I’m four weeks into a six week no-wheat, no-sugar, no-rice experiment, and I hope to heck it’s good for my health because it’s definitely not so great for my joie de vivre. Or maybe I hope it’s terrible for my health so I when I’m done I can get on with my regularly scheduled life.
In any case, it’s a major bore to talk about how I’m living on fruits and nuts like some cartoon version of a Californian, so I thought I’d take you back to August, when we were in Paris eating everything we wanted and giving our kids an introduction to the delicious living treasure that is Paris.
We Airbnb-ed an apartment on Rue Mouffetard, a market street in the Latin Quarter. Turns out it was a favorite of Julia Child, and part of “Julie and Julia” was filmed on the sloping cobblestone street lined with shops selling cheese, meat, wine, fresh produce, chocolate, and bread (oh the bread!).
Every morning I stopped down at the boulangerie, using my limited French to get by. Often people helped me out with some English, but for simple transactions I squeaked by with polite words (bonjour, s’il vous plait, merci, au revoir), oui/non, some universal sign language and a grateful smile.
And from the corner fruit market, juicy green Reine Claude plums and honey-sweet figs.
The kids’ favorite was the chichi, part beignet, part churro – a yeasted dough fried and rolled in granulated sugar. But they could hardly say it without laughing, because it sounds (shee-shee) just like the Mandarin word for pee.
Later I found that chichi frégi is a fried street pastry from Provence, traditionally made with wheat and chickpea flour and flavored with orange blossom water. I think the normal street version is not as cute as these braided ones were.
In Paris a creperie window is almost as ubiquitous as a hot dog cart in New York. The savory form is a galette, often made with buckwheat flour, while sweet crepes are made with wheat flour.
Two of our favorites: roasted eggplant with lettuce, tomato and giant handfuls of feta; and for dessert, nutella and banana layered with finely shredded coconut.
Gelaterias are now everywhere in Paris, many of them serving gelato in the rose shape popularized by Parisian gelato chain Amorino. In case you were wondering (I was), gelato is made with less cream and more milk than ice cream but is churned more slowly, making it lower in fat but still creamy and dense in texture.
Sorbetti are the nondairy version of gelati, generally made with fruit puree, sugar and water. The duo below is pamplemousse rose (pink grapefruit) and mojito (lime and flecks of fresh mint, with a hint of rum).
On Sunday, street jazz musicians set up shop below our apartment window, and we opened the windows wide and felt like we’d been transported from France to New Orleans’s French Quarter. In World War I, African American soldiers introduced jazz to Paris, where it caught on with a passion that has endured.
The one thing we booked in advance was our slot to see the the Eiffel Tower at sunset. Summertime is crazy busy, and even when we got online, 11:30p in California (8:30a Paris time), exactly 90 days before our visit, tickets for the day were fully sold out in two minutes. But we got what we wanted.
Sunset is late in August – 9:30p – and our tickets were for 8:00p. We set out early, first going across the Seine to the Trocadero, the hotspot for Eiffel Tower picture taking.
Where people go to take goofy pictures like this.
We grabbed a bite and then made our way to the tower, grateful for our springtime ticket-buying as we bypassed crowds waiting hours in the August heat. We relaxed once we got to the second floor platform, taking our time until sunset.
It was funny to see the Trocadero in miniature, smaller again as we ascended to the top of the tower.
Slowly the lights of the city came twinkling on.
Everyone looked up, surprised and delighted, when the tower itself came alive, flashing sparkles of light. It was like a silent, magical fireworks show, the shimmering bursts illuminating upturned faces of joyful wonder.
After two and a half hours on the Eiffel Tower, we left blissfully content, taking one last admiring look upward as we left. Two centuries later, it’s hard to believe the tower was planned only to stand for 20 years when Eiffel built it for the 1889 World’s Fair.
The Gare d’Orsay and Gare de Lyon train stations were built for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and served as prime entry points for many of the 48 million people who attended the exposition. Its short platforms were soon outgrown by longer trains, and after almost being demolished, the building was declared a historic monument and turned into a museum in 1986.
Thursdays the Musee d’Orsay stays open until 9:45p, with cooler temperatures and thinner crowds. Summer evenings still provide plenty of light to enjoy gazing out the glass and iron face of the upstairs clock, with a view of the Louvre and Sacre Coeur across the Seine.
