Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: City (page 1 of 2)

Bound for China!

I’ve been waiting for a number of weeks to break the news about our next trip. This summer saw a good amount of work travel, plus a couple shorter trips, each with one of the older kids. I took my daughter to visit her friend in San Antonio, Texas in July. During our flights out she got to experience domestic first class for the first time. My older son had his turn in August, when we headed to Atlanta for a few days before he started school (SEE: 3 reasons why the Delta Flight Museum is an avgeek must-see).

The solo trips with each of them were super fun, and these were on the heels of a week spent in Europe with both of them (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City). We’d previously called it off back in April, and rebooked a shorter version that was more amenable to everyone.

Right around the time of that trip, I talked with my wife about planning a second international trip with the older two for late in the year. There was award space available for a return from Beijing with a stop in Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, and I knew I could use the reimbursement I’d gotten from KLM after the cancellation on our Europe itinerary to cover most of it (SEE: Submitting an EU261 claim that could net me $1,500). The trip got the green light, and I moved ahead and planned it.

I’d been meaning to get this posted about a week ago, but a busy office move, onboarding new staff, and time at home kept me from wrapping it up. Figures that we would be en route when it is finally finished.

First stop, Beijing!

Our outbound flight is to Beijing, the capital of China. Like I mentioned above, I used the reimbursement from KLM to cover most of the fairly reasonable one-way fare for all of us. We have a total of six nights planned in Beijing, with 5 full days of sightseeing. On the itinerary are the core sights in central Beijing, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the parks nearby. We’ll also wander the hutongs and find plenty of cheap and delicious Chinese food.

Other plans include visiting the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, two other iconic Beijing historic cultural sites. We also have an excursion to the Great Wall planned. I had my eye on the Mutianyu section, and after reading about Dan’s experience with his daughter (SEE: Great Wall Mutianyu Toboggan Ride review), this became a solid plan. It’s a slightly less visited section of the wall, so you avoid some crowds, and there are some fun things to do.

We did not obtain Chinese visas for the trip. I opted to use the 144-hour transit without visa (TWOV) policy that lets tourists visit a select number of Chinese cities for up to 144 hours without a visa. This is a fairly recent change by the Chinese government to promote more tourism. Other cities offer 72-hour TWOV, and another number offer 24-hour TWOV, which is basically only ideal for an overnight layover.

The 144-hour TWOV window in Beijing is honestly more than enough to see much of the city. And even if Beijing isn’t enough, the policy actually allows visitors to travel to other locations, as long as you stay within the Tianjin and Hebei provinces during your visit. Plenty of flexibility.

Our onward flight is to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. Which may seem confusing since Hong Kong is still technically part of China, but for the purposes of TWOV, it qualifies. Hong Kong is one of the special administrative regions, and U.S. passport holders do not need a Chinese visa to visit.

Then 3 days in Hong Kong

Our final three days will be spent exploring the bustling Asian financial center of Hong Kong. Hong Kong can be crazy expensive, and hotel rooms are small, so I’ve had difficulty finding a decent place to stay during our time in the city. I’m still waiting to hear back about the room capacity for the hotel I booked (but I have a backup plan if it falls through).

Our Hong Kong itinerary includes hiking up Victoria Peak, eating dim sum, and hopefully meeting up with Jason Francisco, one of the other writers for Points with a Crew, and his wife. We’ll see if we can make that happen. We may stuff in a day trip to Macau, but I’m not sure I want to cram it in, given the time and cost required.

The school issue

We made these plans before officially making the decision to enroll our two boys in New Life Christian school. We are fortunate that the school was able to send him with the work he needs to complete. We are homeschooling our daughter, so bringing along her work was pretty easy. We’ll just have to carve out some time in the evenings to get some done.

What will mom and the little guy do? They have their own fun-filled week planned. Our four-year-old is super excited to have mom all to himself (LOL). With only one kid to wrangle instead of three, mom will also be able to catch up on projects that she has been wanting to get to for months.

Conclusion

I’m excited. This will be my first time to any country in Asia. I don’t count my 90-minute visit to Seoul Incheon airport early last year (nor do I count my unplanned stop in Anchorage – SEE: 2 people getting engaged and 1 going into labor on my crazy flight). The more I’ve read and researched about China, the more fascinated I have become with the country. I’m excited to experience the culture and people.

