Bonjour mon amie!!! After the trip I took alone with my kids in March to France, I have been asked by a couple people if it was worth it to bring my kids to France at their ages. My interpretation of this question is if they are wondering if the kids got enough out of the experience and memories to make it worth the investment of both time and money on the parents part. And stress. Let’s face it, there is always stress involved traveling with a family and internationally can add another element of uneasiness. My quick answer is in applying this to my kids is ABSOLUTELY for my 15 and 17 year-old daughters. My 12 year-old son is more of sure, I think so. And my 10 yer-old daughter is maybe. I know every child is different, your 12 year-old could like much different things than mine does. Believe me, I know, each one of my kids is extremely different from the other and they all have the same parents, have lived in the same homes, and ate the same food. Your kids could be totally different. So my experience is just that, my experience, but for what its worth maybe it offers some insight or encourages you to have an adventure with your kids.
This trip was a dream of mine. When I was 11 years-old I was able to travel with my dad to Paris while he had a business trip. This is one of my most treasured childhood memories and it completely opened up my world. I wanted have this experience with my own kids. I know its a bit strange that we ended up going without my husband, but I am sure as anyone who has multiple kids knows, schedules are complicated. And I was feeling a sense of urgency since we have a daughter that will be a senior in high school next year. Our options were to travel during spring break or in August. Well, traveling in August to Europe everything was twice as expense, and with our multiplier of six travelers, that is significant. We might as well just go on two trips. For our spring break my husband ended up having a huge work presentation two days after we would return, we had hoped he could make some of the trip work, but in the end he knew he would be too stressed worrying about his work it to enjoy his time. So we ended up going without him, but sharing as much of it as we could through pictures and FaceTime. Fortunately my kids are at ages where I could travel alone with them just fine. No one ever wander off, they were very loyal little ducklings following behind me every step of the way. If I had toddlers that would have been a totally different story.
The impact that this trip had on my 17 year-old was enough to make up all the investment. She is very easy to travel with and extremely helpful. She is better with technology than I am, which I do not believe is unique for a parent-child relationship these days. There were a couple moments when she stepped in to help me and saved the day. I also stood back a couple times and let her do some navigating. Mostly to give her the experience so she had confidence to travel in the future, but also there were times when I needed it. One was when we were switching trains. We had 12 minutes exit our first train, find our next train in an unknown train station, and board the second. She was able to lead the way through the train station while I kept track of everyone and our bags. We made our train connection because of her.
This trip seemed to have an influence on her future plans. She will be applying for college next year and she realized that going to school in Europe is an option. We did a bike tour in Paris and our guide was a college student, he mentioned how much more affordable it is to attend school in the EU than the US. I can’t remember the exact number but it was something similar to our monthly cell phone bill for his tuition for a semester. Of course this got our attention, because we are trying to figure out how to work out the massive expense of college. She also found herself very happy visiting France. She was motivated her to come home and meet with her counselor to see what she needs to do to attend school in Europe. She has had a couple very positive phone calls with schools and it is in fact MUCH more affordable. Time will tell as to where she lands. And yes, my heart will hurt when she leaves for school, but I will be comforted as long as she happy and progressing, and I get to visit lots.
This was a great trip for us to experience together. We are bit in the middle of that fun teenage stage, where she thinks I am WORST most of the time. We made some memories together that I treasure. She was easy to travel with and up for almost anything. She loves shopping and would love to have a career in fashion. Paris is the place for her. She had a dream of one day living in Paris, and this trip completely reinforced that. Per her request we spent an afternoon shopping on the Champs-Elysees. We both enjoyed going into the high end fashion stores, our favorite being Dior, which is as much like a beautiful museum as store. There is something pretty special about finding common ground and doing an activity with your child that you both really enjoy. Shopping is it for us. One afternoon when the other kids needed down time, she and I headed out to the vintage clothing shops. I highly recommend this. We both got some great pieces from the Kilo shop.
