Paris Travel Journal: Photo Diary II

As promised, here is part two of the photo journal of our Paris vacation!

Find Part I here!

DAY 4

In the morning, Whit stayed at the apartment with Arthur while I went on a photo walk. It was cloudy and gray, not the best for pictures, but we had already decided. I ended up getting a few good shots, but not with the sought-after morning light like I had hoped. It was lovely to have the city to myself, as she tends to be pretty sleepy in the morning, not fully awakening until about 10 (much like myself).

Whit took me up on my suggestion to go to a casual, Californian-style “Kitchen” (that’s the restaurant name ;)) serving vegan and gluten-free bowls, pancakes, and coffee. When we showed up we discovered there was nowhere for us to all sit, as the interior was quite small and they didn’t have any patio seating. I ordered my food to go while Whit went to get the best donuts from Boneshaker, just down the street. We met up at a park for a picnic-style breakfast.

On the way, I passed by our street, just two blocks from our old apartment and got all the feels.

Nearby was the shoe store Whit wanted to go to replace his favorite leather shoes. I stayed and nursed Arthur and he had a nap while Whit shopped. Sort of a slow brunch, but successful!

Then I got to shop at Monoprix, the grocery store that’s reminiscent of the French version of Target. They have adorable baby clothes that are made with quality fabrics but are affordable. I got a few things for Arthur, but kind of regret not stocking up on even more.

After some downtime at the apartment, we gathered the leftover picnic supplies for an outing I was looking forward to, combining some of our favorite things.

Back at the Seine, this time with better lighting (reflections on the water and colorful sunsets are key!!), a jazz band was scheduled to play on a boat along the water’s edge. I had scouted this as a perfect way for us to hear live jazz but in a setting suitable to bring a baby that might not sit quietly in a jazz lounge.

The setting was beautiful, but unfortunately we arrived between sets, so we waited a long time before we heard any music. Additionally, I was thinking we might grab a spot nearby to eat our own food while overhearing the music, but we discovered there wasn’t anywhere to sit besides the tables connected to the restaurant.

It was a pretty laid back environment, so we pulled out some of our snacks and ate a light dinner, and of course ordered drinks from the bar. It was a beautiful night with beautiful people and crisp wine, but we didn’t get to listen to as much music as we hoped because shortly after the band started playing, Arthur hit his limit.

It was also almost sunset, and Whit had decided he wanted to see the sunset and eat more of our packed dinner at the Tuileries garden, so we decided to make the trek there along the river. I couldn’t walk more than 30 seconds without stopping to take a picture (THE LIGHT! The river! The bridges!), all three of us were exhausted, and we accidentally got caught in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of people listening to a band on the sidewalk (we shoved the stroller right through, miraculously Arthur stayed awake and no one spilled beer on us). We were fairly miserable by the end of the night, so we learned our lesson that we shouldn’t try to power through and max ourselves out. The rest of the trip we made meeting our primary needs, especially Arthur’s, more of a priority and dialed it back a notch.

Whit was right – the colors of the sky, garden, statues, and buildings in the Tuileries were stunning! Not the worst place to be exhausted and hangry. 😉

DAY 5

On Saturday morning and early afternoon, Whit had plans to meet with a couple of friends. With the first, they wandered the city and discovered new vantage points, and got lunch with the second. Arthur and I were on our own for a little bit, and I got a taste of what it would be like to stay at home with a baby in the city!

Taking the stroller and the baby down the stairs intimidated me (there was an elevator but it was so tiny, LITERALLY only one person could fit – not even our very small stroller that fit in the airplane aisles!), so I strapped Arthur in the baby carrier and walked to a place that sells gluten-free waffles.

I’m not sure what my intended strategy was, but when I got there I realized it would be really overwhelming to try to sit and eat while wearing Arthur, in the very small restaurant. So I got my waffles (one savory, one sweet) to go and decided to find a park nearby.

It was CROWDED walking down Rue Rivoli. The Champion’s League finale was happening later that night, and there was a huge crowd of fans gathered at Hotel de Ville. I quickly scanned the map and we ended up just a few blocks over at a park I didn’t know existed under Tour Jean-Sans-Peur. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the park was spotted with people lounging, eating, and resting. There was a nice playground area with rubber flooring (a rarity in Paris!) and benches for parents, but the grass was perfect for my not-yet-one-year-old.

