With the exception of almost getting mugged and pick-pocketed in the underground Metro, Paris is undoubted among the most deliciously gorgeous and enigmatic cities in the world I have ever visited.
Walking her beautiful narrow, sometimes cobbled, streets on Montorgreuil; or the huge boulevards on Haussman, Rivoli, and Champs Elysees, straddled with men and women in high fashion; or seeing typical unabashed Europeans (they may not always be Parisian) romantically tugged to each other in long kisses along the Seine river; including entering the Quasimodo’s world in Victor Hugo at the steps of Notre Dame, I could not help saying to myself: “Aah, gay Paree.”
My family and I were typical tourists to a great European city, which probably explained why we attracted the attention of muggers and pick-pockets. Five of our eight family members us were armed with digital cameras and knapsacks, excitedly snapping away photos at any monument, restaurant and an even road sign that were found attractive to the amateurish lenses’ eyes.
Greeting or being greeted with ‘bonjour’ did not conjure the same feeling as the mundane “Hello” or “Hi” – it has a more romantic ring to it. Buying colourful macaroons from the city’s many boulangeries or drinking coffee in Paris’ cafes dotted along the chic streets while do people-watching was like the adage: “When in Rome, do like the Romans do”. But this is not Rome, this is Paris, a city that is bigger than life itself.
Visiting Paris with a family of eight – from our twins who are six years old to our eldest son aged 24 – can be very daunting considering each had his or her demands. As much as our excitement grew as we get closer to the date of travel, we did not exactly know what to expect. From the moment my wife, Mimi, and I decided to announce Paris as the next family vacation destination, of course, there was a big hurrah from the children. However, planning the trip was laborious and exhausting, especially when it came to finding cheap, reasonable, sizeable and most importantly, safe accommodation for our family.
We decided to spend four days in Paris Disneyland situated in Marne la Valle/Chessy, which is 50 minutes travel away from the central city; and six days in Paris – altogether totalling ten days minus travelling hours. Much to the chagrin of the younger children, especially our nine-year-old Umairah who understandably expected to spend more time in Disneyland, my wife and I selfishly decided that we wanted to spend more of our time in sultry Paris. Hence, our little but expensive adventure started in Disneyland on May 31 and ended in Paris, a city for the romantics, writers and poets and artists, on June 10.
Looking back, after spending many hours online, we managed to get a reasonably-priced 3-star apartment called Adagio Val de’Europe, in Serris, some 4km away from Disneyland. It is always good to book online because the earlier the booking is made, the more affordable the rates were. We paid a total of EUR809 (RM3,540 at 4.375 exchange rate) for two units of one-room apartments, each comfortably fits four persons and have cooking and bathroom facilities.
There are two reasons why we chose Adagio Val de’Europe. The aparthotel, as the French called it, is strategically located in the Val de’Europe commercial centre, a huge and very long shopping complex that snakes through the Val de’Europe business district. If you think Mid Valley or some shopping malls at the Curve are long, this is much much longer. You can shop all day long at this mall while letting the children go crazy and run amok in Disneyland. What made this place special is that you can get almost anything. In a hypermarket called Auchan, you can get fresh salmon of different grades and prices, halal meat and poultry, including fresh daun limau purut (kaffir leaves), serai (lemon grass) and belacan (shrimp paste).
Secondly, if you are the shop-till-you-drop-dead kind of a person, apart from the mall, there is also a factory outlet centre called La Valle Shopping Outlet, which is just a stone’s throw away (actually just behind the apartment where we were staying) where you can find upscale brands from Gucci to Prada, from Jim Weston to Long Champ, from CK to LV.
Disneyland is a huge place to cover. It was late spring-early summer, but the crowd at both parks – Disney Studios and Disney Park – was maddening. For the young, it was paradise; but for those with old tired legs like my wife and me, it was a hellish experience to walk from one attraction to another. For entry tickets to Disneyland, it is better to book online upfront, as the rates are cheaper and with the vouchers, it would save you a lot of time from having to stand in the dreaded long queues.
Buzz Light Year, Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s A Small World are attractions worth experiencing. Apart from that, watching the parade of the many Disney characters on the Main Street and visiting the Cinderella castle are also the other must-dos. Of course, there are many other attractions, but the attractions mentioned here are highly recommended by Disney fun authorities.
Of course, Disneyland tends to make you feel young again since all rides and attractions are truly fun for all ages, but because it was summer, the queues were very long since this was the time that Europeans and the rest of the world bring their families here to enjoy “a wholesome fun”. Visitors needed to queue for at least 45 minutes to enter popular attractions. Even though you may be thinking of getting the FastPass to beat the long queues, obtaining that FastPass itself would subject you to having to be in another long queue (since everybody else also would also be thinking similarly).
My younger children thoroughly enjoyed galloping around the parks while my older children, Elliya, Elani, and Edlan, went missing half of the day since they hopped from one attraction to another throughout the entire Disneyland.
