Thursday, April 5, 2012

Springtime in Paris - Part I

April marks the beginning of our 9th month in Luxembourg. It also happens to kick off our sons' spring break vacation. After years of venturing off to other places, this time we would be hosting my in-laws for their first trip to the mainland of Europe. My in-laws are in their 70's and, though they travel a fair bit in the States, their only prior trip to Europe was to the UK for a church sponsored vacation about 15 years ago. Their trip was organized down to every last detail, so it involved very little planning on their part - get a passport, pack, show up. Being new residents in Europe, and having travelled quite a bit ourselves, my husband and I wanted to give them not only insight on our new lives in Luxembourg, but we also wanted to share with them our favorite city - Paris. So, rather than flying them directly into Lux for their 2 week vacation, we decided to meet them at Charles DeGaulle and spend a few days in Paris before hopping the train to Lux. I was a bit nervous getting ready for this trip. Traveling with kids, I have learned not to over plan anything since we always have to be ready to adjust our schedules and plans to accommodate them to some degree. Therefore, vacations planned at any level of detail is not really our strength - get a hotel, book train tickets,  pack the night before, and hope for the best.

Well, needless to say, we did start planning a bit for this trip a few weeks ago. For one thing, hotel rooms in Paris tend to be very small. You know the type - reminiscent of dorm rooms in college with a bathroom you can barely turn around in. Also, they can be expensive or (if not) located quite a distance from the majority of the attractions. So, rather than jamming ourselves into two expensive, tiny hotel rooms for 5 nights, we opted to rent an apartment on the Isle St. Louis, right smack in the middle of Paris. The island is one of the highest rent locations in Paris, mostly due to its great proximity to everything. It also is one of the older sections of the city, so we knew going into this venture that accommodations may not be equal to that of some hotels. However, after looking at hundreds of options on the internet, we finally located this one at a (sort of) reasonable rate with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and living space. We figured that the kitchen would allow for us to have quick breakfasts at the apartment before venturing out for the day, and laundry facilities available so that we would not have to pack too much and lug heavy luggage on and off the trains and up and down stairs - a good thing since this apartment was located on the 3rd floor, was 3 stories high and had no elevator.

Our family arrived on Friday, the day before my in-laws were scheduled to arrive in Paris. This gave us time to locate the apartment, buy some groceries, and check out the city a little before hand. We took the early train from Lux and arrived in Paris around 8:30 a.m.. Our only wait was for the rental agency to arrive with the keys, so we spent a couple of hours hanging out at the St. Regis cafe just down the block from our apartment. Our waiter was wonderful, allowing us to park our bags in the corner and order a "leisurely" breakfast, and lots of coffee. At noon, we met our hostess and were given the tour of our temporary home. The apartment was definitely old, but very clean and roomy for Paris standards. We also had a phone that could make free calls to a list of countries (including the US) and free wifi. (That was all the kids needed to know - their computers were out in a heartbeat). So, we settled in, hit the grocery store (as well as the local patisserie, fromagerie, boulangerie, etc.) to stock up for the week.

Once we had things settled, we hit the streets to check out Paris in all of its springtime glory. We were not disappointed. The weather was a beautiful 60 degrees and many of the tulips and cherry trees were in full bloom along the Tuilleries and the Champs-Elysees. We made mental plans of what we wanted to see that week and prioritize based on what we thought my in-laws would enjoy most. After our walk, we decided to head to the Bercy area of Paris and return to one of out favorite restaurants that serves some terrific moules frites and cider. It was a long metro ride, but the frites alone made it worth it.

Our night ended on an obligatory trip to Amorino for gelato. Any guide book will tell you that Berthillon is the place to go for ice cream on Isle St. Louis, but even Rick Steves will tell you - real gelato lovers head to Amorino for bigger servings and the classic flower-shaped cones that can hold up to 3 or 4 different flavors of some of the best gelato available in Europe. With gelato in hand, we made our way back to the apartment to hit the hay. The next day would begin our adventure sharing the city of lights with my in-laws - we needed our rest! :)

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