By the time you read this, we will be concluding a weekend away in Paris with Pip. Hopefully it will have been more oh la la than oh no.
We had a wonderful trip to the City of Love last Spring which you can read about here and here. Luckily I had my bump and a ridiculous woolly poncho to keep me warm as it even snowed at one point (at the end of March!) but the forecast seems a lot more reasonable this time around. Apart from the weather, there is one other aspect of our 2014 trip that will make a significant difference: the addition of a third holiday companion who while much smaller than his parents is infinitely more demanding!
We are only there for three nights this time, over Easter weekend, and in order to ensure we get the most out of our trip as possible a bit of forward thinking is required. For Christmas Mr Cath gave me the book Paris with Children, and the following has been gleaned from that and from some helpful websites. Most tips I found can apply to any city break, and there is also a bit of overlap with Elly’s New York pointers. As with last year we are renting an apartment – this time with a proper separate bedroom rather than just a partition. This way we can put Pip to bed in one room then have dinner in the other.
Paris seems a particular challenge for many families, and I found reams of off-putting articles such as this Telegraph one entitled “Paris with children: a city that is terrible for ‘les enfants'” and another warning “Paris, France – not so baby friendly”. I’m grateful that others have shared their experiences, however bad they were, as it means that hopefully our break can be less stressful. There are recurring themes such as a lack of baby-friendly places and transport nightmares that we can try and be as prepared as possible for.
Without further ado, here are my pre-Paris-preparations:
1. BYO high chair
Apparently there is an absolute dearth of chaises bébé in Paris, so rather than traipsing from restaurant to restaurant trying to find one that offers a place to sit, we intend to carry the high chair with us. After Pip was born Hester very thoughtfully gave us a Totseat. The one we have is suitable from 8 months, so it has been patiently waiting in the baby drawer for its moment in the sun to arrive. We haven’t used it yet, because most of the places round here seem to offer high chairs, so I’m very excited to see it in action. It can be used up until your baby is 30 months, so well worth the investment I’d say.
2. Go Ergo
We are planning to mainly walk around Paris. However, there will be unavoidable Metro journeys such as to and from the Eurostar station, and for these it sounds as if the Ergo baby carrier will be invaluable. Like many underground transport systems, including London’s, there is a real lack of lifts and not even many escalators, so the buggy would be a nightmare to manoeuvre. We will also take the Ergo out with us just for walking around as it’s often much easier than trying to negotiate a buggy around crowded city streets. The buggy we’re taking is the lightweight stroller so we’ll see how it goes with that too. Last year we stayed in the same area (St Germain) and noticed there seemed to be plenty of buggies and children in general around, so hopefully the passers by will be friendly rather than muttering and refusing to move out of the way.
The Ergo will also be ideal for any museum or gallery trips we decide to do. The Musee Carnavalet, for example, asks that buggies be left in the cloakroom. This mother had to carry around her toddler around in her arms – no thanks!
3. Eats, poops, leaves
When it’s just adults on holiday, you can venture into pretty much any eating destination and as long as you are dressed appropriately you are welcomed inside. With a baby, I’m not so sure. The last thing I want to happen is for us to be wandering around, crying with hunger and tiredness (and that’s just Mummy), attempting to find a place to eat that will have us. I really don’t want to end up resorting to Starbucks or McDonald’s. So the plan is to have a few ideas in mind, maybe circle them on the map, and gravitate in their direction as lunchtime approaches. There is a useful list of baby-friendly cafes and restaurants here, and my book also has loads of child-friendly restaurants grouped by area. We’re planning to bring plenty of snacks, and in order to minimise the potential chaos I have packed lots of Ella’s Kitchen goodies for Pip to slurp while he watches me scoff all the runny cheese, rare steak and red wine that I was deprived of this time last year.
I’ve read that there are hardly any baby changing facilities in Paris. This is one advantage of bringing an older baby on holiday: while there is the complication of solid food and increased mobility, we can enjoy more contained and less rapidly filled nappies. The Pampers BabyDry seem to last for a good few hours, so unless there is a number two, we won’t need to worry too much. If there is a number two, I’m hoping it will be warm enough to change him al fresco in a nearby park rather than use a dirty bathroom floor. Paris has dog poop everywhere so no-one should bat an eye at a little public baby poop…
4. Think about itinerary
It will be helpful to have a couple of activities on the agenda so we can aim towards something and maximise our short time away. The Jardin du Luxembourg will be a must and the Jardin des Plantes has a stroller-friendly zoo! We are also hoping to take Pip to our favourite gallery in Paris, the Musee de l’Orangerie. Apparently you can borrow strollers and baby carriers at the museum so it is definitely a baby-friendly one (even if it wasn’t, we would still try and go anyway, but it’s nice to know we’ll be welcomed). And we’ll definitely be taking Pip to have a look at the Eiffel Tower, and at least the outside of Notre Dame. It would be rude not to.
4. Plan for couple time
After discovering the joys of hiring a babysitter in Amsterdam, we intend to repeat the experience for one of the evenings in Paris. My book recommends several babysitting/childcare services, including the expat website Angloinfo, which led me to the agency Family Space. This offers bilingual babysitters – not that Pip would know any difference, it’s more for our benefit!
Alas, no Tesco Extra stores in Paris. But for everything else, there is Monoprix.