Okay, so 12. This is when it gets a little more questionable about the worth of the trip. My answer is still yes for my son. But traveling with him was not stress free. I think in nutshell a trip to Paris involves A LOT, A LOT of walking. There really is no way around it. We did take the metro often, but even still this all involved a lot walking to the stations and up and down the station stairs. I added in an occasional Uber when it made sense time wise and it didn’t completely break the bank. This coupled with jet lag, left him exhausted at times, one time in particular there was a bit of a meltdown at the Eiffel Tower. I doubt he will ever see a picture of the Eiffel Tower without thinking of that special moment :). But he did it, and he is always so happy and excited to show off his pictures of our trip. He was the one that surprised me the most with speaking French. This is a kid that has been in speech therapy since he was 3 years-old, and he made the most effort to speak French while we were there. As we were flying to Paris he turned to me and said “The French speak very romantic, I guess you would say.” He asked me to teach him a couple very basic statements, like “please,” “thank you,” and “can I have?.” He had no fear, he would walk into a bakery and order what he could using his minimal French, at one point he turned to me and said “I really need to work on my accent.” It was true, he did, the accent is hard. But the storekeepers loved him, they were very patient and seemed so happy he was trying. This made the meltdown worth it. One thing he lost his mind over was seeing the fancy cars throughout town. We had the most luck when walking through the Place Vendome and the Champs-Elysees, in case you have a car lover too.
I am so glad she came. It makes me so happy to look back at our pictures and see her big smiles. But I think it was much more exhausting than she had planned for, as mentioned above there was A LOT of walking. She is up for just about anything except walking :). She was a trooper and then of course not a trooper at times. She seemed to enjoy herself most of the time but added in her fair share of complaining. To be fair, maybe the trip would have been better for her if she weren’t having to keep up with her older siblings. Her absolute favorite thing we did was the trampoline park in the Tuileries. I think we went there 3 times. Both she and her brother loved it. It isn’t anything fancy, just a set up with six very bouncy individual trampolines. The men that run it are very kind and everyone is happy. And they do let your kid stay on the trampolines for two turns if you ask. I enjoyed my time sitting watching them in the idyllic park. It can be as little as a 15 minute jump if there isn’t a line or you can take as many turns as you would like to pay for. It could be definitely used as a good bargaining chip to keep a child going through a museum. It costs maybe around 3 euros for a turn jumping. I also recommend getting a lunch of croque monsieur and a crepe at the take away restaurant in the Tuileries that is about a 5 minute walk from the trampolines.
This was our lunch spot in the Tuileries, insert yourself and your family here 🙂
3/4 my kids loved climbing to the top of Sacre-Couer. This was amazing. My child and I who are nervous about heights struggled a bit, but I think it was still worth it for all of us to go. Its an incredible view and climbing the tiny narrow steps was a cool experience. Also I don’t believe it was very expensive or that we waited in line longer than 20 minutes. I was surprised that the line was so short because the area around the church was completely and utterly packed with tourists.
Versailles holds up to its reputation most definitely. This is not technically inside Paris, but it is easy strait forward train ride from the city center. Due to a series of events we ended up taking an Uber. My daughter wasn’t feeling great that morning, so I hired an Uber to drive us to the train station. That morning many roads in Paris were blocked and the driver was unable to deliver us to the train station. He offered us a discounted rate to drive us all the way to Versailles. It worked out great for us. But I don’t believe the train is bad, so Uber or train works. If you are going, I recommend allowing the entire day. We did not have enough time. We were there for about 5 hours. We had to wait for about an hour for tickets (I bought mine online, and the kids were free but I could not for the life of me figure out how to get a ticket for them on the website, you might have better luck).
After walking through the palace, we needed food and that led to another 45 minute wait for takeaway. We just saw the grounds briefly, and they are the most spectular part.
I scheduled for us to see the equestrian show. I loved it, the arena that it was in was stunning and made me feel like we had gone back in time. My 10 year-old also loved it. But the other three, not so much. Its a bit of a slow moving show that is very artistic. And I forgot horses aren’t as entertaining for my teenagers as when they were 6 years-old. I had thought that the kids would be free, they were not and I believe it ended up being 70 euros for their four tickets. I totally recommend it if my description sounds like something you would enjoy and its in your budget. But hindsight, I probably should have just rented bikes on the grounds with my crew and all would have enjoyed that. I did that once with friends and it was magical.
