France: But first, Paris

Hair tousled and eyes all bleary from a 13-hour plane journey, we plodded across a long grey corridor that belonged more to a concentration camp than an airport in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Herded by uniformed attendants towards the holding pen like refugees, we joined hundreds — no, thousands — of equally irritable, unwashed visitors to form a long line that stretched as far as the eye can see. The immigration officers worked were working unhurriedly behind their counters, oblivious to the swell of humanity before them; they were no doubt absolutely thrilled to be stamping passports at 6am on a Saturday morning.

My first thought: They don’t advertise this in tourist brochures. *smug face*

Will you look at this gorgeous door though?

After almost an hour of hour, I was ready to turn back and fly home. Our kids naturally started getting cranky. While I refused to let this little misdemeanor bother me, it evidently bothered enough people that we were fast tracked to the front of the line.

That was the first time I high-fived my own children for whining.

We soon found ourselves speeding towards Hotel Des Grands Hommes in a limo driven by a Eritrean — who was shell shocked that I even know where Eritrea is (East Africa, brah). Located in the vibrant Latin Quarter, Hotel of the Great Men has long been associated with French writer Andre Breton — this was his home and where he wrote Les Champs Magnétiques, the book that kickstarted the mind-bending surrealist movement.

Our hotel aka Andre Breton’s former residence.

I’ve never really fancied the thought of staying next door to a mausoleum (bad feng shui, they say), but the Pantheon is a magnificent sight to behold and nothing beats rolling out of bed in the mornings, confronted by thoughts of your own fleeting existence.

Look at how close it is!

It’s the final resting place of some historical VVIPS, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Voltaire and other mortals who’ve made it in life — and death.

A swanky gravesite.

Our stay did not include breakfast but we were just a five minute walk from Rue Mouffetard, a street market bustling with fresh fruit vendors, bakeries, ethnic restaurants and the locals who visit them. This is where we went a little crazy and bought enough fruits to feed a small country.

The little one is not impressed.

So obviously, one of the first things you have to do in Paris was to climb the Eiffel Tower, and — having ambitiously purchased our tickets online several months in advance — we were scheduled for a little sightseeing even though a storm was brewing.

The Iron Lady.

The first fat drops of rain began to fall as we were queueing up to get our bags inspected. By the time we were on the topmost floor, the clouds were pissing all over us and the wind was howling in our ears, and I was secretly glad that I’m not a bald man with a toupee.

Freezing our butts off.

Try as we might, we did not have the chance to marvel at this engineering feat — but come to think of it, the tower does resemble a giant middle finger. Yes, my friends, I think France might very well be flipping us the bird. I can just imagine Gustave Eiffel sniggering as he designed this thing in the late 19th century, thinking how the world will never figure it out.

Because they were blissfully unaware of its sinister connotation, the kids had fun at the tower, ohhh Lordy did they have fun — ain’t nothing like gale force winds to up the excitement levels out there.

They were famished by the time we were done. Since most Parisian restaurants had no booster seats for children, we found picnics to be the most conducive way to eat as a family. Unfortunately, any plans to enjoy a sandwich at Champs de Mars park is, by this time, duly shelved, because of the weather and also because of the cheerful metal barricade and grim-faced machine gun-wielding soldiers surrounding it, presumably to ward off the evil that is ISIS.

Thankfully, it’s just a short walk to Les Cocottes, a sleek bistro serving hearty French cuisine in cast-iron pots. Now, I had just finished reading Bringing Up Bebe (what a depressing book!), so I knew that kids were expected to behave in a restaurant in France. But how the heck could they do so without being restrained like mental patients onto a booster seat /high chair was beyond me.

We spent half the time worried about the kids falling off their bar stool and the other half trying to gag them with food so they won’t babble / whine / scream. As a result, we didn’t get to enjoy our dinner. This would be our first and last time dining in a nice restaurant in Paris — it was just too much effort.

Oh yeah, enjoy it while you can suckas.

There are 173 museums in Paris (the Sewer Museum presumably being the least popular of them all) but everyone goes to one: the Louvre.

Housed in a former palace, the world’s busiest museum was not as busy on a Friday evening, and we were able to purchase our tickets and head straight for the galleries without queueing. This is, of course, the easiest part in our entire visit.

The lovely Louvre.

Nobody warns you about the Louvre. First of all, you will get lost. The Louvre is a mighty labyrinth filled with over 400,000 objects and works of art on display at any one time, so getting lost is almost a rite of passage.

