Paris With Kids

The following article was written by Cindy Vonthoff and was first published on The Vonthoff Site. It is reproduced here with permission of the author [ed].

Why do the French eat snails? - . Because they don't like fast food!

What did one French snail say to the other French snail? - . "Did you see that S car go?"

All little boys should see Paris

When we told the boys that they were having two days off school to go to Paris they were very excited. Jake knew he had been on the Eiffel Tower when he was 16 months old, but other than that the 3 of them knew little of Paris and were just happy to have a few more days off school! After a bit of prompting this is what they knew of Paris and France.

French fries & French toast came from France. The two jokes above. I had to explain that a snail in French was an escargot... they had no idea was an S car was. Didn't seem to matter, they thought the jokes were funny. Oh, "wee, wee" (oui, oui) was yes. Jake and Mitch guessed that "poo, poo" would be no. Mitchell told me that Charlotte from Reception was from France and that Sven wanted to go back and live in France because it wasn't as cold as Sweden. The movie "The Three Musketeers" was a French story. Jake had heard of Louis XVI but was upset that they chopped off his head. As we were only there for 4 days (two full sight-seeing days + 2 travel days don't count), and since I didn't have Tony to help keep me sane and the kids from killing themselves, I kept the list of To Do's down to the bare minimum. The Palace of Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame & the Esmeralda Tour, a walk along the Seine & maybe the Louvre if the weather was really bad. As it turned out, whilst the weather was awful on the Friday morning, it cleared up and we didn't do the Louvre.

"Ten, nine, eight - - .one. Yippee!" How could you not smile as Mitch got so excited at take off. The man who was trying to study his book broke out into a smile. One hour in and Mitch was bored with watching the Scooby-Doo movie on the Ipod and was studying the emergency card on the seat tray in front of him. Nothing like being prepared! We all left early  morning nice and early (too early) and quite calm too. When I finished locking the house the boys were singing, "we're going to Paris, we're going to Paris." Very cute. No school! 3 days off plus the weekend. Not bad considering they only went back to school on the Tuesday after 8 days off for "Sports week." They are never at school! I can't complain about this one though! Besides,  visiting a country/city is like being at school - that's the excuse I'm used any way. Tony thought I was mad doing it on my own. By the end of the trip I suspected  I would agree with him. (Just for the record - now that the trip is over, I would do it again.) It was my aim not to yell (LOL), have anyone get lost or abducted, run over by Parisian drivers or wind up in court for breaking the law! How hard could that be? I fully believed that I would yell at the kids, put them in time out, go crazy with the whining and "can I buy this with my pocket money?", have a few near misses with the kids getting lost and with cars, busses etc. I also expected a lot of fun, running around, excited looks, questions by the thousands and exhausted little faces in the apartment at night. We had all of that. One of the questions was "what is the number before infinity?" I don't know! So if you do...let me know.

One I didn't expect was that Luke would need to see the inside of EVERY ugly Parisian toilet, pee off the end of many a train platform, pee behind bushes and finally use an empty drink bottle on the bus on our way to the airport back to grey Stockholm! Honestly - - "I need to pee." He needs a bigger bladder. I don't know why they bother giving you a map on 'how to get to the hotel' as they are useless. I should have just got a taxi. Even if they said it was only a 5 minute walk from the Epernay Sur Seine RER stop to the hotel - .. with 3 little kids and 1 suitcase and 2 little backpacks - .. and helpful 'locals' giving directions in French! Anyhow, we got to the hotel, arranged to be in an apartment that had been cleaned, walked down the street to pick up some fresh French bread, breakfast supplies etc and had dinner at a very French restaurant - ..Buffalo Grill! There were lots of French fries...so the kids were happy. Cheers to the start of our Parisian Tour! After that, we put our feet up and watched French cartoons until it was time to sleep.

With only 2 full days of sightseeing we went to the Palace of Versailles (Chateau au Versailles) on the Thursday. It really took all day. I really expected it to be 'out of town' but it isn't. The Hunting Lodge that had a bit of an extension over the years is quite impressive. I remember studying the French Revolution in high school and have always wanted to go.  So now I have and I really enjoyed the experience. I also realized that I should have paid more attention. The boys spotted a McDonalds on our way so I promised them McDonalds for lunch if they behaved during the tour of the Chateau. Jake was 'right into it' as Louis XIV's symbol was the 'Rising Sun' (same as Apollo) and many of the rooms and garden 'rooms' are named after mythological gods. So thanks to Age of Mythology, Jake has quite a knowledge and answered our guides many questions correctly. She was impressed and he was chuffed that she was impressed.

