Tag Archives: Paris

Wendy-Perrin on Champ de Mars with the Eiffel Tower in the back.

Paris Is Crowded: These Tips Will Save You Lines and Headaches

I just spent the last ten days of April in France, including four days in Paris, and there are a few things that travelers should know. First, at no time did we see, nor were our plans affected by, the fiery protests or strikes you see in the news. Second, what we did see was a gazillion people in Paris. They were enjoying themselves immensely, but Paris was more crowded than I have ever seen before. Here’s what the banks of the Seine looked like last Saturday afternoon:

The crowds at Seine river bank in Paris, France.

The right bank of the Seine on Saturday, April 29, 2023.  Photo: Timothy Baker

If you’re headed to France this spring, summer, or early fall, hopefully you took the advice we’ve been giving since January and you’re making reservations well in advance or, better yet, using a France expert with local clout who can spare you time-consuming logistics and get you past the lines and crowds. (You’ll find my France picks on The WOW List.) If you are going it on your own—as I did because those France experts are so busy helping you that I did not want to take up their time!—here are my tips.

A long line of people in Champ de Mars waiting in front of the public toilets.

I counted 21 people in line to use the toilets on the Champ de Mars on April 30, 2023. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Plan for things taking longer than usual.

Because of lines, security precautions, and masses of people in popular places, things take longer than they used to. So, if you’re taking the kids this summer, don’t think you’ll be able to do three major sights per day; you’ll be lucky to do two. The line for the public toilets in the Champ de Mars last Sunday (above) says it all.

Guard against pickpockets.

Where there are crowds, there are pickpockets. Within an hour of our landing at Charles de Gaulle, my husband Tim’s iPhone was stolen (somewhere between Terminal 1 and the RER train platform at Terminal 3). The airport police, the guy at the Apple Store on the Champs-Élysées, and signs all over the Metro conveyed that there is a lot of pickpocketing in Paris now. Our hotel concierge said it’s especially bad at the Paris Flea Market, where Tim and I also went. For the rest of our time in Paris, I kept my iPhone zipped into an interior pocket in my jacket.

A photo of the Rodin Museum with the Sculpture Garden in Paris.

The Sculpture Garden of the Rodin Museum was a peaceful spot in Paris on Sunday, April 30, 2023. Photo: Timothy Baker

Seek out quieter spots.

There are so many lesser-known, charming parks and museums in Paris!  At the same time that the Champ de Mars was so busy, the Square d’Ajaccio, a serene and flowery little park with an Eiffel Tower view next to the Hôtel des Invalides (a 15-minute walk away), was empty. I know this because I stopped there en route to the Rodin Museum’s leafy Sculpture Garden on Sunday afternoon (above), which had no wait to buy tickets and had plenty of peaceful corners and unoccupied benches.

Book timed entry tickets.

They’re needed at the most popular museums. As for the Eiffel Tower, even if you buy timed tickets, you’ll still have lines and waits.

The Eiffel Tower comes with its own unique quandaries. Buying advance tickets means taking the risk that your time slot could coincide with rain or foggy weather that ruins your views. That’s why my advice for years has been to wait for a clear day with great visibility, then arrive before opening time and buy tickets to take the stairs to the 2nd floor (the 674-step walk yields fascinating views and perspectives on the city, and you can take it slowly), then ride the elevator from the 2nd floor to the top. In the past, I’ve never seen any line for buying stairs tickets. But now, based on the length of the stairs-tickets line last Sunday afternoon (below), my strategy may no longer work.

A line of people waiting to buy stairs tickers for the Eiffel Tower

The stairs-tickets line at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday afternoon, April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

Signs said that that line was an hour long. More signs, at more ticket-buying lines, warned: “The top floor may be closed to visitors during busy times to limits on capacity. Delay more than 45 minutes on the second floor.”

Personally, the next time I go to the Eiffel Tower without help from a WOW List France specialist, I’ll book a table at the (Michelin-starred) Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd floor. It’s got its own elevator with no line.

Or consider ascending the Tower at night. Visitors are currently being admitted until 11:45 pm, so you could see the City of Light illuminated.

Just across the Seine, the Trocadéro—with its famous Eiffel Tower views—was terribly crowded too but as good a people-watching spot as ever. We saw a just-married couple in traditional Korean wedding costume posing for photos, watched a man get down on one knee and propose to his stunned girlfriend, and saw dances performed by a group of girls from Germany.

German dancers on Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower.

A group of dancers from Berlin performed at the Trocadéro near the Eiffel Tower on April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

In stark contrast to Paris, the idyllic villages of Burgundy where I spent my other six days in France, floating through the countryside on a barge, were blissfully empty!  Here’s what the barge cruise was like.

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3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Asilde, me, and Aurora
exterior shop view of La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
worker at work table at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
shoe molds on shelf at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
wall of shoes up to the ceiling at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
queue ticket numbers in shape of shoes at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
photo of owners meeting pope in backroom at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

 

I’ve never been applauded in a store before. But that’s what happened about a minute after I walked into La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona. A few seconds into my broken-Spanish chit-chat with the clerk who’d come over to help me, she realized I was visiting from America…and a bright smile suddenly lit up her entire face. No mask could hide it.

She called out to her two colleagues who were busy making espadrilles by hand at the back table, pointed at me excitedly, and announced that I was here from the U.S. The next thing I know, they’re clapping, we’re all laughing, and my new BFF Aurora is introducing me to Asilde and Alberto, who tell me that it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a traveler from America in the shop.

Asilde is the owner’s wife, and she serves as my translator for the next hour as I talk to the trio about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic, learn a few fun facts about espadrille history and construction, and get a guided tour through the 80-year-old shop (which includes a large framed photo of Asilde’s father-in-law meeting the Pope, who bought a pair of their shoes).

Before the pandemic, Asilde explained, the store would be so busy that all 51 of the espadrille-shaped, numbered queue tickets would be taken—and they’d need even more. But during the hour I spent with them, only three other people came in. Fortunately, now that Spain is open to U.S. travelers and its Covid restrictions are easing (no quarantine or testing is required for vaccinated travelers; no masks are required outdoors as of June 26; indoor dining is permitted) it’s only a matter of time before travelers and cruise ships return to Barcelona and businesses like La Manual Alpargatera begin to recover.

Of course I bought a pair of espadrilles (with Aurora’s expert help and everyone’s feedback on styles), but the thing I’ll remember most about that afternoon is how uplifting and heartening it was. I laughed and bonded with three perfect strangers, simply because we had all just emerged from a difficult, shared global experience.

Turns out, something quite surprising and good is coming out of this pandemic—and it’s the dismantling of the wall between “tourist” and “local.” Everywhere I went on this trip, I had immediate common ground with the people I met, Equally surprising, what we had in common—a familiar tale of suffering and survival—wasn’t a downer.

Guides, shop keepers, ticket takers, even a baker in Madrid and a hotel maid in Paris, were eager to share their stories and hear mine. Regardless of whether we spoke the same language, we understood one another because we’ve all been through similar things—like when Olga, a maid at my Paris hotel, blanked on the name of a famous museum and then tapped her head three times, repeating the French for “Covid brain.” I’d never heard that term spoken in French before, but I knew exactly what she meant. We both burst out laughing.

Maybe you’d expect that all the mask mandates and social distancing rules would make it harder to forge any real human connections; maybe you’d think that if a person’s mouth and nose are hidden, you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation. But that was not my experience at all. In fact, it was the opposite. After being cooped up and isolated from one another for so long, most people I met seemed to crave and appreciate human connection more than ever. Bittersweetly, we now all have the past difficult year and the upcoming brighter one as common ground to build on. Travelers especially will get to understand more about this strange moment in time and the people around the world who are going through it. And, maybe if they walk into the right shop or take the time to look at the Paris skyline with a hotel housekeeper, they’ll also make a friend.

 



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Paris Louvre pyramid plaza empty right after Paris reopening after covid lockdown

Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It.

I arrived in Paris on the day that France opened to travelers from the U.S. (June 9).  My job: Find out what had changed and how it feels to be there now.  Short answer: Not much, and amazing. Walking around the city felt like the first day of spring when everyone emerges from a long snowy winter excited to socialize outdoors again. In the Latin Quarter on Friday night, I watched an impromptu dance party coalesce. I saw friends reconnect as they walked along the Seine.  In the Jardin des Tuileries, I saw a man on a bike literally stop to smell the flowers and coworkers and couples picnicking in the shade. I found the city flickering with moments like that—quiet in all the right places and busy in all the right places. As an added bonus, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm in June, so there’s even more time to take in the festive atmosphere.  In the few days since I visited, restrictions have been eased further:  Masks are no longer required outdoors as of today, and there will be no curfew starting June 20.

Paris is having a unique moment. Here’s what I found:

The feeling on the street

 

Paris was downright celebratory from June 9-13:  The curfew had just been extended from 9pm to 11pm—and those two hours made a world of difference. On the first night, I spoke to Parisians dining at the many jubilant patios along Rue Saint-​Honoré. “We have our lives back,” a woman told me as she sat outdoors with a friend who’d just returned to Paris. Nearby, I saw a young man carefully composing photographs with his prized old-school SLR camera; he explained that he wanted to capture the evening on film so that he could remember it. At another bustling restaurant, the owner gushed, “I opened five years ago, and this is the best Wednesday we’ve ever had!” And you can bet that the next few weeks will be even better: the curfew will be dropped completely on June 20.

Although indoor dining is now allowed with certain protocols, most people are still eating outdoors—not surprising, considering this is spring in Paris.

While eating, masks come off (except for the waitstaff), but anytime I walked into a store, hotel, gallery, or museum, people put their masks on and used the hand sanitizer dispensers placed prominently at the door. In fact, I saw so many people stop to use them that the etiquette seems rote by now. Masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 17.

What’s open and what’s closed

Cinemas are open, concerts are happening in small venues (indoor and out), the Opéra Bastille is open with a ballet of Romeo and Juliet, the Opéra Garnier is open for visits (performances are coming later), and most museums are open. The Eiffel Tower is the only big-ticket sight I encountered that was still closed, and it was scheduled to reopen on July 16. (In the meantime, an alternative for good city views is the Centre Pompidou’s Restaurant Georges.)

Shops are open all over the city, and the streets are full of people going about their lives. In Saint-Germain on a Saturday afternoon, the streets were bustling, the brunch spots were full, and there were lines at the boulangeries. Le Marais was hopping too. That night, I even stumbled on a champagne-filled art opening hidden in a courtyard.

Popular places that are crowd-free

Versailles
Versailles
Versailles
The Louvre
The Louvre
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when I visited June 11, 2021
crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when Wendy visited in 2012

 

While it seemed that the day-to-day venues of Parisian life were nearing normalcy, I did go to a few places that were definitely not back to their usual selves yet. And this was a very good thing.

