Candide – Sightseeing with children in Paris. Part 2

In Belgium there is a statue of a small child pissing. It is, I believe, called The Pissing Boy. It is, I’m told, not a grubby, weird thing, but a cheeky aside, a thumbing of the little willy to the earnest seriousness of our modern world.

In Paris, outside the Palais Royal Musée du Louvre metro stop was a man. He was pissing. Fully clothed, just at the top of the steps, into the gutter. It looked to me as if he lived there, or at the very least spent a lot of his day there. No one paid him much mind and I did my very best “ooh, look over there A CAR! IT’S BLUE!” Of course, all this did was turn on my children’s highly tuned What doesn’t he want us to see? Sensors. It did, at least, give rise to a teachable moment as we were able to have a discussion about homelessness and why some people might be homeless and others “like us” aren’t. I did my best, fellow bleeding heart liberals, I did my best and maybe one day we’ll deal with it better than we do now. Still, a Parisian Penis at 10 am was not how I intended starting the day.

Sightseeing is all about keeping your eyes open for the little things. Yeah, you’ll see all the big stuff, but paying attention to the everyday is always a good idea. Had I been paying attention I might have noticed that the cute looking cafe we chose for breakfast was opposite a shop called Dior. Diagonally opposite the Dior shop was another fancy looking outlet called Jimmy Choo and the shop opposite that one was called Chanel. I hadn’t checked the menu yet, but when I did the first thing I noticed was the lack of prices. I began noticing more and more and more – in fact, my highly tuned HOW MUCH? sensor was melting. It turns out that a Pain au raisin the size of a £2 coin was €6 and a café American was (Dad, look away now) €15. Great service mind you, and the staff called Toby ‘Une Petit Monsoir” which was cute.

In an irony not unnoticed as I was inside pissing money up the wall a man was outside literally pissing in the street. Funny old world.

We went to the science-y museum Cité des Sciences et de de l’Industrie – much of which was in French, but plenty in English too (FOR SHAME!). Lots of interactive stuff to play with and a nice break from the “ooh, la la, look at that expensive bit of marble/oil on canvas.” “No, I Don’t know why it’s so expensive” “no, no one decides exactly how much it’s worth” No darling, the post card isn’t worth the same” “No darling, no” “Here darling, have a mint to suck”

The Musee d’Orsay is a on object lesson in maybe we’re not that bad at stuff in good old Blighty after all. A train station that was built too short for the trains is now an art gallery. Beautiful really. You could spend all day here – you could do it in 45 minutes (once you’ve queued that is, even with the museum pass we waited a good 45 minutes to get in). Naturally, the d’Orsay is worth a visit whatever, but this was a personal journey too. Niamh and I like Monet. Not in any meaningful understanding of what art is or what part it plays in the human condition way, just a shared appreciation of some paintings wot we like. Here, in the d’Orsay we looked at the ACTUAL poppies and that one with the lady with a parasol. We also saw the van Gogh self portrait, and what I called “the unmade bed” before realising what an artistic monkey I was. “Not the unmade bed!” I exclaimed “Eminem did that one I think, second album” I said with Dad joke mode turned up past 11 to cover my shame. Still, a moment of pure shared joy in the gallery on the 5th floor of the d’Orsay and some rip roaring dad jokes on the 2nd. Fun times.

The Divine Comedy – sightseeing with children in Paris. Part 1

Kids are rubbish at jokes and this is the main reason dad jokes exist. It’s not that dads can’t do jokes its that kids are stupid and don’t get subtle humour. Forget that, they don’t even get really obvious humour.

It’s for this reason you should never do anything approaching a joke near a child. For one they may arduously and at length ask you to explain the humour thereby reducing any possible impact of said humour. They may just remember the punchline and say it over and over at the end of every sentence or point at things and say it out of context until you regret ever speaking. The most likely outcome is that they will remember the joke and retell it at the most importune moment.

So, sightseeing. Plan. Plan. Plan. Make a plan of action, look at maps and get your bearings. Start early with a breakfast nearby the start of your day especially if there is going to be a lot of walking. Our plan included four main sights and a series of potential side sights that we might see along the way.

Our plan was a mirage a mere idea thought up in the crazy minds of two deluded individuals whose middle class white privilege had blinded them to their own inadequacy.

Notre Dame on Good Friday? Seems like a reasonable idea. To be fair to the congregation taking Mass on Good Friday morning at one of the most important catholic holy sites in the world they must be used to interruptions from the visiting hordes. I hope so anyway. Turns out they sell little medals at lists of sites in Paris. €2 for a coin that has a picture of the place you’ve visited. Bingo bango a nice souvenir. When a child drops one and the coin rolls off under a barrier, not only does the coin make a particularly tart ping on the ancient marble floor, the child makes a particularly guttural scream of loss too. Lesson learned.

