By Jessie G.
My family truly wanted to experience a “European Christmas,” so we opted to travel to two different and new cities in Europe during our December week break. We first hit Amsterdam. You can read about our trip to Amsterdam here. From Amsterdam, we traveled to the city of Paris! From constant macaron and treat eating, to visiting the most ancient and well-built attractions, to, of course, viewing a collection of paintings, Paris was the perfect place to travel to for the second half of Christmas vacation. I mean, it is indeed the city of lights!
We traveled by way of train from Amsterdam to Paris, and the train ride only lasted roughly 2 hours. Although you can easily hop on a plane to get from Amsterdam to Paris, my family stuck with the train’s cheap and convenient way. On the train ride, we passed through Belgium, and to Daniel’s dismay, my mom says we cannot officially say that we have been to Belgium!
Bonjour Paris!!!! We arrived in Paris and quickly hopped in a taxi and began our amazing, cultural, and magnificent experience!
We stayed at the Renaissance Vendome. We split into two rooms, and although the rooms were somewhat tight, my family could make do. The hotel provided an assortment of gummies in the lobby, which often served as my family’s 8 am and midnight snacks. The location of the hotel was ideal and was sufficient for the itinerary my mom planned. It was located extremely close to the Louvre, and most of our walks “only” extended to 40 minutes. Most of my family (other than my dad and Mason) always wants to walk, so my family considers ourselves a “walking family.” We tend to walk everywhere, except when my dad conveniently tricks my mom into letting us take a taxi to get the true “Paris experience.” We typically traveled by taxi when our walks extended out to be more than 50 minutes. But, most of the walks were extremely enjoyable since we could see plenty of the popular tourist attractions that we did not have time to add to our agenda.
Although my family tried to avoid doing all of the touristy things, we walked on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on the first night to get to the Arc de Triomphe. The street was filled with plenty of white lights and Christmas attractions, which drew many tourists to the area. Plus, commercial shops and restaurants lined up along the street, which also attracted a crowd. Common American stores like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Macy’s, H & M, Adidas, and more filled up the street, so my family tried to avoid shopping at all costs.
After roughly a 40 minute walk, we arrived at the Arc. Although you can walk to the top of the arc and see some
of the best views the magnificent city has to offer, my family opted not to since the line was extremely long and we were later visiting the Eiffel Tower that night. However, the arc was beautiful and served as a wonderful photo opportunity, especially for my mom. At the Arc, we were able to see the memorial for fallen soldiers with a fire lit with an array of colorful flowers surrounding it. We then made our way to dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. The Obamas ate here, so my mom concluded that this restaurant is a “must try.” I had swordfish, which was excellent, and all of my family members also enjoyed their food. We also had leeks covered with pesto as a side, which brought me to the decision that leeks are now one of my favorite vegetables if served right!
After dinner, we went to a small Christmas market. My family tried to avoid large and touristy Christmas markets because of the danger it could pose, but my family was not hesitant to explore this one when we saw the hot wine and crepe stand. My brothers and I all had our first crepes of the trip, with many, many more to follow!! My parents also shared a cup of hot wine, and my brothers and I also tried a small sip. The market was charming, with small boutiques, candy shops, crepe places, liquor shops, and many small vendors.
We then made our way to the Eiffel Tower, which was right next to the Christmas market. The tower lights up with sparkling white lights and produces a mini light show on each hour. My family was lucky enough to see the shimmering lights multiple times during our trip, but we were fortunate to see the lights when we were climbing up the tower and another time standing directly in front of it. We were unlucky on the night we decided to climb the tower since it happened to be pouring rain with high-intensity winds. However, the weather did not stop my family from walking up. Because of the weather, though, we were unable to make our way up to the top and were only able to climb to the second floor. But, rumors say that the views are the same on the second and third floors. There is an option to take an elevator up to the second floor, but my family wanted to stay active, even in the pouring rain :-(. The steps were slippery, so my family had to walk with caution. There were small Christmas decorations sculpted into the tower and small animals made out of ice on the second floor. There was also a small cafe, a store that sold small toys and gifts, and a macaron store. It was a great place to dry ourselves off! The Eiffel Tower offered impeccable views. We were able to see the entire city, and at night, we could see the splendid city lights. I recommend the Eiffel Tower to all because it offers fantastic views and is a great way to get a good Paris feel. Outside of the tower grounds, there were rows and rows of vendors selling mini Eiffel Towers. They had 5 for $1 deals, crazy, right? The people selling the items approached us plenty of times, but my family decided that we had enough small cheesy toys and gifts.
