One evening, after Jerome had finished his French homework he mentioned that he would like to go and see the Eiffel tower in Paris. We had not been to Paris with him yet, despite our many travels, even though it is only a short ride on Eurostar and a must visit destination in Europe for most people. We find that the cultural experiences of travel even in term time more than outweigh the challenges of doing homework away from home.
When I looked into our options, I found that Eurostar was way too expensive for a weekend and booked a great deal, including a modern boutique hotel on British Airways. We have often found deals on the airlines can include a hotel for all of us at almost the same price as the flights. The flight was Friday evening, which gave Jerome and myself enough time to go to the airport after school. Chris was working in Germany and took the train direct to Paris Gare de l’Est.
Once we had touched down in Paris Orly we took a taxi into Paris to check in to Hotel Nell Residence. Hotel Nell is located in the heart of Montmatre, close to Peletier metro station and offers refined apartments designed by Philip Starck, so is my kind of hotel. I hate staying at big chain hotels, except for a few exceptions. Nell was much more intimate, the concierge extremely helpful and more welcoming than the hotels we had experienced in Paris before. Our room had it’s own private little kitchen, useful if you’re planning on staying longer and with children, especially little ones, as you have the option to cook your own food rather than relying on restaurants during your stay. Jerome had his own bed in the living room and that made him very happy and us too.
On Saturday, after a classic French breakfast of coffee and croissants in the boulangerie across from the hotel, we started our sightseeing by strolling north through Montmatre towards Sacre Coeur. The weather was perfect, a warm sunny autumn day, with no need for wearing jackets or jumpers. We always take a small backpack for essentials, including games or activities for Jerome, and make sure we can slip extra layers in for the whole family in case of weather changes.
The closer we got to Sacre Coeur the busier it seemed to get, from the rest of this blog you will know we like to avoid the tourist crowds, but with the major Paris sights there is no options but to immerse in the experience.
One of Chris and my fondest memories has always been riding the carousell in Paris so we tried to get Jerome to go with us. Jerome at first did not want to, maybe he was too embarrassed, but when I got onto one of the horses he changed his mind. We paid 2€ for a ride, which is very reasonable, and a fun treat for the children as a break on a walk around town.
We then walked up the stairs towards Sacre Coeur – if you have a pushchair with you it might be easier to take the funicular to the top. We slowly ascended the steps, stopping every now and then to take in the view of the city. Watch out for men trying to sell you souvenirs, some of them can be forceful and might just try to slip a bracelet on you and try to charge you ridiculous money for it. Lots of people sat and relaxed on the grass in the warm autumn sunshine.
The queue to get into Sacre Coeur was rather long and Jerome said he did not want to queue, so we walked on towards Place du Tetre. A few steps from Sacre Coeur Jerome stopped and excitedly pointed at the Eiffel tower in the distance, which were finally able to see for the first time.
Place du Tetre is a popular spot to sit in one of the open-air cafes and restaurants surrounding the square, while watching artists creating their latest paintings. Place du Tetre lies at the centre of Montmatre village, which was home to many famous painters at the beginning of the 20th century, Picasso, Monet, Dali, Matisse to mention a few. They all took inspiration in Monmatre, at that time it was a village upon the hills surrounded by vineyards.
We ventured on, into the side streets, and away from the buzzing beehive of tourists to see the little backstreets and squares of the village. On Place Emile Goudeau we stopped to listen to an organ player, tres French with his cigarette in his mouth. He was kind enough to show curious Jerome how to insert a new song.
By now we were quite hungry and looked for a restaurant to have lunch. We chose Restaurant La Mascotte on Rue des Abbesses, perfect if you love to eat fresh fish and oysters sourced from the Bretagne. Friends of meat will not be disappointed either; Chris had the beef tartar and devoured it. Unfortunately, all the seats outside were taken, but we did not mind as La Mascotte dining room is decorated with art deco style mirrors and marquetry. Be prepared to eat a lot of food, the portions were huge and there was no way we could finish a full starter and main course. I would advise to go for either, or to share.
Now we definitely needed to walk off the food, so our next sight on our list was Le Moulin Rouge. It really only is a red mill, unless you visit one of their cabaret shows, but what I found interesting is that the seediness of the area still exists. I could see Jerome was a bit embarrassed by some of the shops and wanted to move on quickly. You might want to bare in mind that there are a lot of sex shops and strip clubs in the area and if you want to avoid questions from less open minded little ones it might be best to stay clear of Boulevard de Clichy.
We enjoyed a lazy stroll, admiring the architecture, past Gare du Nord and Gare de L’est through Jardin Villemin and ended up at Canal Saint Martin.
At the canal we took a break and watched the boats going through the weirs and sat down along one side of the canal. Resting in the sun and we watched some locals steer their radio controlled sailboats on the water. Jerome must have loved watching them a lot, because at some point he said that he would like a sailboat kit like theirs for Christmas.
This area is a nice break from the business of the tourist sights and feels more like the real Paris.
We then walked on, past the lock and weir where the boats go into a tunnel – very exciting to watch for children – the council has made the area on top of the tunnel into a park, with playgrounds, petanque areas and fountains. In fact I was very surprised to notice how many playgrounds there were dotted around everywhere in the city, other towns should take Paris as a leading example, especially London where playgrounds for children are scarce in the central districts.
We arrived at the Seine just as the sun was setting. The river quays crowded with locals who had brought a picnic and were drinking beer and wine in the late afternoon sun.
We reached Notre Dame, our final sight before dinner.
I had reserved us a table for restaurant Terroir Parisien on lafourchette.com. The friendly concierge at the hotel had recommended Restaurant Terroir Parisien to me and I would highly recommend it to you now based on our dinner there. The chef only uses ingredients from the area around Paris and the dishes were very tasty. When we left the restaurant the air was still warm and we walked back all the way to the hotel, enjoying the night time lights of Paris including the Centre Pompidou. Children will love to ride the escalators to the top.