Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sejour en Paris, Sommaire (and Kid Travel Tips!)

Hello faithful blog readers!

Learning to dunk
Now that I'm mostly over jet-lag and we are settled in our week-long home, I hope to keep this blog (i.e. the grandchild-deprived grandparents) updated on our stays in Paris & London.

First, Paris.

With a child, there is a lot less sight-seeing, and a lot more site-being.  I imagine that in some ways, having a child along makes you more like a native.  Playgrounds, parks, coffee shops, grocery stores, and toy shops aren't on most tourist's "hit-lists," but they are essential to making sure that every member of our traveling party (aka family) gets to enjoy the stay.  (I find "stay" to far more accurate than "trip" now if that's any indication.)  I'll try to sprinkle in tips as to what's worked for us, in case any of you are planning trips with little ones.  (Eowyn will be 2 in a month, and she's an active little toddler, just like she should be =D)

Our friends the Chalamets lent us their apartment while they were on vacation, so we got to have our own little home, right in the heart of Paris.  We were a block from a major metro stop, within 10 minutes walking distance of both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, with great access to a natural food store, a playground, and public transit to Paris City Center.  Since the Chalamets have a little guy a month older than Eowyn and a new baby girl, the house was equipped with plenty of kid gear, and Eowyn had her own room (best for everyone when jet-lag is involved). Eowyn LOVED all the toys.  As soon as she would see their front door, she'd declare "I wanna go pay! (play)"

Tip #1-- establish a "home base" as soon as possible.  It doesn't matter if it's a chair in a corner of a hotel room with a stuffed animal, plastic spoon and cup; just give your child a place they can unwind, play freely, and gain a little security.  And I'm serious about the plasticware being pretty entertaining toys. :)

This visit, we had 2 full days as a family, and decided to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, to spend a day in Versailles' gardens.  The 2 days it was just E & I (Daddy was pow-wowing in preparation for DrupalCon London), we did some shopping at the Galleries Lafayette, and walked around the Rive Gauche (5eme & 6eme arrondissments).  We also enjoyed getting together with several friends on different ocassions-- dinner out one night with my childhood best friend (I hadn't seen her in almost 14 years!!), getting our personal tour from our resident Parisian guide Sego, and an amazing dinner at the home of Ryan's business partner Fred.  It's such a blessing to have friends in a foreign city!!

Tip # 2--for traveling with kids-- pick one site/day.  Notice I said site, not sight.  If there are several things within walking distance (and I mean one that won't leave your kids writhing in agony in the stroller) they can be viewed in one day... but mostly pick one area!

We had absolutely glorious weather the days we were outside.  The Parisians kept telling us how lucky we were, that it had been "tellement moche" (so very ugly) up 'til now.  We definitely enjoyed the 70-80s; warm enough to be out without pants or sleeves, but not so hot as to make us sweat bullets.

In front of the Louvre
Wednesday we arrived at 7 am French time after an overnight flight made worse by a overly-cautious flight attendant who wanted us to buckle Eowyn in a seat all night long instead of letting her sleep on the floor (as we have done on every other flight).  She seemed to have no problem with all the adults on the plane sleeping or sitting on the floor, and didn't protest when I lay down with Eowyn... but oh no, she is much safer where she can wake herself up every time she tries to turn over, where she can fall off the seat. Sigh.  Regardless we made it and were determined to spend as much time outside as possible to try and reset our bodies' clocks.  Ryan headed into the office and I loaded up Eowyn for some shopping at the coolest mall in Paris-- les Galeries Lafayette.  Our first mission was to locate and purchase Ellie II (Ellie I's wherabouts being still unknown).  The Corolle dolls have a trademark vanilla scent that I adore; to me it smells like my childhood in France.  (I'm not sure why because I didn't actually own a Corolle doll... I guess most of my friends did, though, and I definitely smelled them plenty in the stores.)  When we walked past the aisles where the "Ellies" were laying, Eowyn's face lit up, and she held out her arms, exclaiming "Ellie!?" as if to say, "how did you get here?"  Needless to say the two have been inseparable since then.  I also found a fun book on Paris for kids and a Petit Bateau birthday dress for her before heading home to nap.  Tip # 3- buy an age-appropriate book on your travel destination when you get there; you can use it to talk about the trip later, and you'll learn all sorts of fascinating details most adult tour guides leave out!  Then we went to our local natural food store to stock up on GF-goodies (like madeleines & nutella-filled crepes), sit on a street cafe and dunk them in our coffee, and play on the playground.  Tip #4- an hour of running around covers a multitude of sins (or hours strapped into something).  Find a playground, an open space, a park, and let that steam RUN OUT!  This= sound sleeping at night, and quicker recovery from jet lag!

