Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Paris with children

Remember holidays before children; they started with a long haul flight, were liberally peppered with endless meals and involved days of getting to grip with the local culture (wine, art, nature of music, I was not fussy). Since children holidays are measured by the mile: how long the journey takes and my the meter: distance from playground or equivalent. Then there is Paris, for which I throw away the rule book. I lived there twenty(ish) years ago and somehow I can't stay away for long. Strangely, my single student lifestyle of memory is not an awful lot of help when planning a trip with children - I trawled the interweb for a blog to hold my hand, and all I could find were a couple of excellent guidebooks for paris with children, but that still left me with decisions.

If you want to 'do' the Paris landmarks everyone would recommend:
- Book hotels early as family rooms go quickly.
- bateau Mouche along the Seine, and it you have older children find one that takes in the Canal Saint Martin too.
- go up the Eiffel tower, but remember to book
- walk or takes bus from the 'Etoile' known externally as the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Élysées to the Place de la Concorde, and from there you may even be able to fit a trip to the Louvre to see La Jaconda (the Mona Lisa).
- visit the Notre Dame and go on to the Isle St Louis for Ice creams at Berthillon
- other options include Versailles (the Trianon are worth the schlep) and Galleries Lafayette.
- yes there is a big theme park near by too.
Good I have got that out of the way! Perfect, if that is what you want to do, but it is a bit like tourism by numbers for me. This is our story.

After giving up all hope of finding a child friendly hotel I starting sifting through apartments. I had two criteria, it must be cheap and it must have a lift - too many Parisien apartments are only accessible up the endless stone 'heritage' stairwells. Last time we stayed in the 17th (arrondissement) where we rubbed shoulders with the nannies looking after the future leaders of France in the Parc Monceau. Traditional, chic and very stylish! With the Rue de Levis market nearby and the obligatory neon carousel on the corner the Pickle in her element. This time also I considered the 5th close to the Jardin de Luxembourg, the left bank and the rue Mouffetard street market but in the end I headed toward the Marais, the old medieval part of town as it was cheapest.

A knowledgeable wine merchant with a twinkle in his eye, a great cafe and patisserie and a weekend market, who could ask for more? The apartment was clean and serviceable too.

The day after we arrived it was midsummer so we stumbled straight into Fete de la Musique and a cacophonous 24 hours of music on every street corner. With the fabulous Place des Vosges five minutes walk away we need stumble no further.

You can spend days idling away time in the Marais, there are affordable cafes everywhere from Place de la Bastille to The length of Rue de la Roquette - and not to mention the numerous falafel and cheese cake emporia around rue des Rosiers. There is the fabulous Musee de Picasso (currently and annoyingly being refurbished), Musee de Carnavalet and Victor Hugo's house to pick from.

We would be happy just pottering. Observing similarities and differences - apparently the Pickle thinks that the city looks familiar but there are so many motorbikes! I love the simple things of finding a good local patisserie and getting the children to choose their own breakfasts. Finding the local park, buying a few clothes i love French children's clothes.

Twenty years ago you could get decent food affordably in Paris, every neighbourhood had a decent restaurant where you could find the cheaper cuts of meat and seasonal vegetables cooked into something special for a reasonable price. Nowadays Paris is like any other international city; I could contrast the 7 Francs for three courses, including a pave steak that was the norm twenty years ago, with the mediocre fillet steak for E40 excluding vegetables that was offer this visit. Look hard and there is still decent food, but it is pricier and rarer that it once was.

Our best day was spent ambling along the canal starting at the Bastille, pausing at the pirate ship playground, heading towards the Jardin des Plantes. Once there we headed straight for La Baleine, a whale inspired restaurant - you can't book so just cross your fingers, it is great. From there we went to visit the moos at the menagerie, there were many things but no cows, nor elephants for that matter, but plenty of monkeys and close cousins and some fearsome cats. When you are onto a winner stick with it so we went to the Evolution museum to be awed by the whales and the troupe of animals setting out across the savannah.

Some people swear by the Jardin d'acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, and it does have the edge with the train and the Napoleonic amusement park (established by the man, not toddlers in dodgy hats practicing haughty glares). However, it is in Neuilly and even now I fear that the 16th, it is so establishment and refined it may give me a nose bleed.



Next up: a little art. Having failed to book tickets for Musee d'Orsay that was out - there was not even standing space assuming you could find the back of the queue! We trundled across the bridge embellished with promissory padlocks and through the Tuilleries gardens, currently a riot of sudden colour to celebrate 400 years since they last planted a flower. Out of desperation we collapsed into one of the cafes - and was amazed that it was trying to survive on quality rather than relying on tourist dollars and a Gallic shrug!

Onto the Orangerie and Monet's waterlillies. This is perfect for little people, DB even got a personal and very nervous escort. Two rooms, less than a dozen huge canvasses on gently curved walls. DB hunted for fish in the ponds and Pickle flew into the pictures with fairy wings. Forget about the exhibitions downstairs, the impact of the Monets are best left undiluted. I saw those waterlillies about thirty years ago and I have loved art ever since!


Want a view of Paris? I love sticking to one area of town rather than dashing around like a tunnel rat (having said that some of the buses are great). I love taking the escalators to the top of Beaubourg (aka the Pompidou Centre) and looking out over Paris. There are no queues, just mildly confusing bureaucracy getting through the centre. Just below are the Stravinsky Fountains by Nikki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tingley. They are fascinating for little people, and the cafes beside them are an ideal lunch spot, including one that encourages young artists, just don't have pudding yet. Instead amble down to Notre Dame talking Esmerelda and Quasimodo to add to the magic of the cathedral. After a skip around the gloom of the Notre Dame reward yourself with ice creams on the Isle St.Louis - Berthillon is the most famous, but there are many alternatives to choose form. Also the French colourful design company Pylones seems so save colonised the place if you need your wallet lightening.

The Sacre Coeur is also a great place to view Paris from. At the bottom of the hill there is a great carousel and then, hyperventilate, the funicular to the top. If you have bought a carnet of 10 tickets for the metro not only can you use these on the bus but also on the funicular and it is handy to have these as it can be a bun fight. The Place de Tertre at the top of the hill is a tourist hot spot - lock down drill applies - wallets in the safest pockets and children glued to your sides. From there if you keep on going you find the Rue Lepic which snakes it way down the hill, through the very Parisien part of Monmatre. It is am easy walk for little people and a few toy and clothes shops along the way.

Finally how about a local bus trip? Start the day shopping for a treat under the stained glass dome at Galleries Lafayette, or personally I prefer the accessories in Printemps. Take the number 27 bus, it takes you from the Grand Magazins, past the Baroque Garnier Opera, along towards the Palais Royale and through an arch into the Louvre courtyard and past the Pyramid and thence over to the left bank and you get get off at the Jardin de Luxembourg that I mentioned about a hundred years ago at the top of this post.

There is a treasury of things to do, but holidays are about having fun not a tick list to be completed. The aquarium near the Trocadero (with excellent views of the Eifel tower) is meant to be fabulous, the science park at Parc de la Villette is meant to be amazing too and them there is that somewhat famous international theme park nearby.

I think the best part of any city is the lifestyle. Finding a good local cafe, sitting watching and absorbing all that is going on. I love the sounds, the smells and that casual small talk with the shop keepers. As with any the object of any long held love, I have my niggling issues but it is true: I love
Paris.

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