Featured photo courtesy of Pexels

Sheraton Roma Review

Overall rating: 8/10

Pros: Cheap points rate, good breakfast, nice lounge, easy access to metro

Cons: Not in city center, tired rooms and exterior

This hotel review is very dated, but its been sitting here mostly drafted and I figured I’d finish up and post it. 

During our extended European holiday in 2016 (SEE: Thirty Days in Europe), my wife and I spent 6 nights at the Sheraton Roma. I had booked us directly into a Club Room, which included breakfast and lounge access.

The total? 31,000 SPG points. Not a bad redemption, especially given that it would have easily cost us $900 out of pocket. Now that the merger is happening between the Starwood and Marriott loyalty programs, stays at the Sheraton Roma are becoming a worse deal. Category 1 and 2 Starwood properties were particularly hard hit by the new award chart.

Previously, award nights cost 3,000/4,000 Starpoints for a standard room (we booked a Club Room for a bit more). The new award chart shows that they will cost 17,500 Marriott points. Even given the 3:1 effective ratio of SPG to Marriott points, we’re looking at an increase of 5,500 Marriott points per night.

Cash rates during our dates were ~$140 per night for a club room, so we were getting about 2.7 cents per point. Not a bad redemption, especially since it was saving us the cost of breakfast (and often dinner).

Arrival at the Sheraton Roma

We didn’t have to travel very far the day we arrived. Our first night in Rome was actually spent at the St. Regis Rome, which mainly left me wishing I would have not burned the points I did on the luxury stay (SEE: St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points).

The easiest way to get to the Sheraton Rome is by metro or bus. If you take the metro, you have to walk a good distance to the hotel. We made this mistake, and the area to the immediate south of the hotel is not especially friendly to pedestrians. The bus is a better option, since the stop is literally out in front of the hotel, but you need to do a bit more research. I had it down by the end of our stay.

The exterior of the hotel is dated and not especially appealing.

We arrived in the evening after spending the day exploring Rome, and were immediately told that we needed to check in at the desk in the lounge. This was new to me. I figured the front desk handled everything. But it was easy enough to head up to the sixth floor.

First impressions

As I mentioned, the exterior needs a major face lift. However, the lobby was nice enough. It was often busy, but not during the afternoon that we arrived.

There was a flight crew present when we arrived, and we would continue to see them throughout our stay. It seems that the Sheraton Roma has contracts with multiple airlines for crew stays. Heading to the elevators, we arrived at the 6th floor, where the Club lounge is located.

Check in was…interesting. The staff in the lounge were incredibly professional, but we were accosted by an overly friendly lady who’d had a few too many glasses of Italian wine. She chatted our ears off for a few minutes before we were thankfully given our keys and could extricate ourselves. Our room was one floor down, on the 5th floor.

Sheraton Roma Club Room

I thought I’d taken photos of our room like I typically do at most hotels, but I guess I missed that detail. I took photos of other areas of the property, but not of the room itself. You can take a look here. I recall our Club Room at the Sheraton Roma as being adequate, but a bit on the small side. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, as we were out enjoying Rome most of our visit. In the evening hours, I was often in the lounge working until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. to keep up with things back home.

One note with Starwood (and probably the same once they are fully rolled into Marriott), is that being upgraded to a Club Room doesn’t necessarily grant Club access. Since we’d paid the necessary points premium for a Club Room outright (as if paying cash for the room), we did get Club access and free breakfast. Besides Club access, there aren’t really any differences between standard Club and non-Club rooms at the Sheraton Roma. You’re just on a different floor.

We did opt for the Make a Green Choice program each day. As the Sheraton Roma is a full service hotel, we could get either a voucher for €5 toward food or beverage, or 500 Starpoints.

I value 500 Starpoints at ~$12, so that was definitely what we picked. Including our second Sheraton stay on this trip, we came away with 4,000 Starpoints from award stays. Pretty sweet.

Sheraton Roma Lounge

Access to the Sheraton Club Lounge was the best perk of booking a club room. It was a great place for me to work from in the evenings while my wife relaxed in our room. Or joined me.

Every evening there was a selection of small bites that doubled as dinner for us. Lunch out in Rome is fairly expensive, so we tried to cut costs by eating dinner in the lounge. Most of the food was pretty good. You just had to go back a few times to have enough.

