After a long May break spent traveling in Provence and Corsica….. There was yet another 4 day weekend in May to go see more stuff!! I should explain the holidays here in May. May 1 is France’s Labor Day. May 8 is WWII Victory Day. Then there are two additional holidays that are religious in nature. The first is Ascension, which comes 40 days after Easter, and celebrates Jesus’ last appearance on earth to his disciples and his ascension to heaven. Finally, there is Whit Monday which is the Monday after Pentacost. Pentacost is the 50th day (or 7th Sunday) after Easter and celebrates the birthday of the Christian church when the Holy Spirit came down among the disciples. Needless to say, here in May, most every weekend is at least a 3 day, but more typically a 4 day weekend!!
This year, we had planned to take this 4 day weekend and go see Normandy before all of the festivities started there in June for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. However, due to my continued procrastination of making hotel reservations (there was nothing left!) and major car problems, we changed plans and decided to just take the train to Paris. Besides, it was the one trip Sarah had wanted to do from the beginning of our adventures here – and we hadn’t made it to the Eiffel Tower yet! So, after picking up some quick train tickets, making a reservation for a hotel room that was under-sized and over-priced, and thinking I was being truly smart and “advance ordering” our tickets for Versailles, we were off.
We love taking the train! At least the trains in France (Italy was a bit different). Nothing like a good book and a full picnic lunch to make a relaxing 3.5 hour ride to Paris.
Once there we checked in to our hotel and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. We had been told by friends that there would be a line to take the elevator (and sure enough, I couldn’t even pre-buy those tickets for the weekend), but we could just walk up the stairs with no waiting. Well… it was about a 4 hour wait for the stairs – did I mention holiday weekend??
After a brief melt-down at the lines and crowds, some ice-cream got us going again and we headed out for the Arc de Triumphe.
Getting to the monument itself turned out to be another adventure. Kids – don’t try this at home!! I had forgotten there was an underground tunnel to get over to the Arc. It sits in the middle of about an 8 lane roundabout that people try to go through as fast as possible. Standing there on the side of the road, watching another family with a baby carriage go across we decided, OK, that’s the method. We’ve seen stranger things in France. As I said, don’t try this!! We made it, with only one van that decided to gun the engine and see if he could take us out.
The Arc de Triumphe was built between 1806 and 1836 under the orders of Napoléon. It is to honor those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its walls. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. It’s very impressive, as is the view of the city after Sarah and I climbed to the top. When we came down, they were holding a Military ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Walked around a bit more, found a fantastic Italian restaurant for dinner. And then off to bed as the next day we were to tackle Versailles bright and early!!
Now I thought I had done the smart thing by “pre-purchasing” our tickets for Versailles. The internet sight said, “skip the lines” and all that. Turns out EVERYONE pre-ordered their tickets for Versailles that weekend. The line to get tickets: 5 minutes. The line to get into the palace once you had tickets: 2 hours. So, we started the day in yet another line.
The Court of Versailles (20km south of Paris) was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved there from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution. After that, the chateau went through many hands, many uses, most of the contents sold – and then re-collected again beginning in 1892 when it was finally declared it would be a museum.
Sarah really enjoyed the palace and tried to take pictures of everything. She was pretty good at it too since she was small enough to squeeze through the crowds and get up to what she wanted to see. Jeff and I were not so lucky. After a quick tour of the gardens a lovely lunch was in order and a short train ride back into Paris center.
The afternoon was spent touring Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris (not to be confused with the many other Notre Dame – Our Lady – cathedrals throughout France). Construction of the cathedral began in 1160 and lasted until the final phase was completed in 1345. It is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and was the first to use the “flying buttress” supports. Apparently the walls were too thin for how tall the cathedral eventually became, thus the new support design.
The line wasn’t too bad for the cathedral, maybe 20 minutes. But we had to talk Sarah out of standing in line again to climb to the top of it. In the end, I promised we would be climbing the Eiffel Tower in the morning. Back to the hotel for a short nap and a wonderful dinner of authentic Japanese food! We have now been to a true Japanese soup-kitchen type restaurant and it was indeed fantastic.
Day 3 and Sarah and I are up and out early to go get to the Eiffel Tower before it gets crowded (so we hoped!). After a brief stop for morning coffee and chocolate – must go fortified you know – we made it to the Tower, and the line had already started. I guess we stood there about an hour and a half before buying our ticket to climb. Unfortunately, a kid had run by Sarah and stepped on the back of her sandal that morning, so she was stuck climbing with a broken shoe.
Speaking of our daughter and climbing…. If you have read any of these posts you know that if there are stairs, Sarah will want to climb to the top of it. So we started up the Eiffel Tower and within about 3 minutes of climbing – after waiting 1.5 hours to do this – she looks back at me and says, “Mom, I don’t like this, let’s turn back now”. Apparently she didn’t like the fact the stairs were grated and you could see through them. Now she has no problem with 1000 year old twisty, uneven stone staircases – go figure! Anyway, after getting up early and waiting in line for nearly 2 hours, I wasn’t the most compassionate Mom in the world. I basically put my hand on her back and told her to turn around and climb!!! She still didn’t like it, but she did like it once we reached the 1st floor and again when we reached the 2nd floor. We were blessed with a sunny day that morning, as you can see!
Jeff, not being one for crowds or heights, decided to take his coffee in the Jardin du Luxembourg, where he got some great pictures! And then a stroll by the Louvre.
When we finally made it out of the Eiffel Tower craziness – did I mention holiday weekend?? – Jeff had us a lovely table for lunch with drinks already ordered. We definitely needed it by then!
The final afternoon we took it easy. Most tourist attractions were too crowded by that time to even try to get into, and Sarah was done with waiting in lines. She had seen what she wanted to see, nothing else was needed! So we strolled around, went into the Galleries Lafayette flagship store, and eventually went back for another nap. But we had one more food opportunity and we made the most of it! Traditional French cuisine (not Auvergnat French though!) for dinner with a great wine pairing.
OK, our Paris trip may have turned into more of a “foodie” trip than a site-seeing tour, but in the end everyone got something that they wanted from the weekend! Bon voyage et bon appétit from the city of lights (and crowds)!