As I was finishing my dessert waffle (Arthur enjoyed a little of both!), I laughed to myself as I looked at the time and realized how unrealistic my intentions had been to try to go to another part of the city and hit 2 or 3 or 4 other places. I kept forgetting how any activity took about an hour with all the walking, and taking care of Arthur all the meanwhile. It was already early afternoon, and Whit and I were DYING to actually get in a museum. If we were going to make it before they closed at 6pm, I needed to walk back to the apartment to switch back to the stroller, which I decided was way more practical than using the baby carrier.

Side note on having a baby in a city: I thought we would use the baby carrier a lot, especially for taking the metro. But when you’re going to be out for a good portion of the day, I like to have everything I might need with me (water bottle, snacks, nursing cover, diapers, camera), and lugging all of that on your baby AND a baby on your front is not for me. Arthur has more wiggle room in the stroller, and I can actually take the backpack off, go to the bathroom, etc. way more easily when he’s not literally on my body.

Not that I loved taking the stroller down the metro stairs, but it didn’t phase Whit at all (especially at this age and with the stroller we had – both were lightweight and very manageable). The metro is exciting to me at first and then exhausts me, especially when you have a lot of in-station to switch to the next line. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend relying on it if you’re not already familiar with the metro system – either in that city or at least metro systems in general, but it worked for us.

Another tip – after almost squishing Arthur’s long legs in the turnstile a couple times, we remembered that there are doors to the side of the turnstiles specifically for wheelchairs and strollers, so use those instead of trying to make it through the turnstile as fast as you can! Ha.

After meeting up with Whit (I was already so grateful for the extra hands!), we headed straight to Musee D’Orsay, and even though we went directly there, we didn’t arrive until about 4:15pm. How?! I felt like we had done nothing so far. Alas. Anyways, I nursed Arthur and Whit bought our tickets and then I had a frustrating moment trying to convince the security guards that my camera and film needed to be hand checked and not sent through the x-ray machine (in the end I carried the film through the metal detector and they didn’t say anything to me). Then we used the bathroom, though the women’s was being cleaned and I didn’t feel like waiting, and changed Arthur’s diaper. THEN we were ready to see some art!

We took the elevator up and split off for a minute so I could use the upstairs bathroom, but then I was completely thrown off when I realized we were at the EXIT of the exhibit flow. One of my favorite parts of visiting D’Orsay is arriving to the top and seeing the beautiful black and white clock face overlooking Sacre Coeur before you even enter the art rooms.

We were so short on time that I gave up on trying to find the entrance and seeing the clock tower, and just pushed my way as fast as I could through the crowds. Keep in mind Whit now has Arthur in the carrier (hoping he’ll nap through the exhibit) and I am pushing an empty stroller against the flow of ALL the people leaving the exhibit. People don’t get out of the way for an empty stroller like they do with a kid in it, hah. I felt a little crazy for that and frantic that I wasn’t going to see the paintings I came for, but eventually I took some deep breaths and found Whit and started enjoying being there. This occurred right around the time we happened upon Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I gave myself a little nudge to see what I was looking at and appreciate it. 😉

At last we made it to the room of Monets and all was right in the world! We didn’t have a ton of time, but we had enough to see beautiful paintings and contemplate them for a moment or two.

It wasn’t long before they herded us back out and I said farewell to getting a picture of the giant clock wall on black and white film buuut that will just be motivation to visit again, right?!

Fortunately even though evening was rolling around, we still had plenty of daylight left – hooray for long summer days in Europe!

We redeemed the previous night by enjoying a leisurely stroll through the Tuileries during the magical late afternoon light. I had dreams of sitting for awhile without a care in the world, but we learned our lesson from the previous two days that taking suuuuch a leisurely pace all day will only result in a very, very late evening with a cranky mama and baby.

We eventually did stop and let Arthur get some energy out before a restaurant dinner we knew he would get restless during. A grandpa with a baby a little older than Arthur came over to us and we let the babies have a spontaneous play date. We didn’t speak each other’s languages, but we learned that her name is Michelle and she was a little over 1. Arthur is extremely sociable, so we just went with it! The more the merrier for him, haha.

Our meandering took us back to our old neighborhood. We kept ending up there day after day, but we hadn’t actually taken the time, together, to fully take it in and reflect on our old street and apartment.

We lived in two apartments when we lived in Paris, the second one was two floors up from the first! They were where the first street lamp is on the left building in the photo below, on the first and third floors (the French count 0 as the ground floor). Honestly we felt like we could just walk by in and merge everything from our former life with our current stage. Funny how you can be the same place at a different time and everything is so different.