We eventually made the trip to Central Paris on June 4. The owner of the three-room apartment that we rented for our stay in Paris, Samantha Jones, was still on maternity leave but her mother, Sue, was there to receive us. Sue, a British lady who has lived in Paris for over 30 years, was sweet and possessed a good sense of humour and a lot of camaraderies to offer, ran through with us on what-to-do and what-to-expect. What she did not know was that we have done our homework on the attractions in Paris including what transportation mode to take (from RATP buses and the underground train Metro to the RER that crisscrosses Paris and the outskirts). But what we did not prepare ourselves was how to use the French convection stove and the washing machine! We successfully managed those appliances somehow through trial and error.
The apartment that we rented is housed in a six-storey 11th-century building on rue Vivienne that bears the nice postcode of 75002 Paris. On the ground floor, like many buildings in Paris, there are a few office-like businesses operating and the living quarters are from the first floor upwards. What amazed us was that we can still see centuries old wooden beam, curiously but loyally holding up the building, crisscrossing the ceiling of the apartment. For six nights, we paid a handsome UER1,650 that we felt was worthwhile since the location of the apartment was to die for.
The apartment is in close proximity to fabulous attractions. The Musee du Louvre (the Louvre Museum) and Jardin de Tuilleries are just ten minutes walk away, the shopping area on Haussman Boulevard that features Gallerie LaFayette and Printemps are also within a ten-minute jaunt. The wax museum, Grevin Musee is just a three-minute stroll, while other attractions like the Opera and Palais Garnier are only a few minutes away from the apartment. Even the famous perfume maker, Fragonard, sits side by side on rue Scribe, together with the popular Japanese apparel mall, UniqLo, and a museum called Paris Story.
The Seine River, which meanders through Paris, divides the I’le de France into two halves. One is the Right Bank where most of the attractions are located and the other is the Left Bank, where most of the working class live and work, including the Latin Quartiers where Sorborne University is located. Paris is divided into arrondissements or boroughs where you can see the difference between the different “classes” of people. The further you go out of the central arrondissements, the more dissimilar and rougher the people become. This could prove scary, especially when taking the Metro to some seedy areas in Pigalle or the art colony of Montmartre where some scary-looking thugs with tattoos on their necks stalked us in the tunnels between the Metro stops. Thank God we weren’t mugged. However, that harrowing experience simply could not deter us from enjoying our first family trip to the French capital.
One of the best ways to see Paris in six days is taking the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, not unlike the Big Red Bus in London. The ride on the bus is a bit like what the French would describe as á la belle étoile or under the stars, which is translated to open air. We took Les Car Rouges, a big red open-roofed bus that ran through Paris and took us to the attractions. Les Car Rouges allows us to hop on and hop off at any point and at any time within a two-day period.
Riding on Les Car Rouges is one of the privileges that comes with the purchase of the Paris Pass Visit package, which also includes:
- Paris Museum Pass that gives you free entrance to 55 of Paris’ world famous museums and monuments;
- Paris Attraction Pass that allows you free entry to Paris’ best attractions including the Seine River cruise, Grevin Museum, Montparnasse Tower 360-degree panoramic view and Wine Tasting; and
- Paris Visite Metro Pass that gives you unlimited travel on the Metro, RATP buses, and RER within central Paris.
As one of the Les Car Rouges’ stops is near to our apartment, we always took the one at the Opera, located at rue Scribe. From there on, it made eight other stops, namely at Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Musee de Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Champs Elysees, Grand Palais and Trocadero.
Of course, we did shop a little… NOT! I admit that my wife and I are shopaholics of the worst kind. From that little dangling and colourful Eiffel Tower key chains to the melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, or from that nice black Made-In-China T-shirt proclaiming “I love Paris” with the famous monuments of Paris insignias to the red nice-looking Long Champ handbag, we were helpless victims of commercialism that Paris tourism industry has created. We shopped and shopped like there was no tomorrow, much to the chagrin of the smaller children, but the good part was that we came prepared. We knew how much we wanted to spend and stopped when our luggage almost burst their seams.
In my earnest opinion, the best part of the trip was the memory that we brought back. There were at least 4,000 images of Paris captured using five cameras, from professional DLSR to an old roll-film Olympus camera. The images, which I am proud to say, captured not only touristy places such as attractions and museums but also images of the average life of Parisians, her diverse people and culture, enigmatic monuments and most of all, her romanticism.
Through our amateurish lenses, except for my daughter Elani who is training to be a professional photographer, we learnt quite a bit about Paris’ long woven history and civilisation; of le grand Monarque (the great King of Louis XIV); what made the modern day French the way they are and the splendid city they built over the centuries. In Paris, if you simply snap photos with your eyes closed off the old historic monuments and landmarks to the little quaint cafes, the images are bound to would turn out postcard picture-perfect, captivating and have stories to tell. Indeed, Paris is bigger than life itself and as the French say: c’est la vie et c’est la moment. This has been our Paris story.