There was a selection of wine as well, always at least one red and one white. It was all self serve. You might say it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy, when in Rome. But we didn’t. I hardly ever have a glass of anything.

The seating in the lounge was adequate, and there were almost always a number of other people present. The Sheraton Roma appears to be a popular hotel for both business travelers and flight crews.

Breakfast

Since we’d spent the extra points on an upgrade to a Club Room, breakfast was also included, either in the Sheraton Club itself or in AQVI, the hotel restaurant.

We opted for the restaurant every day. The food selection included a wide assortment of pastries, and hot breakfast options such as eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese, fruit and much more.

I unfortunately didn’t take any photos besides the one of my plate, but I do remember feeling more than satisfied with both the quality and selection of food at breakfast. We ate with a view of the pool every day.

Italian coffee is also generally very good. The coffee here was about par.

Lounge access and breakfast every day were worth the 1,500 point premium per night. This is about the same as paying $38 per day for breakfast and dinner for two, which was totally worth saving.

Other facilities

The Sheraton Roma has a large pool deck area and a decent size pool. The only issue was that, at least from the breakfast area, it didn’t look all that inviting. The water was murky and not at all appealing. Neither my wife nor I had more than a mild interest in swimming, so it was easy to pass it up.

We did actually use the business center while at the Sheraton Roma. It was necessary to print the boarding passes for our flight from Ciampino to Dublin on Ryan Air. Failure to print a boarding pass will incur a steep fee from the airline.

Access to Rome

One of the drawbacks to the Sheraton Roma is its distance from the city center. It’s not that access isn’t all that difficult. It just means a 20-60 minute transit time each way, depending on where you want to go.

The most convenient option is the Patinaggio bus stop literally right in front of the hotel. The bus takes a bit longer in terms of drive time, but there is less walking involved. You’ll take the 780 line to Trastevere/Pascarella station and then catch the streetcar to Piazza Venezia. From there you can reach many sights in Rome by foot.

The other option is the metro, which we took most of the time. The EUR Magliana station is a 10-minute walk, but the walking route is less than ideal. Bushes had overgrown some of the sidewalk, and traffic is moving at a pretty good pace. But it is the better option for some of the sights. Colosseo station is only a 15 minute ride on the metro, and trains run frequently. Getting to the other side of Rome, such as over to the Vatican, will take at least another 15-20 minutes.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a great stay at the Sheraton Roma. It definitely wasn’t the nicest hotel, but it met our needs perfectly. Even though it isn’t near the center of the city, accessing the typical tourist areas was easy enough by bus or metro. Lounge access and breakfast were nice touches, and if we stay here again, I’d seek to repeat that.

My one potential gripe is that the pool did not look inviting. But we were here to enjoy the history and culture, not the water. If the kids were along, I’m sure they would have still been up for a swim. 😉

Planning a last minute getaway to…Atlanta!

Before summer is over I’d been looking to book a weekend getaway for my older son and I sometime in August. In July my daughter and I headed to San Antonio to surprise a friend of hers. She was lucky enough to even experience first class for the first time.

Our middle child was a bit sad that he didn’t get to go. He expressed that he like a trip with “just papá” as well. I’ve taken the older two several places (SEE: visiting grandparents, Sacramento, southwest road trip, Paris and Luxembourg) since we adopted our three kids last fall, but the trip with my daughter was the first time I’d only taken one of them.

But I’d run into a wall trying to plan a trip. I wanted to include air travel, since he is already obsessed with planes (which is probably my fault). But this meant either forking over some coveted United miles to fly out of Arcata, or finding a decent enough fare deal out of the Bay for which we could use some travel vouchers from previous poor experiences (SEE: United’s problem is…everything).

Plus, there was the issue of timing. And the drive to the Bay. I didn’t really want to drive 5 hours each way for a trip of just 2-3 nights. If other costs could be minimized, then maybe. Things would have to align perfectly to make this work.

But then they did, thanks to a site I follow for fare alerts. Looks like we’ll be heading to Atlanta in a couple weeks!

Why Atlanta? 