HIDDEN SECRETS BIKE TOUR
Hidden Secrets Bike Tour through The Latin Quarter and Le Marais. This 4 hour tour was a great time. Our legs needed a break from walking and it is pretty special to ride a bike through the cobblestone streets of Paris. When I booked this, I thought surely we will be on bike paths. Traffic in Paris terrifies me. Not only were we not exclusively on bike paths, meaning we were riding with traffic through the streets of Paris, our guide recommended I ride a tandem bike with my daughter on the back. Okay…
But, it was really wonderful, and the flow of traffic started to make sense to me. I think I only made one other driver mad once, well at least that they communicated to me their frustration to me, I felt pretty good about that. Our stops were very interesting and our guide offered a lot history.
We had one of our favorite meals in the middle of the ride in the Latin Quarter. There was a square with several takeaway restaurants that cater to college students and that was right up our alley, quick, delicious, affordable food. We chose the pizza at a cafe, Amore E Gusto and enjoyed every bite.
We traveled through the Le Marias and saw sights like this:
Part of the tour focused on the Jewish quarter of Le Marais, our tour guide offered a lot of history of what took place there during World War II. It was sobering to be reminded of this history while standing where it took place. But also a valuable reminder of the importance of respecting and cherishing all.
A less important, but still a lesson that should be noted, I learned from our tour guide about using the bathroom. Public bathrooms are hard to come by in Paris. You can order a takeaway coffee at a bar and they will let you use their bathroom. The coffee is just 1-2 euros and is totally worth even though I don’t drink coffee.
DAY TRIP TO MONT-SAINT-MICHEL
Seeing Mont-Saint-Michel was enchanting. This is a unique place rich with history and is located in Normandy. It is a tidal island, so depending on the time it could be surrounded by water or by land. It currently has an active monastery surrounded by a small town. I love, loved this day. The visuals made my eyes and heart happy.
I waffled on how to make this experience happen. In the end I just signed us up for a day tour. I believe I got 10% off because I had booked my bike tour with the site Viator, and then they offered me 10% my next tour booking. So that saved a bit. I would definitely recommend the tour. It isn’t a strait shot on the train from Paris. I am so glad I turned the navigating over to someone else. Instead of figuring out connecting trains and buses, I just had to make sure we met the tour bus at the right time and my work was done. They provided a very comfortable hired bus to drive us the four-hour trip to the island. I was worried this would feel like wasted time or the kids would get impatient, but it actually turned into nice down time.
We stopped in the middle at the world’s cleanest gas station and got some snacks. We are not above gas station snacks and most definitely not above them in the world’s cleanest gas station in France. The scenery was nice along the way. But then you hit this area close to the island and its rolling hills, with stone farms, and sheep throughout. IT IS MAJESTIC.
Towards the end of our ride there, our bus driver gave us an overview of the history of the area. My oldest daughter was so excited, like visibly excited, she said how much she loved sitting there listening to the history. She is our reader. The others weren’t jumping up and down about how exciting the information, but they didn’t complain. Sometimes that is all the affirmation I need that they are having a good time. They liked the experience. The island was full of charm, cobblestone streets, and stone homes.
I loved the exquisitely simple architecture inside the abbey.
And the views…
We enjoyed a nice lunch and a candy shop for those who weren’t so motivated by the historical aspects, and I left knowing my life is a little better with this memory.
SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY BOOKSTORE
If you need a quick and fun activity, I recommend a pop into this historic bookshop. It is located in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank. This is such a charming store with history and books!!! They don’t allow photographs inside, but believe me its worth a peek. They have a lovely children’s section along with books for every other age, so we all loved it. And any situation that encourages reading over electronics makes me feel better about my parenting. A win all around.
Where we stayed:
In Paris we stayed in a lovely apartment in the Le Marais through Airbnb. It was charming and clean, plenty of room for all 5 of us. There were two bedrooms, and fold out sofa. Just one toilet, but two showers. Which is pretty standard in France and is still a bit of a mystery to me. I picked this place because it had great reviews (which ended up being accurate), it had a very generous cancellation rule, and it allowed us to drop off our bags early. I found the host, Vincent very kind and easy to work with. It was in a very central location that made getting around very easy. There was a nice grocery around the corner, along with a gelato shop that made the stay easy and sweet. This little courtyard to the entrance of our apartment made me smile every time we got home:
We all loved the interior. My oldest girls got to stay in this unique bedroom that was tucked down a spiral staircase:
It had a great kitchen and a washer and dryer. I always plan on doing a couple loads of laundry to allow for more space to bring treasures home.
