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Paris for Families
For families, Paris offers a mix of the famous, the fabulous and the far out
It’s always a strange sensation to finally visit a place you have seen depicted hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of times. To me, a first-time visitor to Paris, I found the city both exotic and familiar — which fits the way we approached our family trip there this past summer by combining the iconic with the unusual and slightly odd.
The trip was a first for my 10-year-old daughter as well, and my wife hadn’t visited since high school — so we certainly wanted to see the major sights during our week there. However, we also wanted to get off the well-worn tourist path and find some unique experiences.
One such experience was a family macaroon-making class at Cook’n With Class, which offers several types of culinary experiences — including other dessert classes and a “going to market and then cooking” class.
In the Montmarte-based company’s clean and cozy storefront kitchen, our instructor — an Australian-born, Paris-based pastry chef named Briony — got us all involved. We mixed ingredients, whisked the fillings, squeezed out the batter onto cooking sheets and dabbed on the fillings — although she handled the heavy cooking duties. Not only was it a really fun time, but we also got to take away boxes packed with a trio of macaroons (chocolate-and-Earl Grey, sour cherry and salted caramel). Advise clients to do a class like this early in the trip so that the cookies can be enjoyed before the long flight home.
Sticking to our sweet theme, we signed up for a Chocolate Tour. Conducted in English by Paris Walks (which also does neighbor walks, literary-themed walks, fashion walks and more), we were taken to four chocolatiers and were able to sample their goodies. Our guide not only revealed a deep knowledge of chocolate and its history but also of Paris itself as she leads other kinds of tours as well.
The four chocolate shops we visited were Gosselin, Cote de France, Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Herve, and each one offered something slightly different. Herve’s very creative chocolate designs included a chocolate shoe, while Cluizel creates single plantation chocolates.
Off the Beaten Path
Besides its many chocolate shops, Paris is home to hundreds of museums (223 cultural sites, according to the Visitors Bureau), and topping my daughter’s list was the Musee de la Magie. Located on a small Marais side street, this funky little museum fills its half-dozen subterranean rooms with an odd-yet-endearing collection of magician’s equipment such as vintage magic lanterns and an antique saw-in-half box, as well as items used by the legendary magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Many of the museum’s descriptions are only in French, but some of the old games are still operational, so it’s wise to bring a few extra euros. We were also fortunate to time our visit with a magic show.
An even more magical experience, however, was our trip to the Musee des Arts Forains. This private museum, located at the east end of Bercy Park, houses actor/antique dealer Jean-Paul Favand’s fascinating collection of 19th- and early 20th-century carnival and fairground artifacts — including a “choir” of singing automatons and a musical machine that predates the jukebox. We actually got to ride on several vintage carousals. This museum is not open regularly, so it’s definitely a good idea to check before the trip. We were able to join a 90-minute tour; however, it was in French (although the guide did take the time to explain things to us in English). English tours are available but need to be booked for group tours of 15-20 people.
Tips for the Top Sights
A first time visit to Paris isn’t really complete without seeing some of the city’s most famous sites, but the problem is that these places are typically packed with other tourists.
Steps can be taken, however, to avoid wasting time in line. My wife made advance reservations at the Eiffel Tower, so we were able to take a quicker route to the top. We were also able to select our time, so we got to enjoy a wonderful evening view of Paris.
Another spot for a grand look at Paris is from the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral. Wanting to see the majestic interior, we mistakenly stood in a slow-moving line on the side of the cathedral that actually led us up a winding, narrow staircase to the famous tower. Once inside, the only way down was to go up first, but we did get a lovely view of the city from the top of Notre Dame.
Seeing the entire Louvre Museum can be overwhelming, if not impossible. Instead, we decided to target a couple of classic pieces — the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo — and, along the way, we saw such interesting things as the Winged Victory sculpture and impressive medieval ruins. The neighboring Tuileries Gardens offers a nice museum break, particularly for kids, who can take a carousel ride or work off some pent-up energy at a trampoline zone.
A sweet way to conclude a day at the Louvre is with dessert at La Maison Angelina. This hot spot is known for having one of the best cups of hot chocolate in Paris. While my wife and daughter enjoyed the hot chocolate, I opted for the iced version, which was quite refreshing on a warm summer day.
Since we were planning on seeing a lot of tourist sites, we decided to get a Paris Pass. While the Paris Museum Pass concentrates on museums, the Paris Pass covers other attractions, too. It provides pre-paid entrance or discounts at more than 55 sites — from the big (the Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum and the Pompidou Center) to the small (like the Paris Wax Museum and the Musee de la Musique).
The pass — which comes in lengths of two, four or six days — also has the option of adding a Metro Pass, a convenient method for getting around. Another advantage to the pass is a discount on a Seine River boat cruise and on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
Paris offers more sites and attractions than can be seen in a week. The key is to pick things of interest and to not overload the day. Oh, and to make sure to enjoy some sweets.
| Families can take a hands-on class in macaroon making. // © 2012 Thinkstock|
Where to Eat
Travelers to Paris — particularly those with children — need not be worried that their choices are either haute cuisine or no cuisine. There are plenty of good, family-friendly dining options.
One popular French food to enjoy is the crepe. While not every creperie is equal, we found it was easy to find a good one (in both price and quality) around the city.
Another very French, yet also tourist-friendly, dining experience is to pick up a baguette sandwich at a sidewalk stand. We enjoyed some very tasty sandwiches while walking the Rue Saint-Antoine at a stand outside the cheese shop La Fromagerie Saint Charles.
While in the Latin Quarter, we lucked into a neighborhood spot, La Petite Perigourdine, on Rue de Ecoles. It seemed as though only one waitress there spoke English, but we were able to communicate enough to wind up with an excellent meal, including an amazing French onion soup.
Along the picturesque narrow streets of Ile St. Louis is a great place to find that favorite French dessert, glace (a version of ice cream). It seems that each block in this neighborhood is home to a little artisan glace shop, and we stopped at L’ile Flottante to cool off with mango-, caramel- and tiramisu-flavored treats.