Mitchell and Luke tried to be interested as we went through the many rooms, chapels etc - but soon lost interest. Luke started with the 'I want to go home" and added real tears to the tantrum and the couple who were in our group were sympathetic, but we  pressed on regardless. Until Luke threw himself on the floor and refused to move.  As it turned out the husband (6"3' black American) was a Doctor and handed over a bag of lollies that instantly 'cured' Luke's pain and he was fine until we left.  Little kids are crafty - . One of the Museum Staff went ballistic when Luke climbed over the ropes separating the artefacts from the public...so from then on when he wanted attention, he went straight for the ropes. No flies on this little devil. The one room all the kids enjoyed was the Hall of Mirrors (still under restorations BTW). Our guide told us that this hall was for 'visitors' to meet with the King. As with QEII you are not allowed to turn you back to Royalty so,  as the room is 75 metres long and the throne is at the end of the mirrored hall,  it was etiquette to take 5 paces and then curtsy or dip - . EVERY 5 paces! Then to top it off, when a visitor had greeted the King and discussed the price of snails, they had to exit the same way. You guessed it, 5 paces and curtsy/bow stepping in reverse! I suppose that is one way of stopping people coming to see you for trivial matters. This was also a ballroom ...

Many of the 'garden mazes' were closed for the Winter and were not due to open to the public until the Spring Festival in 3 weeks. All of the statues along the walk ways were still covered and all of the fountains were having the now defrosted slime scooped out and sandblasted in preparation. Oh well.  Mind you, the kids were really interested in how they sucked out the slime - - and chased each other around the open mazes like dingalings!  Looking on the bright side, not having the fountains working gave you a fabulous view of the sculptures. Whilst Marie Antoinette was known as the Queen of Debt, she did a fantastic job of revamping the gardens and waterways. It isn't hard to imagine ice skating on the frozen 'canals' in winter. Having seen the movie 'Marie Antoinette' before coming to Paris the whole palace had a feeling of familiarity. Now I just have to go home and do a bit more reading.

We ate our picnic morning tea in the gardens and the boys had fun fishing for bugs in the cherub fountains decorating the walk ways. All 3 are bug boys. As the afternoon was coming to a close and the weather started to get cooler we said "au revoir" to the Chateau and walked to McDonalds admiring our souvenirs - .. Luke was taking pictures with his 'camera' slide show. Mitch was 'swishing' out his fan like a Ninja and Jake was flipping his gold coin. I got a pen. I would like to have taken the boys to the Bastille and the guillotine, but I knew I wouldn't have time. "se les vie".

Royale with Cheese

I thought of Tony and his love of the movie Pulp Fiction when I ordered a "Royale with Cheese." The French Happy Meals come with a yoghurt drink for dessert - other than that they are the same as at home. Stupid noisy toy to boot! Oh except for the sachets of mayonnaise to put on the fries. The kids had a great time playing in the fun house and I got an hour of peace - . An hour! Not sure where that went - . We were inside the big M for 1 1/2 hours. I even had a café latte. So, with noisy toy in hand we left and made our way back to Epernay sur Seine. We were getting good at this transport system - .. LOL. As we had 'lunch' at 4pm, we had coco pops for dinner in our room.

The boys were so excited the first time they saw the Eiffel Tower (ET) from the RER on our way to the Palace of Versailles (PV). "look how big it is - " Mitch was jumping up and down in his seat and Jake was snapping away on the digital camera - . Luke had no idea. So, the morning that we actually went to the ET they were beside themselves. The morning started off cloudy, then drizzle and by the time we got to the top was howling wind and driving rain. Ah, you got to love Spring weather. There wasn't much of a line up and we waited for the next lift so we could have a good view right in front of the Eastern lift to the top. Jake is a bit frightened of heights and didn't want to look. The ride is much of the fun, especially as we couldn't see past the enclosure at the top. The clouds were very thick and we could only walk on two sides of the tower as the howling wind and rain blew us back. So, after two trips to the toilets and deciding on 2 blue and 1 red ET yo-yo's & a glittering ET pin for each brat (I chose a brooch & coffee mug) we waited in line to get to the bottom. They enjoyed it and stood underneath for quite a while, just looking up.

As Mitchell needed a bit of cheering up, we went for a ride on the same carousel that Jake rode on with Aunty Blah Blah back in 1999. Mitch was still feeling ill after throwing up before we left. I am not really sure why he was ill, we all ate the same eggs, - I think it was a mixture of being nervous and excited. With Mitch saying "I feel sick... I want to go home" and Luke saying "I don't want to walk, I want to sit on your head." (he meant shoulders) or "I need to pee." The last thing I wanted was for Jake to refuse to put on his rain gear because it didn't look cool! Ugh! Keeps him dry.. .what more does he want? Oh, and the "why do I have to carry the backpack?" We were not off to a great start. Anyway - . The ride did the trick and we were off again. Jake wanted to know why there were so many BIG things in Paris and why there was so much gold. It was hard to explain that all of these buildings, monuments etc have taken centuries of development. Some started off small, then have been extended, burnt out and rebuilt etc - . all in the pursuit of National pride. I told him it is to project France's power, prominence & prosperity on the world stage, honour Kings, celebrate military victories and  the arts etc, etc. Jake  just looked at me and said - ."OK."

