This week I’m remembering all the wonderful trips I’ve had to Paris.
I’m thinking about chestnut trees laden with miniature pink and white trees of blooms and a milder, more gentle climate. I’m thinking of the softness of the city of lights viewed from a Bateau Mouche chugging along the Seine versus the excitement of watching the spectacle of the nightly laser light show of the Eiffel Tower. I’m remembering long strolls along pretty avenues lined with buildings the colours of softly melting butter. I’m reaching out for the freedom of stopping to sip an early morning coffee or late afternoon wine in a cafe and for days when that was all I had to do. I’m remembering trips with friends, my husband, my older sister and my son. All were quite splendid.
I’m not going to make it to Paris this spring so I thought it would be fun to relive some of the adventures I’ve had there – here on these pages – with you.
Sharing my passion for Paris with you is almost as good as being there myself. So here’s another installation from some of the work I’ve published on this topic. This is an article about a wonderful family trip that was published in The Calgary Herald a few years ago. I wrote it with the hope that other families might find some of the tips fun and useful. Many people have been kind enough to say it was. That’s always a very good day in a writer’s life.
Here we go…
Paris avec famille- tips for family fun in the world’s #1 tourist destination
By Karen Anderson
I’ve been to Paris many times and am very familiar and in love with it. When the opportunity came to go as a family, I realized it was time to research the city of lights anew and look for ways to elevate our experience and to rewind and remember all my firsts with their firsts. Here are my top five tips for families.
#1 – Find family sized shelter.
Consider renting an apartment. If you want a hotel to be central, interesting and authentic, it will likely be itsy bitsy and while cute for nursery rhymes size matters for a fatigued family after an overseas journey. Two hotel rooms at an average price of 151 – 405 Euros per night per room make most apartment prices look favourable in comparison. The luxury of separate kitchen and living room space will be a welcome refuge for the jet-lagged and will also provide the potential cost savings of meals prepared chez vous. Whipping out to the boulangerie to gather one Euro croissants with a DIY French press coffee each morning can mean savings to use for a lovely sidewalk bistro affair at dinner. Haven in Paris has a variety of properties throughout Paris, a manager to meet and orient you, 24 hour on call assistance and specific neighbourhood tips on the best bakeries, bistros, markets, as well as more practical things like pharmacies, post office and metro stations.
#2 – Get help with the family “To Do” list
Hiring a concierge service may seem like a splurge but it can save you hours of research time that will be better spent brushing up on your French. Lisa Buros-Hutchins runs Your Paris Experience and is a master at finding activities for all to enjoy. She’ll ask questions to get to know your family and then propose several ideas and make all the bookings.
We chose the inexpensive 20 Euro per person behind the scenes tour of the Eiffel Tower that got us past the three-hour queue and fascinated my son with up close and personal viewings of monster sized pistons, underground communications tunnels and a myriad of fascinating tower trivia. We also booked a 70 Euro daylong Fat Tire bicycle tour to Versailles. We boarded the train with guide, group and bikes, provisioned at Versaille’s year round organic market, and then picnicked like Marie Antoinette while gazing at King Louis XIV’s hunting lodge cum 700 room chateau. We breezed through the grounds, biked up to a back entrance and had time to tour the interior before catching the train back to Paris.
The most expensive splurge of the trip was booking a private guide for a four-hour art “treasure hunt” at the Louvre. This was about $400 CDN but the guide’s five year French Art History Master’s Degree and entertaining style was worth every penny. Do get a Paris museum pass for one, three or five days through Paris Museum Pass. It’s good at over 60 museums and monuments, allows you to skip lines, takes the bite out of individual tariffs and has opening and closing times and days for all the attractions. Children are free at all public museums in Paris.
We also did plenty of free and low-cost things like watching children float miniature sail boats at Luxembourg Gardens, enjoying the street busking scene near Notre Dame at night, going for ice cream on Ile St. Louis and soaking up the scene of working artists painting in the square at Montmartre. Aurélie Mahadou and Marion Willard of Succulent Paris offer families an afternoon of learning to bake Madeleine cookies. Girls love a visit to the perfume museum of Fragonard where they can design their own fragrance and of course there’s always the fun of window-shopping and people watching along the Champs-Élysées.
#3 – Take public transportation
Do buy metro passes. The metro is easy, inexpensive and faster than above ground transportation. We even took a trip to the suburbs to Bourget’s Le musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (aerospace museum) to see the retired mach-busting Concorde. The trip took two metro trains and a half hour connector bus with my son using his 9 years of French immersion to ask directional questions along the way. It was hot, really hot, but five hours and 500 photos later when my wannabee-a-pilot son declared the visit a dream come true I had a simultaneous dream come true moment when I realized his knowledge of the language had overcome a different kind of “sound barrier” that day. That metro pass was well-priced and priceless.
#4 – Fuel a passion for food
Expose your children to the French culture’s obsession with food. Take them to an open street market and see the lovely produce Parisian’s access outside their doors. Show them the cheese aisle in the mini-marché as big as North American junk food aisles. Buy a Croque Monsieur from a street vendor. Splurge at a sunny café one morning by letting your kids sip hot chocolate and nibble on a flaky pastry while you reboot with a coffee. Let them pick out pretty macarons which have been popular in Paris since the 1500’s only skip the expensive places like Laduree and go to one of the many affordable Paul’s instead. Go for steak and frites with the Parisians at Le Relais de L’Entrecôte when they open at 7pm (before the line-up starts). There is no menu. Your server will ask how you want your steak done. You reply a point, moyen or sang (well done, medium or rare). That’s it. Before you know it a large plate of salad greens topped with walnuts arrives, followed by a small steak with huge pile of shoestring fries and the house-made top-secret sauce. When it looks like you are nearly done with that your server reappears with the other half of your steak and another huge pile of fries. And you smile. There is only house red for wine. You can get a dessert menu but wave it off and order the stacked tower of profiteroles. My son swears this was the best meal of his life and he thought I was so cool because I had read online before we went how it all worked (do subscribe to the fun information-filled Bonjour Paris and Girl’s Guide to Paris blogs to keep up on these little secret tips!)
#5 – Leave room for surprises.
I heard the Institut du Monde Arabe had a lovely roof top restaurant, so we saw the Art of Islam exhibit and enjoyed baklava, tea and the stunning panoramic city views together. Very mature. The Museum of Natural History was next. Who knew there was a petite menagerie on the way? A Zoo Mom! You never told me there was a zoo in Paris. I replied that I didn’t think it would be as good as the one back home and so he agreed but I couldn’t help but notice a sag of the shoulders and resigned sort of trudging. Around the corner he spied an alternate entrance to the zoo right next to the special red panda exhibit. Wow, Mom, wouldn’t it be something to say you saw red pandas in Paris? I got it on the second go. To a 12-year-old boy, it would be really something and would seal the deal on perfect memories of Paris. Between that and shopping for little Eiffel Tower key chains for his friends in the Rive Gauche’s gauchest gift shops, in his eyes we had the perfect day and the perfect trip. If we never return as a family we can truly say we did it right the first time.