Monday, April 03, 2017

April in Paris: Voyager Avec Enfants (Day One)

For the past six years, we'd spent the kids Spring Break in Hilton Head, SC. It was a great family tradition--we'd rent a house on the beach with pool, the kids would play in the sand and swim every day, we'd cook, do a lot of reading, relax--it was that kind of thing. Simple, fun, kid-friendly, crowd-pleasing. However, now that my kids are getting somewhat older, we're trying to push ourselves a little bit more with our travel (in the somewhat limited time we have, around our work schedules and the kids school), and so after a very successful trip to London last summer, we decided, you know what, let's just go for it, and made plans to do Spring Break in Paris this year.

Before we came, I spent a good deal of time online looking at resources and reviews for traveling with kids in Paris, and since I love reading people's travel experiences and reviews to get my own ideas, and figured I'd contribute something as well. So for the next week, I'll keep a running guide of our trip to Paris, and the specific experience of traveling with kids. Joe and I had been to Paris before, and I had been here several times as a kid myself with my own family, but I think we all understand that travel with kids is its own unique experience, and requires somewhat more forethought than what we did the last time we were here as just two adults, when we just showed up with a carry on each, no real plans, picked a direction and just started walking.

(Small amount of background that will probably inform what is to follow. Most of you know this, but just to set the scene. We have three children. Our oldest, Cal, is eleven, and in the seventh grade. Mack is eight, and in the second grade. Nina is four, and will be starting kindergarten in the fall.)



We flew out of Atlanta Saturday night on an overnight flight into Paris. The overnight flights with kids...I mean, there are plusses and minuses. 



The plus is that, since the kids will theoretically be sleeping through some of it, an eight-hour flight time passes much faster. The minus is that the sleep truly is theoretical, because no matter how small the kids are, they still have bones and organs and those don't always conform to an airplane seat all that well. I would say the younger the kid, the more they were able to sleep, only because they were more able to approximate getting horizontal. Nina slept, by my estimation, about 5 hours. Mack slept maybe 2-3 hours. Cal I'm not sure (he and Joe were in the row behind us) but my guess is that he slept no more than two hours, and I slept maybe a total of 45 minutes. I was in the middle seat with both kids draped across my lap on either end, so I couldn't really shift around or move in any way, so I got a nice start on my decubitus ulcer. (Speaking of which, Joe and I also took two baby aspirins the morning before getting on the plane, because we are DVT paranoiacs, and maybe because I wanted a nice peptic ulcer to match the one on my ass.) The flight left Atlanta at 8:20pm and arrived in Paris just before 10:30am local time, about an eight hour flight. 

The experience at the airport was shockingly smooth. I had planned for two hours to get through all the elements of customs and baggage check but it ended up taking less than an hour total. (Though we brought all carry-ons we did have one bag get pulled out for jetway stowing because it was deemed "too large"--I think it was less that it was too large and more that we were highly conspicuous, because Joe and I were carrying so many things for the kids so it looked like we had All The Bags, Ever. Luckily, because it was a last minute chuck into the baggage hold, my bag was also one of the first bags out, and, if I might snark for a moment, by far the smallest bag on the conveyer belt, GROUCHY AIR FRANCE GATE AGENT.) We'd booked a cab into Paris from the airport, and this too went surprisingly smoothly. (Just because I know that these details are helpful in planning, the cab company we used with Victor Cabs Paris, which I thought was like "victory," (to the victor goes the...cabs?) but no, the guy who drove us was actually a Chinese guy named Victor. The cab cost 95 Euros from the airport--I'm not sure if that's a good deal or not, since I set it up through our rental company and didn't shop around that much--and the ride took about 45 minutes, which was a short enough time that the kids didn't fall asleep in the car.)

By the time we got to the city, it was around noon, but our apartment was not going to be ready until 2:30pm since the previous guests had just checked out that morning. (The usual check-in time is actually 3:30pm, but we asked for an earlier check in if possible and they were able to accommodate just a little bit because thankfully the previous tenants hadn't totally trashed the place. I suspect if the apartment had not been occupied the day before we could have gotten in even sooner, the company seemed very easy to work with.) The rental company we're using is Paris Perfect and we rented the Bergerac, which I will review more fully closer to the end of the week after we've really interfaced with everything fully. Anyway, since we had a little lag between arrival and check in, the Paris Perfect agents let us put our luggage in their office (thankfully only a five minute walk from the apartment) so that we could get some lunch and walk around.




