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Friday, June 15, 2018

The gift of possibility... A mother - daughter trip to Paris


Never in a million years did I think I'd travel to Europe without my husband.  Honestly, the thought didn't even crossed my mind until it did... Brian's my security guard when we travel.  He does the thinking.  He fixes things, leads the way. But here I am on the other side of one of the most incredible trips of my lifetime, and I can say without hesitation DO IT if you can!  It's a real self confidence independence boost to travel alone (or without your significant other;)) and it made me feel like anything was possible.  The world is tangible! It's available to see EVEN FOR ME! So let me just begin by telling you how this came about, some tips that were helpful, and some fun things we did along the way.

I came upon this trip through Instagram.  I follow the amazing artist Emily Leonard (@emilyleonardstudio) and always loved her work, so when I saw she was planning an art retreat in the South of France I was like uh that sounds incredible! My heart raced at the thought.  I felt this urgency to GO, but quickly shoved it down because it was FRANCE.  It was expensive and unnecessary etc...  So I did nothing. I said nothing. And looking back that was probably good, because when she announced she only had two spots left the urgency was there and my honey was more open to it;)  Enter in the sweet persuasion.  Enter in God softening my honey's heart and him saying YES!!  Enter in my Maggie!  She was getting ready to graduate high school, attending art school in the fall and the pieces just seemed to fit.  I would take her on a mother and daughter trip!!  It would be the gift of possibility, the know how to travel the world, and hopefully the satisfying of some of her wanderlust, "see everything" mentality:)  We would explore the most arsty city in the world and then study art together in one of the most beautiful settings in the world...the South of France!! EEEEP!  

I quickly booked the trip, extending it to include a few days in Paris, and then almost immediately the panic set in.  The "what in the world was I thinking. I don't speak French. I know nothing about flying internationally or where to go in Paris. It's dangerous there right?" mantra on repeat.  To combat that I went into full research mode. Checking out books at the library. Buying guide books online. Asking friends about their trips. Pinning every little thing related to Paris. I was ON IT, and it turns out it was all really helpful. I typed out my itinerary. Pinned all my must see spots on Google Maps. I downloaded the Google Translate app that translates English to French and vice versa. I learned a few words in French and it was enough. Preparation set me up for success and calmed my nerves for sure.

So here are my tips 
and this applies to almost any destination:

Do your research! Start reading about Paris and you'll figure out what you want to see. Don't get overwhelmed by how much there is to do. You won't be able to see it all.  Just accept that fact and do what you can.

Use Google maps and pin all your must sees before you go. Make a folder in your "saved places".  You'll have all the addresses in one place and will be able to see on a map what's close to you. That's kind of how we planned our days...proximity.

Skip the passes.  Everyone will say it's the best value, but unless you are there for many days and are seeing gobs of things a day it doesn't add up. I did the math. And honestly, don't try to see gobs of places in one day.  You will crash and burn fast. Amble a bit. Go down roads you didn't plan on and see things like the locals do:)

Use the app Tiqets. We were able to buy our tickets to Sainte Chapelle and skip the line.

Book an airbnb.  Here's the link to ours:) You'll get the true Parisian experience and it's usually quite a bit cheaper.  We stayed here and LOVED IT.  Best location EVER! Every kind of restaurant you could imagine just steps from our door and a grocery across the street. Make sure to read all the reviews thoroughly.  Our place had ancient stairs that was nice to know about before we got there.  If I was traveling alone it might not have been possible to get my luggage up them.

Sign up for your phone company's international plan. It's like $10 a day, but you'll be able to keep in touch with the world. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Contact your credit card company before you go so they know it's you and won't shut down your cards.

Get euros before you go so you don't have to do an ATM there. And make sure you always have enough on you.  There's a daily limit and most taxis and a lot of shops only accept cash.

Make a copy of your passport and keep it on you.  Leave the actual passport in your room. You don't want that to get stolen.

Wear comfortable shoes.  We walked 11 miles our first day...on cobblestone.  Even though my shoes were comfortable my feet and hips still hurt.  I love Birkenstocks and Sketchers.  Those are great options.

Book before June to beat the big time crowds and heat.  Most places do not have air conditioning and it's something for Americans to get used to, at least it was for me.  It was in the high 70s and I was HOT at times, so keep that in mind. Also, DO NOT book in August.  Most places will be closed for holiday.

