We headed down to the bistro on the corner to get some breakfast, and though it was nothing special at all worth mentioning, the one true benefit of the place was that it was the bistro on the corner. We got the kids some chocolat chaud and croissants, which we had promised them, and also omelets to keep them full until lunchtime. (Joe and I also had some coffee, because coffee.) Again, I don’t think this place was particularly good, but sometimes when traveling with kids the choice of eatery in any given moment is a bit more utilitarian—we need food RIGHT NOW—than checking your Michelin guide ratings, so for that purpose it was fine.
Before our trip I’d bought a two day pass for the Batobus, which is basically a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tour boat (similar to those double decker busses in most major cities like New York, only more Boaty McBoatface) that sails in a continuous loop along the Seine. It makes eight stops near major tourist attractions (like the Tour Eiffel, Musée d'Orsay, Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées) and I thought it would be pretty convenient, given that our apartment is just a few blocks from the Seine. At this time of year, the boat come about every half hour, so we did have to wait a bit, but the weather was nice and we were by the water so the kids had a chance to run around, it was no big deal. Once we got on board, the views we got from the boat, particularly of all the bridges, were quite good, and also of course the kids liked it because it’s fun to ride on a boat. (I included this graphic below from the ticket kiosk, because it’s information that might have been nice to have beforehand.)
Now that I’m looking at the graphic, I can see that it took about 45 minutes to get from the Tour Eiffel (our stop) to Notre Dame, but it didn’t feel that long, because there was a lot to see. That said, given that and the up to half hour wait for the boat (they give you the intervals but don’t post a schedule of specific times for boat arrivals at each station, probably so as not to enrage you if the boat is running late), it’s probably not the best mode of transportation if you’re in a rush. We were not, so it was fine.
Notre Dame was very grand and impressed everyone, which for kids with an age spread like ours, is not a given. Cal is old enough that we know he can appreciate fine arts and sightseeing (to a point), and Mack had luckily just finished an architecture unit at school, so he was primed for the experience.
Nina, though. You know, when you have three kids, what happens is that someone’s always getting dragged along to do something. Either the youngest kid is getting dragged along to do big kid things, or just as frequently, the big kid gets dragged along to go to a jumpy castle place or somesuch. I fully expected Nina to complain vociferously after about five minutes (“Why do we have to be here? I want to do something else. I’m tired. I’m thirsty. Why is this so boring?”) but somehow she didn’t. And here’s why.
“Mom, this place is like Beauty and the Beast. Only there’s no talking clock.”
(Speaking of Disney movies, I have also heard that viewing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with your little kids before visiting the cathedral will help in this same way—maybe even more so—but I think that particular title is in the Disney vault. This asshole concept of the Disney “vault” is something that I will rant about at another time, but I actually can’t say that I totally regret not watching that movie with Nina, as I found it sort of depressing and garbage-y when I watched it as a kid myself. Anyway, this has been Disney Critique, I’m your host, Michelle Au.)
We had intended to go up into the towers of the cathedral (I believe there are something like a skrillion stairs that will lead you to the top of the structure, where your exertions are rewarded by a view of the city, some up close viewing of the gargoyles, and your smug sense of superiority at climbing a skrillion stairs while being very slightly less winded than that other guy) but the line of people queueing up for the towers went all the way down the block. So instead we just walked around the outside of the building and looked at some of the gargoyles that way, and then headed to the back garden, where there was some very limited playground equipment (I mean very limited—there was one swing that everyone was fighting over, one kind of tilted spinning disc structure that seems to be a popular mainstay of Parisian playgrounds, and some very odd curlicue climbing structure listed for ages 5+ but that even my 11 year-old could barely manage to shimmy up.) But the gardens were beautiful and my kids got to run around a bit and be loud (after a prolonged period of hushed tones inside the cathedral itself), so we spent about half an hour back there before heading out to the next thing.
Since everyone was holding up quite well, we decided at this point to try and walk over to the Jardin des Tuileries, where I had read that there was a pretty decent kids playground. (This was in direct response to Nina’s next question, after Notre Dame, which was: “When are we going to do something that I want to do?”) So after a quick stop for lunch (again, unremarkable but utilitarian, and always nice to eat outdoors and watch the city go by) we started walking along the Seine, past the Louvre, to Tuileries.