After a good night’s sleep from traveling, we then began our first full day in the wonderful city of Paris!!! My mom did not want to bore my teenage brothers and me with too many museums, but how can you come to Paris and not come to the Louvre? We started the first day with a private tour of the museum. The lines for the people who were not part of a tour were ginormous. The line extended all the way around the corner and lasted about 2 hours. However, with the private tour, we could wait in a 15-minute line and get in. The tour defiantly had its perks.
The museum provides lockers at no expense for all so that you don’t have to slug all of your stuff around. My mom did not want our family to walk endlessly with no direction or be bored, so she booked us a scavenger hunt tour. The scavenger hunt was not an ordinary one, where you run ambitiously looking for clues and answers and such. Our tour guide taught us about something important in the museum, and we would later use what we learned to fill out the quest. We all had to listen intently to our tour guide for us to get the answers, but in my family, it seemed to be me and Daniel who knew all of the answers. Our tour guide spoke perfect English (she was from NY) and truly tried to get all of our family members involved to enjoy the experience. On the tour, we learned about ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, and the Renaissance. In school, my brothers and I learned about a lot of the information we saw at the museum, so the three of us made “ a competition” to see who knew the most. My family also, of course, saw the Mona Lisa. Two guards guarded the Mona Lisa, and there was an enormous crowd surrounding the painting. Our tour guide told my brothers and me to push through, and of course, being the rambunctious and aggressive kids we are, we listened. We made our way to the front of the pack, and we all took pictures of the famous painting. I even took a selfie with the painting! Our tour guide tried giving us a brief history and explanation of the painting in the middle of the crowd, but guards instructed us to evacuate the crowd since we had been observing for too long. The tour lasted 4 hours since the museum is extremely vast and spacious. But, only 1/4 of the museum is open to the public for viewing. I can confidentially say that the Louvre was my favorite part of the trip and I recommend it to all with curious and wandering kids and families! My family loved our tour guide, and we all significantly missed her after our tour!
After the museum, we made one of Paris’ most famous treats and desserts,
macarons. It was a 3-hour cooking class that we took with our friends. There are also other cooking classes, including bread making and a traditional French meal, but my family decided to stick with the most quintessential class. A French woman instructed us who had a strong accent, but our group could make out her instructions. The lady told us that macaron making is challenging, and there is no room for mistakes. Our group knew that making no mistakes would be a challenge since we were an anxious and rushed crowd from America. My brothers and our friend Zach ended up having to re-start their entire mix halfway through the process, and my friend Jillian and I got a wire wrapped up in our whisk. The lady was not impressed with our skills in the kitchen. But, despite the mistakes, we ended up making an abundant amount of macarons. The macarons were pink, green, and blue, and all of the different colors were filled with a different creamy and delicious filling. The difference in colors made for wonderful photos! After hard work in the kitchen and constant yelling by our instructor, we feasted on the macarons we made and sipped steaming tea. It was a great activity for our group and was a perfect end to our first afternoon!
We then went to dinner at Le Relais de l’Entrecote. The restaurant does not take reservations, so my family waited in a 45-minute line to get in. There is usually a line way outside the door every night. The restaurant was recommended to my family by many people, including our concierge at the hotel. The restaurant only serves salad, steak, and french fries. My dad and Mason, two steak fanatics, demanded that they have steak and frites every night, so this location was perfect for them! I am not a huge steak eater, but I still loved the meal and the lively environment the place had. The waiters and waitresses even brought us two rounds of steak and fries! The meal was great!
