Sunday, April 09, 2017

April in Paris: Voyager Avec Enfants (chez nous, a recap)

I think I promised at the beginning of the week that I would give a little review of the apartment where we stayed, and though I almost don't want to, just to keep competition down for the same apartment should we want to book it again in the future, that's a pretty asshole reason to not share something good with other people.

The rental company we used was Paris Perfect, and the apartment we rented was The Bergerac, which was in the 7th arrondissement on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, basically one block away from the base of the Eiffel Tower. I picked this neighborhood for two reasons.

One, which I mentioned before, is that every single kid (even Nina) knew that the Eiffel Tower was in France. So I wanted to be close enough that they could see it every day, and have the view itself substitute in for any desire they might have to actually go up into the tower. I mean...look. If any one of our kids had expressed a strong interest to go up into the tower, we would have acquiesced--the key to a trip like this with young kids is letting them choose the things that are interesting to them, rather than just steering them hither and yon. But, do I really want to stand in line for two hours to wait for an elevator, in order to see the inside of a structure that looks way more interesting from the outside? Not so much. (Full disclosure, I grew up in New York City, and I have not once gone up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building either.)

The second reason I chose this apartment was for its proximity to the Champs de Mars. Though we only ended up going there twice (because we spent plenty of time in other parks around the city), the idea of having a large open green space for the kids just a block away from us was a huge draw. The downside of staying in the 7th arrondisment, I'll say, is that since it is kind of a tourist hub, some of the stores (like grocery stores, fruit stands, boulangeries, restaurants) seemed like they sold things at a bit of a markup. But, you know, that's just how it goes sometimes.

So, the specifics. The apartment was 3 bedrooms, two baths, but really I should clarify that it was more one full bath and two half-baths. (One of the half-bathrooms was purely a shower/bathing room, while the other half-bathroom was more of your standard powder room.) There was WiFi (a little slow but enough for utility purposes), two TVs, and a ton of power adaptors sitting in a basket for you to use. The apartment was about 750 square feet overall, with a small open galley kitchen off a living/dining room and not much more common space other than that. It was plenty of space. I mean, if we lived there for real, year-round, with three children, I'm sure it would rapidly feel more cramped. But the thing is that we didn't have any stuff with us, so we never felt crammed in or cluttered. And 750 square feet is, of course, about three times larger than your standard hotel room. So it was more than enough space for a one week vacation, and they laid everything out very well.

So just a quick walk through, then.

The living/dining room is just next to the front door, on the left. It has a small but comfortable sitting area with a coffee table, and a dining table right next to it. The dining table was set quite nicely when we first checked in--six full place settings with wine glasses, two candleholders and the like; but we moved that all out of the way when we got in there because KIDS BE BREAKING SHIT. But as you can see there's plenty of place for people to spread out, plenty of easy, comfy furniture, that kind of thing.

The view from the living room. Every window facing this direction opened fully, and had a small balcony from which to admire the view. The size of the windows in all the rooms also meant that the apartment got an admirable amount of light throughout the day. This exposure faces west-ish, and you get some very nice vantage of the sky and the clouds around the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

The kitchen is right off the dining table. It is small, but very functional. There is a four burner induction stove top, a smallish (by American standards--probably average to good-sized by French apartment standards) Liebehrr fridge just to the left of that, camouflaged with wood. There is also a dishwasher just to the left of the sink, and a Nespresso machine. The apartment kitchen was already stocked with Nespresso pods, salt, pepper, cooking oil, sugar, and dishwasher pods, garbage bags, paper towels; so really all we had to get was actual perishable food to make breakfast most mornings. There was a good stash of cutlery and flatware, and many, many wineglasses and champagne glasses, but (curiously) no bowls. That is why you see that box of Special K sitting there unopened, because apparently, for our kids, the idea of eating cereal out of a mug was A BRIDGE TOO FAR.

Again, the kitchen was small, but workable. Most mornings both Joe and I were on breakfast duty at the same time, and while you couldn't, say, have the dishwasher open and have two people working in there, you could definitely have one adult cooking eggs while the other scootched behind to grab milk or juice from the fridge, wash some berries, slice some bread, whatever. 

Continuing down the main hallway, you have a view of all three bedrooms, as well as one of the half baths at the end of the hall. I can see now in this picture that the front hall runner is a little crooked, and because I have PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS, this is making my brain itch. (I like it when things line up at right angles.)

