It was Easter 1980. My grandparents, parents and brothers and I were on a European adventure.
Two small cars loaded to the max and ferried across the English Channel on an evening where the seas were far from calm.
It wasn’t long until the floors of the area in which we were seated were awash with vomit. Not mine but in my 12-year-old head, vomit from about 99.9% of the other passengers.
Yes, it was as gross as you’re probably imagining. I had my feet firmly off the floor and quickly mastered the art of mouth-only breathing.
Never had I been as happy to reach dry land.
Thirty-five years later, we reached the Continent under the water … via the Eurostar from London*.
At 200km/hour the only discomfort was the pressurisation around our eardrums as we emerged from tunnels, arriving effortlessly in central Paris on a balmy summer afternoon.
We had just two nights in the City of Lights. Two nights I had skilfully carved out of our European itinerary, slotting between UK and Italy as an unashamed exercise in self-indulgence.
Mr SY had had plenty advance warning re such extravagance. I informed him that he could eye roll all he liked in the lead up to the trip but there was to be a cessation of such rolling during the 40 hours we had in Paris.
There was the romance and magic of this incredible city to experience. There were new memories to make to add to those of my 12-year-old self (standing up to go to the toilet, camping on a freezing night at Versailles, being allowed to eat chocolate on bread).
It was NOT about ticking off every major site. It was about frequently pinching ourselves, of living in the moment and absorbing the beauty that is Paris in summer.
What to do in Paris in summer when time is limited
1. Go up the Eiffel Tower. Our 1980 family visit to the Eiffel Tower is now the stuff of family legend. My family has always been early adopters when it comes to technology. In the early ’80s that translated to owning a video camera – a home video camera that was the size of what most news crews would use now but that camera also required the carrying of a 10kg “box” the size of a home VHS over your shoulder to record what you were filming. My Dad was the chief videographer/carrier.
Getting to level 1 required walking up a gazillion steps – the queue for the lifts was deemed too long for us to wait. As a kid, I don’t remember complaining about the steps but I probably did. I remember it taking forever and I vowed that should I return to Paris, a lift up the tower would be the only option.
Limited lift tickets at certain time slots are available to book online. Attempting to book those four weeks out for a peak period did yield a spot on the lift on our chosen day.
More Googling later and I found a tour company that still had lunch and lift tickets available. I snapped those babies up and on arrival at the tower, congratulated myself on the result. We still had to queue for the lift up but it was a priority queue. We were up seated and sipping on Champagne overlooking the Seine within 30 minutes.
The set two-course meal (with choices and a kids’ menu) was delicious. The 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant was a cool, calm oasis from the heatwave, crowded conditions outside. It was a chance to catch our collective breaths after a morning out before walking the perimeter of level one for a birds-eye view of Paris.
From this level, you can buy further lift tickets to levels two and three. Something I would have done if we’d had more time. Next time …
2. Dine with a rooftops view. I had a vision of arriving in Paris and absorbing that Parisian feeling within hours of said arrival. Where we stayed (more on that below) definitely contributed to the immediacy of that but nothing says Parisian summer feeling like drinks and dinner from a “Terrasse” or rooftop. Google research led me to Hotel Raphael – only a 10-minute walk from where we were staying. I booked online weeks before but never received an email confirmation for the booking – or whether we could bring our son with us – so I did arrive at the venue at our “booked” time with everything crossed.
The lift at the hotel takes you up to the 7th floor. When you arrive, the bar is to your left; the restaurant to your right. You can’t book a spot at the bar but if you wanted to take your chance on a spot, it’s worth the cost of a Champagne cocktail for the view alone. The entire Terrasse is set up like a French courtyard garden with diners sectioned off by garden beds. Your view? The Arc de Triomphe and Momarte on one side; the Eiffel Tower on the other. Pretty shabby really! A walk around the entire rooftop is a walk around Paris. And on this evening the city glowed under the golden hour that is twilight in Europe. Plane entrails criss-crossed the blue sky as we clinked Champagne glasses and sat down to one of the most memorable meals of our life.
The restaurant, which was heavily frequented by Parisian locals on the night we dined, operates on a 95 Euro set menu basis (entrée, main and dessert with an amuse bouche at the beginning and macarons with coffee at the end). It’s far from budget dining but in terms of five-star dinners it was comparable to what we’d pay in Australia for similar quality and location. There is no children’s menu. The choices within the set menu were, however, extensive and our nearly 10-year-old was able to chose dishes that were mostly familiar to him … with a little extension out of his comfort zone on a couple of dishes, something we had geared him up for. Part of the travelling experience for us is all about the local food – not about simply dining out on a global menu of chicken nuggets, burgers and chips. Oops, in France I take that back about the chips. The pomme fritte are like no other. Cooked in duck fat maybe?
I ordered the lobster for my main with a side of seasonal vegetables. This was a winner, as was Mr SY’s king crab and langoustine mousse salad and the chocolate bomb dessert (tiramisu encased in a chocolate ball and surrounded by tiny gold balls of coffee cream).
I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.
3. Shop with intention. I’ve been asked many times so far on this trip about the shopping, what I’ve been buying and where to shop. It’s now confession time. I had not planned on shopping up a storm in London. I had my shopping sights firmly focussed on buying one “souvenir” from our trip. The one souvenir was a tiny Chanel handbag/clutch, something I’d been saving for and putting birthday money towards for 12 months. I wanted to buy it in Paris – at the original Chanel boutique, at Rue Cambon 31. I wanted the whole experience of standing on the staircase made famous by Coco Chanel and I was prepared to walk past every store with “SOLDES” (the Government enforced sales that happen between late June and the end of July each year) blazoned across its storefront windows. Chanel was also on soldes but (of course) not what I wanted to buy. We arrived just after opening as I’d been warned that there would possibly be a queue outside the store to get in. As we passed by Hermes in the same area, that was definitely the case. As luck (the shopping gods perhaps?) would have it, no queue for me at Chanel. I’d also been warned that the sales assistants could be arrogant and snooty. Not so. My assistant Lola was helpful and generous with her knowledge and time – and she indulged my “need” to be photographed on those famous steps.