Honestly, I was originally looking at Boise. It checked the most boxes. Boise offers decent summer weather where my son and I could enjoy the outdoors. Plus, it is not a super long flight, and we have both United and Alaska vouchers that could pay for most of it. It would also be both a new state and new city for me, so there was that appeal. We’d still have to get to and from the Bay, pay $50 out of pocket for airfare, and use up $500 worth of flight vouchers. That’s a lot for a 3-night trip. So I kept putting off booking.

Which turned out to be for the best. Near the end of July, The Flight Deal notified me of a fantastic sale from San Jose to Atlanta. Tickets were offered at $168 round-trip. A second check of the United website found them for even cheaper: $154. And this was *not* basic economy!

Given that we’d have to rent a car if we visited Boise, visiting Atlanta for a few days makes a lot more sense logistically. The mass transit options are a lot better. We could stay in the city center and have plenty to do.

With the tickets safely booked within the 24-hour free cancellation window, I confirmed with my wife that the dates would work. Georgia it is, then.

Putting all the deals together

The tickets cost us $307.20 for the two of us, but with a $300 United voucher, I only had to shell out $7.20 in cash. We’ll have to rent a car to get to San Jose, but I still have a small stash of Hertz points. The rental car should run us about $20.

As far as hotels go, I’m using a combination of Radisson points for our first night near the airport and then Hilton points for two more at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. We’ll have free breakfast those three days. Our final night will be at the Hyatt in midtown on a cash and points rate. I’m positioning myself to earn the 5-brand bonus free night.

The metro will cost us a few bucks, and we’ll have to pay for attractions. We’ll also need ~$60 for Amtrak tickets on our return to take us to Sacramento. My son actually has a doctor’s appointment in the Sacramento Area the day we drive home. Finally, Enterprise points will keep our one-way car rental cost home to just $28.

So, things aren’t free. But I can get them pretty close…

Cash back for the win

Given that we’ve lately been blowing through our budget (seriously…kids are expensive), I don’t have a lot of cash allocated for this trip. Luckily, I’ve been saving the cash back on my Citi DoubleCash card for months. I also have earned nearly $50 from Ebates. I should also have enough “miles” for a redemption using my Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard (SEE: Increased bonus of this flexible point travel card!).

Combined, this should be about $150 in cash back, which will put a major dent in the expenses listed above. I love being able to put together a trip to another city for a few days for next to nothing.

Anyone have ideas of where we should go?

Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the only thing I’ve seen in Atlanta, and I’ve seen it 7 times. Once I was even able to spend the night in the terminal (story for another day). So I really don’t know what Atlanta has to offer. On my list so far are:

  • The Georgia Aquarium
  • World of Coca Cola
  • Centennial Olympic Park
  • Botanical Gardens

If you have any other ideas, be sure to let me know. I’m about to break the news to my son, who I know will be quite excited!

Featured image courtesy of tableatny under CC 2.0 license

Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass: Which is Better?

My wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Eternal City for a week in summer 2016 as part of a month-long excursion to Europe that included touring Italy, France, and Ireland. Oh, and San Marino (SEE: 5 reasons to visit San Marino). How could I forget that?!

While doing my research for Rome, I came across two sightseeing pass options: the Roma Pass and the Omnia Pass. The question is…which is better? Are either worth it? Let’s take a look.

Roma Pass details

The Roma Pass comes in two flavors: the 48-hour and the 72-hour. Both give unlimited free access to ATAC, the public transportation system of Rome, during the time they are active. The Roma Pass also gives significant discounts to dozens of exhibitions, events and businesses.

The main differences between the two versions are the cost and how many museums you get into for free:

  • 48-hour Roma Pass – Free entry into your first museum or archaeological site – Cost of €28
  • 72-hour Roma Pass – Free entry into first two museums or archaeological sites – Cost of €38.50

You can find the list of museums here. We used ours to enter the Colosseum/Forum and the Capitoline Museum, a value of €12 and €15, respectively.

When visiting the Coliseum, the Capitoline Museum, and the Castel Sant’Angelo, you do not have to wait in the ticket line if you hold a Roma Pass (as long as this is one of your free sites where you get this access). This can be a significant benefit, as ticket lines can be long in peak summer season. The longest lines we observed were at the Coliseum.

The typical Rome ATAC 48-hour transit pass included with the Roma Pass normally costs €12.50. A 72-hour transit pass normally costs €18. The ATAC transportation network does include buses to Ciampino airport, but there are other options to make this trip as well (SEE: Best way to get from Rome City Center to Ciampino Airport). Neither pass covers transportation to/from Fiumicino.

