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2 1/2 Days in Paris with Seniors

They said it couldn't be done...

So I know my last trip report (Holland) said I'd just returned, but that was a lie, I started writing that trip report when I had one day downtime inbetween the next trip, Paris, which I just returned from this evening. I find trip reports are best when they're fresh so I'm going to try to finish this one night.

A caveat: I was essentially playing tour guide to my grandmother, 83, who has been to Paris twice before, in the 70s and in 2000 as part of a big coach Europe tour, and my 68 year old distant cousin, who has never been to Europe and is probably the definition of "middle America." They wanted to see highlights and monuments (aka famous things) and take pictures. I tried to force some knowledge/context/off-the-beaten-path stuff on them when possible but they were largely uninterested and this was a "one in a lifetime trip" for my cousin so I tried to cater to their tastes.

We took the ICE from Stuttgart arriving at Gare de l'Est at 14:30, and promptly took a cab to hotel Darcet, at the edge of the 17th, right near Place du Clichy (also please don't bother correcting my "du" for my "de la", I mix them up all the time and I don't speak French aside from, "Un vin blanc, s'vous plait," and the other basics!). I have had some good and bad Paris hotel experiences and I would totally stay at Hotel Darcet again. The room was clean, the bathroom was good, it had A/C (although you couldn't control it, but the weather wasn't so hot that we needed anything other than leaving the window open at night), beds were fine, staff helpful and friendly. No breakfast on offer but they welcome you to bring bakery goods into the sitting area and make use of complimentary tea and coffee. Can't argue with that!

I'd never stayed in this neighborhood before but I would again in a heartbeat. I'm kind of a cheapo when it comes to hotel rooms so I'm never going to splurge for Ile St. Louis or St. Germain and I find Rue Cler to not have good enough transit connections, ditto for Montmarte. This was nice in that it was close to Montmarte and Pigalle while being way more convenient for the metro, which I sadly rarely got to use, due to my grandmother's mobility issues. I actually used buses in Paris for the first time, but found it easy thanks to being able to use data on my smartphone (I honestly don't know how people travel without this ability.) I found buses convenient and better for my guests, but also hot and sometimes very crowded, not so much a problem for me, but it was sometimes hard to find my grandmother a seat which is more of a problem on a bus than on a metro car. Frankly, Paris is never someplace I wanted to take mobility-impaired people but it was a "must-see" for my cousin and my grandmother said she wanted to go, too, so we made it work.

I asked a couple people what the name of the actual neighborhood was and got different answers. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, you can get anything you need just 250 meters from the hotel at Place du Clichy, but the street just behind the hotel had some great locals restaurants and pubs, totally untouristy and really interesting. I would really like to explore more there.

OK the actual trip begins with the next post...

Posted by
2966 posts

Day 1:
Having stashed everything in our hotel, we took the Metro directly to Champs-Elysees Clemenau (again, please don't fact check my spelling, I've been showing two old ladies around Europe for the last 2 weeks and you know damn well what I mean anyway). I'd hoped a few Metro trips would work for Grandma but this one showed that it was going to be buses forevermore. We strolled past the Petit Palais down the Champs. I popped into Laudree (OK it took 25 minutes) which I know is an obnoxious foodie thing to do, but I'd never been and I love macarons (also Macron but that's another matter) so yes it was absolutely worth it to spend 25 minutes in line for $35 worth of pastries because they were the best damn things I've tasted in my life. Particularly the rose and (seasonal) muget flavors. Next time I'm making my husband take me to fancy tea and cake there instead of just getting my goodies to go.

We ended up at the Arc du Trioumphe, where I'd purchased tickets in advance. Avoiding the line was great, but once we got inside, we were informed the elevator was broken ( a sign would have been nice) and they asked if my Grandma could make the trip. I said no and she said yes, so up she went. She claimed she had no idea how tall it was, despite obviously seeing it from the ground and me telling her it was 284 steps. She did make it, but man, it really affected the rest of her trip. I wish I'd put my foot down but she said herself that she's so stubborn she wouldn't have listened to me, so...

The view is great. I'm not that into views as a "thing to do" but for people in decent shape it's not that bad of a climb, really, and it's cool to say I've done it. I do wish we'd done it at night but with limited time this was our best opportunity.

After that it was a very busy bus that dropped us off near the Rue Cler area. I'd hoped to get further into the neighborhood for an early dinner as we waited for dusk to approach but Grandma didn't want to walk far so I sold them on Indian food at New Jawad and it was pretty good given the location to the Tower. The prices seemed reasonable given how fancy the place was, but the portions were pretty small, which was fine - I'd been afraid we'd ordered too much food, but it ended up being just the right amount. It didn't knock my socks off but the Mattar Paneer was actually some of the best I've ever had. And the ladies even liked the food, which was real risk-taking on their part.

