- Part 1 – Introduction, and the stay-cation
- Part 2 – Belgium
- Part 3 – Paris
- Part 4 – Coming Home & Summary
By Basil K.
I still remember my first trip to Paris. It was January of 1988, and I had just quit my first job after college; which I could not stand after less than six months of working there. I was on a pretty tight budget – I recall my dingy hotel near the Rue Cujas that was 80 francs a night, and buying magenta-colored salami at Monoprix and then eating it on the street with a baguette. My PanAm flight was about $700 (a king’s ransom in those days), and I remember having to get a visa to go to France. I also remember that Pan Am was offering triple miles, and I earned enough miles on that trip to go back to Europe two years later.
This trip nearly a quarter century later would be different. With a pile of SPG points from two years of practically non-stop travel all over the US and Europe, I opted for 5 nights at a Junior Suite at the Westin Vendome. I know that this hotel was recently reviewed in FTG, so all I am going to say is that I echo all of the comments made by Bryce in his post. The service was impeccable, and they treated Sophia like a princess. From the moment we checked in and she got her Westin Kids Club swag bag until the evening when we checked out and a staff member rushed to bring her a glass so she wouldn’t have to drink from a 1 liter plastic water bottle; everything was awesome. Unlike other hotels in the SPG family, they understand Platinum privileges, and even told us that although we were entitled to continental breakfast, we could take whatever we wanted from the buffet. Internet was free as well. They brought a nice bottle of red wine to the room right after we checked in, too.
After five nights there our total bill was zero, zilch, nada. This compares with the nightly rate as shown in the room:
During our five days in Paris, we tackled three museums (Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, and Musee De L’Orangerie). Be prepared to spend a maximum of 2 hours in each museum if you are with a young child. They just don’t have the attention span. However, if you are lucky, you will see their eyes light up when one item in particular captures their attention. Additionally, kids are typically free or at a reduced rate, so it’s not too big of a drain on your wallet. Sophia, naturally, was drawn to the ancient Greek sculptures.
In addition to the museums we did a day trip to Versailles, which I highly recommend, except that if you go on a weekend, the crowds can be crushing, especially at certain bottlenecks in the tour. However, the beauty of the place, combined with the amazing gardens is not to be missed. As a history major who specialized in French history from Louis XIV to Napoleon, it was a privilege to share what I had studied in college with Sophia.
One event which happened serendipitously ended up being one of the best photo ops of the trip. Just before we left for vacation, I learned that our firm had two business meetings in Paris scheduled during my vacation. Since I was travelling alone with Sophia, my only option was to bring her with me. So, we packed a beautiful dress for her and I took her with me to the two meetings. After the meetings, with both of us dressed up, we got to take some great photos in front of the Eiffel Tower. All of my other Eiffel Tower pics from prior vacations have me dressed in t-shirt and shorts; it was so great to have a nice dress-up photo. We ended up using this picture as the cover of the Shutterfly photo book that we put together.
I didn’t know how Sophia would react to French cuisine, but she took to it immediately. She even had snails! She liked them more than I did. We had good meals at bistros, the museum restaurants, and I took her to my favorite restaurant in Paris, Le Trein Bleu, which is in the Gare de Lyon. The restaurant is a sight to behold, has good food, is reasonably priced and even has a kids menu with great items, including leg of lamb. We also had our share of crepes with banana and Nutella that were made by the small kiosks throughout the city. The one thing Sophia did not like was the constant smoking in the outdoor cafes.
We saw two churches while in Paris (St. Chappelle and Notre Dame) but we only went inside St. Chappelle as the line for Notre Dame was too long. They are cleaning the stained glass at St. Chappelle, and it is absolutely breathtaking.
Our big splurge of the trip (at $200 a person) was the dinner cruise along the Seine. I have mixed feelings about this. I think it was a great way to see the city at night, but the food is only middling. Were I to do it again, I would not spring for the super expensive seats by the windows – the next tier of seats are perfectly fine for viewing the city. Again, though, keep in mind that when you’re travelling with small kids, if you can do it, it’s probably worth it to err on the side of “splurge”.
Our last day in Paris was cold and blustery with some rain, but we did get in a trip to the Arc de Triomphe. I think the views from there are well worth the ticket price. It also gives you a chance to stroll the Champs Elysees. I’ll admit that since we were rushing that day and due to the rain, we had lunch at the McDonalds near the Arc. That was our only fast food meal of the trip.