We left on a Thursday night for Paris after a crazy week where life actually interfered with our carefully balanced routine (more about that in a separate blog). We stayed at the Shangri-la Hotel, a fairly new hotel where one reviewer commented that it was the one place where you could actually get Asian quality service in Paris.
The Shangri-la is in the 16th arrondissement by the Eiffel Tower. Our suite had a stunning view of the Tower as well as views of the Dome Church and Montmartre, and we had breakfast on the terrace almost every morning where we stuffed ourselves with croissants and butter and hot chocolate while admiring the view.
You could summarize our stay in Paris by saying that we ate, we shopped, and we museumed. (I know, it’s not actually a word, but it completed the phrase nicely.) We started off with lunch our first day at a brasserie called Chez Francis within walking distance of the hotel, and we concluded the day by having a fabulous meal at Shang Palace in the hotel, which is the only Michelin 2 star Chinese restaurant in the city. The 2 stars are well deserved, as the meal was amazing. Other memorable meal moments were the brasseries Le Troquet (which was like eating a fabulous meal in a neighbor’s dining room), Le Stella (another excellent brasserie), Le Bistrot de Halles (with some of the best duck comfit we ever had), Julien (excellent French onion soup), and La Closerie des Lilas (overall goodness). The high end restaurants we ate at and loved were Taillevent and Guy Savoy. And, of course, Berthillon for ice cream. More will be written about all of these in my Paris travel tome.
Museums that we recommend include the Musee de Moyen Age also known as Musee de Cluny, a museum with various artifacts from the Middle Ages. The big attraction there are The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Although as our daughter said, the lion is doing just as much work so why does the unicorn get all the attention? The museum is small but lovely. In addition to the numerous artifacts from the middle ages, there are also works from the Roman era, mostly statuary and baths.
We also walked through the Pantheon, which doesn’t have the austere simplicity of Rome’s version but does have Foucault’s Pendulum and memorials to many of France’s most revered writers like Rousseau and Voltaire as well as tributes to their fallen military, starting with the French Revolution. They had a moving tribute to those who died maintaining the honor of France in 1870, and it took me a moment to figure out what conflict that was. (It was the Franco-Prussian war.)
The Arc de Triomphe is a great place to climb up what is a fairly steep spiral staircase and looked at the gorgeous views of Paris.
The Musee d’Orsay has a lovely collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
And, of course, the museum of all museums is the Louvre. The custodial staff was on strike so the bathrooms, while reasonably clean, were a little short on amenities such as toilet paper. We had a lovely tour guide that showed us the highlights of the museum (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.) as well as showing us the evolution of Renaissance paintings through the Italian painters. We also went through the Egyptian antiquities section, where both kids showed a surprising amount of knowledge and interest.
Another must see site is Versaille, of course. The building interior has very little appeal other than the Hall of Mirrors. None of the furnishings or wallpaper or draperies is original, as looters during the French Revolution took away anything of value they could carry. And Louis XIV himself considered the gardens to be the main attraction at Versailles. In addition to the formal gardens, which held several ballrooms and other enclosed “rooms” that gave an illusion of privacy for the king, we also visited Le Petit Trianon, which was built by Louis XV for his mistresses. Louis XVI then gifted it to Marie- Antoinette, and she built The Hamlet on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon. The Hamlet was fascinating. If you could build an idealized version of village life, with the illusion of simplicity and privacy but with all the luxuries you could afford, it would look like The Hamlet. There were rustic looking buildings (from the outside) that were lavishly decorated with marble and gilt on the inside that served as her bedroom, boudoir, etc. She even hired a farm family to look after livestock and had a garden planted with herbs and vegetables used to feed the family. It may be the first high-end organically sourced farm in the world. :).
The church we most enjoyed visiting was Sainte Chapelle. I like it better than Notre Dame. (I know that’s heresy.) The stained glass windows are breathless, and the entire church is an engineering marvel. In over seven hundred years, they have never found a crack. This is unlike Notre Dame where they found cracks before construction was complete, hence, the flying buttresses.
And, of course, no trip to Paris is complete without going to EuroDisney! Going there is a bit odd because it is both like and unlike Disneyworld. It’s almost like visiting your grandparents’ house where things are both familiar and unfamiliar. EuroDisney consists of the Magic Kingdom in the main park and a subset of Hollywood Studios in the other park (which we did not go to). The rides that we thought EuroDisney did better than Disneyworld are Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, and Buzz Lightyear. The rides we liked better at Disneyworld are Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. There is no Winnie-the-Pooh or Jungle Cruise. Big Thunder Mountain was closed, but the guidebooks all say the American version is superior.
There are also some interesting quirks. Popcorn at EuroDisney is sweet, like kettle corn. Weiwei and I thought it was inedible, although the other 3 liked it. Some of the dialogue is in English, other parts in French (Buzz Lightyear is half and half, Star Tours is almost all in French as is Haunted Mansion.). The layout is more spacious than Disneyworld or Disneyland, making the crowds seem much less and some of the rides longer (like Pirates and Small World). There is more attention to detail at EuroDisney, both in the rides and in the little stores and pseudo-stores and exhibits throughout the park.
We were there for about 11 hours and had a ball.
We were delighted to conclude that none of the stereotypes of snotty Parisians held true, at least during our trip. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, even though we spoke very little French. We were the most delighted and surprised at how well the kids got treated in the fancy restaurants. Instead of being tolerated, which we half-expected, they were welcomed, even feted both times.