(Above, proof that if the waiter even whispers the words "french fries," Nina will order french fries. Meanwhile, blended vegetable soup for Mack, and a Croque Monsieur for Cal. They were...edible.)

I'll only talk about the restaurants we ate at if they were particularly good, so I won't discuss this lunch restaurant in great detail. Since it was our first meal there and our kids were getting a little poky, we deliberately picked an open air bistro with small tables facing the street and a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. So yes, it was basically a tourist trap, as evidenced by the fact that the waiter immediately noted that they could serve fries as a side with anything on the menu (subtext: "You Americans like you so-called frenched fries, don't you?") and helpfully brought a bottle a squeeze bottle of ketchup to our table. But between the sun and the view I think the experience had enough "wow!" factor that everyone perked up quite nicely, and were energized enough afterwards to take in some playtime at the Parc du Champ-de-Mars.





After an eight hour plane ride, everyone was more than happy to climb some trees and wrestle in the grass for an hour, after which we ambled back to the rental office to check into the apartment. On the way we stopped at a fruit stand to pick up some produce for the apartment (the fruit was very overpriced, probably because of the neighborhood, so we only got a bunch of bananas and a small box of raspberries) as well as some pastries and a baguette at one of the patisseries we passed. The mistake here was only getting one baguette. I mean, one looked like plenty, but my god this baguette was so good, and still warm from the oven. The kids destroyed it basically immediately, and this is right after eating lunch, so it's not even like they were actually hungry. Anyway, lesson learned. Baguettes should be discussed only in plural.




(Above, outside the greengrocer where we got our fruit, and the pastries we bought. There is no picture of the baguette, because it was gone before I could document its existence.)

We all walked over to the apartment to check in. The Paris Perfect agent helped us carry some luggage, but we carried most of it--it was fine, the kids have arms and legs, none of it was that heavy, and it was a nice walk. The apartment was on the sixth floor--really, seventh floor, since European conventions call the "first" floor one story up from street level--and the elevator was...OK, look. First of all, it's nice that there was an elevator at all, many buildings here are walk ups, so I'm not complaining. But if you did need to take the elevator, that thing is quite literally the size of a phone booth. You could fit maybe one adult human and one suitcase in there, period. So we let the agent take one suitcase up, and we decided to walk with the kids and the rest of the bags. This was easily Bruce Protocol Stage 4. I mean, yes, maybe I'm out of shape, but those were a lot of very narrow stairs, and that was a lot of bags. (I carried three, Joe carried four, Cal and Mack each carried one, and Nina carried herself.) I don't mean this as a negative selling point at all, actually--it's part of the charm of staying in a real apartment instead of a hotel--but if stairs or mobility were a sticking point, we probably would have had to take three or even four trips up and down in the elevator total. 




(Above, the courtyard of our building, and the living room of our apartment.)

The agent gave us a very comprehensive tour of the apartment (showing us how all the appliances functioned, how the locks worked on the doors, cluing us into all the hidden storage for extra linens and cleaning supplies in this very space-efficient home). Again, I'll give a more comprehensive review later on, after we've been here for a while, but on check-in we were very pleased, and the kids were delighted at how much nicer and bigger it was than staying in a hotel. The neighborhood we're in, the 7th arrondissement, is  definitely in a more touristy part of town, since there are so many of the more famous sights and monuments nearby. However, since this was our first trip to Paris with the kids, I really wanted to find something with a great view that they'd remember--again, that "wow!" factor.



(My other ulterior motive for getting an apartment so close to the Eiffel Tower is that I figured maybe if they saw it every day, they would be less interested in going up in it--I know it's something that everyone does, I've done it myself, but I'm not convinced I want to burn two hours of out trip waiting in line to go ride on an elevator. Anyway, we'll see.)

We spent a few hours decompressing in the apartment. Everyone got showered and changed, because airplane cooties, the kids chose their rooms, we put our bags away, Joe (who also slept not at all last night) took a short nap. The kids, strangely, were not interested in napping at all. I mean, I know that kids always say they don't want to nap, even when they should, but they didn't even seem tired. After going back and forth on this (should I enforce rest time? Should I just take their good moods as a gift and push through until the evening?) I just let them go with the plan for an early dinner out and an early night in bed.