The first door on the right is the twin bedroom, where Cal slept. The window overlooks the courtyard (translation: not much of a view, as it's where the building keeps its garbage and recycling bins), but it still gets plenty of light, and it's also the only bedroom with its own (small) en suite bathroom. There's a shower, a toilet, and a sink in there, very compact but functional. Sorry, I would have taken a picture of the bathroom, but Cal was actually in there using it when I was taking these pictures.

Second bedroom on the right was the queen bedroom, which we had the two little kids share. There's not much more to the bedroom but this (I mean, there are nightstands, and a small console table at the foot of the bed) but again, more than enough space for the purposes of sleeping. This also overlooked the courtyard, and again got plenty of sunlight, which I like to think helped with the jet lag.

The master bedroom was the last door on the left, and like the living room, had a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower with a small balcony to step out onto. This is a king sized bed, but I think it could be separated into two twins if that's what you needed--you could see the impression of the seam through the sheets. All the mattresses, by the way, had under-bed storage, and in that way they were able to make the most out of the space they had. This bedroom had a small closet (with a safe inside), some shelving, a bureau, and two nightstands, but overall the apartment had very little closet space, which, for a short-term vacation rental, probably is not that much of a concern. But just to make my point, I show you this:

There was no coat closet. You can see all the way on the right of the photo, there was a small, thin closet, almost like a broom closet, where they kept some umbrellas for guests to use, but otherwise this apartment made ingenious use of hooks on the walls to maximize their storage space. I happen to like the functionality of hooks on the walls (and in fact, at home, I turned a storage closet in our garage into a full-on cloak room, like the ones they had at school), so I thought having our coats hanging on the door worked out just great. And again, for a short-term vacation rental, who cares about storage space? It's not like I had to find a place to shove that crazy breadmaker we got as a wedding present.

OK, the bathroom. This was the biggest bathroom in the apartment, but somehow didn't have a toilet in it. I apologize for all the counter mess, by the way--if you want the nice real estate photos, there are better ones on the website, but THIS IS REAL LIFE, PEOPLE.  It did, however, have a full sized bath and shower, a double sink, and most importantly of all...

A washer and dryer. hidden away in a cupboard This was key for us, as it allowed us to pack much lighter. Kids, as you know, make a mess of their clothes, and the younger they are, the more they tend to do this. I usually have a coefficient that I use to calculate how many changes of clothes I need to bring for each kid if I can't actually do laundry on a trip. For a kid like Cal, for example, the coefficient is 1.0, because he can usually be entrusted to keep a single outfit clean for the entire day, which means I can just pack one outfit for every day we plan to be away. For a kid like Nina, my coefficient is somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0, because she's a messier eater, and she ends up in the dirt more, things like that. When my kids were babies--say under the age of two, the coefficient was closer to 3.0. BEHOLD, THE NERDIEST WAY TO THINK ABOUT PACKING CLOTHES, EVER. Anyway, having a washer and dryer on vacation is critical. The machines were small, and you couldn't run them after 10:00pm (#apartmentlife), but they were there, they worked, and we used them every single day. I love you, teeny Miele washer and dryer. (We packed our own laundry pods and dryer sheets, but the apartment actually provided a stash of their own detergent pods, which was quite nice.)

Oh, and this isn't very exciting--I probably shouldn't end the tour on this, but whatever--this is the other half bathroom, right by the front door. The space is tight enough, by the way, that if you had the door to this half bath open, you actually could not open the front door. So it was a series of negotiations every time you want to enter or exit.

Final logistical point. This apartment is on the sixth floor, which is the same as the seventh floor in America. There is an elevator in the building (not a given in Paris, so already we were doing good!) but it's really quite small, and up a small set of stairs, so ADA compliant this place ain't. 

My sense is that most of the people who actually live in the building take the stairs most of the time. Joe and the boys in fact took the stairs most of the time too, because they liked to race up and down to see if they could beat the elevator (they always did--the elevator is not that fast) but the stairs are narrow and curving and dark in the evenings--again, if mobility is an issue for you, this might not be the right apartment. But if you aren't claustrophobic, or else don't mind taking the stairs plus/minus your luggage, it's not going to a huge issue.

So! In sum! Compact apartment. Great (though not ADA compliant) layout for a family of five. Excellent use of space, good partitioning, convenient neighborhood (if a bit touristy), amazing view. Also, after staying there for a week, Joe has decided that now we need to get a Nespresso machine, so at least you know that we tried all the appliances and found them perfectly delightful.