We arrived at the Notre-Dame (ND) at 1pm so we went for lunch at the café across the road. "Quattre?" asked the waiter, "oui" said I.  He took us to the 'non smoking' area at the back of the café. Not really sure it counts as the smoking tables were closer to the door and we were divided by plastic plants. Oh well, it is the thought that counts. And the 'framed' notice saying the credit card machine was out of order. Hmm, After gobbling vegetable soup (no bread - ..very strange), crepes with sugar & pommes frites with ketchup, we took a DEEP breath and climbed the 70 metres of winding, stone stairs up to the top of the ND. I wanted to take the Esmeralda Tour so just when you thought you had reached the top - no,  no - . there was another spiral of staircases to climb. By now the sun was out and Paris was sparkling. The view was spectacular. The wind was still howling at the tip of the spires. I am glad that the kids still had their rain gear on. Most of the gargoyles were 'bored' flying monkeys cemented into place - waiting to fly off and wreak havoc. They must have been very realistic when new. The skill of the mason is evident.

I know that many people say "seen one cathedral and you have seen them all" but whilst one stained glass window is as beautiful as the next I still marvel at the architecture and patience the masons took in delivering their life's work!  Some (most) never saw the completed work - war, lack of funds - revolutions - famine - plagues - loss of favour or old age got in the way. The secrecy surrounding their craft is intriguing. Just getting the materials to the site took effort. Using the sunrise to mark out the levels and the foundations. Deciding on the placement of the cathedral for times of war etc. I just can't imagine HOW they built such large 'structures' without modern equipment. Just so you know - . The point of reference for measuring the distance from Paris is right in front of the ND. I wonder where the one in Adelaide or Stockholm is? I thought the crypts under the ND would be different than what we saw - .. I wanted bones - . We got old foundations. Give it a miss unless you can read French.

The Exploration Continues

We crossed the Seine again and headed towards the Champ Elysee and the Arc de Triomphe. On the way we past the statue of Charles de Gaul - . The kids ran around it like little buzzing flies, yelling and yahooing. They were still crazy from the two tiered carousel we found. It was beautiful, but after paying 10 euro for the kids to have two rides I was not about to pay  for me to go on as well. It was a long turn and they really enjoyed it. I was pretty tired as I was now carrying all the bags, souvenirs, drink bottles, Luke on my 'head' on and off etc and it was nearly 5.30pm, so we took the bus instead of walking up the Champ Elysee. Good choice. We watched the band play the National Anthem and march off the Colours over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is under the arch. We stood there for about 15 minutes wondering how to get across the 6 lanes of traffic that were being held in check by the lone police man with his loud whistle. Not a job for the faint hearted! I just had a brain wave and said out loud - "there must be an underpass." When a lady turned to me and said, "yes, it is just behind you." Hmm. Wouldn't you know it - more spiral stairs! This time, Luke wanted to be carried. Can't blame him really, other than the regular tantrum he had kept going most of the day. So, out of breath we made it to the top with about 20 minutes before sunset. Despite the wind we were staying to see the ET light up. Wow - and wasn't that worth the wait! Both Mitch and I have a thing for all things sparkly, but this was over the top! You will just have to experience it for yourself. You will love it - we all did. Dinner and bed - . that was all that was left to do. We ate at a café on the Champ Elysee and stayed chatting about what we saw over the day until 9pm. Yep, chatting and looking at photos on the camera. We took the kids three teddies along with us - Get Well Ted for Jake,  Rufus for Mitch and Buddy  for Luke. We managed to take photos of them as well on their sightseeing tour of Paris, but forgot them a few times - . oh well!  We had dessert and brought a few home to the apartment too.

Back to Sweden

Getting on and off the Metro & RER is deadly for little boys who don't want to hold your hand as they are getting on or off! Luke managed to trip and get his foot caught between the train and the platform! Hairy stuff. Thankfully we were one of the first off and there was plenty of time to pick him up and get free. One man tried to help him down on one ocassion and Luke told him indignantly, "I can do it!" Little bugger.

By the time we were at the airport again ready to come home to Stockholm the boys were using 'merci' and 'oui' etc with ease and really hamming it up too! They also sat on the plane among all the Swedes heading home, loudly proclaiming that Paris is a much better place than Stockholm. I winced and diplomatically explained that they are just different. Like I said, I really think I would do it again on my own if the 'deal' was good enough. I really think we enjoyed the trip as a whole and learnt many things. Three days out of the classroom and into the world - . I think it was worth it.

Cindy Vonthoff
March 2007