Versailles was basically empty. On my Thursday mid-morning visit, there was no line to get in; in fact, there was barely anyone on the sprawling plaza at all. My guide Isabelle recalled that in 2019, a visitor could expect to wait two to three hours to enter the palace, even if they’d pre-purchased a ticket. Right now, we were able to walk right in, timed tickets in hand. The woman who took our passes said that in pre-pandemic times, Versailles saw 35,000 people a day. So far this season, the most she’d seen was 10,000—on the previous weekend.

Once we were inside the massive palace, I saw just how few people were there. In previous years, visitors would be so crammed together that they’d be jostling for personal space as well for views of the opulent rooms. But when we walked into the usually packed Queen’s bedroom, only two other guests were standing there. Isabelle whispered, “Oooh, this is incredible. I’ve never seen it like this.”

Outside the chateau, the gardens are so vast that it’s hard to believe they could be teeming with people. But they could. Yet they weren’t. We saw two busloads of students on a field trip, but those were the only big groups we encountered. Instead, I wandered manicured lanes of flowers, took the usual Instagram shots without worrying about random tourists walking through them, and shielded my eyes from the statues that had been re-gilded during the pandemic closure and were now so bright they hurt to look at. #VersaillesProblems.

“How long do you think this respite will last?” I asked Isabelle as we walked back to the train. “Months? Through the end of the year?”

“Weeks,” she said.

If you come after this unique window of post-lockdown calm, one way to ensure a less crowded visit is to leverage the connections of a local travel fixer. Jennifer Virgilio, a France specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, can arrange for you to see areas that are off-limits to the general public, like the apartment of the mistresses and the horse stables.

The Louvre was similarly uncrowded. You can easily buy tickets online for a set time slot now, but I happened to be passing by when I saw a distinct lack of lines at the pyramid entrance, so I took my chances and tried to get a ticket on the spot. The guard at the empty rope queue was checking ticket times as a few people around me flashed their phones and walked in, but he didn’t hesitate to let me pass when I said that I wanted to go in and purchase a ticket for today. When I got to the ticket counter inside, there was only one family in line ahead of me, and then the clerk quickly sold me a ticket for the current time slot. The whole process took only a few minutes and was very simple, but I don’t know if buying tickets in person like that will continue to be possible as travelers return en masse. Note that if you do not have a pre-purchased ticket, you must enter through the Pyramid. The attendants at alternate entrances like the Pavilion de la Bibliothèque and Porte des Lions, the latter of which is a great secret for bypassing long lines, won’t let you in without one. (The door guards at the Musée d’Orsay were similarly strict: If you didn’t have a ticket on your phone, they would not let you pass. And that’s why I saw about a dozen people busily tapping at their phones to download tickets.)

Once inside the Louvre, I headed straight for the Mona Lisa. If there was any arbiter of how busy the museum really was, that was it. And my jaw dropped as I walked in. The long circuitous rope lines were empty, and only about a dozen people were milling about. I waited about two minutes while some teenagers took selfies in front of the painting, and then I had an unobstructed view. Remembering the photo that Wendy had taken of the same room jam-packed in 2012, I snapped a comparison. (See both photos in the slideshow above.)

The hottest ticket in town

Swiss artist Urs Fischer made giant wax sculptures that burn a little every day, like candles.
Urs Fischer's wax airplane seats, with candles
The building is the old commodities exchange, and it's a work of art itself.
I liked the shadows created by the glass dome.
Gallery view
Artist Bertrand Lavier placed artworks in 24 wood-and-glass cases built for the 1889 World Fair.

 

While I would never say someone should skip the Louvre or the d’Orsay, the museum that I most wanted to see on this trip was the Pinault Collection, Paris’s newest addition to the art scene.

This modern and contemporary art museum has moved into the historic, iron-and-glass-domed Bourse de Commerce, which was a commodities exchange for wheat, sugar, and other crops in the 1800s. Now it’s been repurposed as a home for the vast art collection of French billionaire businessman François Pinault, who restored the building to its peak glory, hired Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design the interior additions, and filled the galleries with some very interesting works (including a room of sculptures made from slowly melting wax). This kind of old-meets-new juxtaposition is exactly my thing, so it was at the top of my must-do list for Paris. But since it opened in May, it’s been the hottest ticket in town: Slots were being released in controlled batches and were selling out as soon as they were posted.  Jennifer, however, was able to get me in.

Local guides are even more valuable

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely already know the great value that private guides bring to a trip. Not only can they bring a place to life with their stories and introduce us to the most interesting people (artists, chefs, musicians, sommeliers, fashion designers, whatever your interest), but now they can provide fascinating insights into this new Covid era we all share. I had a hundred questions for Isabelle about what it was like to be in Paris during the pandemic, and she was able to give me personal insight I never could have understood from reading the news. As we walked through the city, she pointed out how different businesses and even whole streets were affected, she shared personal stories from lockdown, she illuminated aspects of city life and culture that the pandemic temporarily changed, and added context to what I was seeing all around me.

Where to stay

The view from my balcony at Le Meurice, over the Tuileries.
A suite at Le Meurice
A cute "attic" room at Le Meurice
The elaborate regal decor is dotted with contemporary art, like the glass sculpture over the fireplace and a standing panel of photography.
Relais Christine's entrance courtyard
Room 11, where I stayed.
It has a private backyard. Other rooms have outdoor patios as well, that open onto a shared lawn.
A leafy nook for sitting with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
The lobby at Relais Christine is more like a living room.
At Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the furniture and artwork are replicas of 18th-century pieces.
One of the sitting rooms
The outdoor dining area looks onto the Orangerie.
The dishes, made by Limoges, are exact replicas of an 1833 set belonging to King Louis Philippe, the last king of France. He is the king who turned Versailles into a museum.

 

I tried out two very different types of hotels: a grand hotel that made me feel like I was living in a palace, and an intimate boutique relais that made me feel like I was living in a cozy mansion. Both had a few key things in common that made my trip feel safer and less stressful.

My first stay was at Le Meurice, an elegant palace built in 1835 with many distinctions: Queen Victoria stayed here in 1855, and it was the first hotel in Paris to have a telephone and, later, to have private bathrooms in each room. The amenities and service here continue to be as impressive as those, especially the views. Ask for a room facing the Tuileries garden directly across from the hotel; and open the French doors to let in fresh air and to see all the way from the Louvre to the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. (The fifth and sixth floors have balconies; floors one through four have windows.) But don’t forget to keep your eyes open inside, too: There are contemporary artworks placed throughout the public spaces.

The hotel is in a prime location in the 1st arondissement right on Rue de Rivoli, within walking distance of the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and plenty of restaurants and shops on both the Right and Left banks. Don’t miss the hotel’s own newly reopened eateries either: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant le Meurice has two Michelin stars.

My second stop was the Relais Christine, where the word charming might have been invented. You enter the hotel through a private courtyard rich with greenery; there’s even a little loveseat nook under a trellis where you can have drinks. Inside, the lobby and breakfast area are outfitted with gem-colored couches, textured wallpaper, and plush pillows. It is all very elegant, yet unstuffy and homey—like if you had a cool, down-to-earth duchess for a cousin and she invited you to stay for the weekend. Many of the 48 rooms have outdoor space, and #11 has its own private backyard. I loved how Relais Christine was right in the middle of the lively shops and restaurants of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, but tucked away just off the main roads on a small, quiet street.

At Versailles, there’s a new hotel that is getting a lot of buzz, the Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. It’s set in an 1861 palace building (called Le Grand Contrôle) originally used for schmoozing with ambassadors, artists, and other political and cultural bigwigs.  Each room is decorated differently with re-creations of period artwork and furniture, and the staff wear period-inspired uniforms as well. The entire venue has only 14 rooms, an Alain Ducasse restaurant, and exclusive guest perks such as access to areas of Versailles that are normally off-limits and after-hours tours of the palace.  The right local travel fixer, such as as the Paris specialist I used for my trip, can also plan these for you.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Paris on your behalf, Le Meurice and Relais Christine each provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations.  Jennifer Virgilio arranged for a day of private guiding with Isabelle, for which I paid 550 euros—and she was worth every cent!

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

empty street in Paris during coronavirus lockdown

What Lockdown Is Like in Other Countries: Life During Coronavirus

As travelers, we’re curious about how people go about their daily lives in other countries. Thanks to our Trusted Travel Experts, I’ve gotten to milk cows with a farmer in Colombia, prepare dinner with a family in India, craft pottery with a Mayan woman in Belize, and watch my son draw alongside an artist in Vietnam.

Those travel experiences seem like distant memories as I navigate week two of sheltering in place here in California’s Bay Area. But it’s made me wonder: How are people around the world handling our new normal?

So I reached out to some of our Trusted Travel Experts, spread as they are across the globe, for their perspective on life in the time of coronavirus.

In Istanbul: Earl Starkey

“They closed all 60,000 mosques in Turkey for daily prayers, and they are disinfecting everywhere. The only panic buying was on kolonya, which is an alcohol-based antibacterial that people use here. Every night at 9:00 pm everyone goes out on their balconies and applauds all the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in Turkey. Here we generally kiss each other on the cheek—even men do it. I wonder if I will go back to that after this is over. I have been through so many disasters recently in Turkey, with terrorism, bombings, and coups, that this just feels like one more thing. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel right now, but I am happy to be riding this out in Turkey.”

In Rome: Jennifer Virgilio

“All we have open are supermarkets and pharmacies. If you go out, you have to wait outside the store, take a number, stand one to two meters away from each other, wait until they call you. They give you alcohol to wash your hands, and then they give you gloves to wear. Normally Italians do not show flags of their country like Americans do, but now flags are flying everywhere. I think it’s a great symbol of unity and pride while we all get through this. At 6:00 pm one neighbor blasts his Italian music, which is lovely—especially when he plays Volare. We’re doing lots of WhatsApp aperitivos, like we would normally do in person, and Whatsapp playdates with our daughter’s friends. We’re eating as a family, which is something that we didn’t normally do, because we had such different work hours. Week one was really fun. Week two has had a downward feeling. I have some friends who live alone; they’re struggling with loneliness. Overall I think the Italian government has done a good job, but some of my friends would disagree with me. They say that the government hasn’t kept us upbeat, they haven’t been there for us mentally. It’s hard to keep people upbeat when the reality is that they don’t have the capacity at the morgues, hospitals, and cemeteries in the north. I started doing Italian lessons again. It’s something I’ve put off because I’m always too busy, so now is the time to do it. I heard a man on the Italian news say that our parents and grandparents were called to war, whereas we’re being asked to watch Netflix. It’s not that hard. The air quality in Rome is amazing. Nobody is on the roads anymore. The more we look at these things as positive, the better.”

