From Elena Bowes, July 2009.
Last weekend I took my seventeen-year-old daughter Kate and her best friend Reese to Paris to settle them in before the two girls started an intensive two-week language course. The weekend proved a lesson in what works and does not in travelling with temperamental teens, who despite their youth excel at saving their energy by doing, well, nothing. Also on the Parisian getaway were my other two children, Thomas and Julia, aged 15 and 10, Reese’s two younger siblings Holly and Mel and Reese’s mother, Sarah. In short everyone had a buddy who they liked, including the moms.
Sarah and I boarded the Eurostar on Friday morning, complete with an itinerary jammed full of cultural, culinary and shopping highlights aimed at this adolescent gang. Heading home, three days later, we felt like celebrating, because although we’d only ticked off about a third of the items on our itinerary, everyone had had a blast by letting spontaneity trump scheduling.
We stayed at Hôtel d’Aubusson near Saint Germain. While the hotel was fine, next time I’d prefer to stay in Relais Christine around the corner because its lighter, has some loft-like suites (perfect for families) and a garden. Immediately after dumping our bags at the hotel we walked five minutes to the Pont Neuf where we boarded the Bateaux Mouche, a first for everyone and the perfect welcome to Paris. No one really listened to the English-speaking tour guide, but we all inhaled the uniquely beautiful Parisian atmosphere.
For tea, I thought we could go to the quintessentially French Ladurée on Rue Bonaparte. A mistake. Not only was it very expensive, but the service was slow. We dined later at the sweet Roger La Grenouille (26-28 rue des Grands Augustins; 33-1-56-24-24-34). Frog memorabilia, plus a special menu dedicated to Roger and his pals was reason enough to go to this neighbourhood venue. And for dessert, we walked along the river past Nôtre Dame to Berthillon on the Ile St.-Louis. Day one was definitely a successful itinerary day.
We helped the girls get set up in their adorable apartment on Rue Cherche-Midi. Groceries bought, keys sorted and washing machine figured out, it was time for lunch at Café Marly by the Louvre. En route there, the younger kids were distracted by the pet shops along the Seine, so we ended up missing our reservation and ended up eating at a small back street brasserie called La Robe et Le Palais (13 rue des Lanvandières Ste Opportune; 33-1-45-08-07-41). In typical Parisian fashion, we were first told everything we couldn’t have—”We don’t serve soft drinks; we don’t make omelettes; we only serve what’s on the blackboard; we’re out of the crevettes special; the entrecote doesn’t come with frites”—but again, in typical Parisian fashion, what was then served (charcuterie, tomato mozzarella salad, beef carpaccio and grilled sea bream) was fantastic.
Then it was time to walk past the Jardin des Tuileries—where our group got very distracted by the trampoline and slightly dangerous-looking amusement park rides—to the Grand Palais. An Andy Warhol exhibit was about to close and our group had voted for the Pop artist over Alexander Calder and Kandinsky at the Pompidou. When we arrived, however, we saw the line. Note for next trip: buy tickets in advance. Our group was fading (we’d walked more in one day than in a typical London week), and it was time to go back to the hotel for a rest. But taxis aren’t as easy to find in Paris as in New York or London, where you scratch your forehead and le voila. (At this point, Princess Kate lost her patience with Mom and told me she couldn’t believe I was a travel writer.) Next time, I will have the number of Taxis G7 (33-1-41-27-66-99), an English-speaking taxi service saved in my cell phone. Dinner that night was supposed to be La Coupole, which I thought would be quintessentially Parisian experience. But a French friend told me La Coupole had gone down hill since it had been bought, so we tried and enjoyed dinner at Closerie des Lillas (171 Blvd Montparnasse; 33-1-40-51-34-50), also on Boulevard Montparnasse.
We travelled by efficient metro to Montmartre and met Iris, the wonderful tour guide from Paris Walks. The metro in itself was fun and quick, and Iris is worth booking no matter what she’s showing. She’s passionate, sweet and clearly likes kids. Lunch, again by metro, was at a sushi restaurant, Ozu (2 avenue des Nations Unies; 33-1-40-69-23-90; www.ozuparis.com) in the aquarium at the Trocadéro just across from the Eiffel Tower (a last-minute, delicious suggestion from my French friend). So we never made it to Brasserie Lipp in St.- Germain as I had planned, but I was getting used to going with the flow. And on our walk back to the hotel after lunch we passed Musée d’Art Moderne (11, Avenue du Président Wilson; 33-1-53-67-40-00; www.mam.paris.fr), where we caught a great show by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. So the culture box did get ticked. And while the teens had yet another break at the museum’s outdoor café, us grownups got to soak up Matisse, Picasso, Braque and other great painters in the museum’s permanent collection. All in all, a perfect weekend full of plans, some of which were made to be broken.
Read the in-depth destination report on Paris
Read about family friendly guides in Paris
Read other dispatches by Elena Bowes, including about wine boot camp in Provence; the Venice Biennale for architecture buffs; a new macrobiotic spa in Valencia, Spain; and about a family trip to Istanbul
Read about Amsterdam with teenagers
Read about Rome for children