Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Our week in Paris

I have been planning and talking of our week in Paris for a while and now I can finally recount what we really did and what fantastic memories we will have of our stay.

We arrived on a cloudy Sunday afternoon to be greeted by my cousin, two years younger than me, who I kept calling by the name of my son for our whole stay...

Another greeting, not quite as nice, was the characteristic French disregard for rules : two women, one with a toddler in a buggy, smoking right outside the train's doors, under the No Smoking sign. Ah well...

We'd already spent a week in Normandy and left lots of our thing at DH's mum's house, only taking clothes for three or four days in a large backpack. But there being 6 of us it was still a lot to carry on the underground, as well as inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, a toddler and a baby!

It was raining and DD1 felt homesick. I confess having felt quite emotional too at leaving our beautiful gite and not having anymore time to spend with my parents. DD2 was poorly for half of the week in Normandy and, spending time with her at my parents', I remembered my own holidays at my grandmother's, enjoying a different kind of family life and not necessarily 'doing' much at all. But then my grandmother lived in an enormous 7 bedrooms house and even more enormous garden, whether my parents live in a council house.... But I will come back to this in another post.

Day 1

The Monday turned out sunny and warm and we started by visiting the Place du Carrousel. It's a place with a really special feel. At the heart of the city, enclosed between the aisles of the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries.
There was a fair in the gardens. Everything was duly overpriced, including the toilets.
DS reproduced perfectly his big sister's behaviour when we last visited Paris six years ago (DD1 was then 3 1/2, the age he is now), asking for a ride on a merry-go-round, then not wanting to  go on when the ticket was bought, then throwing a tantrum. 
DD2 went flying to the ground, star like, mashing her elbow and earning a dust covered front as well as a baby wipe 'bandage'. Bandage which was then adopted by the rest of the children (7 of them with or friends') except for DB.
We then set off to go to Notre-Dame via the grand Place de la Concorde, motivating the girls with references to Disney's Hunchback (sigh). We went on a bit of a wild goose chase looking for a bus that was supposed to take us from the Quai d'Orsay to Notre-Dame. We had spotted it but it was the one going in the wrong direction, so we started to go up the street to find the opposite stop, only to find out that it was a one way street... What can I say ? We were tired, Paris buses are tricky to find AND we were relying on my cousin who, albeit living in Paris has zero sense of directions... Well, the children got really tired but we found the bus eventually, arrived at Notre-Dame where the queue to get in looked infeasibly long (the downside of visiting Paris in August) but there was a little playground next to it  so the children were happy.
I am always amazed at the essential need of children to play and their forgetting everything once they are presented with even a couple of measly see-saws.

Day 2

Our two girls saw A Monster in Paris not long ago and we were keen to see the Sacre Coeur both to make a place they saw in the film come alive, and because it's a place of my childhood.
We went up the stairs.
"Look Children, your great-grand-father used to get down the stairs sliding on the banisters!
- Why ?"
We did the touristy thing of buying illegal ice-creams (the wrapper clearly stated 'Not to be sold separatly') from a street vendor and then had a moment of contemplation going round the basilica. Interesting mix, isn't it ?!
DB decided she wanted a feed after 2/3 of the way in the church and as we were going at snail place, stuck in the mass of visitors, the quiet was somehow disturbed for an agonising few minutes...
We went down by cable car.
"It's boring..." (DD2). Indeed it might not be the most exciting of rides...

In the afternoon we were meeting our friends (who'd been travelling with us from England to Normandy and then Paris) at the Cite des Sciences, Parc de la Villette, for a double session at the Cite des Enfants. The museum has now two different areas for children, one for 2 to 7 years and one for 5 to 12 years, working on just under an hour sessions. You have to book them in advance as they are very popular. During the session the children can visit and play in different stations about water, sound, light, air, image, movement, etc. The big kids even had a go at being part of a rock band !

Day 3

We had decided to set off early and go up the Eiffel Tower but once again the long wait discouraged us. Instead we went on a cruise on the Seine which gave us mixed feelings...
The view of Paris buildings from the Seine is superb but the constant commentaries a bit tiring. We realised too late that there is a service of 'Bateaux bus' which would have suited us better. But as it was the outing didn't match our mood, in part because of DD2 who felt tired and blue which is very unusual for her. She tends to be almost always cheerful or at least full of energy. It turned out that she just needed to eat something (note to self : remember to carry snacks, small muffins on a cruise boat are very expensive!).
We then joined more of my cousins for a picnic in a small garden 'de quartier'. C. has married a German guy and her two girls aged 3 and 5 both speak mainly German. It was hilarious to hear our girls (who speak mainly English) and them try their French while playing together.
We had planned to go to the 'Pestacles' rock concert but were too late so we went to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont's Guignol theatre. The Guignol puppet shows are not without similarities to the British Punch and Judy although when the Punch and Judy Devil takes the Bogeyman to Hell, in the Guignol version he takes the Policeman, tricked by Guignol and his thieving drunkard friend Gnafron. *hanging head in shame of French mentality*

Day 4

That was a busy day, starting with the local market where my cousin lives (Paris' open markets are well worth experiencing!).
We then tried the sandwich shop using products from Paris area farms, Label Ferme. Gorgeous! We went to eat our picnic at Paris Plage, Hotel de Ville. Maybe not such a good idea on a windy day (the sand, very dry, gets everywhere)... But the ice creams, extraordinarily good value (funded by the Ville de Paris) were fantastic, going from a classic chocolate to Violette, Rose, green tea litchee and Orange flower water with sesame seeds!
Then back on the underground Metro to go to the Josephine Baker swimming pool with a glance at the majestic four open books buildings of the Francois Mitterand library.
DS absolutely adored swimming while seeing boats go by on the Seine.
I hadn't factored that we needed swimming caps (compulsory) but we could buy some at the pool (a little souvenir too!). DS chose the bright pink one for himself.

Day 5

We couldn't go without visiting the famous department store Le Bon Marche, made famous by Zola in his 'Au Bonheur des Dames'. The toy department prompted DD2 to declare "I am in paradise!", followed by "I am definitely in Barbies paradise!!!" That says it all.

The afternoon was spent visiting the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes.The whole park is lovely and the children enjoyed seeing the animals.
At the cries of "I need ice-cream!" we went to the Mosquee de Paris, exquisitely exotic and serving a delicious mint tea. Fortunately the glass was empty when DS, getting tired and restless, accidently smashed it on the floor...

Day 6

For our last day we chose to go to the popular Jardin d'Acclimatation. I remembered it from my childhood for the maze (where I never wanted to go!) and the deforming mirrors. There is actually lots to do : fun rides, a little lake with remote controlled boats, camel rides (yes!), zorbing, animals, several playgrounds, swings, a big 'paddling pool' which isn't really a pool but a big space with jets of water, as well as a more gentle area with 'brumisateurs' (sprays of mist). Our older girls did a dragon ride, the camels ride and zorbing while our son thoroughly enjoyed the paddling pool, motor boats and a big cruise ship/climbing frame.

At the end of the week we were shattered but happy! We did have a really nice time and it was lovely to come back every evening to my cousin's flat and enjoy some grown-up time with 'aperitif'! DS loved B.'s place too, making a mess on the balcony by digging in the plant pots and waiting in the corridors until the lights went out and it became "very daaaark".

Happy memories...

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