I loved the living space with big windows that opened out onto the courtyard. It was the perfect place to rest during the trip.
Don’t try to see everything. It won’t happen. Don’t make this your goal. If you have a sense of urgency to hop from one landmark to another I believe you will miss the beauty that is found in the in between. Also schedules are weird in France. Things are closed, transportation can be unpredictable, I am not sure it is possible to stick to a schedule especially traveling with kids in Paris. It is true I am not the best planner in the world, but even my oldest daughter who is a tedious planner realized really quick that there is a lot of unpredictable factors involved that a loose schedule was the only option. My goal was to have one big sight or item on the agenda for the day, this was about right, and it even felt a bit aggressive sometimes. But we did see something new each day, we didn’t feel pressured to move onto to something else and it allowed time for us to stop in unexpected places or revisit the ones we really enjoyed. It also let us be present and soak up the experience.
Map out good, solid takeaway restaurants. This is of course depends on how your family eats. I have pretty picky eaters. I did enjoy some of our long sit down meals, but there were a lot of times when I just wanted to fill everyone’s bellies and get onto some activities. Also the sit down meals can add up really quickly and with picky eaters often they would just end up getting really expensive chicken nuggets and fries. I do love experiencing good food while traveling, but it also needed to balance that with keeping everyone happy. I don’t feel like I mastered feeding my kids when we were staying in the Le Marais in Paris. Surely everyone got fed, it just cost me more money than I thought it would. We bought cereal at the grocery for breakfast and tried to buy takeaway from local restaurants for dinner when everyone was tired, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Pizza worked for takeaway from a sit down restaurant. But in my experience many of the French Cafes aren’t equipped to package up a takeaway meal, so that I wouldn’t recommend. We of course loved a pop into a bakery for treat or grab a fresh crepe from a street vendor, but weirdly there were times when I couldn’t find them just when we needed them. As mentioned above we loved this takeaway pizza we had at Amore e Gusto in the Latin Quarter. We also got some dinner one night from L’As du Fallafel, it was delicious and they had fries and chicken nuggets which is great for three of my kids. If I were to do this trip again, I would have taken the time to research the restaurants better for my crew in accordance with where we were spending our day. It would have been even better if we had stayed close to a good takeaway restaurant. However, I did love our airbnb with or without a good takeaway restaurant, so I am torn on that one.
If you are traveling with a bigger family like ours and you find a good Uber driver get his/her card. You can request a XL uber on the app that will seat upto 6 people. I used the Ubers for rides when we had our luggage with us. We had great luck with all except one ride picked us up from the train station and the car did have 6 seats in the back, but no trunk. We had to pile our bags on our laps. Earlier in the trip, we had a great driver that gave us a bit of tour while we were in his van, and his van had plenty of room for us and our luggage. He gave me his card and it made it easy to schedule a ride with him to the airport.
I hope this helps you to take an adventure and thank you for taking the time to let me share this special trip with you!!
The magical French Larkspur tour of Provence included a lot of shopping. Antique shopping. Which it is no secret that I think this is one of the very best things in the world. And this is the part of the world to do it in. Tracey has gone to great lengths to create a tour in which we stopped by some of the most charming brocantes and flea markets. In the hilltop towns we found stunning little shops like this one owned by Corrine Massat:
In this picture the shop owner held open the sheets for me to inspect. I brought a couple sheets home. The texture, condition, and quality of the linen sheets that I purchased in this shop was exceptional. I still have a bit of fabric left from these pieces and its nice to know they are there to play a role in future projects.
One day we wandered through the town of Menerbes. I really enjoyed this spot, there were several shops that were owned and run by creatives. One was a distributor of Annie Sloan paint and furniture artist, Atelier de Couleurs. Taking a peek at her studio was definitely worth the stop.
We also popped into a store, Petits Points de Provence, that was filled with handmade sewn items and in the corner was a sewing machine. I spoke to the owner and explained that I too sewed items for work. She was a lovely vibrant person. She proudly gave me a little tour of her shop. She explained her favorite kind of work to do is cross stitch.
She had some incredible pieces, one caught my eye of teacups, as I ooooed and awed at it she explained that it was done by her mother who had Parkinson’s disease, and the action of handstiching calmed her.
