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!

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