The other day, I was asked by a magazine about family-friendly travel, and the first thing I thought of was a very UN-family-friendly adventure we had in October. Jordan called us one Saturday morning and told us about Nuit Blanche. (It translates to White Night.) Once a year, Paris hosts an art event that goes all night long. Throughout the city there are art installations. Some are big. Others are massive! The fun starts as soon as the sun sets and all the exhibits are free. We jumped in the VW and headed to Paris because it sounded too good to miss.
When the sun set, we took all the kids out, with a plan to see a few exhibits, enjoy the city all lit up, and have the kids in bed by 9:00pm.
This did not happen.
It was insane! People everywhere and too darn crazy for strollers and little ones. By 10:00pm, we had only seen a couple of sort-of cool things and we were all stressed and exhausted. We called it quits and headed home thinking: Nuit Blanche = not for us. We were a little bummed.
By 11:30, we had everyone settled to sleep in the Ferney apartment. So Ben Blair and I went out again! We thought we’d go see one or two more installations and be back home by 1:00am.
This did not happen.
We didn’t get back till 4:30. Hah!
It was soooo worth going out again. The city was awesome. People were out and about and in a festive mood. We saw the butterflies pictured here. The butterflies are easily the coolest installation I’ve ever seen in my life. Period. Thousands and thousands and thousands of paper butterflies in massive swarms. Each one individually placed. It was amazing! And breathtaking. Truly. (Here’s another image).
But everything took longer than we expected that night. When we’d seen our fill, we decided to head home but found only limited metro lines were running. We went as far as we could and then figured we’d grab a cab. But by the time we called for a cab, it was so late that cab service had stopped. Oh dear!
We ended up walking back to the apartment in the middle of the night. It took about an hour and a half. At some point, we stopped at a park along the Seine so we could walk barefoot in the grass and cool off our tired feet. We were laughing the whole walk home: we have six kids and aren’t we too old for 4:00am walks through Paris?!
It was a crazy night and we were definitely tired the next day. : ) I wouldn’t recommend it for families, but it was all sorts of fun for a grown-ups only trip.
Have you ever had an adventure go awry like that? Were you able to salvage it?
32 thoughts on “Nuit Blanche”
paris is kind of funny like that – there’s a tipping point about two am or so where if you’re out, you’re out. nothing to do but to wait it out until the morn – did it a lot in my 20’s but definitely takes more stamina now. The upside though is that you’re first in line for cafe, croissantes and baguettes, warm out of the oven which make it all worth it. Then you catch the first metro back and you compare your “just ended my night” state with those are on their way to “just start their morning”.
We went and saw a Robert Mapplethorp exhibit with the kids. It was very….interesting. If you know his work you’ll understand what I mean. But I chalk up all these experiences to really good learning experiences. Here’s a write- up of the exhibit…and what the kids ended up calling it.
Sounds great. I have just found your blog and feel inspired to go out more with my three. Sometimes it seems such a hassle taking small kids out! (BTW did you get a babysitter in Paris or were you staying with friends? I like the idea of going to Paris and also having an evening out just with my husband but don’t know how to go about finding a reliable babysitter).
Great question, Cath! On that night, we were staying with my sister. Both she and her husband were home when Ben Blair and I went out, so the kids weren’t alone.
But we also use our own kids as babysitters. Ralph is 14 (and Maude just turned 13) and they’re both great with the younger kids. They even took a Red Cross babysitting course!
Thanks! I didn’t think they would have been alone but thought you might have used a babysitting service provided there! We are a way off being able to use our eldest as a babysitter but I look forward to that day.
What kind of VW do you all fit in?
We own a VW Transporter. It seats nine adults! So it’s plenty roomy for us. I keep meaning to write a post about it. Maybe next week…
We went to Nuit Blanche with our kids (age 7 & 9) last fall on a trip to Paris, and we had a ball. We used it as an extra time slot to see in another museum (we went to Beauborg) and while we didn’t see many of the installations, we loved being at a huge Parisian street party. It was rather crowded, but it was a beautiful night to be out, and we saw some pretty cool stuff. I think the secret was that we kept our ambitions low, and just saw what was nearish to our apartment in the Marais and the museum and didn’t try to go far afield. I would have much rather enjoyed being out all night with my husband, though, so I think you did it just right!
