Elma Family Kitty Photography Pip Video

A postcard from Paris

23/09/2015

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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

(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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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.

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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!).

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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.

Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Paris

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. IMG_5820

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.

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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!

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  • LauraCYMFT 23/09/2015 at 11:05 am

    Such beautiful photos. Paris is gorgeous. I’d quite like to live there one day and sit outside a coffee shop with hot chocolate and croissants and spend the day people watching.

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:32 pm

      Wouldn’t that be lovely – can I come too!

  • Vickie 23/09/2015 at 11:26 am

    Beautiful! Such a shame about the attitude towards little ones though.

    Your video is lovely, you all look wonderfully happy despite the heat and grumpy museum folk. I always imagine Paris to be like that scene in French Kiss where Meg Ryan’s character just misses seeing the Eiffel Tower over and over again!

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:31 pm

      It’s pretty hard to miss, especially on the batobus, you’d really have to try hard!

  • Molly 23/09/2015 at 2:38 pm

    This makes me want to go to Paris! Your video is very lovely too. A shame about the museum, but it’s useful advice to know. Frog is desperate to go to Paris and I can’t imagine a trip to Paris without a museum, so perhaps it might be one we put off for a little while yet! x

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:30 pm

      There is still a lot to do without the museums so you could always do a trip now and a trip later…!

  • suzy mae 23/09/2015 at 2:44 pm

    What great pictures! Sorry about grumpy people at the museum. Sad they are not family friendly.
    I love little tucked away yarn and fabric shops 🙂 I could happily spend a day sighing over rows of squishy yarn.

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:30 pm

      Oh you’d love it – I really could have spent all day there!

  • Preeta Samarasan 23/09/2015 at 7:50 pm

    Very much agree with your take on museums and children in France 🙂 . In fact, it can be extended, with some qualifications, to children in any setting in France — though you will come across your usual doting granny types, sympathetic fellow parents, free-spirited alternative-parenting subcultures, etc., I would say that the tolerance for what *would* be seen as normal child behaviour in other parts of the world (the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, South Asia) is generally pretty low in France. Even where children are supposedly “welcome,” they’re expected to act like little adults, frankly (perfect table manners for 3-hour sit-down meals, only speaking when spoken to, not making noise, greeting strangers “properly”). And though I don’t agree with many of those rules, I find myself enforcing them, with some reluctance, when we’re in those settings, just to be socially acceptable 🙁 . The end result is that I’d just rather avoid those settings as far as possible. But in May we were at the Musée d’Art Moderne and my then-not-quite-six-year-old got told off for not noticing that her dress had just barely *brushed* the frame of a painting while she was twirling, and then FOLLOWED and WATCHED like a hawk for the rest of our time at the museum, although she was obviously so upset at getting told off that she wasn’t going to get within arm’s length of any other piece of art 🙁 .

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:29 pm

      See that just breaks my heart that anyone would think it OK to treat a child like that. We met so many wonderful people on our trip, but saw so many demonstrations of classic French parenting that made me understand why it’s the only country in Europe that hasn’t banned smacking. It was very strange, we drove into Switzerland and despite not changing the language, and never having visited before, it just felt more like home – a nearer culture perhaps!

  • sustainablemum 23/09/2015 at 9:10 pm

    What a wonderful trip to take your children on. I hope they remember it :). How horrible to be treated so poorly by the museum staff, as someone who loves to take my children to museums I would find that incredibly frustrating. Our local art gallery loves have children visitors and even has special bags for them to take round the gallery to help them admire the paintings and think about them. A bit like a storysack 😉

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:26 pm

      Our nearest gallery does that too – and even has different sort of bags depending on your age and the girls love it, and the National always seems to be running events to introduce children to art – our village school was exhibited there one year. It just seems really shortsighted to me but different culture, different rules!

  • erica 23/09/2015 at 9:45 pm

    What a fabulous trip you guys had …your pictures and stories are wonderful!!! (too bad about the museums?!?) I search and search for a yarn shop while we were there but never found one. Now I’ll know where to look.

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:23 pm

      Really, oh no – there are quite a few…! Lil Weasel was the best for finding a fabric shop and a yarn shop at the same time – Tilly and the Buttons has a great post on Paris fabric shops and some of them have yarn too, and then there’s the Ravelry search. Still, great excuse to go back!

  • susan 24/09/2015 at 2:51 am

    WOW! Absolutely beautiful! I loved the video. Everyone looked like they were having a ball. What wonderful memories you made on this trip.

    • Carie 24/09/2015 at 9:21 pm

      Thank you – and yes I think we were – despite the heat!!

  • sally 27/09/2015 at 12:45 am

    Love the sound of your shop, did you buy fabric too? But how sad about the museums 🙁

    • Carie 27/09/2015 at 3:03 pm

      ask a silly question!! but only a couple of fat quarters – I’ve got quite a bit of fabric queued up waiting for me to get to it so I didn’t want to overload the stash. I know I knit faster and I know my knitting stash well enough to be able to add to it on the fly!

  • Mama Herself 18/10/2015 at 9:36 pm

    I’ll be honest, my husband and I are saving up Paris for a holiday without the children sometime in the next fifty years or so. But part of that is that we have lived in cities all their lives, so I’d rather go somewhere that isn’t a city with them for a holiday.

    The campsite tip is a good one though! As is the boat trip one. I do think boat trips through cities are the way to go, and that one has a great destination!

    • Carie 18/10/2015 at 11:29 pm

      The camping was actually one of the real winners for us – we paid a little extra for a bank of the seine pitch and even then we only paid €50 per night which for Paris for five people is incredible value 🙂

  • Claire at Tin Box Traveller 24/10/2015 at 7:06 pm

    I love Paris too but have not been with our kids yet. Great tips about the museums and boat tour. You all look shattered but very happy! #TotsTravel