Written by Rhonda Brooks.
After having some great travel experiences with our kids in various US destinations over the years including several trips to Disney World, as the kids got older, we wanted to experience some broader travel experiences and decided to venture overseas. Our first trip abroad was a spring break trip to England when my daughter was 14 and my son was 11. We had such a good time on that trip, we decided we wanted to go back and explore more of Europe so as I started looking for spring break ideas for the next year, I kept European destinations on my radar. At the time, airfares to London and Paris were actually cheaper than if we had flown to California, so it was off to Paris!
The beginning of a trip can set the tone for the entire vacation. Flying Air France was definitely a great way to start the trip. Even though we were flying coach, we felt like we were flying first class. The service was great, the food was served on china, and there were TV-screens on the back of each seat to enjoy the in-flight movie.
When we arrived at the Paris airport, while waiting for our shuttle, a car pulled up and out stepped a guy wearing MSU basketball sweats. It turned out to be Chris Hill, a great 3 point shooting guard that played for MSU a couple years earlier and was now playing for a Pro Basketball Team based in Paris. It was funny after leaving Lansing ½ day earlier, flying across the Atlantic, we run into an ex-MSU basketball player. After a nice conversation with Chris, our Paris shuttle arrived and we were on our way!
The Paris Shuttle was a great way to go. It was 150 Euros round trip for the whole family and took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel. My husband found when we had gone to London, he liked the fact that we were staying near Big Ben so anytime we were turned around and needed to find our way back, he could just ask someone, which way to Big Ben. He was pretty happy when I told him our hotel in Paris was going to be very close to the Eiffel Tower! The shuttle dropped us off in front of our hotel, Hotel La Bourdonnais, a charming little hotel located in a quiet neighborhood, just a couple blocks from the Eiffel Tower and Rue Cler. We weren’t interested in staying at a large hotel chain and the Hotel La Bourdonnais had the cozy feel we were looking for with a living room off of the small lobby and an interior garden where a continental breakfast was served.
After getting settled in, we walked over and toured the Eiffel Tower. Similar to the feeling of seeing something as iconic as the Big Ben in person, it was almost surreal when seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. As we strolled through the park next to Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, there was a group of old men talking and leisurely playing bocce ball and younger boys playing soccer and it fit my vision of what a European park would look like.
Our hotel was near Rue Cler, which is a popular pedestrian market street, offering a great variety of specialty shops of flowers, fruits, baguettes, cheese, bottle of wine, cuts of meat and desserts. What is most impressive is the array of colors and the presentation of each shop’s display giving you the feeling you were looking at a setting for a portrait.
On one of our first nights in Paris, we did a night bike trip through Fat Bike Tours. It was definitely a great way to see the “City of Light”. It was a beautiful spring night and the city was bustling with activity. In addition to riding by the more popular tourist spots (Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe), we enjoyed seeing the locals enjoying the city. We rode over a footbridge where there were groups of people sitting on blankets, some talking, others enjoying a bottle of wine. After stopping for a break at the most famous ice cream shop in Paris, Berthillon Ice Cream, we road through the lit up Courtyard of the Louvre, which was strangely quiet with no one in sight and you could envision the scenes from the popular Da Vinci Code novel. After riding through the Louvre, the group hopped on a boat for a cruise up the Seine river.
Over the next week, we took in more of the city and explored the Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, Champs-Élysées, Luxembourg Gardens. We had enjoyed the Fat Bike Tour night ride so much, we signed up for an all-day Versailles bike tour. This again proved to be a great way to see more of the area you’re interested in, plus it makes it fun for the kids. We visited the village market to buy baguettes, cheese, ham, and wine for a picnic in the Chateau’s gardens and then spent most of the day riding through the tree-lined gardens, and touring both the main chateau and Marie Antoinette’s cottage.
I think we became one of Fat Bike Tour’s favorite customers as we did one more tour that was probably my 12 year old son’s highlight of the trip. Instead of riding bikes, we all rode a Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle. I don’t think he actually heard one word the tour guide had said, but he had the best time tooling around the city on the futuristic looking Segway.
Having the opportunity to explore a totally different culture and language from our own, to see some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, and expose our children to the rewards of foreign travel has truly been an experience of a lifetime. Before our first trip to Europe, we were worried about the kids getting bored. Now, after taking a number of family trips to England, France, Netherlands, and Spain, they ask us when we get to go back and which part of Europe is next!