For dinner, we walked to Café Constant, which I will recommend, because the food was quite good, in addition to being reasonably priced. Predictably, Nina fell asleep in my lap the second we got there (like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun on that one) but the boys kept it together and had a very good dinner. 




Just to give you an idea of one of the reasons we were so excited to take our kids to Paris, our kids, particularly the two older boys, are very adventurous eaters. Usually I'll just give them the menus and let them order for themselves, and their guiding credo seems often to be, "I'm going to get this, because I haven't tried it before." So that makes eating out with them anywhere quite fun, just to see what they'll go for. (For instance, for their appetizers, Mack ordered a dish of raw brined salmon served with sliced onions and potatoes--sounds weird, tasted great--and Cal ordered a deconstructed grilled shrimp tarte flavored with citronella sauce. They were both quite disappointed that there was no escargot on the menu--they've been wanting to try that since the heard that escargot was A Thing--but I told them we'd find a place later in the week.) 

I've noticed that when it comes to restaurants, the French don't cater to kids quite as much as we do in the States, which is somewhat different than saying that they are not kid friendly. For example, at Café Constant they were lovely to our kids, and didn't laugh or interrupt when Mack was laboriously ordering for himself off the menu (he thinks he has to read the entire description of the dish so that they know what he's talking about, as opposed to saying, "I'll have the salmon") but they don't dumb it down for you, you know? I mean, many places in the States will have a kids menu (probably some more touristy restaurants in Paris do as well), and in Atlanta at least, even the nicest restaurants will often bring your kids' beverages in a container with a straw and a lid, though maybe that's more for the staff than just for your kid. However--and not to be an ass about things, because obviously as a parents you indulge you kids' behavior to a point--it's nice to be in a place where you bring your kids into a more adult culture, rather than the other way around. It's refreshing, and honestly I think it's good for the kids to feel a little bit grown-up in that way, and taken seriously. Not everything in the world has to cater to kids, but it's always nice when something that not specifically made for children is something your kids will enjoy anyway, maybe even particularly.

After dinner we walked home, had some of the pastries we'd gotten at the patisserie earlier, and finally hit the fatigue wall. Sunset here is late, around 8:30pm, which is just about the time we all crawled into bed--a fact that made me feel slightly geriatric, but which I wrote off as an investment to spend a little more time out and about the following evening. Anyway, if you have to be home and in bed early, there are worse bedroom window views than this right here.




5 comments:

  1. Thank you for a lovely write-up. I hope that you not only continue to document your family's trip to Paris this year but that you'll also begin to write again more regularly, even if sporadically. It was a most pleasant surprise at seeing your post pop up in my feed, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece, as I used to do back (I think) when you had merely two kids... lol. I hope you and your family have a lovely time. I was just about to suggest to you a place in the 5th that at one point served truly beautiful and reasonably priced vegan/macro cuisine very near the bare-bones hotel I used to stay at, but alas the restaurant is no longer. Tant pis, as they say.

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  2. It's great that you are doing long-distance family travels - the kids will remember it, and it will really open their eyes to the world.

    You've picked a lovely area too!

    Something a little left field, you might like to visit the Grand Mosque of Paris - it is a beautiful building, and I have been told has a very lovely cafe.

    Historically, the Mosque helped hide and transport Jews away from harm during WW2. There is a very well written, illustrated and researched children's book by the same name, that you could use once you return home.

    I've put some links below. Enjoy your trip, and eat lots of bread - it's so yummy!

    https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g187147-d232120-Reviews-Mosquee_de_Paris-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Mosque_of_Paris

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grand-Mosque-Paris-Muslims-Holocaust-x/dp/0823423042

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  3. I've been a long time reader of your blog and can't say enough how happy I am that you are writing again! Glad to see that your family is doing well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Keep writing!

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  4. My husband and I are long (long long) time readers, and were thinking of taking our two boys to France next spring! Looking forward to the rest of your travelogue

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  5. Anonymous4:59 AM

    hello,

    slow day at work, hopped on your blog from another one ;-) 95€ to go from the Airport to paris is quite expensive, you could try le cab https://www.lecab.fr/nos-services/cab-aeroports/aller-aeroport-charles-de-gaulle.html
    (48€). Le cab is like uber except they pay decent wages to drivers.
    Also, regular taxi fares to airports are fixed - from the laft bank to Roissy, at's 55€.

    I hope that helps!

    Have a nice stay in Paris, you are quite Lucky with the weather.

    Blandine

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