The Arc de Triomphe was great.  Amazing view, really amazing view-- just a cool experience overall!  It's expensive (though I could have gotten us in for free if I'd just been a little less honest, as European young adults get in for free, and no one ever asks for ID, hehehe) but worth it at least once!
Splashing in a fountain in the Louvre gardens

No Szrama trip to Paris is complete without Berthillon ice cream, which you can buy in the very heart of the city, right behind to Notre Dame. The flavors are exquisite-- my favorites are salted butter caramel and chocolate whisky (or bitter cocoa, which has perfectly enough sweetness and lovely robust chocolate flavor)-- and we tried several fruit sorbets (grapefruit, coconut, wild peach and pear) that were very refreshing.  Eowyn has taken to ice cream very well, asking for it daily.  The kid's going to have serious sugar withdrawal when we get back to our regularly-scheduled-program, hah.  Actually, one of my favorite things about French cuisine is how low-sugar the desserts are.  They are often sweetened only with fruit; even the ice cream is mostly cream and the sugars present in the flavorings.  Yum. Tip #5- let your kids enjoy the vacation, too.  Let them get some extra dessert, a toy native to that area, or skip some unloved food, all the while maintaining enough routine (and veggies or fruits) that they stay rested and healthy! 

Friday while Ryan slaved away, Eowyn & I went out into the sunshine in the company of our dear Segolene.  She is always so wonderful about taking me to new little corners of Paris.  Paris is so full of beauty; it never ceases to surprise me, and there is always more to see.  Just look up at any given point and you'll see a mosaic in a wall, artful wrought-iron balconies, courtyards bursting with flowers, or an architectural gem.  We laughed about how easy it is to get lost in Paris because you're so tempted to walk about with your neck craned back trying to take it all in!  This time we went around the Sorbonne district to the south of the la Seine. It's the scholarly district, and it felt like such a different city-- quiet, far less cars, almost a village feel. I'm sure come la rentree (school starting back up) students make it quite lively.  I did manage to sell some of my college required French reading...I got only about 50 cents for them, but hey!  I didn't need them taking up room in my house, and now maybe someone will enjoy them.  And I just got a kick out of selling them. =D
Checking out the locks on the "Lover's Bridge"--
supposedly a lock symbolizing your love here "locks" it in!

Waiting for the train to Versailles
Versailles was fun.  We were a bit perturbed at how many things seemed arbitrarily closing earlier than stated, or were closed, but we still enjoyed the gardens very much.  This summer they had many of the fountains on accompanied by French baroque music (lots of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis XIV's court composer).  Definitely extra-cool.  I just wish they had more green spaces to actually walk or sit on!!  Seriously, what's the point of a green garden if you have to choke on dust the whole time?  We grabbed dinner in a creperie (Ryan's first all-crepe meal!), and then came back for the night show.  The fountains were lit up with lights and set to Baroque music; smoke machines and lasers added effects in certain gardens; lanterns lighted up the paths; and a fireworks/fire/music show capped off the night.  We were very glad to have caught it all!  Next time we go back in cooler weather, we'll try the inside of the castle (it was too crowded to be enjoyable this time around).  Tip-- buy your tickets at the Versailles Tourist Office a block before the castle, avoiding long lines and waits at the actual castle. The only time this might not be advantageous is if you have several students or paying children in your party, because they don't sell reduced-price tickets.  In that case you could save time AND money by buying tickets online.

Square René Viviani, with Notre Dame de Paris behind
Just across the river from Notre Dame is a beautiful little park, the most beautiful I've seen in the city. It's small, but bursting with flowers, quiet and peaceful.  It's home to the oldest tree in the city, too!  Next time you are in Paris, get some Berthillon and a french pastry around 4 (le gouter- snack time; which is non-negotiable in France), amble across the river and sit down in that park and just watch the river and the people go by.  You won't regret it.
In front of Paris' oldest living tree

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