The next day was our first nice and sunny day of the trip! I told my mom my heavy jacket wasn’t needed, but she insisted I must carry it around. I ended up walking around with no jacket on the whole day; I should really trust my instincts :). We were off to Montmartre that day, but first, my family, of course, had to try the most famous macarons Paris has to offer. We stopped at Ladurée, which happened to be right around the corner from our hotel. All of the members of my family tasted a macaron. They were most certainly better than the ones we made! I got a caramel macaron and ate it down to the last crumb.
Further along the way, we stopped at Galeries Lafayette, a popular department store in Paris. Before my mom books a trip, she frantically and incessantly looks at local Paris reports to find the “must do’s.” She discovered that Galeries Lafayette is home to a giant and modern Christmas tree built of playful balloons during her investigation. The tree extended up to the third floor of the store. We took great pictures there, and we were treated to a surprise. Without our knowing, balloons started rising and down to music playing in the background. The show goes on every 30 minutes. I got great videos and pictures! It was a great stop.
My family then made our way to Montmartre, and we took plenty of pictures in front of the church. To get up to the church, there are many steps to climb up, and Daniel and I decided to have fun with it and make a race out of it. My family wanted to explore the church’s interior, but of course, the line was excessively long. We took wonderful pictures at the church and then made our descent to Rue de Steinkerque. This street was immensely populated with tourists, but it had many fun and impressive shops. I bought a scarf on the street, and we also peeked into Maison Georges Larnicol, where we were impressed by the chocolate sculpture of Notre Dame and La Cure Gourmande where they gave you a whole cookie as a sample. It was my brothers’ and my favorite store to pop into!
In the afternoon, we had a food tour with the company Flavors of Paris. Most of our trip consisted of eating, I mean what can I say, WE WERE IN PARIS!! Our guide was amiable and taught us plenty about the history of Paris. On the food tour, our first stop was at the Maison Eric Kayser bakery. We all munched on olive bread at the bakery and a famous galette des rois, also known as king cake. The cake comes with a crown on top, and whoever finds a small trinket in their piece of cake must wear the crown on their head. My dad was stuck being a humiliation to our family and walking the streets with a paper crown on his head. He tried to stick the trinket in my piece, but I am beyond thankful that I could catch him in the process :). The bakery is also in scattered locations in New York. My family loved the bakery so much that my mom even visited it at home and brought two loaves of bread back to us!
We then went to an olive oil store, Première Pression Provence. We tried many olive oil samples, but instead of dipping bread into the oil, we drank it like we would drink water. My dad was displeased by this tactic of tasting olive oil. We all laughed about how ridiculous it was to be drinking olive oil. But, at the olive oil store, they provided us bread for the olive tapenade. We then went to a small chocolate shop called Un Dimanche a Paris where we all once again nibbled on macarons and drank hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is not your typical Dunkin Donuts hot cholocate, and it is thick and creamy. I thought it was great and different! For our last stop of the food tour, we went to Le Marche St. Germain des Pres. At the market, we were greeted with a tray of an assortment of cheeses, two baguettes, wine and drinks, and more. My mom, dad, and I tried all of the different kinds of cheeses, Mason only tasted the non-exotic looking ones, and Daniel refused to taste any of them because he dislikes cheese. Overall, the food tour was okay. I think the tour is more adult-friendly rather than kid-friendly. Most kids do not prefer to eat blue colored cheeses. However, it was fun and a great way to get a taste of Paris food and culture, but I would avoid the tour if traveling with kids. We were immensely full after the tour, so we stuck with room service for the night.