It was only about 7:45 after dinner and I wanted us to stay out late enough to see the tower not just be illuminated but sparkle, so we decided to take a Seine cruise with Bateux Pariseans. It was actually pretty enjoyable. Don't bother with the incredibly weird yet dull commentary, just sit above and take in the views. This time of day, with the late afternoon sun hitting the buildings on our trip downstream, and then the sunset in the sky on the return trip, was especially good!

We finished and got through the new-to-me security checkpoints at the tower just in time for it to be illuminated. A bit sad to see the park blocked off and torn up a bit - I assume all the current construction will soon yield to something better ,but it was very different than my last trip to the Tower. We didn't go up because we hadn't been able to get tickets in time (and I don't see the point of getting a view of Paris that doesn't include the Eiffel Tower!) but we were able to get back onto the bridge by 10pm for the sparkly show. We walked across the bridge to the left side of Trocadero and I managed to hail a cab. Not too bad for sightseeing given that we didn't start off from our hotel until 4pm. Day 3 follows...

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2966 posts

I forgot that after all that, I got my family into bed at the hotel at 11pm and went to join friends who were visiting from Seattle with other friends from Stuttgart to see them, who'd just finished at the Moulin Rouge. It just so happened that my hotel was an 8 minute walk, so I met them and we had a couple drinks. I'm not sure where I get the energy from sometimes. They reported that the Moulin Rouge was both confusing, disappointing, boring, and expensive, and they were very drunk, so my takeaway is don't bother with the Moulin Rouge (I haven't ever heard good things about the show anyway).

The next morning after a bakery breakfast in the hotel's common area, I hopped on a bus with my cousin, leaving Grandma at the hotel to rest. We entered on Rue du Rivoli and bought our museum pass from the Tabac. I'd hemmed and hawed over getting the pass, but it was already 10:30 on a Sunday and the crowds were out so we bought them and hoped they'd be worthwhile. In the end we only paid 1 euro more each for the pass than we spent in admission and we got to skip a few lines so I'd call that breaking even.

We only waited about 5 minutes for security and no other lines so it wasn't too difficult. As always (4th time in the Lourve!) I was immediately lost, but I followed the Lourve Walk in the RS book and managed to find my footing and show my cousin the RS highlights and his guide was actually very helpful. My problem is I quickly became too interested in various stuff my cousin was passing by - how can you not at the Lourve? But I managed to restrain my desire to wander too far and we managed to spend about 90 minutes, which is about as good as you can do to see the "famous bits" if you don't have an interest in one of the greatest collections of human culture known to man (do I sound bitter? nah!)

Grandma was getting restless at the hotel so we went to pick her up and we walked to Rouge Bis, appropriately named across from the Moulin Rouge, for lunch. My friends had eaten there the prior night and said it was a great find in a touristy area, and the were right. Fast, friendly service (the waitress kept winking at me in what I assumed was sympathy whenever I tried to translate my guests' somewhat difficult requests for a shared plate or extra ice) and really good "new" French food. They shared flank steak with risotto and a side order of cheesy bacon roasted potatoes, which they adored, I got a fantastic Cobb salad that was more meat than salad and very filling. I would totally recommend this place if you're in the area.

We then took the Montmarte bus up the hill, and explored that area a bit for trinket hunting, ice cream, and taking photos of Sacre Coeur from the outside (they didn't want to deal with the line, and it was pretty hot.) They wanted to take the funicular down the hill, so I fended off the guys trying to "assist" us with tickets, and down we went. Between arriving at the bottom and a short walk taking us to a bus to go to the Hard Rock Cafe (they needed t-shirts) Grandma realized her phone was missing. She was wearing capris with thigh pockets and had put it there despite my repeated warnings about pickpockets. She thought it had fallen out when she was in the bathroom, but when I tried to call the phone, it went straight to voicemail, meaning whoever had found it had turned it off. I'm 95% sure she was pickpocketed somewhere between the bottom of the funicular and our arrival at Hard Rock. We searched for it at the restaurant of course, but I don't see the other tourists there into the iPhone-stealing business. She had left her cross-body purse at the hotel as she said it was too heavy to carry but this is a good reminder to really be careful with your valuables. I hadn't realized she'd had it in a a lower pocket but would have nixed that had I realized....

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2966 posts

Continuing Day 2, we were all pretty tired and Grandma was bummed from the iPhone theft so we walked to the bus stop, and after a brief but necessary sojurn at Sephora, we went back to the hotel for some rest and I explored the neighborhood and enjoyed the nice weather a bit (translated: I walked around until I found a place serving Aperol Spritz for a decent price). Grandma's feet were finished but cousin wanted to do the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde, so we took the Metro there. Not something I'd do on my own, but we timed it to arrive during nightfall, so seeing the city lit up from those heights was pretty great. We also took a quick bike taxi tour to Clemencau for a direct metro ride back to Clichy and to see a bit of the buildings illuminated.

