bar à Truffes (13, rue Vivienne). Last time we were there, I was getting a cold and—as you must know—having a stuffy nose in a truffle bar is like a cruel joke! I was so happy to return. (I’m a big fan.) Our reservation was for 8:30 and it was fairly empty, but when I went at lunch to make the reservation it was packed. So if you’re looking for a scene, you might go for the midday formule instead.
Our apartment wasn’t available for our final night, and while we considered letting this prompt us to return on Saturday rather than Sunday, I can never stand to leave vacation early. So we booked a night at the Best Western (Le Jardin de Cluny location). They had a junior suite that was perfect for families, or large groups, with a curtain on a sliding rail to partition the room.
Sunny days returned, thank goodness: perfect for markets in the 5th…
… and boat rides along the Seine. We took one of the Vedettes de Pont Neuf (from the tip of the Ile de la Cité), which pleased Hudson tremendously as he’d been asking about boats every day.
Really it was a pleasure for everyone, and would make a nice introduction to the city (perhaps at sunset). And then you’re close to Berthillon for an ice cream cone!
The Palais Royal was our next stop and we opted to see if we could run Hudson to the point of exhaustion so that he’d sleep through a lunch out in his stroller. Also, how awesome is this older woman’s all beige, chic ensemble? Right down the high-tops?!
We were successful in our efforts and settled into a cafe just outside of the gardens, where it was a bit quieter. Had we not been, we would have chosen a spot on the garden’s square—where we observed many parents eating while their children played adjacent to the tables.
In fact, the entire Palais was hopping with children (literally) on this weekend afternoon. The Cour d’Honneur was especially popular for its pillars, many perfect for toddler jump fests.
Next we made our way to the toy boats front of the Louvre, at the start of the Jardin des Tuileries. You can rent a sailboat for a euro or two and do your best to sail it with the push of a stick. Completely charming.
We skipped the inside of the Louvre but enjoyed the scale of its courtyard (it really is magnificent, crowds or not), before waving farewell to all of the statues and making it back to the hotel to meet Ana.
Aron and I opted to travel up to Montmarte for our final evening. The “Butte” of Paris was independent from the city for years, and its distinct village character remains. It can be crowded with tourists, but it can also feel completely apart and romantic. On a visit as a freshman in college, I chose an unpleasantly seedy street at the base to start my climb to Sacré-Coeur, and I admit that it scarred me a bit about hanging around this neighborhood too late. It’s silly how these things stick with you, but what can you do? Anyway, there are some stretches around the Pigalle area at the base that require a sturdy composition. Your traditional guide book will generally bring this up, too.
No matter what route you do take, the view from the steps of the bright white Sacré-Coeur are worth the hike. We joined the crowds on the steps, bottle of wine in hand, and took in one of the best street performances I can remember.
Men offered cold bottles of Heineken to anyone without a drink, and this guy performed the most incredible series of soccer maneuvers (many while suspended from a lamppost)! Someone needs to go offer the guy a contract. He was incredible. In fact… and I’ve never seen this before… people were lining up afterward to shake his hand. That’s how good he was!
We had talked about watching the sun set, but that would mean sitting there all night! Much better to explore…
We mistakenly didn’t think of making reservations ahead of time, and the place we’d hoped to go (Le Miroir, which looked amazing) was completely full.
Another place we stopped inside had a table at 11pm, but the host told us that his favorite place to eat was in a restaurant fronted by a rotisserie/épicerie (exactly like one of our favorite restaurants, Marlow & Sons). Sounded perfect, and it was.
Jeanne B (on Rue Lepic) is fronted by a deli counter with a few tables around; then you walk into the back and find another charming room with menus on giant wine magnums and a lively crowd sharing plates of charcuterie and scooping paté out of small jars. Better than the address I started with, it really was all that I could hope for to end our week in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.