Warning: This is a long post. And I still had to split it up into two. Although, I don’t think I should be warning you, you should be excited… not many blog posts are long these days. I miss looking at a whole big post of people’s travels and adventures! Regardless, you were warned.
Not knowing I would end up spending the entire month of November with them in the US because of my visa, as soon as my parents learned that Whit and I would be living in France they started planning a visit around Christmas so neither of us would spend the holidays alone (my brother’s family had an off-year this Christmas).
Instead of being a lifeline in the middle of a year away from home, my parents’ visit ended up being (for me) a memorable way to spend Christmas together, affirmation that I know my way around the city that I “kind of” live in, and more precious time with two of my favorite people. Their visit was extra special for Whit, who was finally surrounded again by familiar faces of people who love him and know him well.
Being out of work and low on activities that give me energy, I dug into research (that I surprisingly hadn’t done yet) on all there is to do in the city of light. Then, less than a week after I arrived back to my new home for the Christmas season, we were picking Mom and Dad up from the airport. Jeff and Linda are known for their boundless energy, so while we built a lot of rest into their schedule so they could have a real vacation, the next two weeks were still packed with plenty of sightseeing, cooking, eating out, shopping, laughter, and hanging out together.
Later I will share more about how I planned their trip, and give you tips and tricks for visiting the biggest tourist destination in the world, but for now I’ll share pictures, my favorite highlights, and tidbits of the things we did and enjoyed while the four of us were together.
Before my parents arrived, Whit and I had some sweet time together after being apart for six (!!) weeks. The most fun thing was picking up a Christmas tree on Rue Montorgueil, the famous market street parallel to the street we live on. Our tree was just the right size for our little apartment. Whit opened the presents people gave me to bring him from the US, and I enjoyed snuggling with Tela again.
Getting a Christmas tree in the city!
- A Christmas tree is called a “sapin” in French, so that’s what we named our tree this year
- The miniature trees rest in a small log carved in half, and without requiring water, they last into the first week of January
- Whit had seen boyfriends and husbands carrying Christmas trees down the street, and was excited when he finally got to take ours home
- When we took down the tree in January, we simply set it on the sidewalk and someone came to remove it (simplest take-down ever!)
We also enjoyed spending time with Whit’s team. We had a white elephant gift exchange (I brought bags of candy and gifts from Target) and had the usual French saucisson, cheese, and wine.
- Zach’s present was picked last, even though it was worth fighting over – several oversized packages of candy
- I was pleased that the girls ooh’ed and aww’ed over the Magnolia candle and Target mug and dishtowel that I brought back from the US
- Whit got a huge case of tea (70 packets featuring 10 different flavors) that someone had found for only 6euro! They actually taste good, too.
I’m SO glad I got to join the team on the group trip to Disneyland Paris! It was in the 40’s and drizzled on and off all day, so by the end of the day I wanted nothing more than to snuggle up on my couch in dry lounge clothes, but the magic of “Les Parcs Deesnay-lond” still penetrated our hearts, and I have so many fond memories of that dreary, yet enchanting day!
- In the beginning of the day Whit and I had an awkward moment trying to order from a cafe – a French misunderstanding mixed with false advertising – which was one of the lowest customer service experiences we’ve had thus far. We had a disagreement about it afterwards that we had to hash out, but after that we were good for the day. #reallife
- Coming in for lunch at Disney Studios felt like we were cozied up in a ski lodge, and felt so good to get away from the rain and cold
- Some of the rides we did: Finding Nemo, Ratatouille (to eat in the restaurant, you have to book a reservation WEEKS in advance!), RC Racer, Tower of Terror (most of us were legitimately freaked out!), Indiana Jones (Whit was the only one who really liked this one), Big Thunder Mountain (we played Friends trivia while we waited), Hyperspace Mountain (the first time we went, the sound was off and which made it a little odd), and Haunted Mansion. We caught most of the parade and of course the fireworks display at the end of the night.
The first weekend my parents were in town, we introduced them to a few of our favorite things while also giving them lots of time to rest and get over jet lag.
Our very first stop after the train ride into the city was my go-to sandwich shop (Le Pain Quotidien) that has the best gluten-free avocado toast. Then we walked the five blocks past our apartment to get to their airbnb, which had an amazing top floor view of the city and plenty of windows. After alternating taking luggage up to the apartment in the tiny two-person elevator, we took my parents to afternoon jazz at La Fontaine de Belleville to help them acquaint to French culture. Then, I had been wanting to take my dad to this Cambodian restaurant I had heard good things about, and was excited for Whit to try Cambodian food, so we were thankful that my parents were willing to stay out “late” and eat at Le Petit Cambodge (we recommend the porc au caramel and delice banane).