That really is the secret, Liz! “We kept our ambitions low.” I just said that the other day to a friend when we met up for a group ski outing. It was insane and I mostly acted as “Mama Sherpa,” running back and forth to the car, bathroom, etc. But since I had set my expectations VERY LOW, it was a great day.
It’s not Blanche Nuit mais Nuit Blanche…
Thanks for catching that, Sophie. I’ll correct it right now.
What an adventure! I love a happy ending. And the butterflies are amazing.
We’ve definitely had things go awry. Sometimes these travel mishaps make the best stories and you laugh about them later (like the time our car broke down outside London but we met lots of great people when they stopped to help). On the other hand, getting three small children through Chinese customs at 2 in the morning and then being completely unable to communicate “extra cot, please” to the hotel desk clerk is not a memory I want to revisit at all. But afterward, it does make you feel like you could handle just about anything!
What a great story! The butterflies are amazing! And no, I don’t think you’re ever too old for 4 a.m. walks in Paris! :) Glad you had a good time even though it didn’t go as planned. Sometimes that’s the best way to do it!
I am in love with the butterflies! That is so cool–and had to have taken a TON of time to set up. Your long walk home doesn’t sound so fun…but at least you all could laugh about it.
I was thinking the same thing: so much time! Worth in my opinion. It was an amazing installation.
Glorious adventure for all! So glad you took your shoes of for the last part.
Was the ground cold? Marvelous memory for you all! Nuit Blanche est enchantee’ in every way!
I have had to walk across Paris late like that before, but had almost completely forgotten that night. Thanks for the memories!
Oh that event sounds amazing! And YES to 4AM walks in Paris! :D
Those butterflies are amazing! San Antonio (I live in Austin) has a similar event inspired by Paris’ White Nights, but it IS toted as a family event. But could it ever be as amazing as that? Likely not!
Wow, so amazing! Yet another reason to move to Paris.
Maybe that’s what Nuit Blanche is all about: enjoying the unexpected! Sounds like you had a great time.
Nuit Blanche means sleepless night.
Or “all-nighter”…we used it in school a lot !
That looks fabulous! I really do need to venture back to France!
See, people wonder why I read mommy blogs when I don’t have/want kids, and this is why! You still manage to have fun, with or without kids in tow. It gives me hope. ;)
You are right Nuit Blanche translates “White Night” but the true meaning behind it is “Sleepless Night” ;-)
Like every year, we attended to the event. Usually it’s 2/3 spot throughout Paris, but last time, the event was gathered in one neighborhood …explaining the crowd.
Did not like this year as much as the previous years.
But you are right..not a kid friendly event ..more a nice grown-up night and an excuse for a “Paris by night” trip ;-)
Sounds like you guys had fun. We have the same art festival in Toronto in the fall, also called Nuit Blanche. We try to go every year. It brings new perspective to art, I find, when you look at it from outside your comfort zone (if you’re like me and don’t find your comfort zone to be at 3am!). It’s always such a fun night out. Now that I know they have it in Paris, I might have to use that as another of my many reasons to travel to France!
Great story, Gab! Reminded me of our walk through Amsterdam to get back to our little town of S’Gravenzande with little public transport and a car we couldn’t locate in a locked up parking lot……I bet you will remember the walk as much as the Nuit Blanche instalments!
Those stories of being stranded and walking across Paris in the wee hours – it is this, it is this – the things that go awry and unplanned that dreams and memories are made of.
Years from now, I bet you and Ben will smile and chuckle at this memory. Remember the Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke films of falling in love over the course of a walk thru’ the night?
We went to nuit blanche years ago (10 years?) when we lived in Paris (pre-kids, obviously) and it was amazing! I always wish we could go back again and hope/plan to do it another time once the kids are a bit bigger.
Also I LOVE the super late night walks through Paris… it’s such a magical place even in the middle of the night. Some of my favorite memories are of walking all the way home after a much too late night and missing the night bus
My husband always says “If it’s not a good time, it’s a good story.” (Great story, btw!) It keeps things into perspective and gets us thru the moment when things go wrong. It also helps to recount the story (much) later to see how true this is.
This sounds amazing!
I am traveling to paris this year, but unfortunately will be arriving the day after nuit blanche (sob)!!
Do you know, were any of the installations still up the day after the event?