Grafitti everywhere. All the metro cars are decorated.

The card is valid from the first time it is activated, either during a visit to a sit or when used on public transportation. Your pass will require you to put your name on it when you purchase it, and you may be asked for proof of identity.

The Roma Pass doesn’t offer entry or discounts on anything related to the Vatican City, which has its own sort of pass: the Omnia Pass.

roma pass vs omnia pass

Omnia Pass Details

The Omnia Pass is a different animal entirely. It includes the same coverage as the Roma Pass, but with some additions. The price is also substantially higher at €113  for adults and €80 for children (although the passes sometimes goes on sale).

The Omnia Pass includes:

  • Free entry to 2 top Rome attractions out of a list of 6, including: the Colosseum/Forum, Capitoline Museum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and Borghese Gallery
  • Free Admission to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
  • Fast Track entry to the Vatican sites
  • Free hop on-hop off bus tour of Rome
  • 72-hour ATAC card
  • Discounted entry to other sites

The value of the Rome attractions is directly comparable to what is offered by the Roma Pass, as the Omnia Pass literally includes a Roma Pass as part of the pack.

Free admission to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with the Omnia Pass is a savings of €17. The “skip the line” tickets that you can buy online cost the entry fee plus a €4 processing fee (per order). You do have to pick a date and time when buying your ticket, while I believe you can go at your leisure with the Omnia Pass.

The fast-track entry to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel may be something you definitely want during peak times. The lines for the Vatican Museums are insane. What I don’t know is if there is a separate line for Omnia Pass holders, as we stood in a pretty long line even after purchasing tickets online.

You also get fast-track entry to St. Peter’s Basilica with the Omnia Pass. There is no entrance fee to visit the church, but visiting the dome costs €6-8. With the Omnia Pass, you get a free Audio Guide and fast track entry (typical value of €15).

The 72-hour hop on-hop off bus tour has a value of €32 based on a review of the Roma Cristiana website. You can also buy a combo bus tour plus public transportation ticket for €39. Since the Omnia Pass includes public transportation with the Roma Pass, this is more or less the value that should be used for both of those.

Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass: which is better?

The value of the Roma Pass is rather easy to determine. We found the 72-hour pass to be a good deal. Simply accounting for the two museums we visited (€12 and €15) and 3 days of free ATAC transportation (€18), we each saved €6.50 by purchasing the pass. Not incredible savings, but it did also save us the wait in the long lines at the Colosseum. And that’s the most basic usage of the pass.

Beyond that, you get reduced rate tickets at other sites. My wife and I visited Castel Sant’Angelo as well using the Roma Pass, and the ticket price was €7 instead of the full €14. If you plan to visit several of the sites on the list within just a few days, you’ll definitely get great value out of the Roma Pass.

The Omnia Pass is a pricier alternative that offers more in one pass, but really doesn’t offer an appreciable discount. The “value” quoted is €118.50 for a typical Rome tourist. They are trying to sell you this pass for €113. A 5% discount isn’t anything to write home about.

What irks me most is that the Omnia Pass website actually lies to you. I don’t understand how they get the €30 valuation of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel ticket (I see it online for €17 + processing fee). They are basically selling you everything bundled together for maybe market price, if not a hair more.

Here’s how I add up everything up for the Omnia Pass: €39 for bus tour plus ATAC card, €27 for the two Roma Pass Museums, €15 for the Vatican fast track and audio guide, and €21 for the Vatican Museum tickets plus processing fee. Total value of €102. Typical Omnia Pass price is €113. It falls short for the basic user. You’d really have to maximize the value at other museums (with your included Roma Pass) to maximize the value.

If you aren’t interested in a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, the Omnia Pass definitely isn’t for you. You’d be looking at a major loss.

Comparing the Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass, we concluded that the Roma Pass is better. It is cheaper and offers tangible savings, while the Omnia Pass is pricey and is much hard to maximize. This was true when I looked up the pricing for our trip to Rome two years ago, and it is still true today. Unless I’m missing something, they are really suckering most people with the Omnia pass.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the Roma Pass is solidly the better deal. The Omnia Pass may be an okay deal in a small minority of cases, but I would venture to guess that it wouldn’t meet the needs of the typical Rome visitor. If the Omnia Pass cost €20 less, my mind might be changed. But it’s simply too expensive to be a deal.

