Our family recently returned from a jam packed five-day trip to Paris over the Easter holiday. This was the first time in Paris for my teens. With so much to do and see, we had to plan carefully.
The goal: See as much as we can, and experience this beautiful city without everyone hating each other at the end.
Adventure by High-Speed Train
By train, Paris is four hours from our home in Frankfurt. A quick trip on the ICE train would theoretically get us into the middle of Paris. Germans used to be known for their punctuality. That is no longer the case—thank you Deutsche Bahn. The story today is quite different, and it’s a rare occasion when the train makes it from point A to B on time. Our journey began on time and without much fanfare. However, about a third of the way through, a series of announcements began regarding the on-board bathrooms with the end result that most them had broken. The train would stop in Saarbrucken, two hours away from Paris. We had to figure out the rest. My daughter completely lost her shit.
In all our trips, we experienced few delays or issues. This was new, and suddenly, my great traveler was freaking out. We had to catch a small one-car regional train—keep in mind we were a full train—to Metz, France. In the teeny tiny car, we packed in like sardines for an hour. Feeling badly and trying to make room, I finally moved over to share my seat with another lady who was standing night to me, and I straddled the gap between the two seats. Catholic guilt runs deep.
Finally reaching the small city of Metz, my kids continued to melt down, reminiscent of toddlerhood. Unable to board the next train to Paris, we sat in the small Starbucks to shovel in some pre-packaged food. Finally boarding the correct train, we found a table for the four of us to sit for the speedy ride to Paris. And damn, those trains are fast. I admit watching the screen with the train speed (around 300 kph) terrified me just a bit. My daughter handed me one of her ear buds and offered to let me watch Gilmore Girls with her so I would relax.
We arrived in Paris three hours later than our expected arrival time. A few wrong turns, a Google map malfunction, and a lot of eye rolling and sighing, finally led us to the flat.
Apartment sans Wi-Fi = Teen Meltdown
Our HomeAway apartment, located in the middle of St. Germain des-Prés, was the perfect location for getting everywhere. With three Metro stops a short distance away, we felt right in the middle of everything and yet in a quiet neighborhood. This particular apartment is great with teens since there is a separate bedroom across the stair way, which means our teens really had their own space away from us.
We all dropped down to catch our breath from the overly-long journey only to discover the apartment Wi-Fi didn’t work. With teens, this is a deal breaker, and again, my daughter lost it. The owner of the apartment was fantastic and worked over the course of the next few days to finally get it fixed. A good excuse for the kids to unplug a bit.
Recharging in the Luxembourg Gardens
Whether it’s Central Park (New York), El Retiro (Madrid), the Tiergarten (Berlin), or Hyde Park (London), parks in the middle of cities are special retreat areas and fun to visit. We wandered to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens, which is small but still a nice respite in the middle of Paris.
I think we all felt our blood pressure immediately drop and breathed a sigh of relief from the journey. Lots of fountains, a big pond, tennis courts, large grassy areas forbidding people from laying about (but they did anyway) and lots and lots of ice cream stands!
For €5 you can rent a model sailboat, but they were closing up for the day. A few minutes earlier, and I think the kids would have pounced on this idea. French gardens are, in my opinion, overly landscaped, with lots of gravel, statues and manicured shrubs. I do enjoy all the chairs strewn about where you can plop down, people watch, or just stare into space.
Exploring Paris on Foot
In every new city, our family loves free walking tours, specifically from Sandemanns (I’m NOT paid to promote them). The tour guides are usually students who are not native to the city but truly adore where they live. The quality of the tour depends greatly on the guide you get, and Esteban from Colombia was one of the better guides. You pay the guide at the end based on the quality of their tour.
I have a few TravelTeening friends who swear by the local bike tours. By all means, if your family loves to bike, pay for the bike tour. The idea is to get out and explore.
We covered most of central Paris in about two and a half hours complete with history, some culture, architecture, and food recommendations. Since we visited two days after Notre Dame caught on fire, he had to work around that part of the tour, but our guide still gave us the Notre Dame basics from across the bridge. In the short time period, we covered the Cité, the Conciergerie, Louis XIV, Sainte-Chapelle, Pont Neuff, the Louvre (from the outside), and the Tuileries Garden.
After saying goodbye to Esteban, eating a quick French lunch, and making a Starbucks Wi-Fi pit stop for the kids, we walked up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Midday on a Thursday, the line to go up for the view seemed long through the underground tunnel so we quickly passed. (Don’t attempt to cross the street to get to the Arc.) At ground level, it’s lovely memorial to all the French soldiers who died in wars, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower
Whether to visit the Eiffel Tower or not always seems to be of some discussion. It’s iconic and big, yet overly crowded like most of Paris. I felt for the kids’ first trip to Paris they should see and even go up the Tower. This was our last scheduled stop for the first day. When I began looking for tickets two months before our trip, the elevator tickets were sold out, which is just insane. Walking to the second level is a fraction of the cost, a shorter line, and more exercise for us.
Did I mention the crowds? The Tower is no exception, even if you choose to walk up it. The security line has three queues: one for those with tickets, those without, and those heading to the restaurant. [Note: At the time we went, no one at security asked to see tickets. My kids were so mortified that we went into the “wrong” line. Only to find out we saved an hour of time.]
The line to walk up the tower was another one-hour queue, and my husband gave up and went to find a place to have a beer while we waited. I could feel the kids slowly giving out as we waited in line, but I encouraged them to push on and sit in the shade. In the end, the three of us agreed it was worth the wait. Climbing up the 700 plus stairs was fun as we tried to blow past the slower tourists. We are a bit of a competitive family.
We walked all around the first and second level, and the kids just snapped away taking what felt like a million photos. The weather (as you can see) was spectacular so that certainly did help us feel that the long wait and climb was worth it.
I think it’s important to mention that I’m terrified of heights so I packed away my fears as we climbed. Actually, it’s a little scarier heading down when you can actually see down to the ground.
Shoe Swapping While Heading Back to St. Germain
Our ride back to the apartment should have been simple. One Metro ride on the RER C and a short walk, but they closed our Metro stop (the announcement was made in French) because of the fire at Notre Dame so our train flew by our stop. My son was now “hangry” and my daughter’s feet hurt, and we still had a 20-minute walk back so to move her quicker we changed shoes. She wore my larger shoes to accommodate her swollen feet, and I shoved my enormous feet into her small shoes to get her to shut up.
It was a long painful walk from the Metro, but we finally met up with my husband at a French restaurant near our apartment. He knew just what I would need, and awaiting us was a bottle of wine and appetizers.
Ready to hear about tomorrow? Part 2 has more adventures.
Editor’s Note: At the recommendation of my husband, I broke my extra long post into three. He suggested adding more commentary to, “keep it real.” So in this post, you will get a little more insight into how we travel with teens, including the meltdowns and shoe swapping.
All other photos ©Linda Kerr, TravelTeening