Rome during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Jennifer Virgilio

 

In Hangzhou, China: Fann Feng (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang)

“Hangzhou was one of the first cities to respond to the virus. They had people guarding every local community and wouldn’t allow you to go out, but they would give you some daily supplies. After the first week, they started to give permission for one person from each family to go out every two days to buy supplies. In China we are used to following the government’s restrictions or advice. Normally I would be in Beijing, going to the office every day. It’s been two months that I’ve been working from home. One thing that many people did to pass the time during the quarantine was to watch the 24-hour live-stream of construction of the two temporary hospitals built in Wuhan in late January. We also had eight museums offering live-streams of their collections. A lot of the younger generation got through it by playing online games with their friends. Every night some people would sing together on their balconies, even do opera together. Now the restrictions are gone. Most cities have zero new cases. The schools are discussing a plan to reopen. When I first came home [for Chinese New Year], there were no cars on the streets. Now there are small traffic jams. I kind of missed the traffic jams! Now some of the tourist sites, parks, and museums are open, but you need to make an appointment in advance, and only a certain number of people are allowed in.”

very few people in a shopping mall in China during the coronavirus outbreak
"I went to a shopping mall in late Feb, I think. At that time, you needed to wear masks and show your ID card and “green code” if you wanted to enter into the parking lot and the building. In the picture, people who are in yellow coats are the delivery men, some of them didn’t stop working even during the outbreak peak, as there are quite a lot of people who still need help buying daily supplies and medicine. All of the restaurants at that time, if they were open, they could only do to-go and the restaurant staff would pack everything, put the bags on the table at the entrance, and then have the delivery man take it away. And also they would attach a piece of paper on the bag, noting the temperature of people who made the food, who packed the food and who delivered the food." Photo: Fann Fang
checkpoint barrier at the entrance to a local village in China during coronavirus
"I ran into this local village shutdown in China during the beginning of the quarantine, using one priceless opportunity of my family’s to go out of our apartment. I was going to pick up something from my mom’s friend, so I went to their village, and saw the guardians. They would only allow the villagers enter, so I had to call my mom’s friend to come to meet me by the entrance." Photo: Fann Fang
Chengdu Airport on January 30 with masked, fully suited person waiting to do screenings of travelers in line
Chengdu Airport on January 30. Photo: Fann Fang

 

In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Zach Rabinor

“AMLO [Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador] is telling people to kiss and hug each other, as per the norms in our culture. But there’s been a lot of leadership at the regional level; our governor here in Jalisco is a very progressive, visionary guy. The schools are closed, but there are no government rules restricting movement. The volume of people on the street has slowed in the last few days. I’m looking out on the main thoroughfare; instead of nonstop traffic, I see one car every minute. I just watched an excursion boat head out with 100 people on board, though. We are largely not leaving our home, but I’ve been taking my sons to surf breaks where nobody goes. Spending quality time with my family is the clear winner in this situation. We’re allowed to grieve the loss of social interaction. This crisis is showing the fissures and weaknesses and hollowness of our society. I’m confident we’re going to come through it stronger.”

 

In Paris: Andreas Eberhart (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Jennifer Virgilio)

“The center of Paris is really rather calm, with very little traffic. The post office and courier companies are doing deliveries. The butcher, bakery, as well as supermarkets are open. Every evening at 8:00 pm Parisians go to the windows and balconies to applaud the people that are continuing to work on the frontline for the rest of us: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, cashiers at the supermarket, or our baker close to home. In the 9th arrondissement there is an opera singer, Stéphane Sénéchal, who every evening sings a song that her elderly neighbors will enjoy. The Opéra de Paris is live-streaming a few of their past shows. We are all being taught a very hard lesson here: We all take our lifestyles for granted. It’s time to come together as humans, politicians, and countries so we can fight this war all together. Stay home, self-quarantine, spend quality time together, read a book, help your neighbor in need, get creative and call [don’t visit] your grandparents. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we get the virus contained and can start traveling again, with a new perspective on life.”

Paris, during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Andreas Eberhart

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Dispatch from Paris: What It’s Like to Travel in France Right Now

PLEASE NOTE: Our ongoing efforts to check in with travelers who are currently overseas does not necessarily mean we advocate international travel during the COVID-19 epidemic.  Public health officials are advising older adults and people with underlying health conditions to abstain from travel.

In our continuing effort to answer readers’ questions about travel in this uncertain time, and to touch base with those who are traveling internationally now, we are interviewing readers who are currently overseas.  Although we are speaking with them at the moment they are abroad and publishing as quickly as possible, we realize that the situations in those locations and around the world are changing quickly, and therefore travel alerts, health advisories, and even these travelers’ opinions may soon be different.

We are grateful to WendyPerrin.com reader Deborah Wente, who spoke with us from Paris on Sunday, March 8. Mrs. Wente is a frequent traveler to France. She spent a college semester in the south of France. lived there after graduation, and now visits the country every year. “I know the city well, I’ve been in Paris five times in the past four years,” she told us over the phone as she walked around Montmartre. “Life is normal.”

At the time of the interview and writing of this article, the U.S. State Department had France at a level 2 travel alert—for terrorism concerns from April 2019. The coronavirus count in France did see a surge in the past week: On March 6, when Mrs. Wente flew from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the count was 577 cases and 9 deaths. When she and I spoke on March 8, the count was 959 cases and 11 deaths. (It’s not clear whether this apparent surge is from actual virus spread or from increased reporting.) School closures in two departments (similar to states) were announced March 6, and the Paris marathon has been rescheduled from April 5 to October 18.

Though a lot of this escalated once Mrs. Wente was already in Paris, she said she and her family never considered canceling. The trip was to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of Mrs. Wente’s nieces, who is living in Toulouse. The rest of the group consisted of Mrs. Wente’s other two nieces, her sister, and their 81-year-old mother, who accompanies Mrs. Wente on her other trips to France each year. (Public health officials are advising older people, and people with underlying health conditions, not to take planes right now and to keep space between yourself and others.) The Louvre and other museums are open.

Mrs. Wente, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, shared photos, video, and candid thoughts with us:

Q: Was there really no hesitation in your group about travel to France at this time?

A: The only thing was when my sister, maybe last Wednesday, sent us a text, saying the Louvre is closed. And people are still saying that. French people are still saying that, and it’s not true. It’s been reopened. But we never thought twice. I brought wipes to wipe down the plane, and we brought hand sanitizer, but we never thought about canceling.

louvre museum pyramid and plaza

Contrary to some misconceptions, even by Parisians, the Louvre is open. The entrance looked uncrowded when Mrs. Wente passed by, but she saw a long line to get into another museum, the Pompidou Centre. Photo courtesy Deborah Wente

Q: Why not?

A: Well, it seems a little blown out of proportion. But I did read something in The New York Times that helps me understand that they’re trying to get it under control. I also just feel like I don’t worry about terrorists when I come to Paris. If it’s for the greater good of society, then at some point I might not go, but I just feel like you have to live your life. My mom is in the vulnerable category, but we kind of didn’t worry about that either.

Q: What is it like there now? How does it feel?

A: I’ve been to Paris a lot, I know the city well, and I speak French so I talked to my Uber driver and other people. The Uber driver said, “Look at the French, we don’t care, we’re going to live our lives.” He thought tourism was down; he said they were seeing fewer travelers. But another woman I spoke to in Place du Tertre by Sacre Coeur said it’s just not a big weekend. It’s early March and cold and raining; it’s not high season. Then yesterday I was walking past the Pompidou, and it was packed. That was Saturday mid-afternoon. Tons of people. So I don’t really know if it’s quieter. Is it because it’s early March?

One woman Uber driver kind of went on a rant about how she cleans the car all the time and wipes stuff down when passengers leave and doesn’t touch any of their stuff. But other than her, they’re just like meh.

family stands to take a photo in the rain in Paris France

It was rainy and cold the weekend Mrs. Wente and her extended family visited Paris, and she wonders if the season was part of the reason it seemed less crowded. Photo courtesy Deborah Wente

Q: What have you been doing during your trip? Is the coronavirus affecting what you’re doing and seeing?

A: We went to the Rodin Museum and it was quiet, but it was Friday afternoon. We went to the Breizh Café in Le Marais. We went to our friends’ house for dinner about 45 minutes outside the city. And today, my sister went to the Catacombs with her daughters; I didn’t go because I’ve done that. And then we went to the Village Royal; it’s a little street with high-end stores, and an artist put up a canopy of pink umbrellas there. I took a photo because I was trying to show that it’s not that crowded. We walked past the Louvre but we didn’t go in. There are people, but it’s not crazy packed. There was that huge line to get into the Pompidou yesterday. We thought about going to another museum today but didn’t want to wait in line.

Q: Have you been reading or watching the news in Paris? How is it different from here?

A: I get the New York Times daily briefing and the Times’ coronavirus briefing, and that’s all I’ve been reading on vacation. I did learn how to clean my seat on the airplane. I’m washing my hands and sanitizing and doing the things that the CDC says are important.

Q: What kind of precautions are you seeing around the city?

A: There was hand sanitizer at our hotel. The restaurants have sanitizer. The Breizh Café had a big hand sanitizer, but they’re still bringing out baskets of bread. It’s all the France that I know and love. I’m standing right now in Montmartre, and there’s a man playing the accordion, and it’s like a French movie.

Life is normal. We’ve maybe seen like three masks on people. There are always Asian people with masks anywhere you go. We just haven’t seen that many masks.

Q: Do people seem more stressed?

A: People are so nice. We had so many special little experiences with people. Like three older women we met at a restaurant. When the waiter brought dessert and a glass of Champagne for my niece’s birthday, we started singing “Joyeux Anniversaire.” And they joined in singing and then came over and chatted with us. One was 83 and used to sing in a chorus. It was so nice.

Q: How is being there different than being in the US?

A: I feel like people at home are way more concerned. I have been watching on Facebook, and it’s spring break now, and a lot of my friends have kids in school, and they are cancelling trips. I haven’t watched the news here, but I feel like there’s way more hype at home. I get that it’s important and we want to stop it from spreading, but I feel like it’s much calmer here in Paris. There were more people wearing masks in the Chicago airport than here. I saw the picture of the plane that ran in your Italy story. Our plane was not empty. I walked through, and coach was pretty darn full.

Sacre Coeur Paris france

Mrs. Wente didn’t see many people wearing masks as she walked around the Sacre Coeur area in Montmartre.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

How to Avoid the Crowds at Paris Museums and Cultural Sites

The following tips from Jennifer Virgilio, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Paris, will help you make the most of your time in the City of Light, even at the height of tourist season. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks, and use Wendy’s trip request form to contact Jennifer in order to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Tips for visiting the major sites

• The best time to visit a Paris museum is on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Two notable exceptions to this general rule are the Louvre and Versailles. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday, and thus the days on either side tend to be very busy, so it’s better to go on a Thursday morning from 9 to 11 or for one of the late-night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays. Versailles is closed on Monday—another reason to avoid the Louvre on that day, as people tend to go there instead.

• Most museums are calmer after five o’clock.

• Avoid the first Sunday of the month, when the entrance fee to most museums is waived but the tradeoff is unbearable crowds.

