Our family just got back from a weeklong vacation in Paris. *Sigh.* It was bliss! This was our first time going back since we moved away almost 3 years ago. We lived in the heart of the city for 2 years, until July 2019. We had planned to go back shortly after returning to the US, but of course our plans to go in spring of 2020 were put on hold due to the global pandemic.
Once we arrived, I literally couldn’t believe it had been that many years. It truly felt like we still lived there, or only a short time had passed. After the first day or two, we fell right back into city mode. I had to constantly remind myself “this is the only chance I’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower, pay attention to it!” When we lived there, everything was enchanting but you knew it would still be there tomorrow.
The format: I’m breaking up our trip into a few posts, starting with some overall thoughts (this post), and then a daily photo journal (the next two posts). After that I will follow up with a list of everything/everywhere we saw and did and ate, so be sure to check that out too if you’re looking for recommendations!
OUTLINE OF THE WEEK
Since we were traveling with our 10-month old son, we tried to go in with as low of expectations as possible. Easier said than done. When planning our trip, we mapped out our top priorities and tier 2 priorities, which we tried to keep as essential and simple as possible. But of course there are always 87,000 other things you want to do at any given time in the city that attracts the most tourists per year globally, so sticking to the basics required a lot of self-control.
Our main goals were to walk around, visit our old neighborhood, picnic by the Seine, watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night, see friends, visit parks, go to the Louvre and at least one other museum, see live jazz, go to a French restaurant, and eat lots of pastries (that one was Whit’s). There are so many things vying for your attention in Paris, but in the end we were able to do everything we wanted to!
We had a solid week to soak it all up. The first two days we stayed with a friend (who graciously loaned us her apartment for two nights!) in Bastille, a neighborhood just east of our old stomping grounds, but one we weren’t super familiar with (to be honest, I had really only been there at night and one or two other times during the day). We started off the trip really slowly, being gentle to ourselves knowing we didn’t know what to expect with jet lag (especially for Arthur), and just enjoying being present in Paris without any kind of agenda.
It was nice to have a different vantage point and perspective on the city those first couple of days. We ended up seeing a number of new-to-us streets and sites. Later when we transferred over to our Airbnb in the Marais closer to our old neighborhood, we fell back into the groove of life in Paris as we were tracing over the former steps of our old stomping ground.
How was traveling with a 10 month old? To be honest, he was a DREAM! We were shocked and so thankful. He hardly made a peep on the 7.5 hour flight over. To back up, we actually had a miserable time getting out of the Orlando airport. Whit and I were presented with obstacle after obstacle.
Since we were flying with a lap infant, American Airlines didn’t let us check-in online ahead of time. Even though we had paid to upgrade our tickets to regular economy from basic, we found out we didn’t have any seat assignments when we checked in at the counter. Then we struck out trying to spend some time in the lounge (Whit is a member through our credit card) to decompress, and on the way back to our terminal, we were funneled out of security, just when it was getting close to boarding our flight. There were some miserable people and situations, but a few angels that helped us when we needed it most.
Eventually we made it to Philadelphia for our connection, and the sweet new employee worked out for us to have our own row on the international flight. PRAISE HANDS. After all THAT, everything was smooth! And Arthur was a dream baby the whole day, which was great because we couldn’t have handled a fussy baby on top of all the challenges with the airport and airline.
He did great in Paris, too. He loved the sights, sounds, and commotion everywhere we went. We have a baguette super fan as well. We hold everything loosely as far as his schedule, but had some goals that guided us in that flexibility. We ended up putting him down around 11pm at night, which was halfway between French and American bedtime, and in the mornings he would wake up early (around 8:30) and go back to sleep until 11ish. As the days went on his body started adjusting more and he was ready to go earlier in the day, so the last few days we got him up around 9 and would put him back down for a nap at about 11am.
JET LAG AND SCHEDULE
One of the reasons we planned to travel in May was the long daylight hours (and beautiful sunsets!). France is very far north, so at the end of May there is daylight from about 6am-10pm, which is ideal for parents but a little harder for babies (or really anyone sensitive to sleeping when the sun is up). Our loose plan was to help Arthur sleep 11-12 hours at night, and make sure he got 2 naps at some point, somehow. Usually he would get one nap in the apartment and one or two naps in the stroller on the go. A couple times we stayed out too late at night and he fell asleep in his stroller before we got him back to his bed. Since he woke up so late in the mornings, Whit and I alternated going out in the mornings for a solo adventure of buying pastries, taking photos, or wandering the empty streets.
