Paris et Bretagne: Chasing Carousels

Monday, September 9, 2013

"You came (to Paris) with three kids...", the Fashion Photographer, our neighbour, said incredulously after making the connection that the 6 and 3 year old girls she passed on her way out the day before belonged to me along with the 1 year old who was now seemingly on best behaviour by my side. Mon dieu! As the days passed I realised exactly what she meant. Screaming kids on pathways or anywhere become the star attraction. Dining out with les enfants, choose your restaurant wisely as there will often be no baby chairs nor kids menu or other kids about. Not to mention the attention you will receive if any type of noise or unruly behaviour erupts at your table. In other words best behaviour is de rigueur no matter how small your kids. My carefully laid plans for dining out began to unravel. Undeterred we stuck to the itinerary making some small changes. Because aside from this caveat we were in one of the most loved cities in the world, staying in a gorgeous pied-à-terre in the very chic neighbourhood of St-Germain-des-Pres.

And the oxymoron of it is that Paris has some truly great parks, museums, spaces for kids. Perhaps this is the idea... My kids were completely besotted with the carousels, begging for ride after ride. They were thoroughly spoiled as we took them to all the major parks and attractions that we could fit into that one week. We covered a lot of ground, literally. 

These are the places we took the kids;
Jardin du Luxembourg- one of the popular gardens for young and old. The kids exhausted themselves (and me) on the carousel, playground, pony rides, and steering their wooden boat, this is available for hire, in the pond. Plus there was the puppet show, albeit in French, that kept them entertained.
Jardin des Tuileries- my personal favourite, also equipped with a carousel. They have trampolines, a small playground and if you arrive early in the summer they feature a small amusement park. Alas we arrived a few days too late to enjoy the rides. 
The Cité des Enfants- this is an area within the Science museum dedicated for young enquiring minds. There are two areas separated by age and you book tickets for 1.5hours which allows the kids to get involved, experiment and have a bit of fun plus explore the permanent exhibits. This is what we had tickets for although there is more, like science themed films, exhibitions etc. With the varying age gaps between the kids we were limited to what we could see/do as a family. It's advisable to book ahead as it does get busy. There is also Parc de la Villette next to the museum. 
Jardin d’Acclimatation- the jewel in the crown as far as the kids were concerned. An amusement park extraordinaire, you could spend an entire day here. We made the mistake of arriving in the afternoon and thus did not see every inch of this vast space. The kids were so impressed with the multitude of rides, and yes there was a grand looking carousel. There's lots of green space to chill or top up your energy levels at the cafes and restaurants. I'm probably missing out on the finer details but we did not circumnavigate the park.
Le Jardin des Plantes- Aside from the botanical gardens there is a carousel, zoo, and the fabulous National Museum of Natural History as therein lies dinosaur skeletons which generated shrieks of excitement. It's worth noting that the Museum is closed on Tuesdays and cheaper to get a day pass if you plan on seeing more than one area, there is also a greenhouse onsite. 

A visit to the Eiffel Tower was mandatory, the girls had read so much about the monument. As you would expect it was super busy but it was enough to view it up close and not have to battle the queues going up plus there is a carousel as standby. Another thrill worthy experience for the kids is taking the boat along the Seine.

Although shopping wasn't high on the priority list we did seek out these shops for trinkets and small treasures;
Bonton- a glamourous shop for the kids, aside from the clothes they have a hair salon just for kids, loads of party supplies, a reading nook complete with French favourites, a photo booth with over the top wigs and goofy glasses and cute trinkets, gift ideas for sale. And there is also a kids toilet/change room facility, a welcome feature. 
Merci- a very cool and expensive shop featuring a restaurant, cafe and library. I picked up some gorgeous French linen. 
G.Detou- a carefully stocked shop filled with mostly baking ingredients. A slice of heaven for me as I exited with a 1/2 kilo bag of vegan chocolate buttons and a bottle of Edmond Fallon mustard.

The great thing about toy shops dotted around the city is that the majority of toys sold are of the wooden variety so we got a few playthings for little Max. And with all the walking purchasing a pair of Bensimon sand shoes will serve you well and set you apart from the tourists, almost!

You must be wondering where a veggie loving family like us ventured to eat under the aforementioned circumstances. A little research prior to setting foot on the plane placed us in good stead for veggie friendly places;
Rose Bakery- this place definitely lives up to the hype, the changing daily menu is primarily vegetarian and scrumptious. Mains and shared desserts, all very good. The girls loved their desserts, raspberry tart and carrot cake. 
Bob's Kitchen- a vegan cafe famous for it's juices, this is the place to come for hearty wholesome grub. My husband enjoyed his futomaki roll. The pièce de résistance was of course the chocolate vegan muffin, the size of a friand, perfect (so French!).
Poilane- we visited the bakery for supplies more than anything else, absolutely loved the walnut rolls and the girls enjoyed the punitions, the French shortbread cookies.
Du Pain et des Idees- this bakery has a loyal following with queues stretching out the door during the busy lunchtime rush. Here was my chance to sample the spoils of the acclaimed baker. He was elected Baker of Paris in 2008 and Best Baker in 2012. The pain des amis is just as good the next day in case you're wondering and the fig tarte using organic figs sensational. Greedily I bought a second to take back to the apartment for a later snack.
Maoz- okay so I included a falafel joint in the list, it was the fantastic salad bar with the accompanying sauces that guaranteed a second visit. The falafels are cooked to order and you have a choice of wholegrain or plain pita. I was happy with a heaped container of salad, dressing(s) and a few falafel thrown in for good measure. I did catch a glimpse of the vegetable tagine ordered by one of the diners and it looked tempting... next time. Maoz I just discovered is part of an international chain of restaurants. 

I would also add that Traiteurs, deli style shops offering prepared meals, is worth checking out for some great take-out salads. And if you are a coffee aficionado like me do seek out the Illy shops for your daily dose.

We started our trip in Belgium to visit my dear friend Meral and her lovely husband Philipp. Then we drove from Liège to Saint-Malo for the first week of our summer trip. Where we spent an awful lot of time in patisseries during those early days. The region's speciality is the Kouign Amman, a butter and sugar laden pastry that I'm told is difficult to make right. I could not manage to eat an entire one on my own.

Once the kids spotted the town's carousel there was no escaping daily visits. When we did manage to cajole them off the ride we drove to Cancale, Dinard, Mont Saint-Michel and Omaha Beach. Cancale is a cute little town specialising in oysters and whilst there I would recommend grabbing a table at Le Breizh Cafe for their crepes/galettes and a glass of the famed cider. There's a carousel on the boardwalk! Dinard I loved right away, on the beach with a carousel and more beachy with a heady coastal vibe. Mont Saint-Michel located in Normandy was a disaster, my advice is don't visit over any holiday period as the place was heaving with visitors. Also in Normandy is Omaha Beach, a glorious stretch of beach steeped in sombre D Day history. Brittany is famous for it's butter, salted caramels, buttery biscuits, cider, seafood, crepes and galettes (the buckwheat savoury version). The only place I'm told you can get butter with your bread compared with the rest of France.