• A new development: Some guides are not allowed to guide in museums on Sundays, specifically the Orsay. Ask ahead of time.

• Reduce wait time at the Louvre, the Catacombs, and other popular attractions by buying time-entry tickets three to six months ahead of your visit. Jennifer does this for her clients, and she knows the best times to avoid the crowds, but you can do it yourself via the museum’s website or by purchasing a Paris Pass.

• Consider skipping the Eiffel Tower this year. Because of renovations and because there are no more Behind the Scenes tours, the Eiffel Tower is especially crowded, time-consuming, and frustrating. “There are some times they don’t allow Summit (3rd floor) access, and people have to queue again or buy new tickets when upstairs,” says Jennifer. “And there were some occasions last summer when people had 2nd floor tickets but had to walk up and were not allowed on the lift.”

• If your heart is set on going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it’s still best to buy tickets in advance. But Jennifer notes that even if you buy skip-the line group tickets, you are going up at a set time and must arrive 15 minutes in advance of the slot on the ticket—and must still pass security checks, which, she says, could take a very long time. “Then you go up to the 2nd floor in the lift with your group and you can have the tour or leave and go off on your own, then you queue again for the 3rd floor (if you have tickets you don’t need to re-purchase but if you do not have tickets then you must buy them and queue for this and the lift). The line to get into the lift is very long here too, as everyone wants to go up to the top.” Jennifer cautions that some travelers find the experience to be disappointing and not what they expected. Jennifer adds that she often suggests the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck as an alternative, as well as restaurants looking at the Eiffel tower, rather than the ones in the Tower.

• The new Atelier des Lumières, a digital art museum in a repurposed 19th-century foundry, is one of the hottest tickets in Paris right now. Be sure to buy advance tickets if you want to check out its multimedia exhibitions, which currently include immersive creations about Van Gogh and Japanese art.

• 2019 is the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, and many museums around Europe are planning events in his honor. Paris is no exception. The Louvre will host an exhibit dedicated to the Italian master from October 24, 2019 through February 24, 2020. Jennifer advises travelers to take note that advance tickets are mandatory and that the museum is requiring that everyone—including those under 18, who are normally free—have a ticket to this special show in addition to the museum’s usual entry ticket.  “Under 18’s are still free,” she explains, “but need to register for their ticket and show ID on arrival.” She also cautions that even with advance tickets or a Paris Pass, lines at many museums will be long for these special events.

 

Excellent alternatives to the major museums

These lesser-known museums and historic sites in or near Paris are fabulous and uncrowded all year round:

Chateau Chantilly

Instead of Versailles, Jennifer recommends Chateau Chantilly. “It’s the biggest horse stable in Europe and so much less visited,” she says. “Our guides are recommending it more and more as they have recently opened up new apartments following restoration, and Versailles is just overrun with tourists and crowds.”
Driving time from Paris: 1hour and 30minutes each way
Best time to go: Any day
Don’t miss:  The apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Aumale recently reopened to visits after massive renovations to their furniture and decorations. Created between 1845 and 1847, these eight rooms were the princely domaine of Henri d’Orléans (a.k.a. Duke of Aumale), fifth son of the last king of France, King Louis-Philippe. A visit to the chateau, and to these rooms in particular, gives travelers a connection to life during the Monarchie de Juillet. The estate is also home to the largest horse stables in Europe. Called the Great Stables, they are set in an 18th-century building and host equestrian shows throughout the year.

Auvers-sur-Oise

Auvers-sur-Oise is the final resting place of Van Gogh and was a favorite village for other painters of the 1800s. In the last 70 days of his life Van Gogh painted 70 paintings in and around Auvers-sur-Oise. He came here to be near his brother Theo, who lived in Paris. Sights include the cemetery where the two brothers lie side by side; the Romanesque/Gothic church immortalized by Van Gogh; Daubigny’s studio, with its wonderfully restored decor painted by the Daubigny family and friends Corot and Daumier; the house of Dr. Gachet and its beautifully planted garden, painted by so many artists; the Absinthe Museum, a superb tribute to the notorious “green fairy”; the nearby château (Château d’Auvers); and the Auberge Ravoux, known as the House of Van Gogh.
Driving time from Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Arrive by 10:30am and spend the day visiting the different sites, with a lunch break at Auberge Ravoux. Note: Some sights in Auvers-sur-Oise are closed during certain months of the year.
Don’t miss: The charming garden of Dr. Gachet, a specialist in mental illness who became the doctor and friend of many painters who stayed in Auvers—Corot, Cezanne, Pissarro—and took care of Van Gogh during his stay there.

Basilica of Saint Denis

Final resting place of the kings of France, the former abbey of Saint Denis was for centuries a spiritual, political, and artistic center. The cathedral basilica is a masterpiece of Gothic art, and the royal necropolis houses the archaeological crypt and burial site of Saint Denis, eight recumbent effigies commissioned by Saint Louis, the tomb of King Dagobert, and 60 other sculpted tombs.
Driving time from the center of Paris: 45 minutes
Best time to go: Monday–Saturday 11am–1pm or 4–6pm
Don’t miss: The heart of the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was taken secretly by the chief surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu after the child’s death, preserved in alcohol, and is displayed here in a glass egg. The boy died in prison of tuberculosis at age 10, two years after his father was beheaded.

Château de Malmaison

Malmaison was the private residence of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine from 1799 to 1814. Bought by Josephine as a retreat from the formality of the emperor’s residences at the Tuileries and Fontainebleau, it has charming rural grounds. While Josephine loved the country manor, Napoleon scorned its entrance as fit only for servants. Instead, he had a curious drawbridge built at the back of the chateau. The finest rooms are the frescoed and vaulted library, the canopied campaign room, and the sunny Salon de Musique, hung with paintings from Josephine’s private collection. Many of the rooms overlook the romantic gardens and the famous rose garden that was cultivated by Josephine after her divorce.
Driving time: 30 minutes
Best time to go:  10am–12:30pm. Closed Tuesday.
Don’t miss:  Josephine’s bedchamber, a magnificent indulgence bedecked in red

Musée Marmottan Monet

The Marmottan houses the largest collection of Monets in the world—more than 150 works. Jennifer recommends a visit before or after Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. (Note: Giverny, though well worth seeing, is one of those places where you should be sure to book a timed-entry ticket to shorten your wait.)

Best time to go: Tuesday–Sunday 1–3pm
Don’t miss:  Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant, which gave its name to the Impressionist movement, and the Berthe Morisot collection

Musée Nissim de Camondo

Just a stone’s throw from Parc Monceau, this museum houses a magnificent collection of decorative art from the second half of the 18th century. Aubusson tapestries, paintings by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and furniture by cabinetmakers Riesener and Oeben are on display here.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Don’t miss: The porcelain collection by Sèvres, and Marie-Antoinette’s sewing table

Museum of Romantics

The Paris residence of the painter Ary Scheffer, now a house museum, entertained many a famous guest back in its day. Among the visitors: Delacroix, Rossini, Sand, Chopin, Turgenev, and Dickens.
Best time to go: 11am–3pm. Closed Monday.
Don’t miss:  The quiet garden, which exudes greenery and tranquility. Come here for a drink after a stroll around Montmartre

Rungis Market

Rungis International Market is the principal market of Paris and the largest wholesale market in the world. It’s located in the southern suburbs, near Orly Airport. Jennifer can arrange a guided tour, or you can contact Rungis directly.
Driving time from Paris: 30 minutes
Best time to go: Your only option is 4am.

Winemaking Workshop at Les Caves du Louvre

The wine cellars where this workshop takes place were built by the sommelier of Louis XV for his private mansion, and were used to store wines for the king and his court. They’re located a five-minute walk from the Louvre. The wine-tasting experience is perfect for those who don’t know anything about wine except drinking it and want to learn the basics.  You can also create your own wine here in a workshop. The winemaking workshops are at 11:30am, and the tastings are from 2:30pm.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Tangalle Sri Lanka ocean view with palm trees

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terror Attacks

The past few years have underscored that we’re living in a world where anything can happen anywhere at any time—at hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, at a country music festival in Las Vegas, on a bridge in London, at a celebration on the French Riviera, at a Christmas market in Berlin, in a theater in Paris, at the airport in Istanbul, at a shrine in Bangkok, in a hotel in Mumbai, at a nightclub in Orlando, at a marathon in Boston, in a skyscraper in Manhattan….

The answer is not to stop traveling, or to avoid huge swaths of the globe out of a misperception that your risk is greater there than anyplace else.  The answer is to keep traveling, to make friends around the world, and to be a thoughtful ambassador for your country.

Of course, while your head may agree with me, your gut may be apprehensive. You may be making travel plans—or trying to—and you can’t help but wonder: If I go, what is the risk that I will get caught in a terror incident? How do I minimize that risk? If I can’t minimize it, how do I get over my fear?

I believe the solution is to put your risk in perspective.  Here’s how:

1. Grasp how minuscule the statistical probability is of getting caught in a terror attack abroad.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369; compare that number with the 3,043 killed inside the U.S. by terrorism during the same period.  In terms of street crime and gun violence, most of the U.S. cities we live in are statistically more dangerous than the places we visit abroad.   Your risk of being killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drowning in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or being killed by lightning (one in 10 million) far exceed your risk of dying from terrorism (one in 20 million).

2. Don’t confuse the probability of a terrorist attack with the probability of becoming the victim of a terrorist attack.  

Is it virtually certain that there will be another terrorist attack in Europe in the next 12 months? Yes. Does that translate into a high degree of risk for the individual traveler to Europe? No.

3. Know where the real dangers lie.

When planning a vacation, we tend to worry more about spectacular risks—whether a terrorist attack or an epidemic of norovirus on a cruise ship—than about boring risks like, say, overexposure to the sun, even though one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.  Remember that the single biggest cause of death for Americans traveling overseas is motor vehicle accidents. (Terrorism is #7, after incidents such as suicide and drowning.)

4. Understand the reasons why your fear of a terrorist attack is out of proportion to the risk.

There are psychological reasons why we are more afraid of terrorist attacks than logic would dictate. We’re more afraid of risks that are new and unfamiliar than of those we’ve lived with for a long time (e.g., heart disease, which accounts for one in every four deaths in America each year).  We’re more afraid of risks that kill us in particularly gruesome ways—say, a plane crash, a shark attack, or the Ebola virus—than in mundane ways. We’re less afraid of risks we feel we have some control over, such as skiing and driving, even if it’s only the illusion of control. (Most people think their driving is safer than it actually is. We’re all one text message away from death on the road.)  We’re more afraid of human-made dangers than of those with natural causes, such as solar radiation or earthquakes. We’re more afraid of risks that are highly publicized, especially on television, and those that involve spectacular events. One incident with multiple deaths has a much greater impact than many incidents each involving a single death. That is one reason why we fear plane crashes more than car crashes (even though the latter are far more likely).

