I arrived in Paris on a Saturday morning with a layer of sleep that glazed my eyes, but the genuine anticipation of beginning my THATLou internship on Monday– not to mention living in the most amazing city in the world — made that daze of jetlag fade away. My internship did not start slowly; I would be jumping into my first THATRue hunt on Thursday and my first client would be the Dutch Embassy (a 70-person party). There was no way I could shake off the nervous-excitement that I felt for that day, so I spent the rest of my weekend glossing over the blogs that pertain to the power-hungry queen, Marie de Medici; pre-text to the hunt.
Monday morning I took to the streets of the Latin Quarter by myself, with my hunt in hand and with the job of making corrections if needed. My goal was to get used the treasure hunt layout and then to become familiar with the route. I remember as a little girl visiting the Luxembourg Gardens and picnicking there with my family, but I was in no way familiar with this particular area of Paris, nor the history that belonged to it, so this experience was completely new for me. The immaculate façade of St. Sulpice surprised me most, known for its lopsided architectural design; the second largest church in Paris took me back to my memories of reading the Da Vinci Code. The brass line echoed thoughts of the Holy Grail, but in stark reality the church despises Dan Brown for his fabrication, which I had a good laugh about– I knew the Dutch Embassy would get a kick out of that. I spent most of the hunt inside the church, not only because of the gorgeous organ, or the incredible sundial, but because one of the clues was hidden under layers of construction and I went in circles trying to find it. That sneaky Delacroix!
On the day of the hunt for the Dutch embassy, I arrived to the meeting point an hour early, taking in essential preparation time, plus my nerves were rising to an obscene level. I sat in front of the clock in one of the perfectly placed lawn chairs that surround the Gardens, enjoying an espresso and my view of Le Sénat. Once Annie, in charge of the hunt and the Odeon trail, and Maria, another helper leading the Pantheon trail, arrived I began to set into reality and my nerves calmed down a bit.
At 10 am, a sea of multi-colored ball caps bounced down the right-hand set of stairs leading to Le Sénat. The Dutch Embassy had arrived, all 70 sporting different colored baseball caps that separated them into teams of four, brilliant! Annie provided the teams with the instructions; Maria and I handed out all the materials and then gave each team a time to depart, letting them go in 3 min intervals. All of the teams were determined and ready start their treasure hunts, a lot provided playful banter with other teams in confidence of their future victories. Once all of the teams departed it was time to keep a stealthy look-out on the trail and tail behind. Oh what fun that was! My pink cap team (the last to depart) in the St. Sulpice hunt, was gearing up to take first place, it was amazing to watch them surpass the rest of the teams, as they were the first to complete the treasure tasks inside St. Sulpice. They remained in the lead, although neck and neck with the orange team for quite a while, but remained triumphant in the end beating the orange team by a mere two minutes. To see all 70 smiling faces after the hunt was really gratifying. It’s the most fun and perfect way to see the Parisian world and its past and I was so lucky to be a part of it.
When people think of going to Paris, they often think of it as a romantic destination (which it is), but it is also a fantastic place for families and if you’re planning a spring getaway over the Easter holidays, then a quick hop over the channel could be just the escape you need. I’ve lived in Paris for 12 years now and have explored it exhaustively with my 5-year-old son Storsh, who loves this wonderful city as much as I do. Here are some of my favourite family-friendly gems in Paris for you to explore too. You never know, you might even have time for some romance….
Parc de la Villette
Up in the 19th Arr., straddling Canal de l’Ourcq, which hosts the Paris Plages (city beaches) in the summer months, is the reclaimed industrial landscape-turned-futuristic Parc de la Villette. There are plenty of imaginative kid-friendly pieces here, from an enormous dragon slide to a verdant bamboo maze and it is a fantastic place to wander through in spring.
While you are there, don’t miss the amazing interactive children’s museum, Cité des Enfants (closed on Mondays; buy tickets in advance), which sits on the west side of the canal. If you ever manage to drag the kids away, there is an enormous Géode cinema just outside, which shows most of latest I-Max films in an English version too. Also nearby is a real submarine for the boys in your family to explore – my son Storsh’s favorite part!
