For some time Nick and I had been debating taking the girls on another city break, the main contenders being Paris or Rome. Then we saw Midnight in Paris and in the space of 94 minutes the decision was made for us. When I say Paris, I don’t mean Disneyland Paris (as most people assumed when we told them); we did that last year and have no burning desire to do it again so soon. Or even the tourist Paris I went with Nick to see *cough*teen years ago when we were young and child-free, although we intended to take the girls to see the main sights as they’d never been before. But proper Paris, scenic Paris, long-lunches-in-tiny-bistros Paris – ok, let’s be honest, the Paris we’d seen in the opening shots of Midnight in Paris and wondered where on earth it had been hiding on our previous visit to the city.
We took the Eurostar, which is totally my favourite way to travel; so much less stressful than flying or driving. And we stayed in a hotel next to a metro station that serendipitously turned out to be a good jumping-off point for most of the places we wanted to visit. Arriving late afternoon/early evening on Easter Sunday, we took a stroll along the Canal St-Martin, which was metres away from our hotel and high on my scenic Paris list. It seemed a lot of Parisians felt the same as there were plenty of people out, from teenagers to entire families spanning the generations. A good omen then, I felt, for our search for real Paris.
The first day, we visited Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, the most well-known of the Parisian antiques market (and ok, also featured in Midnight in Paris). It was the most amazing, bizarre, fascinating place I have ever been to. A warren of tiny alleyways and tinier stalls crammed with anything you can think of and most likely many things you can’t. There was just so much STUFF. If you’ve never been, just imagine eBay made flesh and you wouldn’t be far off.
From there we took the metro down to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur, where Alice almost threw a wobbly over the number of steps up to the church, which we neatly diverted by having lunch at the foot of them first. Steps? Ha, wait til you see the Eiffel Tower my love. However she loved the Place du Tertre and insisted we look at every single artist’s paintings. We still had some time left, so we hopped on the metro again, this time to the Musee de l’Orangerie (or the Musee de Lingerie as I tried not to keep pronouncing it). I thought Les Nymphéas were just incredible, although Alice preferred the smaller paintings in the basement, where I was pretty impressed at how many artists’ names I recognised.
Day two was Jessica’s birthday and as we’d promised her a trip up the Eiffel Tower that day, it was our first stop. We already knew the queues would be bad (gotta love the internet!) so we queued to go up the stairs, which was only about an hour rather than the two for the lift. In fact, we got the lift from the second floor to the top, which I’d never done before. The views weren’t too bad despite the weather.
After lunch we went over to Notre Dame, but the crowds and queues there put us off so we walked around it to the quieter square at the rear and then over the bridge to Ile St-Louis, where we spent a happy hour wandering down the main street looking in the shop windows and eating crepes. Looking at the map we realised that we weren’t too far from the Pantheon, so that was next on our walking tour.
The next day we visited one of Paris’ hundreds of food markets, Marche Monge. Modestly sized, it was packed with traders selling beautiful looking fresh produce from fruit and vegetables to fish, meat and (of course) cheese. I could literally smell the cheese stall before I could see it and we all enjoyed the samples on offer. It being the first day we saw blue skies, we decided to go to the Jardin du Luxembourg, with an impromptu detour to Eglise Saint-Sulpice on the way. The girls particularly enjoyed the children’s playground in the Jardin. We found somewhere nearby for lunch, then went for a rather long walk, ending back at Ile de la Citie, where we took the Metro to Le Bon Marche. I had heard the food hall was spectacular and I certainly wasn’t disappointed; it was a gourmet paradise.
Unfortunately I had to restrain myself (more or less) as we had dinner planned at an incredible restaurant called Pain Vin Fromage, which serves pretty much what it says on the tin. Between the four of us we had a fondue, a cheese plate and a selection of ham, plus of course as much bread as we could eat. The house speciality dessert was – you’ll never guess – cheesecake, which I was more than happy to sample. Our last day in Paris ended rather magically with a walk from Pont Alexandre III to the end of the Champ de Mars to watch the fairy lights that turn the Eiffel Tower into a triangular firework for five minutes on the hour every hour after dark.