5. Don’t focus so much on unlikely risks that you ignore common risks that are far more likely to hurt you.

Frightened people make dangerous choices. As an example, after 9-11, people chose to drive rather than to fly.  As another example, cruisegoers may be so focused on washing their hands frequently in order to avoid norovirus that they forget to reapply their sunscreen.  Or, here’s a personal example: When I was in Istanbul shortly after 9-11, I opted for a small, locally owned hotel in a quiet part of town far from the U.S. Consulate. I figured a Western chain near the main square, or a hotel next to the Consulate, was more likely to be a terrorist target. But every night I kept having to hail a taxi to that small hotel, and the drivers kept getting lost en route–one even got a flat tire and left me on the side of the road—and it was dark on that inconspicuous street in a quiet part of town. My point is: The miles it took to reach my hotel every night raised my risk more than the likelihood of a terrorist attack at a Western chain near the Consulate would have.

6. Appreciate that what’s bothering you is not risk itself but your uncertainty as to the degree of it.

The problem you face as you try to plan a vacation is that you don’t know what your risk is or how safe one country (or concert venue) is versus another. We try to weigh the risk of one destination over another by looking at the historical record of violent incidents there. What’s tricky right now is that we don’t know how relevant the historical record is. Will the future be different than the past?  We don’t know.  Even when you can’t know the degree of risk, though, you can…

7. Lessen those risks you do have some control over.

You can say to yourself: “What is the likelihood of the situation affecting my trip? Pretty tiny.” And you can lessen those risks you do have some control over.  You can drive very carefully on your way to the airport.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The 5 Keys to the Perfect Paris Apartment Rental for your Family

We chose an apartment in the 7th arrondissement. This was the view from our balcony. Photo: ParisPerfect
The living room in our apartment. Photo: ParisPerfect
The bedroom. Photo: ParisPerfect
mother and child looking through telescope on terrace at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store in Paris
Enjoying the view from the terrace at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann department store, well worth a visit for its wonderful Art-Nouveau glass dome.
child and adult look out the window at the rain at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris
A winter wonderland in spring, as seen from the Musée des Arts et Métiers.
adult and child play cards in an apartment rental in Paris
Down time in our apartment.
family in Paris rental apartment eating lunch
We found the delicious fixings for this lunch on Rue Cler, one of the city's best market streets and just a few blocks from our apartment.
boy stops to listen to a street musician in Paris
Zeke stops to listen to a street musician.
Sailing a toy boat on the Luxembourg Gardens' pond in Paris
Sailing a toy boat on the Luxembourg Gardens' pond.
The line for stair-and-elevator tickets up the Eiffel Tower in Paris
The line for stair-and-elevator tickets up the Eiffel Tower was short when we arrived 15 minutes before it opened at 9:30am one morning.
boy at market Marché Saxe-Breteuil in Paris
Early-spring produce at the Marché Saxe-Breteuil.
child looking at art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
A lesson in modern art at the Centre Pompidou.
child looking at art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
Zeke loved a special exhibit of works by the artist César at the Pompidou; those are crushed cars in the background.
child navigates a via ferrata, one of many children's play places scattered along the banks of the Seine in Paris
Zeke navigates a via ferrata, one of many children's play places scattered along the banks of the Seine.

 

Ah, Paris.  City of Lights.  City of Romance.  City of … families?  I’d been to Paris at least five times before I came to truly appreciate it. It wasn’t as a high-school exchange student, or on a girlfriends’ weekend getaway, or even after three weeks in France with my husband, that I finally succumbed to Paris’s charms. It was with my six-year-old son. The human-scale architecture, the playgrounds galore, the carb-heavy cuisine—this place is a kids’ wonderland, I discovered. Without him, I also wouldn’t have waited in line for the chocolat chaud at Angelina or seen the world’s oldest self-propelled vehicle at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. My son, my mother, and I spent an unseasonably chilly week in Paris this spring—I have the photos of falling snow to prove it—and when we weren’t busy scaling escalators at the Pompidou or strolling along the Seine, we enjoyed the comforts (and warmth) of our home base: a cozy apartment in the 7th arrondissement.

When you’re bringing kids to a city for more than a few days, it’s a no-brainer to rent an apartment, merging the conveniences of home with the perspective of a local. You get considerably more space than the typical footprint of an urban hotel room, you save money by making some of your meals in the kitchen, and a washing machine can cut down considerably on your packing (no need to bring spare clothes for the drips and stains that are an inevitability of parenthood). In short, you end up feeling like you’re actually living in the city, rather than just visiting.

But where and how to find the perfect apartment—one that truly enhances your experience of the city?  My week in Paris taught me five important strategies:

1. Choose a neighborhood that’s frequented by locals but close to the most kid-friendly attractions.

As I strolled a few blocks each morning from our pied-a-terre in the 7th arrondissement to a scrumptious patisserie for our daily quota of croissants, I would smile at the crossing guard shepherding kids on their way to school. I also met the kind man from Mauritius who lived on the ground floor, looking after the building where I was staying and making jewelry in his spare time. I felt like a local—but I was a mere seven-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, which made it easy to be among the first in line for the tickets that let you take the stairs to the second floor and the elevator to the top. (These tickets are my favorite option for families—they allow you to go when the weather is clear, and turn the ascent into an interactive experience as you look out on the city through the exoskeleton of the tower’s legs—but you can’t reserve them ahead.)  We also had a center-stage view out our living-room window of the sparkling lights that illuminate the tower each night, and we were walking distance from an excellent farmers’ market where we bought fresh pasta and salad fixings for dinner.

The 6th and 7th arrondissements are ideal for those with kids, putting you close to the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars, and Luxembourg Gardens.  (Don’t miss Luxembourg’s main pond, where the toy boats steered with bamboo poles are a wonderful throwback for this tech-addled generation.)  Think twice before renting in the 1st arrondissement (tourist central), the 2nd (too far from the Seine), the 3rd (not enough green space or playgrounds), or the 4th (better for nightlife, not kids).

2. Pick a location within easy walking distance of a Métro station.

A big part of Paris’s charm with kids is making your way from park to park on foot, stopping for street musicians and Nutella crepes along the way, but you can’t walk all day. The city’s subway system is clean, easily navigated, cheap, and can take you just about anyplace you want to go. Fair warning, though: The unlimited Paris Visite passes that are marketed to travelers only make economic sense if you’re planning to take public transportation at least six times a day. Instead, buy a carnet—a pack of ten tickets sold at a discount—to be shared among the adults in your group, and a reduced-fare version for your kids. With these, one-way rides cost about $1.75 for adults, and 90 cents or so for kids. Another way to counteract all that walking is with a boat ride on the Seine; it lets kids rest their legs while the changing scenery keeps them captivated.

3. Factor local architecture and appliances into your decision.

For instance, some wrought-iron balconies are more easily climbed than others. Not all apartments have both a washing machine and dryer—and air-drying your clothes takes up time and space. And many buildings in Paris have very thin walls (we were asked to keep voices to a whisper in the hallways of ours), so if your kid is particularly rambunctious, you’d be wise to look for newer construction.  Also, those white couches may look chic in the photos, but what if your child is inspired by the Louvre and takes crayons to the fabric?   An experienced apartment rental specialist will know which properties are most intelligently outfitted for families.

4. Don’t arrive too late or leave too early.

Arrive early enough that you’ll have a few hours to get oriented in the daylight.  That’s because apartments aren’t as intuitive as hotel rooms, since the latter are explicitly designed to be occupied by a new visitor every night.  The Trusted Travel Expert who arranged our stay (Ask Wendy for a recommendation) always has a staffer on hand to greet travelers at their apartment and show them how the air-conditioning works, where the bowls are stored in the kitchen, and how to convert the living room into sleeping quarters (many of her apartments have comfortable sofa beds, which let families economize on one fewer bedrooms).

At the end of your stay, you’ll need to tidy up the apartment, take out the trash, and likely coordinate getting all your luggage down to the ground floor in a small elevator that fits no more than one person with one suitcase at a time. So don’t set yourself up for a stressful departure by booking the first flight of the day.

5. When comparing prices, compare apples with apples.

Sure, you can find plenty of places to rent on Airbnb—so many, in fact, that the options can be truly dizzying. Our Trusted Travel Expert has a handpicked portfolio of apartments that she and her team have personally inspected, with prices that are nearly equivalent to those on Airbnb, once you factor in Airbnb’s service and cleaning fees. And the additional service she provides translates to additional value.

If you go: Ask Wendy to put you in touch with the right France travel specialist for your particular trip goals and needs.

Disclosure: To report this story, our writer stayed in an apartment on a complimentary basis. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. 

 

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

How to Never Wait in Line at a Tourist Attraction Again

Why waste your precious vacation time battling crowds and waiting in lines? Popular tourist sites the world over grow more congested every year and, sadly, the typical fixes—reserving an entry time, booking a “skip-the-line tour”—are not always a good solution. So I thought I’d share the best fixes I’ve found.

Reserving a time slot might make sense at an indoor museum (I wouldn’t show up at Rome’s Borghese Gallery or Florence’s Uffizi without one), but not necessarily at an outdoor monument. When I go to Paris, for instance, I want to hit the Eiffel Tower on a sunny, clear day; what if my entry time, reserved weeks in advance, coincides with rain and fog? Furthermore, I want to take my kids to the Louvre on a rainy day; what if I book skip-the-line tickets for what turns out to be a gorgeous day that we’d rather spend in the Jardin du Luxembourg? As for “skip-the-line tours,” aside from the fact that you can end up herded around in a big group with an annoying guide, they’re often not what they claim to be. A skip-the-line tour of the Vatican might get you past the ticket-buying line but not the security line. I’d rather be one of the handful of travelers who gets to eat breakfast at the Vatican and see it before it opens to the public.

By far the best way I’ve found to avoid crowds and bypass lines is to book your trip through the right travel fixer—someone who knows every insider trick at your destination and can leverage his/her superlative relationships there on your behalf. Such destination specialists can get you into sites at off-hours when they are empty and even into places that are off-limits to the public. The right person can get you past the mobs at Angkor Wat or ensure a crowd-free sunset at the Taj Mahal. You can even have Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia all to yourself. These Trusted Travel Experts can, in fact, arrange an entire trip that spares you from every line. And all you need to do is show up.

But if you prefer to D.I.Y. your trip, here are strategies that have worked well for me:

Find out if there’s a side or back entrance.

Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History

To avoid long lines, try an alternative entrance, like through the Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo: ©AMNH/D

Sometimes there is an alternate entrance with a shorter line or none at all. In Paris, my family entered the Louvre via the Porte des Lions and saved ourselves from an hour-long line at the Pyramid entrance. At the Museum of Natural History in New York City, if there’s a line at the Central Park West entrance, you can enter via the Rose Center for Earth and Space or via the 81st Street subway station.

Go at sunrise.

