I thought traveling to Paris — a city I know well and a language I speak fluently — would be easy compared to my trips to Bangkok and Guadalajara with my cousin’s twins. Surprisingly it was more challenging. The other two destinations were more affordable and, yes more foreign to me, so I had no expectations. The babies, toddlers now, are 22-months-old and each have a mind of their own, sleep less and are talking up a storm.

Jet lag horrors aside, it was a great trip, the weather in late September was glorious and our trip (a UN Climate Change conference my cousin was covering) coincided with Paris Fashion week. We quickly discovered the metro with a double stroller was a miserable option, so multiple days of hoofing it through the streets and occasional bus rides ensued. We were intrepid and covered a lot of ground, visiting classic spots like the Sacre Coeur, Jardin Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Centre Pompidou and the Eiffel Tower, as well as a quick tour of the Musée D’Orsay and my favorite small museum, the Musée Rodin. We spent time in the Marais District, walking the quays and sitting in cafes, but much of our time was spent discovering small playgrounds in the many manicured parks dotted around the city.

It is quite remarkable visiting a place — that holds so much lore in one’s life — and seeing it from a completely different perspective. Cobblestones became the enemy and whimsical child amenities my friend. The most magical moment came when we discovered a 19th century hand crank carousel on the Champs de Mars, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I had been teaching the kids animal sounds and kept making unattractive horse sounds, and lo and behold horses became ‘neighs’. I was told the carousel opened at 2pm, but that seemed like a guestimate and dependent on the jovial guys that ran it, showing up on time and in shape to run the manual thing. The kids were so excited, we bought a series of tickets and child minders seemed to be meant to run around with the kids as the merry-go-round managers hyped up the kids… or so we thought. It was a challenge to keep up, but was so much fun and finally we agreed, they were ok strapped in without our Fred Flintstone style accompaniment. I took a video of the twins on the carousel and throughout the trip they would request a viewing of it multiple times asking for the ‘neighs’.

I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower once, ridden under it (before terrorism eliminated that option) in a hail storm on the back of a motorcycle driven by a famous French children’s book author’s grandson, but in general it was a touristy spot I avoided when living there. A view of the tour was always enough for me.

These days, the lure of the selfie with a bottle of wine (it’s a thing) was beyond tacky and created unimaginable garbage on the lawn, not to mention the hundreds of German soccer fans in town for a big match, all clamoring for photos with their beers and team scarves. So it was amazing to find this idyllic carousel and a few small playgrounds right near the foot of the tour. This being a tony quartier, there were many nannies and unbelievably well dressed kids tearing around the small, pristine play area.

Another park, near our hotel on the Avenue de Breteuil offered a view of gold domed Les Invalides. Mysteriously lacking swings, the twins enjoyed the various rocking horse type activities and the climbing and slide structures.

After our foray into the Musée Rodin – an extraordinary venue with the kiddos, as the 3D nature of the sculptures and the cozy grounds were more than enticing for the busy tots — we found a sweet small park, tucked away in the 7th Arrondissement in the shadow of Basilique Sainte Clotilde.

Not a tourist in sight, we had the park practically to ourselves for a while. I discretely changed diapers and offered the forbidden American ‘snack on the go’ without any drama. Quaint and quiet, this little area boasts restaurants, cafes and shops with a more real life feel.

After the conference we moved to the 3rd Arrondissement — Le Marais — to an apartment. The closest park — and part of the reason my cousin chose this place — was Square du Temple. Possibly the most charming park I’ve ever seen, it flaunted a duck pond, ping pong tables, beautifully maintained gardens and a fantastic playground area as well as a very moving memorial to children of the neighborhood who perished in the Holocaust. We spent a lot of time here and got to interact with parents, kids, nannies and caregivers. Less posh and more hip, I noticed a few kids curiously wearing suspender rain pants; which seemed odd on a boiling day. I asked one of the caregivers who casually said it made for less laundry, which I found amusing.

In the 10th, along the Canal St. Martin, near this fabulous new mural, we discovered and small park above street level, shaded by trees and with a caretaker blowing the leaves from the structures. Another, bigger park– Jardin Villemin — near Gare de L’Est, offered a great spread of structures and equipment. Had we not witnessed a necklace robbery, we might have stayed longer.

The thieves ran through the park like a Starsky and Hutch scene, hurdling the low fences. Had I absorbed what was happening, I might have been able to trip them, but at least I could console the poor girl who was robbed.

Although not a park and not entirely kosher, a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery involved some grave climbing. It felt wrong at first, but it was hard to wrangle the twins, and because of steps and cobblestones, we had to ditch the stroller early in our visit. We were determined to see Chopin and Jim Morrison’s grave and had to give up on other plans. Finally I decided it was ok, particularly if the grave was more than (arbitrarily) 25 years old. I was stopped in my tracks when we came across this grave of a young woman gunned down at the Bataclan in the recent terrorist attacks.

Place des Vosges, another spot I love, was a delightful destination with the twins. We arrived at dusk and the light was simply dazzling. Despite an unintended fountain swim by Moses, our time here was enchanting. Small playground areas were quickly eschewed for the fountain and green patches, as I just soaked in the beauty of the ancient surrounding buildings.

Finally, a visit to Jardin Anne-Frank, an intended stop on our park circuit, but moved up in our itinerary in an attempt to avoid the hordes at the Centre Pompidou on a Saturday afternoon. This park did not exist when I lived in Paris and offers a history of it’s namesake along with an adorable play area.

There were others (too many to call out) but all in all this visit — given the balmy Indian summer weather and boisterous outdoor activity — gave me a different perspective on Paris. I think I might miss the wide open expanses I’ve grown used to in Northern California, but give me a petite park, a baguette, a hunk of cheese and maybe a robust red — or maybe just a couple of toddlers thrilled to run around a Paris park — and I’d call it a good day.

Filed Under Cafe, Culture, Europe, Family Travel, Fashion, Food, France, Museum, Paris, Traveling with babies, Urban Parks


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