Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paris, Personalized

When we were planning our trip, my travel agent encouraged me to hire a private tour guide to help us navigate the touristy maze of Paris. At first I balked - I mean, I can find my way around a guidebook and figure it all out, right? - but she kept mentioning that other clients had found it to be a highlight of their trip. I looked at the website and decided, Why not? And so we chose two special tours for our family, to be led by Paris Personalized.

The first tour was planned for the morning after our arrival in Paris, a three-hour walking tour called "Highlights of Paris." I thought it might be a lot of walking for the kids, that they'd be bored, etc., but from the moment we met Antoinette (the owner of the tour company and our guide for this tour), we knew that we were in good hands. Antoinette is a petite woman who walks fast and smiles easily. She speaks with a lilting British accent and was not at all condescending to the kids; in fact, she tailored many of her facts and stories to appeal to them, winning them over with tales of a scandalous poisoner named Mme. Brinvilliers and the grisly details of medieval and revolutionary Paris. We heard about heads rolling from the guillotine, robbers using the underground sewer system to steal gold... and we also saw the actual bone of St. Genevieve enclosed in a reliquary at a small church near the Pantheon!

Not only that, but Antoinette walked us through a brief but very interesting and informative tour of Notre Dame. We got to pass all the bored, tired tourists in line and zip around the church, noting the gorgeous "Rose Windows" and then circling around the exterior to see the Gargoyles and flying buttresses. From Notre Dame, she took us through the Latin Quarter and introduced us to a boulangerie (bakery) on St. Germain that makes chouquettes (little puff pastry balls rolled in either sugar or chocolate chips) that Marlowe can eat by the bagful. She pointed out the markets that I mentioned yesterday (the butcher, the baker, the fish monger...), where we bought our picnic lunch items, and then we followed her quick steps to Luxembourg Palace, a magnificent area of Paris that features playgrounds, flowers, boat races (for kids) and pony rides, as well as the model of the Statue of Liberty. After a brief talk about the gardens and the Queen who lived there (one of the de Medici's of Tuscany, who modeled the palace after the Pitti Palace in Florence), Antoinette left us to roam through the gardens and take it in like locals, with a picnic lunch.

Far from being a boring lecture that we'd forget immediately, the tour proved to be a valuable introduction to the beautiful neighborhood where we're staying. Thanks to Antoinette, the web of streets and alleys on our map of Paris have been untangled.

This is Antoinette, pointing out the architectural wonders of Notre Dame to Raf, Serena and Marlowe. She even had on the same sort of sparkly silver shoes that Marlowe was wearing. Love at first sight!

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