22 October 2013

A Parisian Promenade (I)

During the second half of the herfstvakantie (autumn vacation) last week, we took a quick trip to Paris that is something I have been waiting for for a very long time. I'll start by saying that October is a great time to go. The crowds weren't what they would be during the peak tourist season in summer, and we were lucky that we didn't run into much rain. We stayed at a small hotel near the Louvre, which worked out as a good base location for all our explorations, and we took advantage of using the Metro (train system) which is reasonably priced and will save you some time sore feet when you're roaming all over the city.

We traveled from our neighborhood train station to Paris Nord via high-speed train; and let me say that for me, this is the way to go. For us, the travel time was shorter than if we tried to fly, getting on the train and getting to our seats was easy, and we were dropped right into the city upon arrival. I think this was one of the least stressful travel experiences I've had to date. It did take a half an hour to walk to the hotel from the station, but even that might have been faster had we looked into using the Metro when we arrived.

Thalys high-speed train

So relaxing!

Paris Nord Station

Once we checked into the hotel, we got moving right away to explore the city. Mostly, I wanted to see the "big" sites. Mark had been to Paris years before, but he didn't mind going to see some of the same things again; and I packed in a lot of things to do during our short stay.

One of the advantages to seeing the famous, touristy things is that Paris wants to make its cultural heritage available to people. Anyone under the age of 18 is admitted into just about every museum and cultural landmark for free, and anyone who is a citizen of the European Union and 26 years old or under has free access to many museums and landmarks (with ID). With that information, there's not many good reasons for families not to expose their kids to a bit of culture while in Paris. For the rest of us, the Paris Museum Pass (in 2 day, 4 day, or 6 day options) is another good way to get into 60 different museums and monuments without additional payment. We opted for the 2 day pass (€39 per adult) and managed to pack in 10 different locations during the 2 day validation period (that would have cost us €99 per adult and lots of time waiting in lines to buy tickets without the pass). If you don't mind heavy sightseeing, this pass may be well worth purchasing, but note that the pass is valid for two consecutive dates (not 48 consecutive hours), so plan accordingly.

2 Day Paris Museum Pass

We started our tour with a trip up the Eiffel Tower. It's iconic, and a bit cliche, but on a clear day there are amazing views of the city and it's hard not to marvel at the architecture - it looks pretty spindly from a distance but for something built in the 1880s, it's held up pretty well. And it was what really helped Little Man get excited about the trip - in Madeline, the twelve little girls in two straight lines live within sight of the Eiffel Tower, and since we read the books so many times before we left it was a good point of reference for him. It was a nice day while we visited, and it was a good first experience to our visit. Throughout the rest of the trip, Little Man would look for the tower and get excited when he found it. He was so happy about it that we let him buy a little €0.25 key chain from one of the trinket hawkers before we left the city.

Little Man first spies the Eiffel Tower from outside the Louvre

Architectural base

Looking out over Paris

View of the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower

View of the park below the Eiffel Tower

Looking toward the top from the second floor
Eiffel Tower from across the Seinne

If you're budgeting out a trip to Paris, please note that the Eiffel Tower is not eligible for the Paris Museum Pass: but going to the second floor by elevator is €8.50 while going to the top is €14.50 (reduced prices are available for children), and the views probably aren't very different between the two locations.

After taking some time to walk along the Seinne and find a place for dinner, we made our way over to the Musee d'Orsay, which is open late (until 9:45pm) on Thursdays. We purchased tickets for the museum and our Paris Museum Passes at the same time, and made our way through the museum. (The Musee d'Orsay accepts the Paris Museum Pass, but with our planning, we decided to pay for the museum off the pass.) Since the museum is home to several Van Gogh pieces and Little Man and I are fans of his work, we visited that part of the museum first. The museum is home to lots of interesting and famous pieces, so we took our time to walk around the museum before heading back to the hotel.

Little Man's favorite piece of art at Musee d'Orsay - just outside the entrance

The next morning, after a breakfast of pain au chocolate, we went to make use of our Paris Museum Pass right away by going to Versailles, the famous palace of Louis XIV and later Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Versailles is usually just a 20-30 minute ride on the Metro from the heart of Paris and one of the most expensive places to visit (€18 per adult), so it's worth doing this first thing in the morning with the pass. We had some train delays due to track work, but even so, we made it down to the palace and through the visitors' areas and gardens in good time. While I've read a little bit about the lifestyle of the French monarchs, I don't think I appreciated how over-the-top extravagant the palace was until walking through it myself. Gold paint, lush velvet wall hangings, and numerous paintings fill the place - simultaneously beautiful and gawdy as all get out. It's almost beyond words.

Golden entrance

With detailed statues to round it out

Golden ceilings with hand painted murals

Marie Antoinette's bedroom - with more gold
The Hall of Mirrors

Versailles from the garden

Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's "secluded cottage"

We made it back to the city in good time, and we made more use of our museum passes. Tomorrow, I'll post more pictures and fun about our trip.


  1. Great pics! Looks like you guys had a great time. I am really interested in this high speed train- we haven't even looked into it. Toying with the idea of Disney in Feb when Gma is here, so maybe look into it more. I'll be picking your brain!

  2. Very informative post! I never went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the views are amazing! Sounds like you really had a lovely time!

  3. Oh, I think you'll love the high speed train. Low stress getting on and off; low stress during. You can walk around or put your seat tray down whenever you want, and you can get tables with 4 seats facing each other. The earlier you buy, the cheaper the tickets, too.

  4. Thanks - it really was great. And I've got more pictures coming! =)


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