I really wanted to bring a treasure of from her shop home and to support the hard work that she does, so I purchased this sweet cross stitch of a little girl. I may frame it or turn it into a coin purse. But right now its nice to just come upon it occasionally in my stash and to be reminded of the visit.
We also spent some time in Loumarin, that is filled with all sorts of charming shops. One of the highlights was a shop, La Boutique de L’Antiquaire, owned by a very talented woman named, Nathalie. Her shop is tucked into a storefront off a small cobblestone street and is in a very old building. I will let the pictures of it do the talking.
She too is a seamstress and had her sewing machine in the back corner. Her thing is my thing, vintage linen. She does inspiring work with the fabrics. It was as if I caught a glimpse of the tres chic French version of who I want to be. To have a shop like that and to be able to create in that space would be my ultimate dream. It was a pleasure just to get a taste of it and to bring home some treasures from it.
Tracey knowing that I was on the hunt for textiles brought us to La Boutique de Francine in L’Isle-our-la-Sorgue. We actually stopped in twice on one day because the visit was interrupted by a lunch reservation. As you can see this place need dedicated time.
Then the following day we had two flea markets scheduled that got rained out, so we ended up shopping there again. It would take several more than 3 visits to unearth all the special fabrics in this place. I was so happy with each piece I got and I bought a lot. The shop owner Laurence (which is such a beautiful name, don’t you think?) was such a pleasure to shop from, she kept throwing in little pieces of fabrics I picked as “presents” in my haul. It has brought me a lot of joy working with these fabrics. I hope one day to return.
We made it to one flea market, and I am so glad we did. We went to the flea market in Villeneuve-les-Avignon.
I love my finds from this market. I got some beautiful linens, the highlights being some remnants of old quilts. I used some red and pink quilt fabrics for Holiday pillows. I have been saving some purple colored quilts for a winter/spring pillows, these will be for sale at this weekend’s sale.
I also found the French Soldier fabric here that I used for tiny stockings, the fabric was in the form of two small pillows, I am pleased that they ended up as stockings after being in my care.
There was a lot of art at this market, I found several paintings, and I have sold some but I haven’t been able to part with a couple.
Here are a couple of the paintings I purchased and I thought I needed to photograph them in our stunning Air B and B.
There was a large selection of dishes to be admired
Even though I was nervous about getting dishes home, I couldn’t resist this set of red and white vintage plates:
Lastly you should know if you travel with Tracey and Steve you will have first class service. Steve spends the entire time circling the market taking your purchases back to the van. Lugging around my purchases is a sacrifice I am surely willing to take for some good finds, but to NOT have to do it is nothing short of incredible. It is an immensely better flea market experience. I didn’t know flea market shopping could get better, because I love it so much, but it does with Steve managing your bags.
During the trip we visited outdoor markets here and there. These greeted us with fresh foods, beautiful flowers, sometimes clothing, sometimes fabric, sometimes vintage fabric and antiques. There was always something to be discovered.
I treasure the sweet memories that it has gifted me with. Also to be able to work with the fabric that is coupled with memories of this magical place has added special element to my creativity, this is hard to out into words. I indeed feel incredibly grateful for this enriching experience.
I am back reminiscing about my travels to Provence during a bit of a winter blues funk. My travel partner, Jenn, kept saying during the trip that the memories would help to get us through a long winter, and as always she was right. In my last post on this little and slightly neglected blog (stocking season rolled around and that kept me quite busy) I talked about the two days in Paris that I spent leading up the tour in Provence hosted by French Larkspur. I have never traveled with a tour before and I am not sure that tour would be the right word for this kind of trip, because when I think of tour, I envision a massive tour bus with a guide using a megaphone. This is experience was the opposite of that. Tracey the owner of French Larkspur keeps her trips small, she only accomodates up to 4 travelers per trip. You basically are experiencing the most charming hilltop towns with a small group of friends and you don’t have to plan or worry about a thing except if you are wearing appropriate shoes. I am just like every other parent in the world, where I am rarely in a situation that doesn’t require me to be in charge or leading the way in one way or the other. I completely welcomed the opportunity to travel without even the tiniest bit of responsibility.
