Travels with Charlotte

In May we took Charlotte to visit her Nenenne, aunts, and uncles in Belgium. We thought the weather would be nice, so we promised her a trip to Ostende, the beach her dad enjoyed as a child. As you can see, Philippe and I always keep our promises!

On the way home we spent a few days in Paris. I have lived in Paris and have visited the city about a dozen times. Both Philippe and I have seen the Paris sights, even visiting some of them together. But, neither of us had ever thought about Paris and children. We were not, however, stumped. We figured we’d scour our own memories and the Internet for ideas. After all, we only had 2 days to fill and since Charlotte still naps, we needed short adventures.
The first thing that came to mind was Niki de St. Phalle’s Stravinsky’s Fountain just next to the Centre Pompidou. Charlotte still talks about the Chicago exhibit of St. Phalle’s sculptures, so it seemed an obvious choice. Charlotte’s first Metro ride to Les Halles was a big hit, seconded only be her discovery of the first piece of public art she enjoyed in Paris:
And the St. PhalleTinguely fountain was a hit! Charlotte was enchanted. The fountains were turned off because the display was being cleaned, but that did not dim her excitement. We circled the fountain, stopping to talk about each sculpture (and take a bite of her much-needed crepe snack).
In addition our own brainstorming, our Paris preparation included a Google search on the key words “Paris, children” and some other words. This search returned an excellent beginners guide to Paris, “10 Great Things to Do with Kids in Paris.” If you do the same search, you’ll come up with a full page of travel blogs that have similar titles. I’m guessing they also have similar tips. The bottom line? Paris is studded with playgrounds. And kids love playgrounds.
So, why go there? Seriously, Chicago has tons of playgrounds, too. So what’s the big deal? But, we had the tickets and the trip was planned. And Charlotte LOVES playground. Paris playgrounds proved perfect for the whole family. Why?
Well, Philippe would want me to first mention that the playgrounds we visited had coffee stands adjacent to them. A good espresso was available for about 1 Euro.

The playlot in the Jardins due Luxembourg is, as promised, huge. And it is the only place I know of where the entry fee for the children is more than for the adults! We walked in from the north end of the gardens and we all thoroughly enjoyed walking past the Palais du Luxembourg and through the stately gardens. The playlot has several climbing structures and a sandbox. Charlotte quickly found the jungle gym on which she was most comfortable and she had a blast. Philippe found espressos and a park bench for us. And, to top it off, we discovered that the entry fee guaranteed a pristine bathroom.
We did not try the carousel or get to see a puppet show, so there is more to explore for a return visit.

Our next stop was a playground that I remember walking past many times, in the Champs de Mars at the foot of the Tour Eiffel. Yes, Chicago has playgrounds, but where else can the backdrop to the jungle gym look like this?

Once again, we found the espresso and a bench. Charlotte truly had a blast.
And, Philippe and I did discover something of Paris we had never seen, the Wall of Peace in the Champs de Mars, a truly remarkable structure with an even more remarkable raison d’etre and dream.
Finally, every great city has a great children’s museum and Paris is no exception. The Cite des Enfants features interactive exhibits designed to be enjoyed in about 90 minutes. Charlotte skipped from exhibit to exhibit, thoroughly enjoying fresh experiences like sound and touch exhibits, and kinetic play structures, as well as more familiar things like a water play room. The camera batteries died so you’ll have to imagine it!
We can’t report on any kid-friendly restaurants as we mostly ate in the apartment we rented and spent our evenings with friends who live in Paris.
What we can say is that Paris in unequivocally kid-friendly. When we left our bag of crayons in the one cafe we visited, the waiter happily held them until my return.

And what did Charlotte think of Paris? Did she realize where we were? Well…As we entered the Champs de Mars from the Ecole Militaire, I pointed at the Eiffel Tower (at the far end of the park) and asked Charlotte if she knew what the structure was. She said, “Mommy, that’s Paris!” Indeed. We’d been in Paris for two days and she figured it out when she saw the Eiffel Tower!

Happy Birthday to Charlotte!

For Charlotte’s first three birthdays I wrote a blog entry, a letter to Charlotte or a poem, describing her year, what she had achieved, and a list of things we wished for the coming year. Charlotte wanted to do it herself this year. So, here it is, a bit late, but none-the-less, Charlotte’s third year in Charlotte’s own words:

Countdown to Four!

“Look at me, Mommy. I’m in the toy box.” Hmmm…maybe I should stop call her my dollbaby?

Charlotte is so excited about turning four this weekend that she can hardly sit still. Every day she asks, “What day is it?” And, as I do every morning, I tell her the day of the week, the month, and the date. We talk about what day yesterday was (that Monday follows Sunday and the 4th follows the 3rd, etc.) And then she asks, “Is it my birthday?” “No,” I say, “What day is your birthday?” “May 9th,” she screams gleefully.

And so began the “countdown to four.” On Saturday we celebrated Charlotte’s last Saturday of three by attending our buddy Max’s first communion and celebrating with his family. Then we visited with a baby friend, Ainsley, who we hadn’t seen in way too long (and her parents and sisters, of course. The baby, however, sticks with Charlotte who has renamed her baby doll “Ainsley.”)

The last Sunday of three was spent at a new playground with more friends.

And the last Monday of three was spent at school.

But, dear reader, you’re hoping for some kind of real update, aren’t you?

Here it is: As Charlotte winds up her third year on earth she has started babbling. Yeah, I know, she did that years ago and has been speaking in full sentences for as long as we can remember. But now, she’s babbling in French.

At first (last Friday), we heard just the vowel sounds, but the words were nonsense. Saturday night, at Ainsley’s house, she was saying things like, “E fou fou e jardin.” Ah. A word I recognized. “You want to go to the garden?” “Oui!” Then, “foo foo foo au cours du photo foo foo ebe.” Ah ha! “The baby is in the middle of the photograph?” “Oui, oui!”

Today, on the last Monday of three, she babbled in French for an hour before school. At bedtime, she told me all about the books I was reading in English: Pinkalicious turned “une jolie rose.” In Stone Soup there was “un petit chat” and “une petite fille en jaune.” Then she asked me for “d’eau” and when I handed her the water said, quite clearly, “une verre d’eau.” She handed it back to me and said she was ready to “fait dodo,” grabbed her “doudou” Bubby, rolled over and ended her last Monday of three.