H and I went to Paris for our first wedding anniversary and while the complete and utter loveliness of Paris in the springtime is a bit of cliche, it was beautiful and romantic and sunny and warm (which is important in April) and we fell completely in love with the city. We’ve been planning on going back ever since; planning and longing, to the point that I sent H on a day trip for his Christmas present, so when we started to sketch out hazy plans for our summer adventure we knew we wanted to take the children. We wanted to show them the places we loved, share our memories of a time when they weren’t even a twinkle in an eye and keep our fingers crossed that it worked its magic on them too.
As you’ll have noticed if you’ve ever been to Paris, it isn’t exactly the first place you’d think of looking for a campsite but on the recommendation of our Dutch neighbours at our first campsite, we stayed at Camping International at Maisons Laffitte, the equivalent of going to London but staying in Wimbledon.
(the view from the back of our pitch – that’s the Seine on our doorstep!)
The train station was 10 minutes walk away, and the train another half hour and then there we were, emerging blinking out of the depths of the Gare St Lazarre into the sunshine of hot sunny Parisian summertime.
That first day was wonderful. It was hot, but by occasionally nipping into shops to appreciate their air conditioning we kept cool, and we meandered through the streets, just heading wherever took our fancy.
We spent the morning pottering around Le Marais with its beautiful little winding streets, the visual nonsense poetry of the Pompadou Centre, and at lunch time we arrived at the BHV department store in time for lunch (amazing tarte tatin) and some serious and lengthy perusal of the art and crafty materials department before we acquired more pink pencil crayons (and a few other colours too). The staff in BHV were so lovely, and so sweet with the children, even coming to find me to check I’d managed to find the baby changing (French style – a shelf in one of the toilets!).
We’d promised Kitty that when we were in Paris we’d look for a teddy for her; she had left all of hers behind and while not particularly attached to any specific one of the half dozen that live in her bed, she missed being able to grab one for a comforting cuddle. The teddy department at BHV is beautiful; rows of gorgeously tactile bears just asking to be loved and hugged and while Kitty slowly walked down the rows, checking each and every one, Elma ran straight over to a display of soft little girl dollies and picked one up.
“I have this one please”
It was less a request and more a statement of fact, and while Kitty changed her mind a few times before eventually deciding on a Panda named “Panda” and a French Hello Kitty named “Paris Hello Kitty”, Elma stood firm. Dolly Fleur (as Elma and a shop assistant decided she was called) has been Elma’s constant companion ever since. If you could see her now you’d find it hard to believe that she only joined our family in August because “my Fleurie” has been loved, dropped in puddles, played on the grass, and been hugged by sticky fingers. She is nearly as irreplaceable to Elma as blankie so we’re keeping a very close eye on her.
Our plan for that first day was to find a treat for each of us, and as the yarn and fabric department of BHV had been a bit of a let down, we ended the day heading north, back toward our train home and up into what genuinely does look to be a very pretty but unmistakably red light district. Lil Weasel is a shop of two halves tucked down a little arcade, one half fabric and haberdashery and the other half on the opposite side, all things knitting and one of the best button collections I have ever ever seen. I could quite happily have had five or six of all of them and never had to buy another button again for the next decade.
And oh the yarn, organised by colour, it was wall to ceiling loveliness. I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, genuinely seriously there was not a ball of yarn in that shop that I wouldn’t happily knit with, which is both wonderful and incredibly difficult when it comes to making decisions about what you’d like to knit next. I could have happily spent an entire day there making plans and choosing colours. What I got, with three children and H in tow was a blissful 45 minutes. I have a little sock yarn in blue and green, a bright bright blue that will suit Pip perfectly, a muted purple for Elma and a deep burnt orange in what I hope will be enough Aran to make a jumper for me. Eventually. And I did buy some buttons, just not quite as many as Kitty might have wanted to pick.
The fabric is in the opposite shop. It’s just so so pretty, and the ladies in both shops were utterly lovely and even found a little bit of purple ribbon for a bow for Panda.
And so we headed home at the end of the day, a little hot, but happy tired, ready to indulge ourselves with supper out at the campsite cafe.
Our second day in Paris was one of the hardest mornings of the whole trip to be honest, and I think if we’d only spent that day I’d be writing you a postcard telling you never to take your children to Paris. Well perhaps not that extreme, but it was tough.
For starters it was hot, as in 33 degrees hot, in full sunshine with nice white stone buildings reflecting the heat and the light back on us. At 10am it was hard to see without squinting in the Jardin des Tuilleries and it didn’t let up. When you remember that we didn’t have a buggy with us, and were carrying Pip constantly and usually one of the girls as well, well it was like wearing a jumper.
The plan for the day was to visit Monet’s water lilies at the Musee d’Orangeries and then go to see some more impressionists at the Musee d’Orsay. But this is where we crashed up against the stereotypical Parisian attitude to children, the “children should be seen and not heard” that I’d thought was a joke.
I’m going to write about our experiences of the Musees in another post but the short version is that while the museums may be free for under 18s, the Parisians would really rather you didn’t bring children.
And so much as it breaks my heart to say this because I absolutely love sharing really great art with my three, if you’re taking anyone primary school age and under to Paris, don’t bother with the museums.
Do bother with the Batobus. The boat loops around on a giant circuit of the Seine from just above the Eiffel Tour at one end to all the way down to the Jardin du Luxembourg at the other and it’s the most beautiful way to see Paris. On a day of 33 degree heat it might be one of the hottest as the perspex side screens at the sides work like an over efficient greenhouse, but we tipped bottles of water over the girls, sat in the shade and relished the dark cool of each and every bridge we went under.
For my mind it is the way to approach the Eiffel Tour, watching it emerge from behind the buildings, layer by layer until finally you turn the corner and see the whole thing. We didn’t go up the tower, or even over the road to touch it, for us it was all about the carousel, and it was the perfect way to round off our time in Paris.
But before we headed back to our train, back over the bridge and down to our campsite via the fresh sushi section of the local Carrefour, to sit and drink cold cider and watch the river flow past, there was time for one more family selfie.
It say it all: hot, sweaty, sleepy and happy.
And last but not least, I have a little video postcard too – watch it with a nice cool drink and be happy for the autumn!