Daily Reads

5.27.2016

Paris with kids - travel tips


browsing the flower market and bird market on Ile de la Cite

We conceived of this trip to France two years ago, right after we returned from a fantastic trip to Italy. At that time the boys were three and 13 months, and almost every detail of the trip - the weather, the culture, the food, the developmental stages the boys were in - was a very good match for traveling with small children. The trip to Italy had its difficulties, but it was beautiful and magical and it was very easy to imagine doing it again. And if the boys were two years older, how much easier it would be!

Our trip to France was so good (that's an understatement - France is just magical), but the time in Paris was not the perfect fit for our kids that I had hoped it would be. Tim and I did our very best planning beforehand, and I'm so thankful for that because good planning smooths over a multitude of traveling problems. But when you only have eight days in Paris you want every detail to work out as well as possible, and some of our details just didn't work out, namely: the weather and the fact that Sam is two and a half and not a very compliant companion at this point in his traveling career. I consider these two points linked and vitally important. 

warming up with some chocolat chaud on Ile St. Louis

One of the reasons our Italy trip was so successful was that we had gorgeous weather the whole time, and we ate and played outside most of the time. I prayed for good weather in Paris, but alas, it was very cold, cloudy, windy, rainy, and a couple of times even snowy. Great trench coat and hot chocolate weather! But not ideal in other respects. We made the best of things and visited parks and outdoor markets, monuments, and cathedrals, but it was hard to fully appreciate everything when the kids were cold. Sam, in particular, had a hard time with the cold, and this only compounded his jet-lagged two-year-old condition. So, we retreated to indoor activities when we got too cold, and that had its difficulties, too.

journaling after our trip to Ile de la Cite

So, here are my updated guidelines for the best possible travels with little ones (pretty much the same as before, but with a couple of important updates):

1. Stay in an apartment or house. Someplace with a kitchen and a washing machine, and more than one room so when kids are sleeping you can stay up and enjoy yourself. Your visit will be about 1000% better for it. (And if you can swing it, try to pick a walkable neighborhood you like. The less time spent commuting the better.)

2. Bring the essentials, but don't overdo it. Bring their favorite blanket, their favorite bedtime book, their favorite movie on the iPad (and a night light app if you need one). Bring some stickers and paper and crayons, a couple of very small toys, and not much else. We start our trips with a half-full backpack for each boy, and it is amazing how we always have enough! Along the way they acquire little things here and there (coins, rocks, sticks, small toys, tickets, books, maps and souvenirs) and they play with these found treasures so well. There really is no need to bring lots of stuff for the kids. A few comforts from home for bedtime, and their imaginations will do the rest!

3. Plan activities that are fun for everybody - parks, picnics, strolls along the river, bike rides, hikes, etc. We don't plan everything around the kids, but we do try to plan every day with something in mind just for them. A lot of days we would do something for the parents (visit a market, Notre Dame, an art museum) and something for the kids (the ferris wheel, the bird market, a playground, a carousel, etc.) For us, the key to happiness seems to be spending time outdoors. 
Which leads me to my next rule...

4. Unless you're going skiing, travel during the warm months. It seems obvious, but when you're looking at prices the shoulder season is very tempting. Don't mess around with the shoulder season. For adults, fine! But for children, you need the good weather. You need the ability to picnic 90% of the time. You need to let them run and yell and wrestle (a lot), and that just isn't possible when you're indoors touring museums and eating in quiet bistros all day. You don't want the struggle of dressing them for inclement weather every time you go outside (never mind packing all that gear). You don't want to be wiping noses on vacation! So, pay attention to the weather and go when it's warm.

5. If you can, travel with people you love. Family, or friends, it doesn't matter. If you have a good time together it's so wonderful to share the adventure. This relates to kids in a several important ways: built-in playmates for the kids, built-in fun for mom and dad (plenty of quiet time to visit because the kids are happily playing together!), and you can swap baby-sitting for each other so you can have date night. Win-win-win. We still love to travel just as a family, but we've had several trips now with family and close friends (Tuscany with the Griffiths, Switzerland with Mom and Dad, Montana with the Mungers, and Burgundy with the Griffiths) and it has been nothing but blessings for us every time. 
More about this in my post about Burgundy.

6. If you have a two year old, just stay home. Kidding. (Sort of.)

5.24.2016

Paris with kids: a glossary of terms


bistro: n. a small Parisian restaurant serving moderately-priced, simple meals that, according to guide books, are "kid friendly"; a place where a family can escape the cold while the kids fill up on baguette and water toasted and then gulped from wine glasses while mom and dad attempt to scarf down some local food before the kids get out of control and break said wine glasses

carousel: n. a quaint children's ride found in many picturesque locations around the city; a delightful diversion that may be used as leverage for a parent attempting to coerce children into participating in "cultural" activities or not acting like wild animals while dining in public; also, a tantrum waiting to happen if passed without stopping to ride (see also: two-year-old with jet lag)

dog poop: n. waste created by the numerous dogs of Paris and left on the sidewalk by owners who are too chic to pick up after their furry friends; found everywhere in great abundance including on the wheels of the stroller and the kids' shoes, and who are we kidding probably their hands too