In the morning we had a typical brasserie breakfast for 7.5, not too bad, then after storing our luggage at the hotel, we went straight to St. Chappelle via bus. The security line was less than 10 minutes at 10:15, and they loved the church. Walked over to Notre Dame and did that with the treasury, walked behind Notre Dame, across the bridge, walked through the Latin Quarter, including some of my favorite hidden gardens and spots to have lunch at Le Relais Odeon. I know it's a little touristy, but I love the atmosphere sitting outside in that lovely passageway, and the food is good too. They had the 50 hour pot roast with mashed potatoes which they raved about, and I had steak tartarte, which I thought was fabulous and they thought I was crazy for eating.

Time for another bus, this time for a short stop at L'Orangerie. Hey, gotta make that museum pass work. I have to admit, the impressionists aren't my jam, but I'd never been and wanted to see the water lilies, so we spent about 45 minutes there before grabbing at cab at the Rue de Rivoli taxi stand to swing by our hotel, grab our bags, and head to Gare de l'Est for our 17:41 TGV home. We did arrive over an hour early, but given that they fly out tomorrow morning, we were determined not to stress over missing the train. It was 1st class, even, only 10 euros more per person when I bought the tickets, and it was an appreciated splurge at the end of a busy trip - we even had the car to ourselves past Strasbourg and had a very pleasant return journey.

This was certainly not my normal trip to Paris, which involves more of a focus on food (especially ethnic eateries) and smaller museums and historical sites over big landmarks, but I'm pretty proud of being able to cram so much of the major sites in such a relatively small amount of time with little drama, save the phone theft. Neither are big city people who particularly enjoyed Paris as a place to stay, which is the exact opposite from me, I'd give my right arm to live there, or at the very least, I could have enjoyed a few more nights but they agreed it was the right amount of time for them which means hopefully I did something right.

But really the moral of the story is that Paris as a tourist destination isn't ideal for octogenarians. I knew that before the trip, I had no real say in the matter, and I made it work and many memories were created. And presumably, Bahn Mi will be there when I get back next time.

Posted by
1015 posts

Sarah, thanks for your descriptive and frank trip report. It’s difficult enough to be tour guide for folks who don’t appreciate or enjoy the sights you enjoy, and, in your case, even more difficult due to their physical limitations. Glad you at least had a tiny bit of time to get away on your own.

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2966 posts

Thanks Patricia! I didn't really mention it but we were blessed with glorious sunny weather, highs around 80, which meant perfect nights and luckily my travel companions didn't give a damn if I headed out after I got them situated in the hotel room, so I did enjoy some "me" time just watching the world go by on a warm night with a cold beer, which definitely helped with the stress. Between the two "big trips" (Amsterdam/Haarlem and Paris) and the little road trip (overnight in Garmish) I got to see a few things on my list I hadn't seen before, and knowing that this is my Grandma's last trip abroad (by her own admission, finally) I wanted her to have a good time although, the Arc, what was she thinking? She gets upset when she has to go down one flight of stairs to use the bathroom! For someone born in the depression who grew up very poor, in addition to the two European coach trips she's visited me 4 times in the 7 years I've been here to the point where it's hard to figure out places to take her because she's already been! (I'd briefly considered Athens but in retrospect - that would have been a bad idea.) I'm sure she'll enjoy many more fun road trips in her future but the European do-it-yourself trips aren't going to be feasible going forward for her and she seems fine with that.

And my cousin, despite not having maybe the degree of intellectual curiosity or flexibility I would have preferred, was a real trooper. With her we walked no less than 13,000 steps every day for two weeks, and at times topped out at around 24,000 steps. She never complained once or seemed to have an issue. That's some real midwestern heartiness for you! I really doubt I'll be doing that good at 68 but here's hoping!

Posted by
1746 posts

I enjoyed your report, Sarah!
If you can find a book called "Incontinent on the Continent" by Jane Christmas; read it.
It tells of a woman whose elderly, not totally well mother insisted on coming along with her on a trip to Italy.
Hilarious and poignant at the same time.

Posted by
3051 posts

Sarah, you are a saint for making this trip happen for your visiting relatives. Congratulations!

Posted by
16883 posts

Sometimes older relatives are happy to let you take the lead, but then you just hit an issue where old habits are hard to break and it's hard for you to insist. Especially if it involves a little bit of money - like you had already paid for the Arc de Triomphe tickets and everyone already had their minds set on it. Hopefully it's a learning experience that helps Grandma hear you next time (but not give up things that she actually can do).

I'm thinking of my parents and I standing and waiting way longer for some buses than my father should have done, and taking more metro stairs than he should have, but never accepting the option of a taxi. Mom and I finally cracked the issue last year, after having stood in a long, hot security line for St. Peter's Basilica. Instead of the plan to take a metro/bus connection back across Rome for dinner, I suggested, "how about we just sit on this bench for an hour and then take a taxi to dinner?" Offer accepted and the taxi ride was 18 euros. Win!