Expect to take your time.  There's no rushing around at a cafe.  Enjoy the people watching:)

He was such a flirt and let Maggie make her own.  It was right down our street on Rue Mouffetard... One of the oldest streets in Paris.

Say BONJOUR to everyone you meet.  It's what they do and it's good manners.  We had great interactions with all the French people we encountered.  I'd always heard they hated Americans and were rude, but in my experience it was just the opposite.  A lot of them knew English and at least attempted to communicate.  Merci is thank you.  Bonjour, merci, oui (yes), and combien (how much?) were the words we said the most. Poulet is chicken. Frites is fries. Definitely look up the food names. We almost ordered raw beef once:/

Tipping isn't necessary in restaurants.  Apparently they are paid very well.  You can round up for cab rides. Try to have small bills. Some street vendors and cab drivers did not give us change back, and I didn't know how it ask for it.

Make sure to plan for extra time at the CDG airport.  It's a mad house.  Think thousands of stressed out tired travelers.  It's completely unorganized. Signs in French only. Our baggage got lost for four days of our trip.  I wasn't surprised at all.  It took almost 2 hours for us to check it and get through security. Also, American sized carry-ons are never carried on.  They will want you to check it. They made us go all the way back to check-in versus just checking it at the gate.  So not cool. Thank God we were early.

We didn't take the metro because it was out of my comfort zone. Others have used it and had great success... I chose other options because I'd heard that it was a pickpocket magnet, lots of people and you are mostly underground. None of that appealed to me.  We used taxis a few times, the Batobus and WALKED everywhere.  Which is a great way to see the city and burn off all those croissants at the same time:)  My advice is to definitely take the Batobus if your feet need a break.  It's a taxi boat. It's inexpensive and you get to ride on the Seine River.  Best money we spent. *FYI a taxi should run around 50 euros from the CDG to Paris city central. Confirm this before you get in.  Some have minimums and don't go by a meter. And be careful with Uber (who is supposedly cheaper).  They upcharged us on our way back to the airport by 25 euros.  We got a text 5 minutes before our scheduled pick up time that said due to "high demand" the rate was more.  At that point we were on a tight schedule and couldn't shop around.  

Unlike Italy there are porta-potty type things on most busy streets.  This is awesome because in Italy it was nearly impossible to find a toilet.  We never used one on the street because we preferred to stop into a cafe for a drink and then used their restroom. Definitely go when you can.

Tabac shops have stamps.  They run about 2 euros each. I made a list of people I wanted to send postcards to before we left and got them filled in and mailed out within the first couple of days.  This time they actually came before we made it home.  Love that!  Pharmacies have signs that are neon green crosses.

Grocery stores (monoprix) are a great place for gifts.  They have cosmetics, soaps, and lotions without boutique prices.  Also, they have a grapefruit drink that I'm still obsessing over called BADOIT pamplemousse.  It's a sparkling drink with grapefruit and lemon on the front. Please drink one for me!

Think about if you really want to bring a camera.  I brought mine, but rarely carried it.  A phone is lighter and more convenient.  It takes great pics, and I didn't want to stand out as a tourist or risk it getting stolen.

Buy this:
We bought Travelon's anti-theft hobo bag in pewter before we left.  Loved it!  Pickpocketing is a real THING there. Keep your bag in front of you and zipped at all time. I also used a travel wallet that I put around my neck and under my clothes when I didn't want to carry a purse.

Anything written by Rick Steves and Eyewitness Paris are both great guide books.

Good shoes - my favs are Sketchers and Birkenstocks.

Things we loved:

We didn't go in the Louvre...

We chose the d'Orsay! Loved the size and the collection. Good choice for those short on time.

We wanted to see a museum and had heard the Louvre was very overwhelming, so we opted for the d'Orsay.  It was the perfect size, had great art (Monet's Chrysanthemums was my favorite) and THE BEST MEAL WE HAD IN PARIS.  Get the filet mignon in the restaurant with the bright chairs.  You'll feel like you are Queen Marie Antoinette:) By the way we watched that movie on our flight home and I'm kicking myself that we didn't squeeze in Versaille.  I'm fascinated with Marie Antoinette now;)  MUST GO BACK!