Secondly, if you, like most people, go to the Louvre for these 3 things — the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the glass pyramid — don’t be a fucking idiot. You will be disappointed. Spend your 15 euros elsewhere and stop swarming around these objects like flies around poop, ruining the experience for the rest of us.

GTFO, morons!

Thirdly, there is so much more to the Louvre to admire — Greek antiquities, Egyptian Mummies, Renaissance paintings…oh, and did I mention the Egyptian Mummies?

Gawping at the mummy with mummy.

Cynics might even appreciate the paintings and sculptures below…

It’s okay, I giggled too.

By the time we emerged from the museum hours later, we were exhausted, dizzy, hungry and even a bit traumatized, like soldiers coming home from a war. While he was amazingly well-bahaved throughout our entire visit, I could see Mika has had enough of museums.

We brought the kids to the park the very next day as a way of making it up to them. Paris has parks galore, but only a few you can play in. Many of these gardens had grass that you couldn’t walk on, and fountains that you could only admire from afar. It’s ridiculous.

The grass police is watching.

In Paris, you pay to play. The city is every cheapskate parent’s nightmare. You think of letting your kids play on the sidewalks, but then you remember that there is a high possibility you might be mowed down by an unlicensed truck. And then you cave in and pay the 5 friggin’ euros so your children could play on a friggin’ slide. Ugh.

The Luxembourg Gardens has puppet shows, pony rides and a pond you can sail rented wooden toy boats in.

Cheap thrills.

There are also swings and a big fenced-in playground called “Les Poussin Vert”, which you also had to pay for — separately! — of course.

The Jarden Des Tuileries has a smaller playground for older children, a carousel and also a small trampoline park run by a stern Arab, who barks at the children to leave the premises once their 5 minutes is up. I love how Mika has had his first taste of an army camp even though he’s barely 4.

Waiting for his turn.

The day ended, as it always did, with a cruise along the Seine. We were there during Paris Plages, but was disappointed to find that things were rather quiet due to the threats of terrorist attacks.

But life could be worse.

The scenery, however, from the bateaux mouche was still stunning — with centuries-old monuments set aglow by the setting sun. We drifted past many pretty bridges, and invented a game of kissing each other underneath all the prettiest ones, from Pont Alexandre III to Pont au Double.

Sorry bud, but no one can upstage Natalie Portman.

And there, speckled with a thousand twinkling lights and looking all glorious, was Paris’ gigantic middle finger. And a little further on, dancing at Jardin Tino Rossi — a summertime tradition. People from all walks of life gathered from June to August every year under the illuminated riverbank to swivel their hips to salsa. Despite all the pain and fear that the city has endured these past few years, I’m glad the dancing never stopped.

To be continued…

STAY

Hotel des Grands Hommes Location, location, location. This chic, boutique property faces the Pantheon and is a five minute’s walk to the Jardin Luxembourg and the vibrant restaurants and bars of the Latin Quarter. Rooms are small and may feel a little stuffy at times, and breakfast isn’t included in price, but yes, who cares when you are in the heart of Paris? $$$

Residence Musee D’Orsay Located a stone’s throw from Paris’ other great museum and the Jardin the Tuileries, the apartment-style dwellings are also snug and up a flight of steep steps. But we liked the chic one-bedroom penthouse with its balcony that overlooks a peaceful courtyard. $$

TIPS

  • Paris metros are easy enough to get around on, but not if you have a stroller. So splurge on a hotel that’s close to the center. You can walk everywhere: the proximity and convenience of having many parks and eateries at your doorstep will outweigh any costs. We UBERed.
  • High chairs are almost non-existent in Parisian restaurants, so we preferred to have picnics or eat in instead.
  • There are queues a-plenty in Paris, as security searches were implemented after the recent terrorist attacks. We found it was much easier to book our tickets online before visiting a site, allowing us to skip at least one line.
  • There aren’t many young child-friendly sights in Paris’ city centre, apart from the open, river cruises and the Eiffel Tower. However, children are guaranteed to enjoy the city’s two major parks, the Luxembourg Gardens and Jardin des Tuileries — at a cost. There are also several small (and free!) playgrounds in the city centre but these are few and far between. Bathing in canals are also a highlight in the summer — designated swimming zones are available further out of the city.
  • If it rains, head indoors into the Natural History Museum, Musee de la Marie (Magic Museum) or one of Paris’ kid-friendly bowling centers, with their ‘mini’ lanes and lightweight balls.

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