En vacances

So how did we get on in Paris avec bebe?

french-baby

Getting there

When I booked our Eurostar tickets, they pretty much dismissed the fact we were bringing a baby and I didn’t have to provide his passport details or anything. I was therefore fully expecting to be seated amidst businesspeople and canoodling couples who would not take kindly to little ‘uns (I’d read this article recommending the family carriage too late – our seats had already been assigned). As we entered the train, Mr Cath immediately saw a French ex-colleague of his who was sat awkwardly by himself in a bay of four seats, with a family of four. Yes, four people between three seats. As it happened, he appeared to have the wrong carriage rather than us as it was absolutely chocabloc with young families, watching videos on iPads, marching up and down the aisle and strewing crumbs everywhere. So I’m unsure whether the man who booked our tickets did register our family status after all, or whether it was just good luck that we were amongst our own kind.

The train journey flew by and we were then faced with the challenge of negotiating the Metro. It would be a direct line from Gare du Nord to St Germain des Pres – easy!

First hurdle: the barriers. Unlike London, Paris’s underground stations seem to be virtually unstaffed, and I suppose in order to combat fare dodgers, they have made the barriers incredibly tall. Therefore, while in London there is only the fear that your waist might be crushed, in Paris that extends to your entire body including your head. With suitcases, not to mention a baby in a sling, the challenge is magnified. The gate had a small opening to the side to insert your bags through: too small for our suitcases but we did manage to squeeze the buggy in – thank goodness for the umbrella fold. There was a larger porte with a sigh in French on it that I translated as “press the button and ask for the gate to be opened.” Button pressed, we waited hopefully and soon heard a voice speaking rapidly in French. Hmm. Something about a porte? We were left none the wiser. Eventually, some friendly fellow tourists came along and after letting themselves through the barriers, waited on the other side to receive our suitcases and pull them quickly through followed by ourselves. We were in!

The trains themselves were fine and I was offered a seat amid kindly murmurs of “bebe“. Personally I’ve never found Parisians to be that rude anyway, or at least no ruder than other city people including Londoners!

Staying there

Our apartment building had been advertised as having a lift, with a “few stairs” up to the apartment itself. This was actually a couple of flights of winding, narrow steps which were somewhat of a challenge to negotiate with all our gear. The compensation? A quiet top floor apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance!

The apartment itself was ideal for our family. I’d envisaged Pip’s cot being in our bedroom so that the two of us could use the living area in the evenings. In fact, when we arrived the cot was set up in the living room and it became evident that this was because it didn’t fit in the bedroom! We ended up putting the cot in the corridor, which had the added bonus of not having to share our room with Pip. Plus the corridor was darker than the other rooms, which I think contributed to Pip’s sleeping unexpectedly well while we were there. The night before we left for Paris we’d had a bad night. I had already packed his medicine bag but in the small hours we had to rifle through the suitcase and extract it in order to administer teething gel (not that he has any teeth yet, in case you were wondering). I’d already ticked it off my list so the next morning we added a few final things, zipped up the suitcases and set off, leaving all of Pip’s Calpol, ibuprofen etc in the nursery. On Friday afternoon we ummed and ahhed about whether to pick up something French for his teething but never got round to it and ultimately after one wake up on Friday night it was all fine.

bunny

Now you might think that this post would be full of mishaps caused by Pip. Not so – turns out becoming a mother has not dented my capability for creating trouble all by myself. I very, very gently pushed the safe door to; it then self-locked with our passports inside! Having called the agency, the following day we arrived back at the apartment to find a chocolate Ferrero Rocher bunny on the coffee table. The safe was still locked. Back on the phone to the agency and it turns out they’d thought we couldn’t get into the safe – the bunny was to say sorry that we wouldn’t have the use of the safe during our stay. Lost in translation. Some kind of key was eventually located and they came round on Easter Sunday evening to unlock it for us in the nick of time. I was really impressed by how they helped us out on the holiday weekend, and the wholly undeserved bunny was delicious!

Doing there

On the Saturday we visited the Jardin du Luxembourg for lunch – more of which later – and then wended our way back up north to the Tuileries. I’d hoped to take Pip to the Musee de l’Orangerie but unfortunately there was a long queue outside. That’s one thing I’d do differently next time: plan a bit more. You’d think with a baby it’s much harder to book and plan things, and it is, but I think even we could make it to a gallery by say 3pm. In any case, Pip promptly fell asleep as we were contemplating the queue, so he wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway! Ah well, time for a crepe instead.

On Easter Sunday we walked along the river to the Jardin des Plantes and checked out the Menagerie, which was really fun. It’s a small, low key zoo, so don’t go expecting penguins or the Big Five, but Pip seemed entertained enough by the camels, monkeys and yak.

That was mostly it – wandering around and occasionally stopping for various baked goods. I’d hoped to do some shopping but we ended up only doing a tiny bit, and I purchased just one outfit for Pip from Sergent Major which includes this adorable checked shorts:

shorts

As for Pip’s nappy needs, we did one park change and apart from that it was all fine. Without going into too much detail, he tends to require a few changes in the morning and is then ok for the afternoon, and Paris was no exception. Seeing as we didn’t leave the apartment much before lunchtime every day, he was good to go.

Transporting there

I can thoroughly recommend the dual approach of S&S: stroller and sling. The temperamental weather meant bringing lots of layers out with us, which we could stuff in the shopping basket of the buggy. The basket also held the Totseat, Snoozeshade, umbrellas, Pip’s changing bag and miscellaneous other items including the Ergo. The sling was excellent for the zoo as it elevated Pip to a better viewpoint, and we would also have used it if the gallery plan had worked out. We also used the sling for travelling to and from the train station which made the Metro only slightly stressful as opposed to extremely stressful!

Eating there

Our Totseat was fantastique. We used it straight away, in the apartment for dinner the first night, and it was a good trial run. Our first foray in public with the seat was a lunchtime picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which in common with other public parks in Paris is full of green metal chairs. Pip seemed to be perfectly comfortable in his seat as we alternated Ella’s Kitchen with pieces of baguette and blueberry scone (I know which he preferred). We used it for the two more lunchtimes we were in Paris, in more traditional bistros this time. One of them was particularly leisurely and I started to think he might get fed up in the seat but he genuinely seemed to like it – one thing is we did have to make sure it was secure as otherwise he would start sliding around. One other disadvantage is that unlike a high chair, there is no tray, so the self-feeding was a bit more challenging. If he let go of something it tumbled straight to the floor rather than being caught by the tray, so that was that. Related to this, it was also much messier than a high chair: even with a sleeved bib on, his legs were still exposed. We therefore did much more parent-led than baby-led feeding, and ended up using all the pouches I’d brought with us (I’d packed enough for all the meals, but assumed we wouldn’t actually need them all). I guess this is something that will get easier as Pip gets older, and certainly the next time he visits a Parisian bistro he will be hopefully firmly clutching onto that croque monsieur.

We had our date night while Pip was left in the capable hands of the babysitter from Family Space. He obligingly slept the whole time, as we went to a restaurant which I’m sure was called simply “St Germain” but now can’t find online so maybe it had a slightly different name. We’d walked past this place a couple of times last year but decided it was too trendy for us – it has a DJ, for example – but now as new parents such things don’t seem to matter so much any more! It also helped that I wasn’t the size of a baby whale and could enjoy the delicious wine. We shared a bottle for the first time since Pip was born. Bliss!

Returning there?

I’m already teaching Pip Frere Jacques so he can fit in with the French toddlers in time for Paris 2015…

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