A lot of people assume sunset is best, but at many outdoor iconic monuments—Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Mount Sinai in Egypt, Petra in Jordan—sunrise is better. You get equally great light for photos but fewer crowds to spoil them. Sunrise is better for seeing neighborhoods too. In popular destinations that are touristy from 9 am till midnight, it’s from 6 to 9 am that you can see the locals living their everyday lives—green grocers opening their stalls, kids going to school, fishermen delivering their catch to the fish market, etc.

crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France

Visit museums on a night they’re open late and you’ll likely avoid mobs like this one, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Go at night.

Not all landmarks are accessible at night, but those that are are usually worth seeing at that time. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for instance, is beautifully lit and especially poignant at night. Park rangers are actually there to answer your questions until 10 pm. Remember that world-class museums are usually open on at least one night of the week. London’s Tate Modern, as just one example, stays open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Eiffel Tower admits visitors until midnight in summertime—and sparkles at night too.

night skyline of Washington DC with Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument and Capitol building

Some famous attractions, like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. are more beautiful at night—and less crowded. Photo: Pixabay

Take the stairs.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower. Photo courtesy Tim Baker.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower elevators—which we skipped by taking the stairs. Photo: Tim Baker.

I’m no athlete, but I’ve climbed to the tops of dozens of bell towers, fortresses, palaces, and cathedrals, and I am here to tell you that the effort has always been well worth it, not just because of the views but because the great majority of visitors don’t make it there. Sometimes the journey itself is a highlight. If you’ve ever followed the circuitous, increasingly narrow route into the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you know what I mean. My family saved at least two hours at the Eiffel Tower by climbing the 670 steps to the second floor and taking the elevator from there to the top, rather than waiting in the scary elevator line at the base.

Buy the right pass.

aerial view of Venice Italy and surrounding water

Venice, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

Some cities sell city museum passes that let you bypass the line. For instance, the Paris Museum Pass and the Vienna Pass let you skip the line at dozens of museums and monuments in those cities. If you don’t need a multi-day museum pass because there’s really only one museum you want to see, sometimes you can buy a combination ticket for just three or four related museums (the world-famous one you want to see, plus other lesser museums you’re not interested in). Buy the combo ticket at one of the lesser museums with no line, then use it to skip the line at the museum you want. For example, in Venice, a ticket to the four Museums of St. Mark’s Square allowed me to skip the line at the Doge’s Palace.

Arrive at the visitor center before it opens.

World-famous sites with visitor centers tend to attract a lot of tour buses. You want to arrive long before they do. At Gettysburg, for instance, be the first inside the Museum and Visitor Center when it opens at 8:00 am (April 1 – Oct 31). If you have no reservation for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, get there before it opens at 7:00 am because that’s when tickets for that day are available on a first-come first-served basis.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

child playing with toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris France

Unexpected Spring Break Vacation Ideas

Where to take the family for spring break? It’s a question I get from countless readers every year who are desperate for an alternative to theme parks and mega-resorts. Finding an interesting, convenient and, ideally, affordable vacation is no easy task, especially when so many schools let out simultaneously and so many families crowd the same places. Airfares and hotel prices shoot up and, if you’re not careful, so does your stress level. What kind of vacation is that? To help you and your crew escape the beaten path of family-travel destinations, here are a few alternatives—including the place I’m taking my own kids this year.

Paris

It’s one of the world’s kid-friendliest cities, and not just because of the playgrounds, carousels, and crepe stands everywhere. I took the kids for spring break when they were ten and eight, and we discovered a huge number of surprisingly kid-friendly museums. Thanks to fantastic children’s audioguides, my kids were captivated everywhere from the Musée de l’Armée—where the handheld guide took them on an entertaining scavenger hunt—to the Musée de la Musique, a collection of unique, antique, and exotic musical instruments, including some that look like they’re straight out of Dr. Seuss. Rent an apartment to get more space for your money and to give your kids a glimpse of what it’s like to live as a local. My then-10-year-old, Charlie, learned how to go to the corner boulangerie and buy croissants with euros all by himself. Consider staying in the seventh arrondissement, which is center of Paris, home to many families with children and has easy access to museums and monuments. It also has many excellent bakeries—children can pick a new one every day—as well as affordable restaurants and open-air markets.  Don’t leave home without my tips for how to skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

children listen to a historical reenactor play violin at Colonial Williamsburg Virginia

Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is an immersive history experience that enchanted my kids.

Our spring-break getaway when the kids were seven and nine was an interactive immersion in early American history.  In Colonial WIlliamsburg the flowers were blooming, turning the grounds in front of the Governor’s Palace into a riot of color, and the village was not nearly as hot and crowded in April as it gets during the summertime. You can read more advice from me (how long we spent there, where we stayed, etc.)—and even read my then-9-year-old’s trip review—in this article I wrote for Condé Nast Traveler. Go to History.org and click on “Kids” for a slew of games and activities to get your children excited about their trip and educated about colonial villages even before you arrive.

Anza-Borrego Desert, California

You can always find inexpensive airfares to Los Angeles (LAX), where it’s easy to rent a car, drive south along I-5 to Oceanside, then turn east toward Borrego Springs and the spectacular badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The wildflowers here usually explode into bloom in March, and that bloom continues for weeks afterward in different parts of the Desert (check for wildflower updates here). California’s largest state park is a tranquil wonderland of geological phenomena including canyons, mesas, buttes, badlands, dunes, washes, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas that give new meaning to the phrase “purple mountain majesties.” Family fun includes checking out Split Mountain, ruptured and contorted by earthquakes and flash floods; squeezing into The Slot, a narrow sandstone canyon; finding prehistoric fossils and ancient pictographs in sacred rocks; and looking for shooting stars after sundown.

Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo: National Cherry Blossom Festival

When cherry-blossom season coincides with spring break (the peak bloom is forecast for March 19–22 this year), Washington, D.C., is a super destination for families. The Smithsonian Museums have free admission (as does the National Zoo), and several fun family-friendly events take place in early April, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Blossom Kite Festival (April 1) and Parade (April 8) and Opening Day for the Washington Nationals (April 3). There’s also the Smithsonian Craft Show (April 27–30) and the Wine and Food Fest just down the Potomac River in National Harbor, Maryland (April 29–30).

Andalusia, Spain

children look at crates of oranges during the orange harves in Andalusia Spain

Our trip to Andalusia when the boys were five and seven coincided with the orange harvest.

For spring break when the kids were 5 and 7, we rented a villa in the rolling countryside outside Granada, in southern Spain. Temps were in the 60s, it was orange harvest time so the aroma of oranges wafted through the air, and there were fiestas around the region. We explored everything from the ancient white villages of the Alpujarra mountains to the Moorish palaces and gardens of the Alhambra. Just keep in mind, when your spring break coincides with Easter, that Holy Week in Andalusia can be crowded, with processions day and night.

Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Too many families consider national parks only for summertime trips. If your kid’s spring break falls in April, Yosemite is a great option. As you know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks To Visit Each Month, its sparkling waterfalls are at their peak flow in springtime. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, you’ll find it in Yosemite, along with massive granite walls and a lush valley full of wildlife.

Colombia

young tourist boy feeds pigeons in Cartagena, Colombia

Here’s Charlie feeding pigeons in the Old Town of Cartagena, Colombia, during spring break last year.

There’s a lot of new airline service to Colombia, and in March and April you’ll find sunny days, clear skies, a fresh breeze that keeps the temperature comfortable, and reasonable prices, since the low season is about to start. More and more families are visiting Colombia nowadays—and exploring well beyond the beaches and colonial Old Town of Cartagena. They’re visiting Bogota too—for its art, architecture, and food—and Colombia’s coffee country, which abounds with outdoor and cultural activities.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Yes, it takes time to get to—it’s in a remote part of southwestern Texas, a three-hour drive from Midland/Odessa airport—but temps are in the 70s in March and April, and it’s the best time to see the cactus and wildflower blooms. As we know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks to Visit Each Month, Big Bend has three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains:  You can navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars.

A cruise leaving from a port that’s cheap to fly to

kids snuba diving underwater

The boys have tried SNUBA (a combo of snorkeling and scuba) in Caribbean cruise ports during spring break.

Here’s one of my tricks for avoiding those sky-high spring-break airfares: Instead of flying my family to a destination that’s in peak season, I fly us to a city that’s in low or shoulder season and has a cruise port where we can board a ship and sail to a place that’s in peak season. For example, we’ve flown to ports such as New Orleans and Los Angeles, where we’ve then boarded ships for the Caribbean or Mexico. Last year we flew to Panama (there were cheap airfares on United because Panama City is a hub) for a Panama Canal cruise. The Panama Canal fits the bill when you’ve got kids for whom a cruise is nirvana but you want to avoid the same old overbuilt Caribbean ports.

Where I’m going this year: Morocco

camel in the desert in Morocco

To avoid high prices and crowds, I looked for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. We’re going to Morocco!

Since the kids are now 15 and 13, they’re old enough to appreciate more exotic spring breaks. This year, eager to avoid the crowds and high prices that accompany Easter in many countries, I decided to look for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. And, since my goal is to raise global citizens, I wanted them to experience a completely different culture. So I chose Morocco, which is close enough—it’s a seven-hour flight from New York City (JFK)—yet otherworldly.  And the five-hour time difference (which is the same as the time difference between NYC and England) won’t mean too much jet lag. (Here’s a full report from when we got back from our trip.)

Busy parents, if you wish you could snap your fingers and find the perfect travel agent to design and deliver the best trip possible to any of these places, click over to Ask Wendy.  Because family travel memories are too precious to jeopardize with bad logistics.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Sydney Opera House New Years Fireworks

A Holiday Deal for Our Readers: See These Cities for Less

Everyone loves presents, so here’s one for all you urban explorers out there. If you’re headed to one of the following cities during your holiday getaway, Context Travel is offering a discount to all WendyPerrin.com readers. Context has smart docents leading behind-the-scenes food, art, history, and architecture tours in urban hot spots all over the world. The company’s distinctive approach to in-depth, sophisticated walking tours has earned its founder, Paul Bennett, a spot on Wendy’s WOW List (and her Condé Nast Traveler list for years before that).

As a special gift for WendyPerrin.com readers, Context is offering a 15% discount until January 1 on tours in Paul’s favorite holiday-time cities. Be sure to use the links below to get the discounts, and come back and leave reviews of your experiences after your tours!

Paris

“We think Paris is tops at Christmas,” Paul says. “Colorful lights line the city’s wide boulevards; the department stores unveil elaborate Christmas-themed windows; and it’s the season for special treats like oysters, bûche de noël, pain d’épices, and foie gras. (Yum.) Paris over Christmas is busy, but not inundated with tourists like in the summer months. In fact, the increased crowds add something festive to the period. Shoppers will want to stay over into the New Year to experience the biannual store sales (in 2017 these run Jan 11­Feb 8).”

Use this link to get 15% off Context’s holiday food tour in Paris, for bookings placed before Jan 1.