After all the nostalgia, we headed to our splurge meal – both in terms of money and committing to sit at a restaurant with a baby, haha! I had seen this restaurant recently on a blog and thought it was gorgeous, so when I looked it up and found out it was on our old street, I knew we had to go if we could make it happen! It had 100/100 ambiance (totally my style with the maximalism, art deco, teal and gold, and quirky details like the ceramic owl that was our water carafe) and the food was amazing. The concept is old-style French brasserie but with a fresh take on the traditional menu. If we only got to one “real” French restaurant, this was the perfect modern twist on a classic.

We split the 2-person overnight marinated veal, which was American portion sized so we got to enjoy it for leftovers the next day too. The vegetables were so good that we wanted to eat them as much as the meat. How do they do that?! It made me sad for all the bland vegetables from our childhoods. Anyways. When we got the bill we realized the price was for each person, not combined – whoopsies. It was worth it though! The also had an robust menu of house-made cocktails which we delighted ourselves in.

And we didn’t go to bed exhausted this night, so we were able to successfully rein in our vacation style and make it work again, so yay! We found we kept having to tell ourselves no and keep ourselves on track, but it was worth it to be able to enjoy EACH moment of the day instead of feeling like we were missing out on doing more than we could do.

DAY 6

What a glorious feeling to wake up and still have TWO more days left in the city of light!! It was another beautiful day. The forecast let me down – it was supposed to be much warmer, but somehow we didn’t get any rain other than a light mist a couple of times. The sunlight alternated between full on gorgeousness around every corner and the more drab gray that Paris is known for during the off season.

If you’ve wondered why peak tourist season is June-October, it’s because the weather is completely opposite from the rest of the year. The timing of this trip ended up being perfect, right at the end of May, as we were on the cusp of perfect sunny summer days, with long evenings full of sun, but didn’t have to pay exorbitant summer prices for flights and lodging.

Just know that if you go in May, you could get mid-80’s and sun (like the week before our trip), drab and rainy (fortunately that wasn’t the case for us), or gentle spring/early fall sun mixed with cloudy days.

This being Sunday, we were excited to be back with our church family and attend in person after continuing to be part of services online well into the pandemic. Before church, I met up with a friend for coffee. (Why didn’t we do that every week we lived there? I’m dumb!)

We had a great time worshipping together and then catching up with friends at church and a chill picnic lunch afterwards. It was a laid back day that again made us feel like we were just doing normal life, which was really satisfying.

The only plans we had for the rest of the day were finding good cheese and picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower. We searched rue Montorgueil, but unfortunately our favorite fromageries were closed because it was Sunday. We finally found a place that was open. I’m being very snobby when I say they didn’t have a huge selection, hahah (picture below), but it was better than plain old grocery store cheese (which is still AMAZING in France, let’s be clear!!). I’m a little disappointed in how much good cheese we got during our trip, but I have very few regrets so it’s fine.

If you’re very nosy, we chose the second one from the right on the top row, Tome d’Estaing, a soft sheep cheese that was well worth the six euros we paid for a huge chunk. (*Starts crying*)

The Champ de Mars… hello old friend! It’s casual.

I seriously had to pinch myself several times this night to force myself to remember that we were on vacation and I wouldn’t get to just come back to see the Eiffel Tower in a few days or a few weeks. It was so normal when we lived there!

I should say it’s a dream to be able to feel that way. We can’t separate memories from our daily life from our vacation, but there are sooo many benefits to that that most people don’t have! And it still feels pretty magical every time you see or do something très français.

This particular evening, the majority of the grass was still “at rest” so we were crowded onto a rather dusty section with a ton of people around, but with a great view of the star of the show. If you do one thing while you’re in Paris, please make it a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. There really is nothing better.

A sombering moment was when the groups around us gathered, hugging their Ukrainian flags and holding up raising awareness for the war crimes in Bucha. We had a front row seat as they filmed a video, sang, and cheered. One of the signs they held said in French, “We are European: Ukraine to EU.” I hope they felt welcomed wherever they went!

One of the families, earlier in the evening, had seen Arthur crawling around (and us trying to stop him from putting cigarette butts in his mouth), and loaned him a toy to play with for an hour. Later I was humbled at their generosity when knowingly they’ve been through so much.

As the sun started going down, we made our way up to Trocadero to see the tower sparkle in the darkness. We made an error in planning which metro to take, and had a detour at a really gross port-a-potty, but that’s real life and part of the experience.

DAY 7

Our last full day, the sun was shining to perfection! The sky was blue with a few trace clouds floating along; the sunlight reflected off the stone Haussmann buildings, shining in glory; the green river whispered tranquility. I could have taken zillions of photos, but I was on a mission.