Drink a hot chocolate at the Le Cafe Marly!!  It's a little cafe looking at the glass pyramid at the Louvre. It's like drinking a chocolate bar.  You'll moan... pinky swear.

Spend a few hours at the Luxembourg Gardens. It's free and the people watching is AMAZING. We sat by the pond and sketched the palace. So lovely.  There's also a toilet nearby:)

We didn't tour it. But got lots of shots out front... and people watching:)

Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dam are really close to each other. Sainte Chapelle was unbelievable.  If you love stained glass windows you'll be in AWE.  Even if you don't you'll be in awe;)  There's an ice cream shop between the two churches called the Berthillon that's highly rated.  I thought it was just okay:) Make sure to visit Au Vieux Paris D'Arcole.  It's an adorable little coffee shop that's an instagrammers dream. 

Close to this area along the Seine was some street vendors.  This is where we got some original art and old postcards.  And just down the street was Maggie's favorite place I think on the whole trip, the famous Shakespeare and Company, arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world!! It was super crowded, hot and claustrophic to me, but my girl could have spend the ENTIRE day in a corner reading:/  Make sure to buy a book. They stamp the inside. Oh and snap a pic out the second floor window...I took one, but you need to go yourself:) It's a great shot of Notre Dame...just don't get caught. Pics are forbidden. 

Just around the corner past the book store was a charming little store that sold music boxes.  We got a sweet souvenir for Felicity that played La vie en Rose.

The Touilleries were pretty and there was an ice cream vendor that did ice cream in the shape of a flower.  That was fun. Maggie dropped hers, but it was so good she picked it up and scrapped off the icky parts and finished it!!  So that says something;)  If we would have kept walking straight we would have hit the Champs-Elysees (think Rodeo drive) and the famous Triomphe.

But we got off the path making a bee line straight for the Eiffel Tower.  Which, if Brian was there, we would have seen at night. That's supposed to be amazing! It lights up every hour on the hour, but it didn't get dark in Paris until after 10 pm and it was reallllly far from our airbnb, so that was a safety call. If I could do that over again I would have just taken pics of it at the Triomphe and skipped getting close. Lots of sketchy people there and it was one of the places we were approached.

Our one misstep was not seeing La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre to the fullest.  We took a cab ride to the steps and it was so busy that we kind of wandered off and didn't stick around exploring.  Apparently there's a lot of artists doing portraits and it's really charming, but we totally missed exploring it fully. UGH! Instead we ended up wandering down some side street and then got into kind of a shady area that had big bins of discount clothing, and then that turned into a red light area with sex shops and finally Moulin Rouge. It's just not my scene.  So a redo is in order some day.  Some other things we didn't have time for was the Le Marais district (fun district with lots of boutiques), the Galeries Lafayette (giant shopping mall), Versailles (the royal palace about an hour train ride from Paris), Mosque and the Palace Jardin.  Actually there were about a million things we didn't have time for. Many of them are still pinned in my Google Maps folder.  Ahhhhh next time!

Eyes open:)

Keep your head up and pay attention.  There were some creepy men that eyeballed us.  Just be alert. I bought mace, but chickened out bringing it because the airlines prohibited it. I think you can get it there.  It would be a nice thing to have if you were alone.

Keep your phone in your hand or zipped in your purse.  It's a common thing to have it snatched, so don't lay it down on a table, put it in your pocket or use it on the metro. We got insurance on our phones before we left.

Don't fall for scams... random people coming up to you asking if you speak English.  I said no we do not and kept moving along.  It felt really rude, but unless I initiated a conversation I didn't speak to strangers.  It only happened a few times.

Take away... 

WE ADORED PARIS! It was so much more than what we thought.  It felt pretty safe because I was alert. It was fairly easy to navigate. The people were kind. The food was amazing. The sights unbelievable.  I loved how it felt slow and leisurely. People were very engaged with each other.  Lots of eye contact and meaningful conversations. I didn't see a lot of phones in hand.  Maybe I noticed that more because my phone never left mine;) True confessions of a snap-aholic.  Bottom line we can't wait to go back someday. Now that I have an idea of what to do it will be so much fun playing tour guide for Felicity and Brian.

Thanks for coming with us:)
Emily Leonard's South of France art retreat up NEXT!!

Have a blessed day!

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