Tracey curated an amazing experinece that began each day with a delivery of fresh croissants to our apartment door so we could nibble on them while getting ready for the day. We had full days soaking up the beauty of this magical part of the world. This wasn’t a trip that was dictated by a list of tourist attractions we had to check off. We wandered cobblestone streets and our eyes feasted on all the treasures along the way, big and small.
True to the French experience we ate leisurely long lunches in some of the most stunning settings, always accompanied with a delicious meal.
The cathedral in Gordes is one of the most beautiful places I have walked into. The combination of colors, whimsical details, architecture, and it all being aged over centuries made for a truly remarkable place.
The Blessed Mother statues have always been a source of peace for Jenn, when we started the trip she would point them out to me. I quickly caught on, there is a lot of love communicated in them, and I always saw them as a good omen.
We would return to our apartment in the early evening and had this time to ourselves. Tracey always made sure that we stopped by a grocery store and bakery to get enough fixings for a dinner in. We could make the couple minute walk into town to eat a restaurant if we preferred. But we ended up really enjoying our dinners in our apartment. These were some of my favorite meals. We ate fresh bread with goat cheese and figs and grapes. And also the very best olive tapenade, which came with a story…Jenn and I stopped by a stall in a street market with a man selling various types of olives and tapenade. The truth of it is that he was very handsome and charming and his tapenade was delicious. He had us trying all the kinds, and we kept adding to our purchase. In the end we spent 20 euros on tapenade. EACH. Okay. We didn’t expect that. I guess I am not complaining because it was very yummy, it did last us nearly 3 dinners, and then there was the whole experience of buying it. C’est la vie. Sweet but not budget friendly.
This down time in the evenings was the perfect way to complete a full day. It gave me chance to look and edit my photos from the day which helped me to soak up the entire experience more. I also read some, and caught up with what was happening at home. A couple evenings I went jogging on a bike trail close to the apartment. I have run all of my adult life and there is something pretty special about jogging in a new area while on vacation that lets me experience it in a slightly different way.
One of the biggest advantages to this trip was that transportation was completely provided and taken care of courtesy of Tracey and her husband Steve. I am not afraid to travel and I can handle figuring my way through public transit in most places. Visiting the towns we did, would require renting a car. It gives me a little anxiety thinking about renting a car in a foreign country, and then to be responsible for navigating the tiny streets and parking. I am not discouraging anyone from trying it, and if I get to travel to all the places I hope to travel to, one day I will be doing this. But holy moly, it was so nice to have a chauffer in Steve that knew what he was doing. I am sure I would have seen less than half the places we saw if I had been in charge of finding our way and finding parking once we arrived. There were times when Steve would drop us off to start exploring while he circled to find parking. This was made it a first class/stress free experience.
I loved my travelmates on this trip. I suppose its a bit like the Bachelor, where you are doing these amazing things in this incredibly beautiful place of course you are going to start to love the people you are with (and in my case not romantically like the Bachelor, just as friends 🙂 ). Jenn and I planned to go together, so I knew I loved her, even though we had only known each other for a couple months. She is a really easy person to get to know well. The other woman who joined us came on her own from Boston, Jean. Before the trip she was stranger. Jenn and I both felt like we had hit the jackpot with her coming. She is one to love. I hope to travel with her again. I think we would survive real life friendship, not just one viewed in the rose colored glasses of Provence.
mon amie, jean, avec le chien 🙂
Tracey is an excellent guide. She is very much a perfectionist and hard worker. She will do everything in her power to make sure you are shown an amazing time. Also if you peek at her website or IG page you will notice her incredible photography. She has an eye for beauty and the ability to create an environment for you to enjoy it.
Our final visit was the tiny town of Oppede-le-Vieux. It had been a rainy day, our only rainy day, and the sun came out just in time to wander this town. It was a lovely parting gift from the area.
I am glad that I was able to experience each hilltop town that we did. Although they have a lot of similarities, there is something unique about each one. If I try to pick a favorite, I remember something special that stood out to me from each one. I am not sure I can even articulate those special qualities to classify the towns, often times it was just the feeling of the town or a moment when I turned a corner and saw something that was inspiring. It is such a gift that I got to experience this and hope to carry a piece of it with me.
Stay tuned for a post coming soon about the other important aspect of my stay in Provence. SHOPPING.