After reaching a comfortable level of understanding of Italian, we arrived in France in the late evening having to start over with a new language and new expectations. Despite some high school years of French language study, I just couldn’t get into the habit of even using the French words I did know. And yet, the French appreciate it when you try. Maybe we just needed more time than the one week we did have on one of our best Paris vacations; we’d had three weeks in Italy, after all.
For Mum and Dad, Paris was about galleries, museums, getting lost, and a shitload of walking. For us, it was socialising and Euro Disney. We had some friends to meet up with over dinner and a few nights booked in one of the Disney hotels, but our first day was about Monet. While Matt took the boys to a science museum, I went with Mum and Dad to Giverny—Monet’s home in Normandy, north-west of Paris. I must admit, I get bored of museums and galleries very quickly but actually seeing the surroundings so familiar from the paintings of a well-known artist is much more interesting. To be immersed, in even just a small part of someone else’s life, is what travel is all about. To see the waterlillies, the bridge, the garden and the personality so evident in Monet’s former home—it’s almost like standing inside a painting.
We left early the next day for Disneyland. Having been to the California Disneyland when I was 11, I had clear memories of Space Mountain and was looking forward to reliving it. Going during the French school term, and on a weekday, was the best thing we could have done. We had minimal queueing time, no major crowds and were easily able to repeat our favourite rides more than once. The only muscling in we had to do was for photos with the roaming character. Honestly, parents are much worse than the kid. There was no order, no patience, and when my politeness ran out, I had to shove Lincoln right in there while elbowing someone else out of our way.
The Disney complex has Disneyland, which we’d seen all of on the first day, Walt Disney Studios, and the Disney village. The village is just all restaurants and shops so we didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we had most of our second day in the Studios. Not too dissimilar from our Universal Studios experience in Singapore, there were plenty of rides as well as cinema activities and performances. Again, being a weekday it was easy to see the whole park in a day. We went back for our third day on a Saturday and that was a whole different story. The place was jam-packed. Rides which we’d previously waited maybe 15 minutes for at the most, now had a wait time of over an hour. We rode a couple of our favourites for the last time, bought some souvenirs and came straight back to Paris on the metro.
The kids really enjoyed riding the metro and it certainly makes it so easy to get around. But more than that—every metro stop has a different look and feel, roving musicians play French music on the accordion. There’s so much…atmosphere. My tip is to make sure you check the map to find the closest metro to your accommodation. We’d been walking much further than we had to before we discovered another metro station only half a block in the other direction—on our last night.
Oh, and here’s another tip for Paris: allow plenty of time for the hop-on hop-off bus. The local service is called L’Open tour. It’s similar from the red CitySightseeing bus in other cities with the open top and multi-language commentary, but it is The. Most. Inefficient. Operation. Ever. There’s no one assisting the driver to take payments and process vouchers, so every stop had a 10 or 15 minutes wait so the driver could process the paying passengers, himself. With four available loops in Paris, we ended up completing one and a half before calling it quits. You will definitely need the full two days to get your money’s worth on the Paris tourist buses.
No destination is wrapped up without Mum and I getting dedicated shopping time. So on our second last day we headed straight for the Galleries La Fayette. Mum had been there once before, during a weekend stay in Paris in 1987. Its colourful domed interior is dazzling and sets the tone for the expensive price tags. After checking out the major department stores we drank champagne at the Ritz and then went home for a rest in preparation for our tour of the Eiffel Tower.
In my mind, the Eiffel Tower was the culmination of our European holiday. We paid for a skip the line tour and timed it so we’d be up the top for sunset. We looked out at the monochromatic white and grey buildings, with the Seine river passing through, as the long shadow of the tower fell across the Parisian cityscape. And when we reached the bottom, it was just in time for the sparkling light show at 8pm. Stunning. Easily the best thing I’d seen through the whole trip.