Now I’ll say, this really was a bit of a walk. By the time we got home, our GPS said that we’d walked more than 6 miles all day, which is substantial, particularly for kids. I think, given that we had that hop-on-hop-off boat ticket, we could have just waited for the boat and taken it down the Seine instead of hoofing it. BUT, it was a nice day out, and the kids were game to walk, and it’s a very nice stroll (no cars, lots of sights) along the Seine, so that’s what we did. Joe carried Nina part of the time, but the boys managed walking just fine, and had plenty of energy left over once we got to the park to play.
Oh, let me put this plug in here, because this is one thing that I think really helped keep Mack engaged. I had this Instax Mini 8 instant film camera (think Polaroid-esque) that I gave him for the trip, so that he could take pictures for his scrapbook. Kids always like taking pictures, but the novelty of this camera for a kid born in the digital age—a viewfinder! multiple aperture choices! film that spits out the top and develops before our eyes!—absolutely fascinates him, and he spent a lot of time on our walk looking for things to take pictures of that would be worthy of the film. (Pro tip: the film is expensive, but right now you can get a pack of 60 exposures at Costco for something like $34.) Yes, because of the film it’s more pricy than letting your kid use a digital camera, but there’s something about having the hard copies to spread out and tape into a book that really appeals to them.
So, after a nice walk along the Seine and after using the Louve courtyard as a cut through (we plan to actually go to the Louvre on Friday, so more on that later) we made it to the Jardin des Tuileries, which was gorgeous and, given the warm, sunny weather, filled with people sitting and strolling. The thing about Paris is that everything feels so grand, even if people just use it every day. Everything is soaked in history and grandeur. It’s just a park, but it’s right across from the Louvre. It’s just a fountain that people sit around to eat lunch, but it’s also surrounded by scores of ancient statues representing mythological figures. Like this one guy. Hey, why so sad, buddy?
Generally speaking, I have noticed that the playgrounds in Paris are much smaller than most playgrounds in the states. Again, I attribute it to cultural differences—the French love their children but I feel like everything is a little less kid-o-centric—and while this was a very nice and modern playground, it was pretty small by American standards. This is not a critique at all because we had a great time there and it was well worth the walk, and Nina must have gone up and down this one central climbing structure 10 times.
But the guidebooks and still pictures don’t really give a good scale of the playground, which, again, is quite small. So here’s a little panorama for you to see—it’s really not made for kids much over the age of 6 or 7.
The boys amused themselves by running around along the big open area along the side of the playground—it’s unclear if it’s just open like that for any particular purpose, but I did see some pairs of kids playing soccer there, and people were riding their bikes up and down. All told, a very nice park in which to spend an hour or two. There was also a small carousel next to the playground, with a ticket booth that doubled as an ice cream stand, because Carousel Man clearly understands some key tenets of both capitalism and child/parent psychology.
So here’s the part where we went wrong yesterday. We’d walked so far and done so well, we figured, hey, why don’t we just walk home from here? We knew our apartment was just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and from the look of things, it wasn’t that far. CRITICAL ERROR. The thing with the Eiffel Tower is that it’s really big, so it looks much closer than it really is. So the walk…was far. It was not far overall, and it would not have been too far at the beginning of the day. But at the end of the day…
…it was kind of far.
Anyway, we finally got home where we all promptly took off our shoes and got horizontal and vegged out for a bit. And a few hours after that, we headed back out for dinner close by. Again, strictly utilitarian, we could have chosen better, but the important part was that the boys got their escargot and were very happy with the experience.
A quick stroll into the tourist scrum at the base of the Eiffel Tower for a dessert of crepes and then we were back home. Was our second mistake of the day stuffing our kids with Nutella and banana crepes right before bedtime? Why yes, yes it was. JE NE REGRETTE RIEN.
I’ll leave you with this, which is footage of the Eiffel Tower doing it’s discotheque thing at night. It lights up like this every hour on the hour for five minutes, and you know, I feel like I should think this looks cheesy, but I don’t.