Friday, May 31, 2013

Bienvenue à Paris!

If you were born in the 1980's, you may remember a 1992 video where a little French baby rapper named Jordy sang how hard it was to be a baby. Truth! But I digress.

Since we've been busy the past few days, I have to catch everyone up on what I've been up to since we left Germany earlier this week.


While we actually landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport around 7PM Tuesday evening, my father decided to just check into the nearby Hyatt Regency CDG by the airport the first night and save some Hyatt points (12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points vs. 22,000 at the Park Hyatt in central Paris). Plus, there was something nice about arriving into Paris on his birthday (Wednesday) that made it a bit more special.


So the next morning, we slept in, had free breakfast in the Hyatt Regency Club Lounge and slowly made our way into the city. I say "slowly" because the traffic from CDG Airport can be pretty horrible. It took us about an hour to drive 27 km (17 miles), but I guess we can't complain because I've heard traffic horror stories of 2.5 hours. We were thinking about taking the RER Train, but then would have had to negotiate a lot of stairs with 2 rollerboard bags and a stroller, then also find a taxi from the train station to our hotel. The airport taxi was much easier, but also more expensive (€65 or $85, including €1 per bag fees and no tip). Fortunately, they took credit cards, so at least we earned some points.

By the time we got to the Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme, it was closer to 12PM and we decided to have nice Parisian lunch before taking our room. My father asked the Concierge if there were any good bistros in the area. The Concierge laughed and said "Yes, there are many bistros in Paris." Thanks, Concierge.

Eventually, he understood the intent of my father's inquiry and suggested Chez Flottes (2 Rue Cambon). Despite it's #3,416 ranking in TripAdvisor (to be fair, it's out of 9,567 Paris restaurants), we found the restaurant to be quite nice overall.

As my father warned us about before, the wait staff was quite abrupt and less than charming. As soon as we sat down and opened our English menus, the waitress asked us what we wanted. We asked for more time, and she ran away as if we were making her late for an appointment. But eventually, she came back and took our orders - a French onion soup and a marinated suckling pig. My mother said the soup was fine, but she's had better in NYC. However, my father's pork was amazing. Highly recommended.

We spent the next few hours walking around the neighborhood, passing posh designer stores, small cafes and bistros, and tourist souvenir shops. We eventually found a small grocery (Franprix, 20 Place du Marché Saint-Honoré) where my parents stocked up on some bottled waters and baby food and snacks for me.

That evening, my parents found me a trustworthy sitter and went to have a celebratory birthday dinner at Kinugawa (a Parisian Japanese restaurant on 9 rue du Mont Thabor). While the place was recommended by the hotel concierge, I think my father wanted a Japanese restaurant because then he could actually order without having to pronounce French words and have the waiter roll his eyes.

Apparently, getting reservations for restaurants in Paris can be quite difficult, so we had our hotel concierge call Kinugawa at 6:30PM when the restaurant opened to request a 9PM seating that evening. My parents arrived on time and were seated downstairs by the bar. In retrospect, they should have sat upstairs where the space is larger and the crowd more energetic.

Reading on TripAdvisor, they heard some reviews that the food could be quite salty so my father took "precautions." By that I mean that he told the waiter that he had health/dietary restrictions on sodium so asked them to use very little salt. Unfortunately, the waiter responded by eliminating several menu choices as they could not adjust the salt content in the dishes. My parents selected a soft shell crab roll appetizer (€18) to start, followed by a steamed sea bass in a yuzu sauce (€30) and a 12 piece order of nigiri sushi (€36). The food was all very good, but nothing you couldn't find in New York at half the price. The real kicker was the sake which was the best they've had, but also came at a steep price. I asked how much they paid for the bottle, but they didn't want to tell me out of fear that I'd worry about my college savings.


The next day, it was overcast and rainy, so we decided to check out the Musée du Louvre (instead of taking the double decker tour bus to orient ourselves to the city). Fortunately for us, it was Thursday because on Tuesdays, the Louvre is closed.

We had ordered some Paris Museum Passes (2 days for €39/person) in advance so we were ready for some culture. The passes are economically worth it if you plan to visit at least 3 museums in 2 consecutive days. However, they also have the benefit of allowing you to skip the ticket lines which may save you a good 10-20 minutes of waiting and having to deal with another French person.

But, the much longer line was the single security line to enter through the famous Pyramid. Fortunately, however, if you have a stroller or wheelchair, you get priority access and can skip security altogether (not just the line). I guess babies, disabled people and their caregivers aren't threats. There are other entrances to the Louvre, but only the main Pyramid one is accessible by strollers/wheelchairs, so you have to enter through that one.

We started with the Ancient Egyptian section and then made our way over to the Italian Renaissance section.  Since I'm not even 2 years old yet, I don't know much about Art or History, but I liked the paintings of the babies the best.

In one of the rooms, we saw the massive crowd of tourists all pushing and shoving each other to take a picture of the world famous painting, the Mona Lisa. 

I'm not sure why this painting is so much more popular than the thousands of others I saw today, but it was nice to see it in person. However, I only saw it from a distance because of the big crowd in front. But while my mother and I waited on the sidelines, my father passive aggressively boxed out a small, elderly Spanish grandmother to get a clean photo for me. I think elbows to the ribs were involved. Father of the year.

Since some of you readers might be young children or parents of young children, I should warn you Bugaboo / UPPAbaby mega-stroller types that the Louvre has a lot of stairs and not that many elevators. My father had to carry me and the stroller up & down a few flights at times. Not so difficult that you can't visit the museum, but just something to prepare for. Also, apparently the French museum guards frown upon riding on your father's shoulders, FYI.

So to summarize the Lourve, here are some tips to remember:
  • Louvre is closed on Tuesdays
  • Musée d'Orsay is closed on Mondays so Louvre will have longer lines that day
  • Paris Museum Passes save you money if you see more than 3 museums in 2 consecutive days
  • Strollers/wheelchairs can only enter through the Pyramid entrance, but you will have a priority line to bypass the security line
  • If you don't have a stroller, you can rent one for free inside
  • Lockers and coat check are also provided for free
  • Prepare for a lot of stairs - smaller umbrella strollers are easier to carry than super strollers
  • The elderly have weak ribs and bad balance, so keep your elbows out to help box them out.
More Paris posts to come...

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