Lao Tzu once said, “A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”. When traveling with kids, this beautiful and profound quote is worth embracing with the hope it doesn’t take too literal a turn. Despite the challenges, we have been optimistic and foolish enough to embark on several long-haul flights for a number of magical and exhausting vacations with toddler in tow. Our recent trip to Europe was no exception.
We kicked off the summer holiday with three days in Paris. A twelve hour flight from Hong Kong and guaranteed jet lag (think 4am wake ups and extremely cranky evenings) be damned – we were determined to make the most of it. We had been to Paris pre-kid so our ‘plans’ included a few familiar favorites and some new experiences. With toddler entertainment from the iPad (which we limit to use when traveling….ahem), we managed to eat well, visit one museum per day and take in the city in all its romantic, beautiful, historic, artistic, culinary glory. Here are the highlights.
WHERE WE STAYED
A La Villa Madame, a boutique hotel on the Left Bank of the Seine in the beautiful, historic, ineffably Parisienne neighborhood of Saint Germain was our home for three days. The room was teeny and the bed barely enough for one, let alone parents PLUS child (which is sadly the norm when we travel ugh) but we loved the homey and cozy feel of the place, the reasonable price point and the location. There was breakfast of fresh juices, pastries, breads and croissants, eggs, yoghurt and fruit for 20 euros a person (kids free) which we enjoyed one of the mornings. The 3 minute egg with soldiers and ham was just what toddler needed on his first jet lagged morning.
WHAT WE SAW
Le Jardin Du Lexembourg
Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Luxembourg Garden so we took Ilhan there to run around, play with stones and enjoy the lovely playground which was the perfect people watching paradise, especially if the people you want to watch are French moms and kids! Everything I had read seemed true – French moms really are chic and fashionable without looking like they are even trying (how they do that I have no idea – if any French mom readers want to share their secrets below, we’d love to know). They also don’t seem to rely on random snacks to appease kids at odd hours of the day – very few of the kids were snacking at 10am on the playground in line with the idea of ‘schooling the stomach’ described by Karen LeBillon in her very popular book French Kids Eat Everything. I do know some picky French kids which makes me feel a bit better but overall, it does seem like a very disciplined culture when it comes to enjoying the right kinds of foods at the right time of day.
On our first morning, we decided to walk through charming Saint Germain and take toddler to the Musee D’Orsay, which we had been to previously and thought he would enjoy. Naturally, just as we arrived, he fell asleep.
Deciding against a repeat viewing, we strolled further and found ourselves at the Rodin sculpture museum and garden. It was BEAUTIFUL, especially the sculpture garden. Ilhan would have loved it but I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a peaceful treat for us while he snoozed.
The next day, we took on the Louvre. I had never been and knew it was going to be challenging with a kid but he made it to the two hour mark which qualifies, even for us, as a success. The new Islamic Art gallery is particularly stunning and toddler loved the Three Empires exhibit with the armor from India (in synch with his current Star Wars obsession).
On a previous visit, we had loved the Marais district on the Right Bank so we decided to explore it by foot once again. We happened upon a lovely jazz band that Ilhan couldn’t get enough of, edgy street art and quintessentially European dreamy blue doors.
Just when the walk was getting to that “pick me up pick me up!!!!” stage, we miraculously stumbled upon the Picasso Museum and a cute little playground nearby – the perfect reprieve for everyone. The museum was ideal because it was small and sweet and the vibrant colors and bold shapes were definitely up tot’s alley. We were very pleased and slightly shocked it all worked out so well.
La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marche
The museums were incredibly stunning but an equally memorable experience for us had to be visiting Le Bon Marche, a gorgeous and luxurious department store, specially La Grande Epicerie, the grocery store there. From gorgeous fish and meat sections to vibrant and fresh produce, endless aisles of mustards, jams and honey and spice sections that made me nearly faint with joy, this is the grande dame of grocery stores – sheer heaven and worth a visit even if you are too space-constrained to actually purchase and carry anything back.
Three days in Paris later, we felt a little tired and very happy. Traveling with kids is never easy and we are often tempted to skip but we also see that in the end, despite the challenges and exhaustion, it’s worth it. Spices in food are not the only way to jazz up our kids’ days – traveling and taking in the world is an equally potent way to spice up their lives!
Next week we’ll talk about what REALLY matters – what toddler ate in Paris!
Until then, with Love & Spice.