Rome

“Rome is also a favorite spot of mine for Christmas. Food dominates, as it often does: torrone, or nougat candy, a mouth-watering concoction of honey, egg whites and toasted nuts; or the panettone, a sweet bread rich in butter, candied fruit and raisins. We run a holiday food tour in Rome; also, during this time, most churches display elaborate nativities for veneration. You can learn more on our Rome Holiday Walk: The Tradition of Italian Nativities.”

Use these links to get 15% off Context’s holiday food tour and Rome Holiday Walk: The Tradition of Italian Nativities.

Christmas tree in Love Park, Philadelphia

A Christmas tree in Love Park, Philadelphia. Photo: J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Philadelphia

“We also love Philadelphia around the holidays. The city is decked out with lights along Broad Street and throughout Rittenhouse Square, and hosts multiple tree lighting ceremonies, including one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We usually take a break for some ice-skating in Dilworth Park at City Hall, or visit the annual WinterFest along the Delaware River that features rustic cabins, wool blankets, and fire pits to roast marshmallows, in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day is a quirky, colorful spectacle and hallmark event in Philadelphia, with roots that date to the 18th century. The city is less crowded in the winter than in summer, making sites enjoyable to visit.”

Use this link to get 15% off Context’s Philadelphia tours for bookings placed before Jan 1.

Australia

“Okay, my personal favorite? Sydney or Melbourne. Sun-drenched days, balmy long nights and a vibrant atmosphere is what’s on offer over Christmas and New Year’s down under. The cultural capital of Melbourne has a rich array of Christmas celebrations, from Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve, a Boxing Day Test cricket match, and an abundance of locally sourced delicious treats at Queen Victoria Market. The beach capital of Sydney has endless stretches of stunning coastline, all offering the perfect (and slightly unusual) venue for a Christmas Day picnic. It goes without saying that Sydney is the place to be for the most epic fireworks spectacle around at New Year. Other than at this theatrical performance (when careful planning is necessary to gain the best viewing spot on The Rocks), summer in both cities is a relatively stress-free time to visit.”

Use these links to get 15% off Context’s Melbourne tours and Sydney tours for bookings placed before Jan 1.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Café Einstein, Berlin

6 Sweet Spots Worth the International Plane Ticket

This article originally ran on Luxe City Guides


 

You’ll need to dig out that elastic waistband for these sweet boutiques.

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

From petit fortes and eclairs to almond croissants and caramel macarons, pâtissier extraordinaire Sebastien Gaudard (aka the ‘Tom Ford of pastry’) has the most magnifique (read: calorifique) creations in his pretty pastel-hued shop. Or for something a little more swish, sashay over to his Tuileries Salon de Thé for millefeuilles and crème Chantilly creations in a truly sumptuous setting.

1 Rue des Pyramides, 1st, Paris. +33 171 182 470, sebastiengaudard.com

Café Einstein, Berlin

Kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cafe) is an afternoon institution all across Germany and in Berlin the best place to indulge is Café Einstein. Many a literary great has put in time at this historic, mahogany parquet and garden delight that served up decadent slabs of schwarzwald kuchen, strudel and sacher torte. Heavenly hot chocolate too.

Kurfürstenstr. 58, Tiergarten, Berlin. +49 30 2639 1918, cafeeinstein.com

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

When in Italy…. Gelati. This charming, retro-ish gelato bar serves up the nicest frozen flaves in all of Roma. The frutti di bosco and pistachio are both winners while the sinfully good whipped cream (panna) is only for truest of ice cream devotees.

Ciampini, Piazza di S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome. +39 06 687 6606, ciampini.com

Karakoy Gulluoglu, Istanbul

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Istanbul

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Istanbul

Of all the baklava shops in Istanbul, this is the bonanza best. Güllüoğlu has been baking the sweet, flakey treats since the 1820s and have over a dozen different varieties including chocolate, walnut, pistachio, or good old plain (which is anything but). For top Turkish delight head to Aladdin in the Spice Bazaar and order the milk lokum with nutella swirls. More like loku-mmm!

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Rihtim Cad. Katli Otopark Alti 3-4, Karaköy, Istanbul. +90 212 293 0910, karakoygulluoglu.com

Kosoan, Tokyo

Kosoan, Tokyo

Kosoan, Tokyo

Mochi might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you do like a chewy ball or two you’ll love this tatami-lined garden-chic teahouse that serves up rolled rice mouthfuls with hot green tea and a side of, errr, palate-cleansing salted kelp?

Kosoan, 1-24-23 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3718 4203, kosoan.co.jp

Bibelot, Melbourne

Bibelot, Melbourne

Bibelot, Melbourne

A dreamy sweet-tooth sanctuary inspired by the patisseries of Europe… but these pretty petit fortes and melt-in-your-mouth macarons get an Aussie twist with native ingredients like pepper berries, macadamias and lemon myrtle. Try the signature gourmandise platter or high tea service. Pinkies!

Bibelot, 285-287 Coventry St, South Melbourne, Melbourne. +61 3 9690 2688, bibelot.com.au

 

More from Luxe City Guides

Top Sweet Spots for a Sugar Fix
5 Top Shops in Seoul
Rome’s Best Aperitivo Bars
New Art Museums & Galleries
7 Hotel Rooms With A View

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

My kids running to dinner at the Four Seasons Bora Bora.

5 Steps to the Best Family Vacation You’ll Ever Have

Traveling to almost 30 countries with young kids I’ve learned a little something about crafting vacations that the kids love and remember but that are also sophisticated and fun for the adults. Here are five tips for making summer travel gratifying for the entire family:

 

Our tour of The Marais with Paris Muse.

Our tour of The Marais with Paris Muse. Photo by Eric Stoen/TravelBabbo.com.

1) Book a family-oriented walking tour.

No matter where you’re going, there’s likely a company that offers walking tours through certain neighborhoods or museums. Select one that’s geared toward the kids. Good walking tours are interactive and highly educational, without the kids even realizing how much they’re learning. And given that we parents have forgotten most of the history that we learned in school, they’re great for us too! My family has now done walking tours in Paris, Florence, Athens, Ephesus (Turkey) and Valletta (Malta). I particularly like those we’ve done with Context Travel and Paris Muse. An added benefit: By arranging museum tours in advance, you can generally skip the lines. With our guide from Paris Muse we walked right past an hour-long queue at the Louvre.

 

My daughter making pici pasta at Boscarecce Cooking School.

My daughter making pici pasta at Boscarecce Cooking School. Photo by Eric Stoen/TravelBabbo.com

2) Consider a cooking class.

What better way to let the kids be creative, teach them life-long skills, and introduce them to local cuisine? Our kids always come home wanting to cook the things that they made abroad, and they’ve become better eaters as well. And how many kids prefer to make their own pasta instead of buying it at the grocery store? Ours do, after we learned to make pasta at Boscarecce Cooking School outside of Florence. We’ve already booked a pita-making class in Greece for this coming summer.

 

3) Look into day camps.

When we go on a family vacation, we generally don’t look for activities where we can drop off the kids for seven hours at a time. But there are some week-long day camps that are so cool that we’d be excited for our kids to enroll. Arte al Sole has workshops throughout Italy that incorporate art projects (think frescos and mosaics), cooking classes, walking tours, history and even movie-making for kids 6 to 12, and parents can participate in some of the activities (such as museum visits) with their kids. An added benefit is that your kids will make friends from all over the world. If a camp or workshop doesn’t fit your travel schedule, it’s worth asking if they can arrange something that does. When my nine-year-old and I were in Bali in March, we stumbled upon a three-day ceramic camp at Gaya Ceramic that looked like a lot of fun. Gaya doesn’t pre-schedule family-oriented workshops, but they can arrange group or private workshops at a very reasonable cost.

 

Eric Stoen kids at Rosewood Mayakoba

My kids feeding the fish from our dock at the Rosewood Mayakoba. Photo by Eric Stoen/TravelBabbo.com.

4) Find a hotel that’s both romantic and kid-friendly.

Impossible? Nope. Both Wendy and I have had great stays with our kids at Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The hotel has many romantic touches—including private plunge pools, outdoor showers, moonlit restaurants, and a sensuous spa—yet it’s also got a kids’ club, kid-friendly cooking classes, a children’s breakfast buffet, a kid-friendly pool and beach. There’s even a snow cone machine by the pool. Four Seasons resorts also tend to achieve that balance of sophistication and kid-friendliness. Our overwater bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora is one of the most amazing places we’ve stayed, with a spectacular view and a definite honeymoon feel, yet the hotel staff also set up an entire inflatable water playground for our kids, and let us know that they would open up the kids club and plan activities just for us anytime we wanted.

 

The Torrigiani Gardens, which CIU Travel got us access to.

The Torrigiani Gardens, which CIU Travel got us access to. Photo by Eric Stoen/TravelBabbo.com.

5) Ask Wendy for the right family-friendly travel agent.

Most of the experts on Wendy’s WOW List create trips for families and can suggest (and get you into) unique places that you couldn’t access on your own. Our best vacation ever was two weeks in Florence planned by Maria Gabriella Landers of CIU Travel. We made pasta, pizza, gelato, chocolate, frescoes and books. We went through the normally off-limits Vasari Corridor. We saw a private flag-throwing demonstration in the amazing Torrigiani Gardens. We did kid-friendly visits to all of the major sites and museums. It was literally a perfect trip—and it made our kids love Florence so much that we now go back annually.

 


 

Meet our writer

Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.

Auberge du Jeu de Paume, Chantilly, France

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

Question:

Hi Wendy,

You have great suggestions for the best hotels for a London (Heathrow) stopover. Can you help with Paris (Charles de Gaulle)? We’ll be en route from Africa to California, landing at CDG in the mid-afternoon and departing at 10:30 a.m. the next day. We’ll be tired and would prefer to stay near the airport rather than going into Paris. (We’ve been lucky enough to have seen Paris many times.) But none of the obvious CDG hotel choices look that appealing.

Thanks,
Jane

Answer:

Jane, I presume by “obvious CDG hotel choices” you mean the Sheraton Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 2), the Hilton Charles de Gaulle (Terminal 3), and the citizenM across the road from the Hilton?  I’ve stayed at the Sheraton—because it’s conveniently located at the entrance to the train station where you can zip into the city center—and you’re right:  There’s no real reason to stay there unless you want to pop into Paris for an afternoon and evening.

Here are four alternatives, suggested by one of my Trusted Travel Experts for France, Jack Dancy of Trufflepig, who until recently lived in Paris and is now based in Burgundy. 

1.  The Auberge du Jeu de Paume is an estate in Chantilly that is a 24-minute ride from the airport. It’s a Relais & Chateaux property with a two-Michelin-star restaurant and a brand new spa. “The rooms look onto the gardens of the Château de Chantilly, which is truly splendid and which, in fact, houses one of the largest French Masters collections outside the Louvre,” says Jack. “The town of Chantilly itself is very lovely. Chantilly housed the Royal Stables, and there is still a superbly picturesque race course in the town. You can visit the Royal Stables and the ‘Living Horse Museum’ quite apart from visiting the château and gardens. And nearby is the equally pretty town of Senlis, well worth heading to for lunch and a stroll.”