Though they struggled to not sleep through it, it was awesome to take my mom and dad to a service at our French church the next morning! (Yes, the pastor gives the sermon in French, but he provides a transcript of the message in English online.) And though we didn’t intend to, we ended up walking down one of my favorite places in Paris to stroll, a little part of the Marais neighborhood – it has stunning boutiques as well as a down-to-earth bookstore, a lovely park, and tons of food. We ate lunch that day at Candelaria, which boasts homemade tortillas, a rotating menu, a secret cave bar, and the best pickle and cream dip (tastes infinity better than it sounds).
Airbnb, Jazz, and Le Marais
- I was psyched that we found a place for my parents to stay that had a big living area…..but it turned out that the couches were THE MOST UNCOMFORTABLE couches ever! We still watched a few movies awkwardly, but it was not the cozy living area we were hoping for.
- Their airbnb was only a ten-minute walk directly down the street from us, which was amazing! It felt like they lived right in our neighborhood! We loved visiting with them and then just walking home for the night.
- Our first night out, at jazz, we ordered a cheese plate and my dad IMMEDIATELY cut the best part of the soft cheese off, which is a huge no-no. I tried to correct him but it was too late… classic dad.
- We tried the supposed “best baguette in Paris” – even I ate it despite the gluten. It was GOOD.
Notre Dame, Versailles, & the Louvre
The week before Christmas, Whit still had work, so my parents and I hit up Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter and Laduree, Versailles, and the Louvre. On their own, they found dinner in the Latin Quarter, went up in the Arc de Triomphe, and learned their way around French grocery stores.
- Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time this trip, and seeing the love locks further down the bridge
- The inside of the church was decorated BEAUTIFULLY for Christmas (more pictures coming later!). There was a huge nativity scene set up to look like a country village in Provence that had moving pieces (a baker rolling out dough, for instance) – it was darling.
The Latin Quarter
- We had the best time strolling down the streets from Notre Dame to Laduree, walking through the Latin Quarter and ending up in St. Germain des Pres. I could not believe how decked out all the restaurants were in this area, it looked like Christmas exploded all over the shops; it was amazing.
- We stumbled upon two Christmas markets selling red and green colored cheeses, vin chaud, raclette, and hot dogs.
- At Laduree, we got the super thick, super smooth, rich hot chocolate, macarons, and Chinese tea. I just love the tea room at Laduree Bonaparte!
- After tea and pastries, I left my parents to fend for themselves for dinner and met Whit and two of our friends from New York City who were visiting. We took them to L’As du Fallafel. My parents had been talking about getting French food, but they ended up getting kebab instead – there’s just so many good food options in Paris!
- The entire castle was shrouded in fog! We couldn’t even see it until we got up close at the gate. It was totally different than being there in sunshine, but felt so mystical.
- I loved getting to walk around the gardens, even though they didn’t have any flowers planted at this time of year, but it was SO COLD.
- Before we got on the train to head back into the city, we stopped for hot chocolate, mocha, and potato wedges at McDonald’s to warm up and use their wifi.
- We only had a few hours, but we covered a lot of ground. More than looking at the paintings and sculptures, we enjoyed wandering the building and admiring the different architectural features.
- There is an entire section devoted to showcasing the history of the building (previously a moat and fort, castle, and now a museum) – it was cool to see the stones underground that formed the moat.
- There were hardly ANY people in the Mona Lisa room – normally it is packed to the gills. We got up right in front of it and had plenty of time to look. Honestly it’s not nearly as fascinating as a lot of other stuff in the museum, though.
Arc de Triomphe and the 2nd Arrondissement
- My dad loves cooking, and he very quickly learned the layout of the grocery store, picking up ingredients and finding new things to try. Almost every time he went out, he came back with a different bottle of wine and more flan 😀
- I was holding my parents hands a lot the first few days, so it was a little hard to “let go” and let them figure out how to navigate Paris on their own… not that I didn’t think they could do it, but I knew it was easier to go with them and show them how to do different things and be able to translate for them if necessary… and to be honest I just really wanted to go experience everything with them because this was really my first time getting to tour the city for an extended period of time! Of course they did great and it was fun seeing what they chose to do. It’s funny having a little role reversal! 😉 I really enjoyed seeing them explore our neighborhood, too!
- They went up inside the Arc de Triomphe (which Whit and I have yet to do, and which they said there was no line for); they took a photo of themselves to submit to their local magazine, and it was so foggy out that they could only see one third of the Eiffel Tower – crazy!
Our Christmas weekend in Strasbourg, and the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, and Pere Lachaise are coming up next!