A new addition to Paris’s cultural landscape is the Philharmonie de Paris, built by Jean Nouvel, which has some great children’s programs (from 3 months-3 years (sound & instrument discovery), to 7 & up (“From Beatbox to Mozart”). It’s worth checking out their website ahead of time (http://lavillette.com/) to find treats such as the Villette en Cirques complete with magicians, acrobats and the lot (Running till 17 April, tickets range from 10€ to 26€).
Metro: Corentin Carious (line 7) and Porte de Pantin (line 5).
With Disneyland and the like banned from my childhood, being allowed to go to the 19thC Jardin d’Acclimatation always made Paris a favourite city of my youth. As it’s out in the Bois de Boulogne (the suburbs of Neuilly) it’s well worth arriving on the “Petit Train”which departs from Porte Maillot (17th Arr.). The toot of the horn and chugga chugga choo choo never ceases to delight Storsh.
The park rides range from standard modern play equipment (target games, a mirrored fun-zone) to more antiquated novel pieces (from the more acceptable TinTin section to a more historic – read possibly objectionable – jungle boat ride with colonialists in pith-helmets & natives sitting in the grass).
With plenty of picnic tables, there’s also a farm-inspired café (and a farm with live farm animals!) or more the modern Angelina for lunch. If you’re going all the way out there, be sure to allot time to Frank Gehry’s fantastic new Fondation Louis Vuitton, replete with concerts, exhibitions and estaurant Le Frank, all nestled into the Bois de Boulogne. Open 10am -6 pm, 5.90€ for entry & Petit Train ticket combined, not including rides which are 2.90€ or you can buy a carnet).
Metro: Sablons (line 1) or Porte Maillot (line 1 or RER C)
Ballon de Paris
Skip the lines of the Tour Eiffel and take in a fantabulous view of Paris from a tethered hot air balloon. Getting you off the beaten-track, the Ballon de Paris rises about 150 meters, delighting kids no end. Anchored to the 1992 Parc André Citroen (which abuts the Seine in the 15th Arr.), the park also has ping pong tables and a fun water distribution fountain that kids can have a good romp through, darting around – or through — the playful water jets. Before heading down there, check the website for wind conditions though. Fares are 12€ for adults, 6€ for children ages 3-11, toddlers under 3 are free).
Metro: Javel or Balard / RER C Javel or Boulevard Victor (the park’s address is 2 rue de la Montagne de la Fage 75015 Paris).
Vedette du Pont Neuf
I always recommend planning a Seine cruise before or after a half-day at the Louvre (where you can also take part in one of my THATMuse family treasure hunts at the Louvre) to give the kids a rest from walking & standing. The closest boat to the Louvre has the benefit of being moored off the Pont Neuf (Paris’s oldest bridge, despite its name, “New Bridge”) where there’s a precious little patch of green, Square du Vert-Galant, right on the water’s edge, good for an energy-spending frolic before and after the boat ride – or for a baguette and stinky cheese picnic.
To play it safe perhaps pick up a Jambon Beurre (ham and butter baguette sandwich) in case the kids are resistant to being initiated to any of France’s delicious, but sometimes strong 350 (plus!) cheeses. The boat offers seating outside (upstairs) or in, both areas having a multi-lingual tour of the sites you’re passing over the hour-long tour.
From 15 March- 31 October the Vedette du Pont Neuf runs every 30 minutes from 10:30 am to 10 pm (the rest of the year it runs on the hour). Tickets are 14€/adults, 5€/kids (aged 4-12) when purchased at the dock, but better prices are available online (9€ in the morning, 11€ in the afternoon).
Jardin des Plantes
The 17th Century Botanical Gardens are brimming with well-documented plants, trees and splendid allées flanking either side of the 23.5 hectares (69 acres). For kids there’s the 18th century Zoo (originally with animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles), a delightful Art Deco Winter Garden (a hot house is Serre in French) with glass galleries of exotic plants from all corners of the globe), and of course the Natural History Museum comprising 4 main galleries (the Grande Galérie de l’Evolution, Paleontology, Entomology and Mineralogy Museums) is a dusty delight. Behind the hot house, kids can burn some energy and inspire some hide-n-seek imagination in the spectacular labyrinth of hollowed-out bushes, crowned by a gazebo.
Metro: Gare de l’Austerlitz (line 5, RER C), Jussieu (lines 7 & 10)