2. The Château d’Ermenonville, close to the town of Senlis, is also a 24-minute ride from the airport.  (Take a taxi or have the hotel send a car to the airport to pick you up.)  Located in a forest, it works “for a grandiose quiet night in a château complete with moat,”  says Jack.

Should you feel like a little exercise between long flights, Jack can send a guide, with bikes for you, for an afternoon of biking in the Senlis area, through rolling countryside and the royal hunting forests. That way you’re sightseeing and exercising simultaneously–a nice way to spend a stopover.

3. Should you want to pop into Paris after all, stay just inside the Périphérique (the city ring road), in the 18th arrondissement (Montmartre) or the 20th, since these locations are only a 20-minute taxi ride from CDG.  “I like the Hotel Particulier Montmartre,” says Jack. “You reduce your travel time to CDG compared to a downtown hotel by anything up to 40 minutes at high-traffic times (i.e., when you’re leaving for your morning flight back to North America).  For a one-night stay, it can be fun to be up in Montmartre in particular because people often don’t want to dedicate a whole Paris stay to that neighborhood, but for a final night are happy to be a little out of town, especially with the added benefit of an easy departure.”

4. If you opt for the 20th arrondissement, “to experience a less touristy part of town,” Jack recommends staying at Mama Shelter.  “From both the Hotel Particulier Montmartre and Mama Shelter, you can get directly onto the Périphérique, avoiding all city traffic.”

For imaginative travel solutions in Paris or anywhere in France, connect with Jack Dancy via this trip-request form (so he knows you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler).

Enjoy your stopover!

Wendy Perrin Paris France hotel room

A Classic Paris Hotel That’s Just as Charming as the Newbies

I’m just back from Paris, where the big travel news is the new wave of Asian-owned ultra-luxe hotels challenging the city’s five-star old guard. The Peninsula Paris just opened in August after a billion-dollar investment and joins two other properties built since 2010, the Shangri-La Hotel and the Mandarin Oriental, with the aim of pampering a fussy new breed of mega-rich international travelers from Asia and other emerging economies. Trying to keep up, the grande dames of the Paris hotel scene have been sprucing themselves up: The Bristol just finished a six-year renovation, the Hôtel Plaza Athenée a $268 millon facelift.

Well, I did not stay in any of them. Instead I chose a classic family-owned hotel that’s just across the street from the Peninsula (and a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe): the Hôtel Raphael. It’s quintessential Paris: an old-world mansion with a stellar concierge desk, a breakfast room out of a Parisian film, and a roof garden with panoramic views of the city. It’s even got a sister hotel, with a fabulous indoor pool you can use, a two-minute walk away. The pièce de resistance was this lovely room, fit for an empress (30-second tour shot with my iPhone):

 

Asian-owned hotels that cost upwards of $1,300 a night may be getting all the publicity these days, but classics like the Raphael shouldn’t be overlooked—and here’s my Instagram album to prove it.

 

My classic old-world home in #Paris. More than 60 movies have been shot here. #HotelRaphael

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

The #HotelRaphael’s rooftop terrace/garden/bar is closed for the winter, but I snuck up anyway. #Paris #TourEiffel

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Every once in a while it’s nice to have a #mosaic in one’s #bathtub. :) #HotelRaphael #Paris

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

 

The Hôtel Raphael was kind enough to provide me with complimentary accommodations. In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on the hotel’s part, nor was anything promised on mine. I simply adored the hotel–its intimacy, its old-world charm, the hop-to-it service shown by its polished yet warm staff—and so I want to be sure you know about it, as a convenient five-star alternative to the new $1,300-a-night hotels that are getting all the press nowadays. 

What’s your favorite hotel in Paris?

Eiffel Tower Paris france

10 Tips for a Perfect Family Vacation in Paris

Every summer we take advantage of school holidays and head to new places with our three young kids—26 countries in the past eight years. But we also find ourselves returning again and again to favorite destinations. Paris is one of them. Since November is a perfect time to start planning travel for next summer, it’s also the perfect time to share a few valuable lessons we’ve learned over the course of several trips to the City of Light. These ten tips make our vacations fun for the kids (and adults) and largely stress-free.

Paris Apartment rental

In an apartment we feel like locals. Photo by Eric Stoen.

1. Try a rental instead of a hotel.
We love renting apartments instead of staying in hotels. In an apartment we feel like locals: We have a kitchen—with all the dining flexibility that it brings—and we have far more space than we would in a hotel. Plus, since there are five of us, we would require two hotel rooms, and that becomes expensive. When we spent time in Paris this summer (as part of our six-week trip through Europe), we rented a house through Airbnb, complete with a courtyard, and it was the perfect place to return to after a day of exploring.

Additional tip: We always stay in the 7th arrondissement. It has the markets of Rue Cler as well as the Eiffel Tower, both of which are landmarks that make it really easy to find our way back home from anywhere in the city.

Musee de la Chasse Paris

The Musée de la Chasse is fun and quirky for kids. Photo by Eric Stoen.

2. Search out smaller museums.
The major museums like the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre are absolutely worth visiting (see my next tip), but there’s much more to explore in Paris than just the big-ticket attractions, and you’re missing out if you don’t take the time to suss out the unusual and unique small spots in any city. They are often less crowded, just as interesting (if not more so), and easier to see with kids with naturally shorter attention spans. Two of our favorite small museums are the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and the Musée Marmottan Monet. The Musée de la Chasse is fun and quirky for kids: There are a lot of interactive animal-related displays in a setting that reminds me of a Wes Anderson film. The Monet Museum lets kids get up close to amazing Impressionist art (without the crowds) and to see Monet’s progression as an artist—something you don’t necessarily see at large museums that focus on major works.

Additional tip: Save the museums for a rainy day. Even when the weather is bad, the smaller museums are rarely crowded.

 

private tour of the Louvre with Paris Muse

One of the highlights of our summer trip was a private tour of the Louvre with Paris Muse. Photo by Eric Stoen.

3. If you’re going to a major museum, book a kid-friendly private tour.
One of the highlights of our summer trip was a private tour of the Louvre with Paris Muse. Not only did we avoid most of the lines and crowds, but the kids had a great time completing word puzzles and being led on a treasure hunt that included a wide spectrum of Babylonian, Greek, French Medieval, and Italian Renaissance art and antiquities.

Additional tip: There are numerous groups that lead kid-centric private tours, including Paris Muse and Context Travel. Search on TripAdvisor for “Paris Activities” to see tour reviews, or check Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts to find someone who can arrange special activities wherever you’re traveling.

4. Think picnics.
Every summer that we return to Paris, we find ourselves having more and more picnics, both for lunch and dinner. We’re able to sit and enjoy wine while the kids run around and play—and the breads, meats, cheeses and tarts bought from local markets can’t be beat.

Additional tip: Bring a thin linen blanket from home (which, in addition to being perfect for picnics, can be used as a towel or a sarong) and buy disposable plates, cups and utensils at the local supermarché.

5. Walk. A lot.
The Métro is great for reaching farther-afield areas of the city and for giving legs a rest, but the biggest mistake that first-time visitors to Paris make is that they take the Métro from major site to major site and miss out on the neighborhoods and the transitions between arrondissements. There are great parks, churches, cafés, and shops outside of the major tourist areas, and some of our best days have been the ones when we did the most walking.

Additional tip: We like picking a destination in the morning or the night before, taking the Métro there, exploring that area, and then slowly walking back to our apartment in the afternoon, buying things for dinner along the way.

Paris macaron baking class

Whether you’re into pizza, baguettes or pastries, you can find a cooking class for it in Paris. Photo by Eric Stoen.

6. Learn to cook.
We’ve always loved macarons. So this summer we learned how to make them with Cook’n With Class in Montmartre. Our kids were involved in every step, from preparing the dough and fillings to final assembly—and, best of all, they got to take home everything that they made. Whether you’re into pizza, baguettes or pastries, you can find a cooking class for it in Paris. And it doesn’t even take up a whole day—a short course is a perfect morning or afternoon activity.

Additional tip: If you find a class that looks great for your family but is geared to adults, ask the school if they can offer you a kid-friendly version.

7. Become regulars.
On Rue de Grenelle near Champs de Mars there is a little Italian restaurant. We’ve eaten there six times over the past two summers, and every time is better. When they see us they seat us right away. They anticipate the kids’ drinks. They give us extra appetizers, sweets, and after-dinner liquors at no cost. We always get the same waiter and expand on our conversations each time, as much as possible in French. It makes for a much better experience than simply being one-time visitors. The same holds at boulangeries, where the lovely lady behind the counter would anticipate our pain au chocolat order every morning, or at the local fresh fruit market, where they gave us frequent discounts for not-really-noticeable produce blemishes—but only after we had gone there several times.

Additional tip: Always try to speak French. Even if it’s just one or two sentences that you quickly looked up on Google Translate, it gets you a better level of service than walking in and assuming that the staff speaks English.

Luxembourg Gardens carousel in Paris

One of the best carousels for spearing brass rings is at Luxembourg Gardens. Photo by Eric Stoen.

8. Stop at every carousel.
There are a lot of carousels in Paris. Every one is different, and our kids love all of them, so we never say no when we’re passing one. The brass rings are always a highlight because you don’t see them in the U.S. very often anymore. There’s rarely a wait, and it’s a nice chance to relax after a lot of walking.

Additional tip: The best carousels for spearing brass rings are at Luxembourg Gardens (by the playground) and at Champs de Mars park, near the Eiffel Tower.

Jardin d’Acclimatation Paris

My kids love the Jardin d’Acclimatation. Photo by Eric Stoen.

9. Skip the big amusement parks.
Forget Disneyland Paris. Head to the Jardin d’Acclimatation instead. It’s a much more authentically Parisian experience, easier to get to, and a lot less expensive, with a small entry fee and then pay-per-ride attractions. Go early, before the park gets crowded.

Additional tip: Bring swimsuits and towels. Our kids love the water area.

Eiffel Tower Paris at night

My daughter and I have a tradition of walking around the Eiffel Tower area at least one night during our trip. Photo by Eric Stoen.

10. Stay up late.
A few years ago when we landed in Paris, my wife and two of the kids were jet-lagged and went to sleep early, but my oldest daughter and I felt wide awake. So we quietly left the apartment and walked all around the Eiffel Tower, the Champs du Mars, and the Trocadero area for two hours, including several trips around the Trocadero carousel. It was great one-on-one bonding, and we got to see more Parisian nightlife than we usually do. Since then, it’s become a tradition for the two of us: We always head over on our first night, and then once or twice a week after that.

Additional tip: I especially enjoy walking at night after it’s rained. The reflections are magical.


 

Meet our writer

Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.