The rain was then brought to us the following day. We walked around Place des Vosges which was filled with numerous art galleries containing sculptures and paintings. We were then told that trying falafel in Paris is just as important as visiting the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, so we made our way to the Marais District. Our family had heard of two popular falafel places, L’As du Falafel and Miznon, in the district. We decided that we would figure out which restaurant would be a better fit when we arrived. L’As du Falafel had a line reaching out to the district’s start and appeared more cultural and traditional. Miznon seemed more modern and less popular, so we stuck with L’As du Falafel. My whole family chowed down on our hummus and our falafel and chicken schnitzel wrapped in a pita.
Despite the cool temperature, our family heard that trying the gelato at Berthillon was an absolute must. One scoop was quite small, so everyone in our family indulged in two scoops. I got strawberry and mango, a perfect combination. The gelato was creamy and extraordinary!
We then made our way over to the Catacombs. The Catacombs are former stone quarries that now contain the remains of millions of Parisians. By the 17th century, the cemeteries of Paris were overflowing, to the point where it served as a local health issue for the residents. A solution, however, arose. Corpses were placed in old tunnels that exist under Paris’s streets, which came to be when stone quarries were added to the city. By the time the burials were complete, millions of Parisians’ bones and skulls lined the tunnel’s inner walls, making it a popular tourist attraction in the city.
The lines were tremendous to get in, and to create a perfect “storm,” rain was added. We waited in line outside for two hours with two 5 dollar umbrellas bought from a vendor on the streets. My family huddled under our umbrellas, which eventually broke in an hour. The 5 of us all had to tremble and shiver together under our broken, wet, and small umbrellas. When we arrived inside, all of our toes and hands were numb.
We descended into the cave underground and from there explored. We were all given a pair of headphones, and signs instructed us on listening with our headphones. The tour was interactive as well as interesting. We learned about Paris’ first railroad system and some of the infrastructure the city has to offer. We were later brought through a passageway filled with real-life skeletons. Skulls and bones lined the interior. We were told not to touch and take pictures with flash, but of course, I did, being my Instagram and Snapchat needy self. The cave was a little chilly, but not a problem for my family since we sat through 2 hours of freezing rain.
We then made our way to Rotisserie d’Argent right near Notre Dame, where we all feasted on steaks and duck. The following day, we tried the “world’s most delicious hot chocolate” at Angelinas. The hot chocolate was rich and creamy. At Angelinas, my whole family stuck with the plan that offered an assortment of pastries, freshly squeezed juice, any style of eggs, as well as a cup of fruit. It was an abundant amount of food. We ended up sneaking all of the pastries back with us to the hotel. It was a superb meal, although it was a little costly.
Later on, we made our way to Versailles, which is on the outskirts of Paris. We had a private tour, and our tour guide brought us from the hotel to the museum. There was a long line yet again, but we did not have to wait for the tour. Our tour guide did not speak great English and had a heavy french accent. Although on the form, we stated we only spoke English, we were given a french man who didn’t speak amazing English, bizarre, right? I was barely able to make out the words he was speaking and only could pick up about 50% of what he was saying. Bummer!
We saw the palace’s great sights, including the king’s private bedrooms and other rooms of the palace. But, to my family’s disappointment, the queen’s area was under construction, so it was out of reach for the public’s viewing. My family was disappointed about this since no one gave us a heads up. But despite the heavy accent and the queen’s place being off-limits, we enjoyed our time, and Mason and I took wonderful pictures to wow our global teachers later in the year when we learn about it.
To finish off our last day in Paris, we had to try one of Paris’ most savoring, popular, and cultural treats, crepes, but this time both- a savory and sweet one. We ate at Breziah cafe. The service wasn’t extraordinary, but we did have a waiter in which it was his first day. To my mom’s dismay, my whole family got a savory crepe for dinner as well as a sweet crepe for dessert. The menu offered a variety of different crepes, consisting of different flavors and items. Both the duck crepe I had for dinner and the caramel crepe I had for dessert were wonderful—a great way to end our European trip. Overall, the trip was absolutely astonishing in all ways. The food, culture, experience, and activities brought together a trip that is now marked as one of my favorites. The city of lights served my family well. It was truly a memorable experience, and I recommend it to all. Absolute thumbs up for Paris!