Oh, Europe. Two weeks home and it already feels like a dream. This vacation was years in the making since we had always wanted to do a European trip with the kids, but life gets in the way of even the most well-intentioned plans and it’s hard to make a commitment to something that costs so much. But sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and seize your moments because life is so much more than work and responsibilities. And so while I knew we would do this trip eventually and had been saving for it, booking the flights last December was a rather impulsive decision, fueled by the excruciatingly busy Fall I had last year working nearly non-stop for 5 straight months. In life, there has to be rewards after periods of intense work.
I’ve shared a lot of photos and thoughts about our trip on Instagram, so I won’t rehash them here, but I will say again that a trip like this taught us to let go of some of the things that I felt have defined us over the years; we’re very frugal and responsible people. Self employment and owning a business will do that to you, but I don’t miss a single penny spent on this trip and I would do it over again and again (I’m hoping to visit another European city in the next year or two with the family). We’ve always valued experiences over buying things and we’ve taught that to our girls, mostly by example. This trip couldn’t have proven this point better. They took in so much and came away with an experience that they’ll always remember (I know my first European trip made a huge impression on me when I was in high school). I’m aware international travel isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can do it, it’s really valuable to step outside your bubble and gain perspective on the rest of the world.
We’ve been asked details about our trip on Instagram and I don’t mind sharing our budget since I find these details immensely helpful when I’m trip planning, so here’s our itinerary (it’s ambitious, but this is how we travel in general):
Day 1-6: Paris
Day 7: Train to Milan
Day 8: Milan
Day 9-10: Florence
Day 11-13: Bologna
Day 14: 6 hour layover in Amsterdam (yes, we did go into the city!)
Miles walked over 14 days: 76 (we walked an average of 6 miles every day)
Suitcases packed: 3 carry-ons for the 4 of us (so glad we packed light as we dragged those suitcases everywhere)
Estimated budget for 2 weeks: $10k (we came $600 under)
Airfare for 4: $3k (I bought our tickets 9 months in advance and we flew into Paris and flew back from Bologna)
Daily food budget: 120 euros (it was pretty easy to stick to, but we didn’t eat at any fancy restaurants. We didn’t cook as much as we had initially thought we might either, however)
We did one very big splurge on our trip which was a food tour in Italy (I’ll write about that on a separate post). It was not cheap, but I am so glad we invested in that experience because it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.
For accommodations, we stayed in Airbnbs in Paris and Bologna, a hotel in Milan, and used credit card points for our hotel in Florence. We LOVED our hotel in Florence, by the way. Globus Hotel had the nicest and most helpful staff, and their breakfast and daily happy hour were well appointed and so appreciated.
Choosing hotels and apartments near train stations in central locations enabled us to walk everywhere (I think we only took the Paris metro 4 times). Yes, we were all super tired from all that walking at the end of every day, but apparently we like to pack a lot in and it’s the best way to see the each city.
Paris was as wonderful as I remembered it to be, but the one big change I noticed on this trip was the variety in food that can be found now. I remember years ago searching blocks and neighborhoods for any kind of Asian cuisine, but it’s pretty easy to find Japanese, Vietnamese or even Thai restaurants now in Paris. I can’t say that we ate anything that absolutely blew us away except for this one cheese that was made with olives and tomatoes (seriously, SO GOOD), but maybe it’s because our minds are fresher from Italy, where the food was SO VERY good. Honestly, the most memorable meals were picnics of things that we would pick up along the way: fresh melons and figs, some good butter (we tried some unpasteurized salted butter with seaweed that was out of this world), cheese, some good bread, and pastries (always pastries!). But here’s a list of places of note that we visited:
Breizh – literally everyone told us to go here for traditional crepes – and yes, do it.
Yann Couvrear – beautiful pastries.
L’As du Fallafel – multiple people told us it was the best falafel they every had. It is excellent. Was it the best I ever had though? Not sure.
Le Quartier Rouge – we met our friend Amy, who lives in Paris now, at her local neighborhood restaurant. We sat outside and it was just a fun meal with delicious, classic, bistro food.
So as you can see, not a whole lot of places (like, what did we eat when we were there?) We arrived armed with recommendations and we made the best attempts to visit some of them (a few were closed. It was August, after all), but we mostly would just stop in at the many cafes and patisseries all over the city whenever we needed a break (don’t forget Berthillon ice cream in Ile de la Cite / Ile Saint-Louis! Our favorite were the sorbets actually – grapefruit and cassis).
We didn’t do a whole lot of sight seeing, but we did visit the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and the Pompidou Centre. I bought tickets in advance for all but the Pompidou, which I’d recommend doing to avoid any lines. We felt very fortunate that we were in Paris while the immersive Klimt exhibit was open. It is such a beautiful exhibition and an experience like no other so go if you are in Paris in the next few months. It’s open until November.
Our favorite memory of Paris, however, had to be the festive atmosphere on the banks of the Seine. Paris doesn’t get fully dark until late – about 10pm – so there are quite a few hours in the evenings when the city gathers at the banks and on its many bridges to watch the sun slowly go down. It’s an amazing sight to see and witness, and an absolute must if you want to join in on Paris culture. You can find outdoor bars bustling with people, and you may even find an impromptu dance party like we did on our very last night. We were told, however, by our Airbnb host that they will be allowing cars again next year, so we felt really lucky to experience this nightly celebration of summer and Parisian life. You couldn’t have scripted a more charming and more Parisian send-off than that!