After a magical time in Venice it was time to bring our European road trip to a close because we had reached the end of our 170 day Renault Eurodrive lease contract.
We had originally planned to return our car in Nice, France because it is the closest free return center to Italy. As our next flight was departing from Paris, we started searching for transport from Nice to Paris by air or rail. Then we came to the conclusion that it would save us some time and money to just drive the car all the way back to Paris (little did we know how many toll booths we’d pass through on the journey!).
The drive time from Venice to Paris was just over 11 hours, a bit far to drive in one day (especially when the daylight hours are short). So, we booked a budget motel in Mâcon, France, a little over halfway.
Climb Every Mountain (or Drive Under Them)
To get into France from Italy we had to get across the Alps. Fortunately the French and Italians had gotten together to dig a tunnel under them and finished the Mont Blanc tunnel back in 1965.
One trip through the tunnel costs 46 Euros, which was the second highest toll we had to pay on our road trip (the highest was 53 Euros to drive across the Øresund Bridge from Denmark to Sweden).
The view approaching the tunnel wasn’t bad.
Aside from the tunnel toll we also had to pay highway tolls of 15 to 25 Euros every 50km or so. We knew before making the drive that we’d be paying tolls but we really underestimated how much cost the would add to the trip. It would be nice if Waze or Google Maps had a feature to calculate the cost of tolls for a given route.
The tunnel was full of signs reminding us to stick to the speed limit and maintain space between the car in front of us. We made it through without incident and on the other side we enjoyed more beautiful scenery through the panoramic sunroof of our fancy Renault Espace (which Renault traded for our Kadjar back in Belgrade – more on that in a future post).
Yellow Vests and Interrupted Sleep
As we pulled off the highway in Mâcon we passed a camp of “Gilets Jaunes” set up at the roundabout just outside our hotel. The protesters were peaceful but at one point seemed to be trying to block people from getting back on the highway toward Paris.
Every few moments a supportive truck driver would blow their horn while driving past. This went on well into the night, right outside our hotel window. We hoped maybe the protesters would sleep in the next morning, but the honks started up again before sunrise.
Fortunately the yellow vests were not blocking traffic the next morning and we were able to get back on the highway without incident.
Back in Paris
Our drive into Paris went smoothly other than a little traffic as we got into the city. After getting all of our belongings unloaded at our AirBnb, Wes went to return the Renault, and with that we were without a car for the first time in six months.
For this visit to Paris, we decided on an AirBnB that is slightly further from the center in the 19th arrondisement because the prices were much better and we were still a pretty short Metro ride away from the major attractions. Luckily, this put us within walking distance of the Parc de la Villette, one of the largest parks in the city. The kids loved playing on the playgrounds there, especially the dragon slide.
On our second day in town, our youngest was down with a stomach bug so Wes took the older two kids to see Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur while we let him recover at the apartment.
Thankfully, by day three everyone was back to full strength and we could take on the largest museum in the world. Our visits to art museums can be a bit hit or miss with the kids – sometimes they think they are really interesting and other times they act like we have found a new way to torture them. We lucked out that our visit to the Louvre coincided with everyone feeling the art museum vibe and we were able to explore the entire day with limited complaints. It only took two visits to cafes and a promise of a bakery on the way home to keep everyone’s spirits up.
We used the short tours geared toward families on the Louvre website so we could learn a bit about art history as we went through. The kids were engaged and we all felt very cool (or maybe just their art-loving mom).
Our kids can now count themselves among the jaded visitors who are a bit surprised at the relatively small size of the Mona Lisa. They wondered if that’s really it as we made our way to the front of the viewing area to snap a picture.
Just opposite the Mona Lisa is the (in our opinion) much more impressive The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese. The kids liked the style since we had just come from Venice and they loved finding the cats and dogs hidden throughout the painting.
As we explored the Napoleon III apartments, our daughter declared that we should get a similar chandelier and redecorate our living room back home in this style. We’ll call that suggestion unlikely to happen at best, but it was still fun to see how the other half lived.
In our experience, one of the most entertaining ways to appreciate sculptures is to mimic their stance. So, of course we could not resist taking a picture of a selfie with the selfie-taking sculpture.
Following on the success of our all-day visit to the Louvre, we pushed our luck a bit with adding in a visit to the Musee d’Orsay before we left town. This in one of Annette’s favorite museums in the world thanks to the beautiful architecture and impressive Impressionist collection.
The kids were relatively attentive while we visited the museum, but not as impressed as we hoped they would be. We tried to get them to look at the water lilies and other famous works and they just wanted to sit on a bench. At least they sat patiently – baby steps in art appreciation.
Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie
Once again, we were happy to find a hands-on science museum to explore, this time the largest science museum in Europe. We spent an entire day here and wished we had time to come again. Some of our favorites included the exhibit on video games, the children’s area, and the exhibit on potatoes.
The museum has two children’s areas, geared to children aged 2-7 and aged 5-12. Each has a separate timed ticket from the normal museum and can get fairly crowded. We enjoyed our time in the age 5-12 area, but had more fun in the main museum where people were more spread out.
When we first saw the potato exhibit on the map, we didn’t think it would be very interesting but we ended up really enjoying it. Yay for potatoes!
As an early Christmas present for the kids, we planned a few days at Disney. Our hotel was very family friendly, with a pirate theme and large indoor water park area.
We once again got out all of our layers because the days we were at the park were colder than what we had experienced the previous week in Paris. When we got to the park in the morning, some of the rides were literally frozen and didn’t open until later in the day. We did not experience this when we visited Disney World in August last year, to say the least.
Despite the cold, we all enjoyed our time at the parks. It helped to get into the Christmas spirit because everything was decked out for the season.
For us Paris always seems to be a bit hit or miss and considering how rough our last trip to Paris was, this visit was great. There is so much more to see there that we didn’t get to so it will be on our list for future adventures. Hopefully when we return the kids will be old enough to fully appreciate the museums and fine dining. 🙂
Next up, our very last stop in Europe for this leg of the trip – Brussels!