Eiffel Tower: n. the only monument of any consequence in Paris, according to my boys; the ultimate "esclavator" ride for the two year old who will throw his hands in the air and gleefully yell "the Eiffel Tower!" whenever and wherever it is spotted, even after eight days in Paris

jet lag: n. temporary sleep disorder due to travel across multiple time zones; a two-year-old's dream come true, he/she will wake and demand food, water, stories, and play time at all hours of the night, find their demands are met by sleep-addled parents, then spend the daylight hours refusing to eat, arguing at every opportunity, and dropping off like a narcoleptic; this tyrannical behavior will go unchecked until the parents have recovered sufficiently to reinstitute some boundaries

pain au chocolat: n. puff pastry with a dark chocolate center; a common French pastry, if one could take a bite of heaven, it would taste like this; the staple of the child's diet while in Paris as evidenced by crumbs and chocolate streaks ever present on the child's face and clothing, and the erratic behavior that accompanies wild spikes and dips in blood sugar

picnic: n. a meal that takes place outdoors in an attractive setting, meant to inspire relaxation and well-being; with children will also include 10 minutes of incessant questions about "how many more bites" before they can go play, followed by a few short minutes of idyllic play that quickly devolves into fighting and/or injury with accompanying American-level outburst, and finished with complaining about the cold until mom and dad give up and drag everyone back to the flat for naps (see also: jet lag)

**It's not my intention to complain here. I love Paris and I love to travel with my family. I actually think the boys handled our trip well, all things considered! This is just me poking fun at what it's sometimes like to travel with kids. Or at least, what its like to travel with my kids.

5.22.2016

Family photos in Paris


At some point while we were preparing for the trip to France, a friend mentioned that she had booked a photographer for her upcoming family vacation and I knew right away that I wanted to do the same. I love photos more than any other souvenir, and I knew that family photos in Paris, if done well, would be a treasure I would cherish for a lifetime. So I did a little research and was thrilled to find Katie Donnely, an American family photographer living and working in Paris. Her portfolio was full of fresh, happy, joyful photos, and our experience with her was exactly that! The day of our shoot was early and cold, and Samuel was in a serious funk (that lasted half the shoot), but I don't think any of that comes through in the photos (except, maybe, for Sam's pouting - haha!) Katie did such a wonderful job of capturing our joy and excitement of being together in this beautiful city! I am so grateful for her patience and exuberance, and skill behind the camera. I'll treasure these forever.

Michael was such a trooper - it was cold and we were all wearing like five layers of clothes!

We began the session at Place du Trocadero, my favorite spot to view the Eiffel Tower.
having a come-to-Jesus moment with our precious two year old (it didn't work)
 I really love this one where we're looking at each other
Finally, a smile from Samuel. 
We saw a dog playing nearby and Katie expertly turned it into a silly game that got Sam smiling and laughing. 
It was such a dream having this beautiful plaza to ourselves for a bit! 
Within 15 minutes it filled up with people.
Also, we didn't do it on purpose, but our trip coincided with the blooming of the cherry blossoms!
Those beautiful pink blooms made Paris even more romantic and lovely.
 Happy family. I love these ones of us joking around next to the cherry blossoms.
From here we crossed over the river on Pont D'Iena to the Eiffel Tower.
 I love this shot, but all I can remember is that it was so cold. At this point, Katie wisely suggested we head to a cafe.
warm and happy, enjoying some chocolat chaud and coffee
my sweet boy - he was telling a long, funny story
 I don't think a hot drink ever tasted so good - it was just what we all needed!
This little Texan perked right up the instant he got warm. Right around the time the session ended. Stinker.
(I will always remember what it's like to have a two-year-old when I look at these. And that's a good thing!)


I'm just so grateful we had the chance to take these photos. Thank you so much, Katie!!
You made a dream of mine come true!

5.21.2016

Pictures of Paris

the view from our terrace in the 16eme

We're back from a beautiful trip to France! Looking over these photos it seems like a dream! It wasn't always easy (traveling with a two year old is not for the faint of heart - more on traveling with kids later), but it was such a fantastic trip. France is always inspiring for us - no surprises here: the food, the wine, the history, the art, the architecture, the language, etc. - but this trip was extra special because we got to share it with our boys. And even though traveling with kids is tough, it's so, so rewarding to open their eyes to a new part of the world, and a different way of living. They learned so much and had such a great adventure! We'll delve into the nitty-gritty of our travels in another post, but first I want to share some of the highlights from our time in Paris (from the "good camera").

 we loved Monet's Water Lilies at the Musee L'Orangerie
 the boys loved to watch the tower sparkle at night (or as Sammy would say, "sprinkle")
 it's a cliche, but I just couldn't help myself - I had to photograph every beautiful flower stall
 we loved the Sunday morning Bird Market on Ile de la Cite!
Notre Dame - although the weather was cold, the city was in bloom and it was incredible!
warming up with some chocolat chaud on Ile St. Louis
pastries and roses from my boys - they know the way to my heart
 Mur des je t'aime, Montmartre
 the carousel at Sacre Coeur - the boys loved this!!
 we rode the funiculare up the hill to Sacre Coeur
 photos from the top of the Eiffel Tower - another of the boys' favorites
Eiffel Tower selfie - Sam was all pictured out
 choosing a sailboat in the Luxembourg Garden
 it was windy - cold, but perfect for sailing!
 Sammy liked the stick more than the boat
 pirate ship for Michael
 chairs ready to go for the warmer months
 a fantastic playground in the Luxembourg Gardens!
 nothing like hot French onion soup on a cold, blustery day
 another food picture because it was so good
 sunshine in the Left Bank - calls for a picture!
 Michael at the Sorbonne (he was very happy to have this lollipop)
 last hot chocolate before leaving Paris
 yummy treats from the patisserie down the street
...and last but not least, Remy the rabbit who lived on our terrace. We loved coming home to him every day!

Much more to come.....