The fourth time was a charm, I was finally able to go to Shakespeare & Co, the English bookstore of any book-lover’s dreams that was founded in the roaring twenties and frequented by Hemingway. I have a majorly soft spot for the section at the front featuring the writers of the Lost Generation, who are some of my all-time favorite authors. I scored a copy of “The Sun Also Rises,” which I didn’t already have a copy of. It was a book buying trifecta: it was a new edition of which I liked the cover and style, it was written in the city where I was buying it, and I got the Shakespeare & Co stamp in the front of the book. Ahhh.

I made a quick calculation of my spending money and realized I had a decent amount left of the stash I had been saving up for this trip since basically we had moved away. I had some money earmarked for this bougie (pun intended) candle that all the influencers love (they admittedly smell amazing), and decided I would rather buy all the books I had my eyes on, so I ended up on a little book buying spree, which I NEVER let myself do. I stocked up on a few gifts, and was happy to come out with some sentimental picks, one that I’ve been dying to read (“Circe”), and several in French that overlap those categories.

After all my success at the bookstore, I soaked up the history and commotion and peacefulness standing in the center of the city, across from Notre Dame, a few paces from Shakespeare & Co, in front of the Seine, and simply felt the breeze and watched the boats float by.

Our one remaining hope was to go to the Louvre. We are big museum lovers and art fans (Whit especially), and the Louvre was like a second home for him when we lived in 240 square feet and 400 square feet – it was like a giant living room only a fifteen minute walk away. You can “see” the Louvre in an hour or two, or you can take your time, spending an hour or two in just one or two rooms, and really experience it. Fortunately we had plenty of time this afternoon, and both of us went in with the goal of just “being in really beautiful rooms.”

We chose Denon wing, on the right as you walk in, which is the one I would recommend if you only have a short time. It starts off with two symmetrical rooms full of light and statues, which checked the box for me of being in a beautiful room filled with art. Then you down and up a magnificent staircase showcasing Winged Victory. Off to the right, you can find La Jaconde (the Mona Lisa, as she’s known in French). As much as I thought it would be fun to take Arthur just so he could tell people, as soon as he learns to talk, that he’s seen the Mona Lisa, we decided to avoid the crowds. Haha. We went straight ahead to see the Crown Jewels.

After some wandering and bathroom breaks, we only had a little time before it closed – time always passes so fast when you have a lot you want to do! For the sake of time, we hung out in the Greek statue room, another one of my favorites. Whit looked around while I nursed Arthur and let him get some energy out. Not a bad playground for the day. 😉

With all of our must see’s checked off, we felt satisfied and relaxed and ready to cap off our trip… with a date night out! I asked a friend of a friend to babysit for our last night. To be honest, we were both a little nervous because that was our first time leaving Arthur with a non-family babysitter, and we hadn’t met her in person until that evening. His schedule had adjusted over the course of the week to the new time zone, so it worked out that he only needed to be awake for 30-45 minutes before going to bed for the night, so that eased our minds.

We pulled out one of our tricks – a quick, French dinner. Note the irony that the French don’t do fast food. Our secret is a food truck that has a storefront in our old neighborhood. La Brigade serves steak frites, marinated and juicy, with flavorful sauces and a light salad. It was the perfect bite to eat before the grand finale…

JAZZ! We used to live a short block away from Vino e Cucina, an Italian wine bar in a stone cave. Its intimacy and ambiance are top! Monday nights they host jazz musicians, who casually cram into the corner but play the piano, guitar or sax, drums, and bass with gusto.

We relished having the night to ourselves (clearly not the best environment to bring a baby, haha), the ambiance, and the nostalgia. We even noticed the server was the same from 3 years ago! We told him we remembered him and chatted for a little bit, and then he offered us some limoncello on the house for being ex-neighbors. It was sweet.

And that was a wrap to our long-awaited return to the city of light! The next morning, I ran out and got a Covid rapid test, and did some last-minute shopping, like securing the macarons I had been dreaming about, grabbing a couple extra children’s books in French for Arthur, and even finding a ring at a market I had bought one from a long time ago.

The trek to the airport was relatively uneventful, and the flight home was as smooth as possible for having a 10 month old who wanted to wiggle around and constantly look at new things (we’re thankful we got a bulkhead seat this time and had more room to spread out). Then before we knew it, we were back in the good ol’ USA.

Fin!

I hope you enjoyed coming on this journey with us! Stay tuned for the next post if you want to see the list of everything we did.

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