We knew little about what we were going to do in France when we left Iceland on October 8th. All we knew was that some guy we’d never met said he would let us stay in his apartment right in the heart of Paris for three nights… and not just that, for free! Sounds dubious? Yeah, maybe. But let’s back track and let me explain. Long before we left Canada, I (Marianne) started looking into house and pet sitting abroad. With young kids and on a longer trip, we simply can’t realistically move every other night and, you know, staying in Airbnbs or hotels every night in Europe really adds up. I’m not sure how I came across the TrustedHousesitters website but it intrigued me. I also learned that there are several of these websites out there whose sole purpose is to hook up people in need of care for their home or pets while away and people willing to travel and care for them. Our girls are slightly obsessed with animals in case this was not apparent in previous posts, so I thought, perfect! I set-up a couple of accounts and started looking for the right sit(s) for us.
One of our goals in France besides visiting Paris is to stay long enough somewhere that the girls have a chance to make friends and get more comfortable speaking French (and where they do not have a choice!!!). With very little other requirements, it left us pretty open to explore sits in a variety of locations. One of the first ad I came across seemed too perfect! A place right in Paris with 2 cats for 4 nights starting on the day we landed in Paris! The ad, being in a very desirable location, had already had a bunch of applicants so with our lack of previous sits/reviews, I doubted we’d get it but I applied anyway. To our surprise, we were offered the sit after a chat on Skype with the owner and his fiancee! The only thing was that the cats would be at the fiancee’s apartment in St-Cloud, just outside the Paris centre and it would be for 3 nights only. Still sounded good to us so we accepted. Couple days later, the owner contacts us to tell us one of the cats is sick and would need to be given a pill daily during our sit and that, to let the cat have his own space to recover, his new roomate cat would be sent to a catery. Giving pills to a cat sounds like “good family fun” as the owner (Andrew) said. We figured we were 4 so we should be able to handle one cat. No problem! The day before our departure: more news… The trip of the owners to Italy was cancelled last minute due to a health issue. But “not to worry” he said. “you can have my apartment in the centre of Paris and you don’t even have to cat sit anymore”! Say what??? Wow! That almost did sound suspiciously too good to be true but we had a good feeling about this and, with less than 24 hours before landing in Paris, well, that was our only plan! So off we went to meet Andrew at his apartment and we were amazed to find someone at the door waiting for us with keys in hand and beds ready for us in a wonderful renovated “appartement parisien” a few steps from Oberkampf metro station! Unbelievable hospitality! We had a great time in his place as it made for a perfect location from which to explore Paris.
The mandatory attractions
Of course we did the usual things people do in Paris:
- The Louvre: We went to the Louvre Museum and walked around the gigantic place for nearly 6 hours with the girls and heard nearly no complaints!!! I KNOW!!! That shocked even them! Saw all the big attractions and the less famous ones. We spent quite a while in the Egyptian section. I think Maxine’s favourite was the section that had the 16th – 18th century castle furniture that Maelle and I had to zoom past to find a bathroom. Maxine loved it so much she wanted to live there!
- Tour Eiffel: So the day we arrived, we thought we’d check to see if we could get tickets to go up the tower a couple of days later. Nope! Friendly tip: if you plan on going up the tower, book weeks ahead! There was no way we could get advance tickets… so we thought we’d check to see if we could get a ticket at the tower for that day or even just to walk up to the first level. Yikes! Ticket booths for the elevators were closed and a line about 400 m long stretched underneath the tower full of people with tickets! Even the line to get tickets to climb the nearly 400 steps to the first level was fairly long and, even though Maxine was willing to do it, we decided to continue contemplating it from below. We were warned that lots of pick-pockets work around the city and that if someone approached you to sign a petition, to closely watch your wallet. We did see several people with such “petitions” around the tower. We also saw what happens to the guys selling little Eiffel towers off blankets when the “gendarmes” (French police) on bikes come by. They disappear!
- Arc de Triomphe: we did a quick Metro stop by the Arc to go ooh and aah!
- Sainte-Chapelle: we decided on a guide’s recommendation to check it out. It is an example of Gothic church which were apparently built to let in a lot of light and the chapelle apparently has one of the largest Rose windows in the world (after Notre-Dame the Paris which we only looked at from the outside). The line to get in late afternoon was not very long, and from the outside, the church does not look that special. When we first got in I was disappointed… Ok, cool arches but where is the light and the glass stained windows? Oh wait, there is another level… Then we went up the tiny, twisting stairs and… Woah!!! There were giant windows lining the walls of the entire room and all of them had intricate stain glass in perfect condition of all colours possible letting the light in. Worth seeing.
- Eat crepes: Lots of places make crepes and they are fairly inexpensive. We stopped at a random convenience store that made them and they were yummy! We were not as lucky with our dining out experiences but perhaps Mike will elaborate on that some other time. A combination of poor timing of our meals, no reservations and too much choice resulted in cranky people and some disappointing meals.
The different stuff
I had been to Paris by myself a couple times before, so I had seen some of the sights. With more time, we tried a few different and perhaps unusual things:
- Sandeman’s tours: Ever heard of Sandeman’s? We had not. We’re not usually big on tours. An Australian tourist we met in Iceland mentioned that Sandeman’s offers free tours in a lot of cities in Europe. The guides essentially volunteer and design their own tour and you just tip them what you want at the end if you’re happy with the tour. Sounded like a fun thing to do to learn a bit more while still being a low enough commitment that we could bail out early if the girls did not make it through the 2.5 hours. Well, our guide was very interesting and the girls managed to stay entertained through the whole thing! So definitely something I’d recommend.
- Staying just outside Paris: After our 3 days at Andrew’s, we thanked our amazing host and said farewell but were also looking forward to our Airbnb. We’d booked a little place in a house right on the Marne River. Why stay there you’d ask? Well, the reviews were great and the owners had kids and a yard that the kids could play in. Our daughters were craving having kid-friendly stuff (after 3 days of no-touching anything at Andrew’s place – as it was too nice!) and other kids around by that point so it seemed like a good idea and it was. The area was super cute and quaint but yet, just 12 minutes to a train station and only about 30 minutes from key attractions. It was nice to take a slower pace and see a different side of Paris. The east side to be exact!
- Scooter around Parc du bois de Vincennes: Our Airbnb hosts were kind enough to let us use their “trotinettes”. So we took them out on an outing and headed towards the parc du bois de Vincennes. We thought “cool, there are gardens, a castle and even a zoo”! Sounded perfect! until we hit bumpy/gravelly sidewalks and trails… Not as fun on scooters. And not as fast. So Mike said “Let’s ride on this street” that has limited traffic and was only one-way. Hmmm, weird, there were lots of white vans parked on the side with people inside, oh actually it was just women inside…. ooohhhh! Mike clued in what was going on by about van #2 and I must say we picked up the pace on the scooters considerably! Seems like the proverbial street walkers had stepped it up a notch. Despite our accelerated pace we didn’t get to see the Chateau de Vincennes, nor the nearby zoo (too far) but we had a great time scootering around for a couple of hours. Even Maxine rode for a while by herself but ended up riding with Mike for most of it.
- Go salsa dancing! Ok, this one is not a family friendly activity but, for those who know me, it had to be done! So I did a bit of research and asked around and decided on two events: Agua and Latinbox Party. The details will be left for another post on salsa around the world. Stay tuned salsa fanatics!
So that pretty much sums up Paris. We left it on Sunday headed to the parc naturel regional de Chartreuse to visit a friend but not without a pit stop on yet another famous wine road. More on that in our next blog!