4. Walk everywhere. The metro system in Paris is very good – we chose not to use it as walking was a better alternative for us to quickly get our bearings and see some of the monuments and sights. It was about a 35-minute walk to the Chanel store in Rue Cambon from our hotel and then another similar trek to the Eiffel Tower for lunch. This took us down the Champs Elysee, into and around the Madeleine Plaza area and on past the Place de la Concorde and over the Seine. It gave us a great perspective and many photo opportunities along the way.
5. Eat delicious things. A good thing about all the walking is that it negates some of the guilt attached with eating ALL the delicious things. You won’t be surprised to hear that Paris is NOT the home of gluten-free or paleo dieting. It’s the home of indulging but not over-indulging. The gluten thing held me back from the delicious bread, pastry and crepe offerings but it did not hold me back at Laduree. Sure Laduree may now be in Sydney but it has to taste better in Paris, it just does.
6. Book a photo shoot. Ok, so this is not your everyday thing to do while travelling but remember my indulgence intention? Yep, this was part of it. I’ve long been a follower and fan of photographer and author Carla Coulson. Carla is an Australian living in Paris, married to an Italian. And she is pure genius behind the camera. My girlfriend, Samille (who blogs at Two Mad Rabbits) had a photo shoot with Carla two years ago. I remember seeing her photos at the time and silently vowing to myself that if I ever made it back to Paris that a shoot with Carla would be on my must-do list. I contacted Carla, realising that the odds may be indeed long that she would be available on the ONE day we had in Paris. A week before our trip, I heard from Carla. Yes, she was available. We spent our late afternoon and early evening with her and her team in a shoot that took us to parts of Paris we would not have found on our own.
More to come on the shoot when I receive the photos.
Where to stay
A short stay in any city is all about maximising the location and we were very fortunate to be hosted by lastminute.com.au to stay at the Hotel Mac Mahon, a stunning boutique hotel just steps from the Arc de Triomphe (we could see it from our balcony window) and the Champs Elysees.
We walked in to see the TV on and realised it was a live stream from a camera on top of the hotel. We really were right in the middle of it all – something essential especially if in Paris for just a short time.
The décor is a modern, eclectic French with a nod to the the Empire style of decoration that was very much the go in the 19th Century. You’ll even find artefacts from the Napoleon Bonaparte era.
Our room was a corner suite and quite sizeable by European standards. A king bed and a sofa bed meant the three of us could share the same room. If staying as a couple, you can use this as a sitting area. The bathroom was small but extremely well designed, as was the separate toilet and bidet (try explaining and instructing a child on how to use a bidet … cue toilet humour now).
I loved the red and black interior, the carpet with purposeful “splats” and bees woven into its design. The ceiling mirrors and red chandeliers were a spin out – in a good way.
Without a doubt, our favourite place was the balcony. Four double doors opened up on to a classic French balcony. It’s here we sat watching the moon rise over the Arc de Triomphe, sipping glasses of Pinot Noir while waiting for Master SY to fall asleep. Even from just the second floor, this was an amazing view.
Yes, there was traffic noise, but somehow in this vibrant city, that just added to the excitement. Once the doors were closed, we hardly heard a thing, quite a feat considering how close we were to one of the busiest roundabouts in the world. The curtains were true block-out too – essential when out enjoying late nights out.
Hotel Mac Mahon has a restaurant/bar/lounge at street level. Two fibreglass rhinoceros heads command the space here. It’s that quirky design thing happening again. So Parisian. A breakfast buffet is served here offering a selection of hot dishes (possibly the best hotel buffet scrambled eggs I’ve ever had), crepes, cereals fruit, yoghurt and pastries. A multitude of dining and eating options also surround the hotel.
It’s a total smoking-free hotel – a big plus in my books as Paris is very much NOT smoking-free.
I also loved the personal touches left for you on the bed each night. Sweets for our son and nougat for us … as well as a weather check and daily quote.
Staff were incredibly helpful and with any request and made us feel comfortable and at home from the moment we arrived. If you need, they can organise special tours that may not be readily available, for example a macaron cooking class or a back-room private visit to a designer showroom.
Wi-fi was free and worked brilliantly for us.
To book, visit lastminute.com.au, HERE
What to wear
We arrived in Paris at the start of what was to be a heatwave. It was high 20s for our arrival and during our full day in Paris it topped 33 degrees. The day we flew out it was set for a top of 39 degrees. It’s a dry heat so not as enervating as summer in Queensland but hot all the same.
Parisian women were wearing mostly summer frocks and sandals or wedges/platforms. These women were an exercise in effortlessly casual, no easy feat while it’s hot.
If frocks are not your thing, lightweight pants and a linen shirt with sandals or wedges/platforms would have you fitting in like a local.
If planning a dinner out somewhere like we did, then a little black dress will always be your Parisian travel wardrobe friend.
So, over to you! Share your favourite things to do and see in Paris. It will be a real help for my next visit and for anyone planning a visit soon!
* Book your Eurostar tickets online 12 weeks before your planned trip. At this you’re more likely to snare a discounted fare. We were hosted by lastminute.com.au for our accommodation in Paris. All transport, excursions, food and shopping was at our own expense.