When you pit the Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass, the Roma Pass is definitely the clear winner.

3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights

It figures we’d sleep in a bit after going 31 hours without so much as a real nap. Our first day had brought me to the most exhausted state I’ve felt in years (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag). I still got up fairly early, but actually felt quite rested.

While the kids continued their unbroken slumber, I showered and did some research for the day. I had a general idea of what we should see but still needed to finalize a more concrete plan. It quickly formed around some of the biggest highlights the French capital has to offer.  But the first order of business was breakfast. Time to get the kids up.

Le Petit Déjeuner Parisien

Since IHG has a pretty lousy elite program, the hotel breakfast wasn’t free. And we absolutely weren’t going to pay somewhere around €60 for the three of us.

To our delight there was a wonderful little bakery just around the corner from our hotel. Aux Péchés Normands offers a delectable array of pastries, plus fresh juices, coffee and a few other items. Ordering was a bit awkward, as my attempt at French lapsed into Spanish at a couple points. How I wish I had the time to study a few more languages. Someday, I keep telling myself.

Fortunately the lady helping us was both patient and kind as I butchered her native tongue, plus took twice as long as everyone else to order. Man, could their staff work. The place was hopping and the the handful of employees were giving it their all.

With some croissants, a juice, and a café au lait in hand, we headed to a little park along a canal to the northeast of our hotel. It was the perfect place to enjoy an utterly Parisian first breakfast in Paris.

Except for the coffee. Standard French coffee is an espresso, which is simply too strong for me.

Walking the Louvre and Tuileries

Stomachs full of delicious pastry, we started our adventure with a metro ride to Châtelet once again. But this time we transferred and traveled one more station to the Louvre. I figured that even though we weren’t going to tour this most famous of art museums, we at least needed to see the beautiful Louvre Palace and walk the Tuileries Gardens.

This is also where we met a German mother an her adult daughter who asked us to take a photo of them. We chatted for a few minutes. They were surprised I was traveling with kids and also surprised we had come all the way to Europe for a week. We had a great discussion on the amazing-ness of travel, and I encouraged them to pay the U.S. a visit. They kindly took a photo of us as well.

From the Louvre we meandered leisurely through Les Jardins des Tuileries until we came to the next destination on the list: Musée l’Orangerie.

Marveling at the Water Lilies

If you’re an art connoisseur, you could probably spent a week at the Louvre and not appreciate everything. We could spend all day there, and I’d barely scratch the surface and end up with two unhappy kids. But I still wanted to get in a little art while in Paris. So we settled for the Musée l’Orangerie.

Located at the opposite end of Tuileries Gardens from the Louvre, the Musée l’Orangerie is substantially smaller than its more famous neighbor. But this trove of impressionist art contains one very iconic piece: full wall displays of Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies).

We spent a while marveling at the walls of horizonless, shifting mix of pond and plants arrayed around us on all sides.

Even I could enjoy such a moment. I’m not much into paintings, especially impressionist paintings, but I find the works of the early impressionists are substantially better than the later, abstract ones.

Most of another hour was spent on the lower floor as we examined a number of other works in the museum collection. Some were quite skillful masterpieces, such as this one.

Apparently I missed an easy career as an artist, if this is all it takes to get you into a famous museum. Maybe I could still switch? I’d have to kick the eccentricity up a few notches.

Eventually all three of us had had enough art for the day and ventured back outside to the banks of the Seine.

The highlight of the trip

It was finally time. I’d told the kids I didn’t want the Eiffel Tower to be a tale of misery, so I made sure it wasn’t on the agenda for the first day. Instead, this most iconic of Parisian structures was slated for lunchtime and early afternoon.

We’d already had some glimpses. Le Tour Eiffel often peeks at you from various corners of the city, reminding you that it is always there, always watching. When we left the Musée l’Orangerie, our view was the best we’d had so far. But a short train ride later, and we were standing underneath it.

Unfortunately, one of the entrances to the Eiffel Tower was closed, and we’d managed to pick the longest security line of them all. Ask my wife sometime how I feel about lines.