The Musee d’Orsay collection is focused on Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, a deep look at a narrow window of 75 years.
Much more daunting is a visit to the Louvre, with 6000 years of art in its 650,000 square feet of exhibition space. The Bernini statue in the courtyard is of the palace’s last king, Louis XIV, who left the Louvre Palace for Versailles.
Below the Louvre, in what would have then been the moat, you can still see supports of the original medieval fortress.
This is a model of the original palace incarnation – envisioned by Charles V to transform the old fortress to a royal residence in the late 1300s.
We signed up for a two-hour family scavenger hunt tour of the Louvre, which was like an art history field trip disguised as play – fun, engaging and brilliantly informative. The kids suffered through our two hours at the Musee d’Orsay, but at the Louvre, time flew and we were all sorry when the scavenger hunt was over.
We also planned our Louvre visit for nighttime hours. Average attendance is 15,000 a day but can surge to 40,000 on the busiest. Friday evening ended up being a good call.
For me, the hidden treasure of our Louvre visit was the Mariage Fréres shop in the Carrousel du Louvre, the shopping center below the museum. This is the best tea around – and so much less expensive in Paris. They have nicer locations in Paris that aren’t in an underground mall, but this was my one shot to stock up.
The kids had a hot chocolate outside while they waited, but they were dismayed to discover hot chocolate in Paris is not sweetened like the American kind.
The summertime carnival has become a yearly event in the Tuileries Gardens outside the Louvre. We checked out the rides, but the kids were even more excited to try in-ground trampolines in the gardens. Like most everything in Paris, trampoline time isn’t cheap, but a few nonstop minutes go a long way.
There’s no entrance fee at Notre Dame Cathedral, so the long queue moves quickly. While you’re waiting, look for St Denis among the statues flanking the doors: he is the guy holding his own head. Legend has it that poor Denis, first bishop of Paris during Roman times, was beheaded on Montmartre and walked three miles north, holding his head, before he finally dropped dead.
In the large square in front of the cathedral is a small bronze marker for “point zero,” the official center of Paris and the point from which all distances to or from the city are measured.
There’s no way around a long wait if you want to climb to the top of Notre Dame – because of the narrow stairs and limited room at top, only a small number at a time are allowed up. We went early one morning before it opened.
You can get a view from many high points in Paris, but you only get the gargoyles – each one whimsically different – here.
You can also see the cathedral’s giant bells and think of hunchbacked Quasimodo.
And the perfect finish to any visit to Notre Dame Cathedral: the intimate, jewel-like glow of nearby Sainte-Chapelle.
We climbed the high white church of Sacre Coeur on Montmartre before taking the train out of Paris. I think no one ever forgets their first trip to the City of Light, and this was one to remember.
Paris with Kids
Louvre scavenger hunt
- Paris Muse – We used this company and found the guide to be extremely knowledgable and great with kids.
- THATLou – Another good option that gets fantastic reviews.
Books for kids
- Not for Parents Paris: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know – Great airplane reading to get the kids excited.
- Mission Paris: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure – A fun guide to keep things interesting as you travel through the sights.
- Jardin des Tuileries – In-ground trampolines near carousel at northwest corner of park; fee for 10-minute interval on trampoline; garden also has carnival with rides in summertime.
- Jardin de Luxembourg – Large playground with small fee, sand boxes, play equipment for toddlers as well as climbing equipment and zip line for bigger kids.
- Uber – Don’t go to Paris without downloading the Uber app, it’s phenomenally convenient and Uber X can be very cost-effective for families. We always needed an Uber XL van to fit all of us, but even with a little extra cost and wait time, it was so much more efficient than the Metro for six of us. Uber was also fantastic for getting into the city from the airport.
- Travel Wifi – Free wifi is hard to find in Paris, so we rented this portable hotspot (smaller than my iPhone) at the airport. We needed wifi for Uber, and of course it was incredibly helpful for looking up all kinds of where-to-go, where-to-eat, what-does-this-word-mean information when we were outside our apartment. All of us could use it within range, so for us it was more than worth the 8 euros a day. At the end, we just popped it in the mailbox at the train station.