Ah, Paris. City of light, of love, of Moulin Rouge and film noir, catwalks and cobblestones, Art Nouveau lamp posts on moonlit bridges, champagne flutes clinking at sidewalk cafes. ... And, of course, playgrounds.
My acquaintance with the kid underbelly of the French capital started with my frequent flyer miles. I had a lot of them. So I offered to take my daughter, my son-in-law and my 11- and 7-year-old granddaughters anywhere that American Airlines flies. The adults picked Paris.
I was admittedly a little nervous. I love Paris, and I know it well. But, seriously? If I were a kid, I’d rather spend my vacation in the Galapagos or, for that matter, Miami Beach. For months before the trip, I sent the girls books about Paris, but it’s not easy to convey the city’s magical joie de vivre. (As 11-year-old Rebecca later told me, “I had a stereotypical view that everyone in Paris was a guy with a mustache, a beret and a baguette under his arm.”) I envisioned glazed eyes and zero ooh la la.
My misgivings disappeared when we emerged from the metro station after the trip from the airport. Rebecca gazed up, jet-lagged but goggle-eyed, at the city’s distinctive creamy limestone architecture, blue slate mansard roofs and filigreed balconies, and immediately shouted, “OH MY GOD! IT’S PARIS! IT’S REALLY PARIS!” And began snapping away madly with her iPod camera.
This paparazzi routine was a recurring motif during our week in Paris and the three days we spent at the beach in nearby Normandy. Telling kids to find some good pictures to take — in Paris, or I suspect, anywhere — will focus their attention, even if you’re someplace they might otherwise find less than scintillating.
The adults — four of us, since my other daughter joined us for part of the trip — naturally had activities we were eager to do. But we also had a list of child-friendly pursuits, including the bateaux-mouches tour boats, the Catacombs, the famous Berthillon ice cream stand on the Ile St-Louis, the Eiffel Tower, the gargoyles of Notre Dame, the Cite des Enfants children’s museum, the sidewalk artists and street performers in Montmartre and Les Halles, and the city’s various parks, such as the Tuileries, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Bois de Boulogne and the Jardin des Plantes.
There were some hot spots that we never even got to, including the Eiffel Tower. (After a close-up cruise-by look from the bateau-mouche, the kids stopped lobbying for the view from the top.) But the master list gave us daily flexibility to adjust to the weather and to what was near our other destinations. There was at least one pit stop for the younger set every day — sometimes the whole day.
Rebecca turned out to be easy. She’s an artistic kid, although not previously much of a fan of looking at other people’s artwork indoors. But the museums of Paris really clicked for her, far more than any of the adults anticipated. In the Louvre, she was transfixed by the Mona Lisa. “I did a report in third grade on Leonardo da Vinci, and it was amazing to be right next to something he actually physically touched,” she marveled. (Moral of the story: Although you shouldn’t count on traveling the way you would without children, at least give them a chance to appreciate why Paris is one of the world’s leading adult tourist destinations.)