Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Europe with kids: Paris

The girls with my cousin Renato
 We recently returned from an amazing family European vacation and I've had quite a few friends ask me "how was Europe with kids?". While traveling to Europe isn't new to us, bringing the kids definitely is and it was quite the experience.
What was it like on the plane? How did the kids do?  Did they keep up the pace? Was it worth it to bring them along? are some of the questions my friends have asked and I plan to talk about it all during the next week or so.
This time we visited 3 wonderful cities; Paris, Helsinki and Barcelona and each one was a completely different experience.
First I will say that the part that scared me the most, which was the LONG plane ride from Florida to the "old continent" was by far the easiest of all.  The kids did amazingly well on the way there (and on the way back); they were easily entertained with the in-flight TV system, multiple coloring books, iPads, books, etc... it was great!
We left Miami on Monday afternoon and arrived in Barcelona on Tuesday.  We met my cousin Renato, who lives in Barcelona and he quickly guided us to his apartment.  Initially we were only in Barcelona for a few hours since our flight to Paris was scheduled to leave the next morning.
In this post, I will talk about PARIS with kids, since that was tehcnically the first city we visited on this trip.

 Walking and Hydration: Having the willingness to walk A LOT is definitely a MUST in Paris (and in all of Europe!).  Most of these cities are designed to be walked and even though there are cars and great public transportation systems, you will always end up walking most of the time.  The walking part was definitely more tedious with the kids since at times they (especially Gaby, 4) were unable to keep up the pace and would whine for periods of time.  Gaby always wanted water or juice because she got "thirsty and tired", which is natural considering the extra exercise she was doing.  In the end, the kids did walk and they warmed up to the idea of doing away with other forms of transportation.  Having a "goal" really helped; I would say "look..there's the Eiffel tower, we're almost there!" and that kept them going.  Even though we were forced to slow down at times, I would say it was a success as far as walking goes....

 Public Transportation: Of course no parent wants overly tired kiddos so whenever the walking became too intense, we could always rely on the metro or bus system, which runs all over Paris.  If you plan to use these systems, it is always best to buy Metro or Bus cards that include several trips as opposed to buying individual rides; by doing this, you can save a lot of money and time.  Young children get a reduced rate on metro tickets, so it's always good to take advantage of that as well.  Also, keep in mind that when traveling with kids by metro, you must be extra careful since many lines are very dirty and some of the people who ride look pretty sketchy.  Also, Paris is a very dense and aggressive city, everyone seems to be in a rush to get somewhere, so hold on to your kids because many times they can get pushed around or squashed by these crazy metro riders. Buses are a little bit more relaxed, but it always depends on what part of the city you take them (kids do not pay on the buses, by the way!).  I strongly advised any traveler to study the Paris map as well as the diagram of metro and bus lines; you could get lost easily if you don't master these things... Paris is HUGE and most times bus drivers aren't very friendly when it comes to clueless tourists asking for directions! :)
Here's Gaby inside one of the metro stations; she looks so tiny and vulnerable.  These metro rides were definitely a new experience for her!

Iconic/Touristic Spots:
Anyone visiting Paris wants to see places such as the Eiffel Tower or the Arc of Triumph, and of course we weren't the exception.  Even though I have visited Paris before, it was always a dream of mine to bring my kids to all these cool spots.  I will say that this was the best part of the trip; seeing their little faces light up when they saw all these monuments in "real life" was so much worth it! Most of these monuments have long lines and the kids can get antsy, so I strongly recommend lots of snacks and tons of patience; my kids in particular are not great at "waiting patiently", so taking tons of pictures and giving them lectures on the history of all these things really helped.  I think we did a great job at keeping them entertained and they really LOVED the experience. Olivia, 6, was particularly interested in learning about Paris and all its monuments so that really helped.  Gaby, 4, on the other hand didn't seem to care too much, although she really enjoyed the elevator ride to the top of the tower as well as posing for all the pictures mommy wanted to take.  
Here are some pictures of us at some of the most iconic spots in Paris. 

Arc of Triumph
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Louvre Museum
About to go on the Eiffel Tower

Kid-friendly city?: Although I wouldn't go as far as saying that Paris is a "kid-friendly" city, I will admit that it was easier to navigate with kids than I thought it would be.  There are several playgrounds all around the city, which of course I didn't see on my previous trips (maybe I just wasn't looking for them?!) as well as yards, open spaces for kids to run around, etc.  I believe this city is totally "doable" with children even though the pace might be a little slower.  The city is equipped with multiple and easily accesible public restrooms, ice cream kiosks, cheap souvenir stands, etc, which all kids usually love! Also, casual picnics at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower could be awesome for any family!

So to sum up our Paris experience with children, I will say that for anyone considering taking their kids there, get ready to walk a lot and deal with whiny tantrums, although not very often they did happen at times.  Also, prepare yourself with multiple snacks and water bottles.  If someone asked me about the "right" age to take a child to Paris, I would probably say 5 and up and definitely depending on how independent and well behaved that child is. In our case, we needed to be a little more stern with Gaby at times because she didn't seem to understand that she needed to walk at our pace, or that I couldn't buy her everything she asked for, or that she couldn't have an ice cream every 20 minutes but I honestly think those are Gaby things vs Gaby in Paris things, so they weren't deal breakers!
We had a great experience and I would probably do it again anytime.  Even though Paris is a VERY fast paced city, we survived it and we truly enjoyed it!

More to come on our experiences with our kids in Europe... next stop... Helsinki!
Happy blogging! :)

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