I had hoped to do some shopping in those early hours one or two days, but I forgot that Paris is slow in the mornings, so even though we were surrounded by the best shopping in the world, most places didn’t open until 10-11am. Another thing is I always forget how fast time passes. Even though places are close together on a map, you can only do so much in 2 hours.
After the first couple of slow days, our eyes got bigger than our stomachs, and we started packing in as much as humanly possible, but still not able to accomplish the goals we set out to do. Arthur was great at going with the flow, but when we put his needs on the back burner for too long he would become miserable and so would we. A couple of nights we became stressed and haggard and had to dial it back for the remainder of the trip, going back to the goal of really enjoying wherever we were, whatever we were doing, and trying to have one or two goals for the day that we knew we could achieve, while prioritizing meeting Arthur’s needs of sleeping, eating, moving around, and getting attention. The last few days went much more smoothly with those things in mind!
Because of jet lag and having other higher priorities, we ate at pretty weird times and often only ate two meals per day (a brunch and dinner, or lunch and then picnic food). It was sort of nice because I never felt overly full and we weren’t blowing our budget on food.
We had intended to spend more time casually sitting at cafes because we didn’t do that very much when we lived there, but I came to terms with the fact that we just aren’t sit all day at cafe type of people. There’s just too many things to see and do! When we travel, we typically like to do a lot, but have a relaxed pace during each activity. I’d theoretically like to make meals a priority, especially in France, but it was too hard to make happen with the baby and his schedule. Maybe on a girl’s trip one day. Anyone?
Overall, we were amazing with how much we were able to do with jet lag and a baby! Or should I say, we never really had jet lag which was completely shocking but we didn’t ask questions we just went with it. (I think having recently had a newborn and gotten used to existing on little sleep and being awake at weird hours helped, but also we were just so excited to be there that adrenaline just took over.)
THOUGHTS ON PARIS
Paris was exactly the same as when we left her, but cities are alive and we were also struck by the way that she has continued to exist and shift and mold while we were gone. New restaurants and shopped popped up and old places disappeared, fashions changed slightly along with cultural values, but the bulk of French culture and the Parisian way of life is steady. Like an age-old rock formation, new crevices and grooves are noticeable, but the overall impression remains the same.
As we slipped back into life there, even for a week, everything I came to love about Paris was fresh again:
- The subtly sweet, fresh smell of the air with hints of stone, dirt, people, and food. “Eau de Paris.” I would often just stop point blank in the middle of whatever I was doing and take in a deep whiff of Paris! (Not to be confused with some of the less pleasant smells…)
- The stature of the historic monuments that you catch a glimpse of at the end of a winding street
- The constant murmur of spoken French drifting past your ears
- The noticeable appreciation that people have for the good things in life: a slow coffee on an outdoor terrace; a quiet walk through a manicured garden; a simple conversation between two friends; a crisp navy blue suit coat and a pair of worn-in leather shoes; the pleasure of choosing the exact perfect chocolate, ring, or gift for a loved one, then wrapping it to present in beautiful packaging; a bright work of art still shining decades or centuries after the talented painter poured his soul into it; and on and on…
- The way that the whole city chases the light: finding a sunny spot to sit on a terrace, a balcony, or a garden; looking up at the drama the shadows create on the proud Haussmannian buildings; ever looking at the sky as the clouds bring forth deep shades of orange wrapped in coral, or subtle wisps of peach streaking through baby blue as the sun sets; and the hush that night brings with street lamps aglow all around
- The quiet, unhurried start to the morning before the rush of the day begins
- A polite respectfulness that everyone and everything is noticed and appreciated, but no one person or thing is egregiously overstated or overrated
- The umpteen daily challenges you have to overcome to have a successful day, from weaving in and out of people on the sidewalk, to navigating to your destination by foot or train, to understanding French and speaking it correctly and with the right accent, etc., and feeling satisfied at the end of the day by the completion of it all
- The constant pursuit of the best, no matter what subject is in question
We soaked up la belle vie and getting a taste for a week was nourishing to our souls after missing that for 3 years and wondering if it was indeed all our memories cracked it up to be. It was.
See Parts I & II for the photo journal from our trip, and stay tuned for all the recs after that!
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