We just got home to Atlanta this afternoon. Charles De Gaulle was pretty hectic (I know most people don't take it seriously when they advise to arrive a full three hours before your flight, but if you're flying out of CDG, do yourself a favor and really plan to arrive three hours before your flight) but the trip was smooth, and as much as we were all not ready for our vacation to end, it's good to be home. Thanks for following along, and while this was just six days with my particular kids, I hope that sharing the experience will be helpful to people looking to plan a similar trip with their own children. This trip was--I can say this now, since we're safely back home--an unequivocal success, and we're all looking forward to our next trip, wherever it may be. So, just to open it up for discussion, where should we take our kids next time, and what should we do there? Rome? Greece? Spain? Amsterdam? Or somewhere totally different, like Japan? Any suggestions in the comments are appreciated. It's never too early to start planning, after all, and it's always nice to have something to look forward to. Allons-y!


  1. Fantastic review of your holiday, it was lovely to see you blogging again :) Just an aside, as a tourist who's been up the Empire State Building - totally worth it on a sunny day, the views are astounding and there's a great history displays to look at too :) But yeh, the queuing is bad if you don't get there early. Still worth it :D

  2. elissa8:52 AM

    It was good to see you blogging again! The trip looked great and I enjoyed the commentary about what it's really like to travel internationally with kids. If you're up for a longer plane ride (gulp - like 15 hours from LA) - I would absolutely, 100% suggest Australia. I was there a few years ago and stayed in Townsville in tropical north Queensland, near the Great Barrier Reef. Tons of great family-friendly activities, both cultural & natural. That , England, and Japan are on our list for places to take our own kids.

  3. Can I chime in another vote for Australia and New Zealand? Yes, the flight time is the worst, so maybe not ideal for spring break. If you can go in August right before school starts though that is still "off season" but the weather is mild (we went last August) and packed a couple of layers and light jackets. The worst weather we encountered was some rain and 50 degrees F at night. The reason I would advocate for off season is of course due to crowds. Lots of beautiful nature and interesting things for the whole family - glowworm caves, Hobbiton, koalas, relatively familiar food with some adventure (kangaroo or emu?), and above all clean restrooms everywhere. Even in the random deserted state parks. Oh! And I bet the kids would love the opera house tour in Sydney and there are kid friendly performances too!

  4. I don't know why it's listing me as an unknown but I wrote the above comment. Also, super happy that you're blogging again. If you do plan the trip down under I can share more actual planning info too! - Jeanne

  5. My husband S and I had a Nespresso in our honeymoon suite in Costa Rica last November and we both got each other one for Christmas 😂😂. He took one to his office. I've never been to Europe! We went to Costa Rica with kids last summer (loved so much we went back for honeymoon. Look up Tulemar Resort that's where we took kids. Amazing and cheap and easy to get to. We did day and night tours of Manuel Antonio National Park. There were sloths and monkeys at our resort!! We went last July apparently rainy season better for seeing animals and it was hardly raining. You are inspiring me!

  6. Anonymous3:57 PM

    Oh, I would do Rome on your list. Or London. As someone who grew up reading a ton of British-written kids' books, actually seeing the places in London that I'd read about over the years was fun.

  7. Thank you for the write up!

    Edinburgh, Scotland, is wonderful. For the Potter fans, they could visit the cafe in which the first few books were written, and walking around the old town it's easy to see the inspiration for Diagon Alley. The Fringe festival that takes place around August each year is very fun, and they have lots of child orientated plays and events too.
    And then there is the countryside...

  8. Great review!
    Re: coffee maker - I highly recommend one of those automatic espresso machines which grind the beans and brew the coffee with just one push of a button like the Philips Saeco ones. More environmentally friendly and less proprietary than the Nespressos and the other copy cats, and also allows you more flexibility in buying the type of coffee beans you like or would like to try out (sorry, I'm a coffee nerd).
    Future vacations: so many places in Asia to visit! China! Thailand! Vietnam! Singapore! Hong Kong! Japan! Perhaps a trip to China may be a great way to visit their Chinese roots. Xian is great for kids - apart from the Terracotta Warriors, they also have a wonderful museum of Chinese history that is well laid out. We lived in Beijing for over 5 years and it was certainly an eye-opener and an unforgettable experience!

  9. Louisa12:52 PM

    Thanks for posting the apartment review with pictures.

    Asia would be brilliant - I highly recommend Malaysia - so much to do, so much to see, the culture is really interesting and the food is delicious! Lonely Planet guide was really helpful in planning.

  10. Yay I'm so glad you're back to blogging. I love reading your blog (and your book)! Recommend New Zealand (clean, easy to navigate, easy-going, lots of nature and outdoors activities for the family, and because that's where we are!), Australia, Japan, and the Maldives (amazing island holiday).