Luckily, once inside, the wait wasn’t as bad. This was mainly because I’d elected to go with the cheap and character-building Eiffel Tower experience, to the dismay of my children: the Snyders were taking the stairs up the tower! It was definitely for the best. Instead of waiting in a giant line for an elevator, we started up the metal stairs after a mere 10 minutes in the queue. Here are my two troopers starting out:

I had a blast. In the end, the kids did, too. But the adventure wasn’t without its share of whining and complaining about hiking up the Eiffel Tower when there was an functioning elevator available. But once we’d scaled the first floor, the smiles came back.

The views from the first floor were lovely.

But the views from the second level are even more stunning.

I’d read that this was the best level from which to view Paris, as you’re high enough to have a sweeping view of the city, yet close enough to pick out landmarks. I considered going to the top, but given the cost and time,  we’d be happily content with the second level.

Lunch was had at the tiny cafe, which to my shock had prices within the realm of reason. The baguette sandwich was delicious. Nothing beats French bread.

Once we were all satisfied that we’d soaked in enough of the view, we headed down, taking the elevator this time. Turns out you don’t need a ticket to go that direction. Just up.

I’ll have more on the Eiffel Tower later, including a rundown on why I consider the stairs to be the better experience, even with kids. On with our adventure!

Triomphe!

After conquering the Eiffel Tower by foot, it makes sense that our next stop was a monument to victory. Napoleon’s victories, to be exact.

We took our time getting there, though. Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is a grand set of fountains and park called the Jardins du Trocadéro. From here you can get some great shots of the Eiffel Tower.

After walking a little further an up the stairs, we headed down to the metro and rode it three stops to the Arc de Triomphe.

Although the Arc de Triomphe isn’t especially tall, the views from the top are great. The Eiffel Tower is still fairly close, and being at the center of 12(!) different avenues makes for some unique photos.

Like many other places in Paris, the kids got in for free. And “child” prices typically last until they turn 18. This is one reason I would suggest visiting Paris as a family before the kids are grown, especially if you can travel hack the flights and hotel. The former is fairly easy. The latter is a pain.

The Arc de Triomphe involved more stairs, to the kids’ dismay. They asked why they didn’t install an elevator. I had to tell them they weren’t exactly common in the early 1800s. Not to mention electricity as we know it wasn’t a thing. And renovating an stone monument like this wasn’t exactly…eh…simple.

My last comment is to avoid the Arc de Triomphe if driving in Paris. Unless you relish a challenge. The giant circle is an utter free for all.

After our stop at the Arc de Triomphe, we found a cheap restaurant on a side street to grab dinner. There was still one more stop on our itinerary.

A Montmartre Evening

Montmartre is a neighborhood of Paris that I never knew existed prior to our trip, or that it is a favorite for many people visiting the city. When I was searching hotel award options (which is pretty difficult for a party of 3+, let me tell you!), one of the hotels I examined was the Holiday Inn Montmartre. It just seemed too far away from everything else, and the metro wasn’t all that convenient, so I quickly decided it wasn’t a good fit.

But it definitely may be on the table for consideration if we ever visit Paris again. The Montmartre area is charming. It consists of a mix of narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and a lovely hill to climb from where you can enjoy a view of the rest of Paris.

And atop the hill is the stunning Sacre-Couer Cathedral.

You can access Montmartre via the metro, but it is a bit of a walk up the hill. We rode the metro to the Anvers stop and then walked the streets to Square Louise Michel from where we took the funicular for the final stretch. I have an obsession with funiculars. My wife and I enjoyed the one in Quebec City when we visited in the winter of 2016 (SEE: Canadian Adventures in 16 Pictures).

The kids and I spent some time sitting on the hill enjoying the view. There was quite the crowd who all had the same idea. I don’t blame them; it was a lovely evening.

Even though there was a good amount of daylight left, I figured being out much past 8:00 was going to be too much for the kids. We’d seen a lot and walked a lot, and they needed to turn in early enough to be rested for the next day’s adventures.

Exhausted again

We finally arrived back at the hotel around 8:30. It wasn’t long before the kids were asleep, hopefully dreaming about the fun we’d have the following day, our last full day  in Paris.

I drove the two of them hard on our second day. They were troopers, and definitely enjoyed exploring Paris. But they were quite tired. I probably wouldn’t recommend an itinerary as full as ours, especially if your kids are younger. I was already planning on taking things easier on our last full day, and this just confirmed it.

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