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On Monday, June 12, we arrived at the Palais Garnier, the original Paris opera house, at 10am and signed up for audio tours.  The children had their own version, and the voice leading theirs was, most appropriately, the famous Phantom of the Opera.  I’ve never seen live opera nor spent any time inside an opera house, but I loved touring this one and learning its history.

After a couple hours, we had lunch at Cafe Jussieu and took the metro to the beautiful Paris Botanical Garden.  This place was not only amazing because of its mazes and tunnels through flowers, bushes, and trees to enjoy and learn about, but it also had an enormous Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, built in the late 1800s, that was full of stampeding animal skeletons!

It was filled with beasts great and small–from dinosaurs, whales, and giraffes to snakes, rodents, tree frogs, and fish.  And a narwhal!  But for its lack of air conditioning, we would have explored it for hours.

The gardens also had a carousel, and being a family who loves carousels (especially one with dodo birds, Tasmanian devils, pandas, and dinosaurs), we had to give it a go.

Unfortunately, while the children and I were riding the carousel, and my bride was taking this video of us, my eldest’s American Girl doll, Saige, was left on the bench unattended for a few minutes, and left us.  We asked anyone (and everyone) we saw about it for the rest of the day, after asking the carousel operator if he’d seen someone take it and visited every lost and found within the gardens and museums (and continued to call them daily during the rest of our trip).  She was sad, but kept some optimism about eventually finding her.

After a couple days, however, we decided to suggest replacement options.  I’ll let her mom describe how this went and concluded via the below Instagram picture and narrative:

At least the story ended well.

After the gardens, we saw the Place de la Bastille, which is where the newer opera house is, and of course, is where many heads were lost during the Revolution.  All those thoughts of bloodshed got me thirsty, so while the Mrs shopped fabrics with our youngest, I decided to take the older two somewhere I’d been longing to go for months and months, after reading this article called the 21 Best Secret Bars in the World that published in February.  As such, I decided we must go to this one:

And here’s my son, trying to crack that famed safe:

He was able to get the numbers right, for the most part, but a key is also required.  The owner of the bar was so impressed with his skills that he pulled out his key and opened the safe for us, but only if we promised not to discuss its contents, so I’ll refrain from doing so here, but I will say that it was filled with very valuable treasures that I would have loved to take home with me.

I took a video of how one enters the pizza joint (where we had dinner), goes through the freezer, and out into the hidden bar, Moonshiner.  Having drinks at a hidden speakeasy behind a Parisian pizza restaurant with my children gave me a level of immense joy that’s probably unnatural and unhealthy, but there it is. I had to be pulled away after 2 hours of discussing Scotch whisky and European travels with the bartenders, as the next morning, we loaded the Kia Carens and headed west!

On Sunday, June 11, we arrived 45 minutes early for our 10am time slot to visit 6 million dead people in the Parisian catacombs.  We descended a spiral staircase into the underground–130 steps–leading to the darkness below.  We walked 1.5km, stopping at visual markers that synced with our audio tours explaining the reasons behind the rows and rows of femurs and skulls that surrounded us.

After we surfaced, we stopped by a patisserie, grabbed some croissants and quiche, and then picnicked at Luxembourg Garden to eat before the children enjoyed a paid (nominal fee) playground whilst the adults sat on benches surrounding it.

Then, we explored the gardens, including one of Paris’ several statutes of liberty, before stopping at the large pond where children can rent sailboats (just 4 Euro per 1/2 hr) with different countries featured on each one’s flag (to tell them apart) that could be shoved across the pond and propelled by the wind.  My children loved this.  They raced their boats against each other or toward one another, talking and laughing with Parisian children who were spending their Sunday afternoon in the same fashion.  It was good, clean, analog fun.

After about 3 hours at the garden, we visited the Pantheon, touring the inside, and then walked into the Latin Quarter, where we stopped for ice cream, and hit the Cluny museum.

The Cluny had several interesting medieval artifacts and art to check out, but its most famous is the “lady and the unicorn” tapestries.

Then we explored the Saint‑Germain‑des‑Prés area, where some of our favorite writers used to hang out, before returning to our apartment for a quick change of clothes before doing something I’ve wanted to do my entire adult life but have never done–have a dinner at a Michelin-Star restaurant.  Atlanta has none; most of the U.S. has none; Paris has over 70 (in fairness, the rating system originated there).

Using my Amex card’s concierge service, I had a list of a few restaurants with a star that were open on Sunday and could be kid-friendly.  I struck out on the first couple, but when I called Epicure (which has 3 Stars) and learned it was booked, the person I spoke to asked if we’d like to go to the same chef’s (Eric Frechon) brasserie, which earned its Star in 2013 and is located at the same hotel. Of course, I said “yes.”  So, a few hours later, we sat down at Le 114 Faubourg in the Bristol Hotel for what was likely the best meal I’ve ever had (and is certainly the best meal my 3 children have ever had).

Even the kids’ coloring books were amazing!

After dessert, we had a drink in the hotel bar (including mocktails for the children), toured the lobby, and met the hotel cat (and mascot).  It was probably the most “grown up” they’ve ever been treated, and it perfectly punctuated a wonderful day–my favorite day so far of our trip.

After our 10am stop at Cafe Victor Hugo on Saturday, June 10, we took the metro to Puces de Vanves, which was a big ol’ flea market area.  I got some vintage pipes with artwork on them; my bride got some coat rack thingy for the children’s backpacks that was like 85 years old or something.  My youngest found a vintage doll from Brittany that she named Josephine and carried around for the rest of the trip.

Then we went to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, because I really like exploring old cemeteries when traveling, and we saw the graves of folks like Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, Abelard and Heloise, etc.

After another wonderful outdoor meal (this time at Le Cavalier Bleu), we traveled the escalator on the exterior of Pompidou Centre– the museum of modern art, exploring the outdoor terrace with a water feature first.  My 8-year-old was very excited to see some works by Mondrian, whom he’d learned about this year from his retiring art teacher.  He bought a postcard to send her that featured the painting below:

I enjoyed seeing items I walk by in my bathroom every day and noticed that when they’re presented upside down and with added colors, they become art!  There were some huge works of art, furniture, photography, and sculptures that were interesting to explore.  Plus, it was very cool (whereas outside, it was very hot on this day)!

We went to bed fairly early, as we had a 9am date with catacombs planned for Sunday.