Just near the cathedral is the tiny, but really interesting Crypt – a small, but excellent museum that showcases the Roman walls of the city (including inevitable Roman bath house remains). There are thousands of € worth of interactive touch screen displays and a selfie booth, our kids spent most of the time using the pencil and paper templates to make their own Roman crest.

On to Sainte-Chapelle, or as my wife and I called it Dave Chapelle. Here, your children can marvel at some of the most amazing stained glass windows ever. Just amazing. Also, a very, very angry man will push you past the queue with your museum pass. Being British we blushed, other nationalities may vary.

Here I stop this laugh an hour rip roaring tale for parents of a similar socio-economic background to offer a tip to people who perhaps aren’t parents.

If, for an example pulled out of the sky, you are frustrated that a child is not moving fast enough for you or is ‘in the way’ of your sightseeing experience by dint of being in the place you want to be, do not under any circumstances get in-between that child and the line of sight of its carer. I say under any circumstances, that’s not strictly true, you have a little time. If a child can’t see it’s significant other there is a grace period before they panic and, to borrow a turn of phrase from Dante “GO FUCKING APE SHIT”.

In normal circumstances the child minus person in charge time is quite long, in a foreign country it is much reduced. So, if you find yourself frustrated at the child before you and decide to put yourself between the parent and child expect the child to make a noise. That noise will sound like a cry to you. To its mother and father it will sound quite different. Y’see kids have a range of cries. The moan that’s not a cry of anything, the cry of I didn’t get my own way, the cry of I want my own way, the cry of my sibling hurt me, the cry of I’m pretending my sibling hurt me, the cry of actually I am hurt, but it’s my fault, the cry of OW OW OW SHIT SHIT I’M IN PAIN and the cry of fear. The cry of fear will make a parent stop, cold. They’ll know something is up and that there’s about to be a reckoning and so will other parents around you. It is the cry that, I find, other parents will actively assist for. All the other cries and you’re on your own, pal.

So, Mr impatient man, next time you get between a 5 year old boy in a strange place and his parent and he goes ballistic remember also that a fearful child gives no shits. He’ll scream, people will stop dead, the child will push past you spilling the content of your camera bag everywhere and then cling to his mother like the limpets limpet. Also, I’d avoid causing this when the child’s nana (granny, grandma, whatever) is in town because she will cut you. Lesson learned.

Perhaps it is symptomatic of a place having quite so much history and places to visit that the French seem to undersell some of their attractions. Look at the Musee Du Moyen Age, seriously, look at it.

Lulz, you’ll no doubt think. I bet that cheeky snapper has been round the back to take this picture to help push along his funny narrative. Alas no, this is the main entrance. Not kidding. Inside it is a much nicer looking experience and the collection of stuff in there really good – some old things, a unicorn horn, remains of a Roman bath, pictures and the most amazing tapestries – we sat a good twenty minutes looking at them. 20 MINUTES! With kids! Great museum and the gift shop was tiny. Always a bonus.

Up the hill from here is the Pantheon. Typically French they built it as thanks to god when on of their kings got better after an illness. Come the revolution and they threw all the god nonsense out and replaced it with thinkers. The crypt here is full of clever sods like Dumas, Hugo, Voltaire, Braille, Zola and the like. Amazing dome too.

We were having a lovely relaxed dinner at the end of a long day and the kid says “I really liked Dave Chapelle today Daddy, thanks for taking me to see it” The Americans across the table from us paused, looked aghast then returned to their meals a little more bemused than before.

The Art of War – visiting high-culture upon your children

You’ve dragged your kids through the horror of international travel (to your horror not theirs) and now GOD DAMN IT they are going to sample some of the culture. Depending upon where you have schlepped to your options may be limited they may be expansive. Only one thing is sure. They wont appreciate it.
Take, for example, the Louvre in Paris. No, seriously, take it and throw it in the Seine for it may as well be a pointless, boring hole in the ground for all your kids will care. You’ll enthuse “The Mona Lisa! The Venus de Milo! The one that looks like its from Les Mis! That other one of the lady with her bottom sort of showing!”

“Pfft” they will say in their very best French. Shrug they will shrug in their very best, um, French. Anyway, prepare yourself for vicarious disappointment.

Know your enemy

Get the fasttrack ticket, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND YOUR OWN SANITY. Yes, it costs, like, £389 and yes it has stuff on there you’ll NEVER EVER DO Sevres, Cite De La Ceramique anyone? Also, yes you will probably still have to queue for a bit, however, today at the Louvre we queued for about 20 minutes and that was bad enough. Others, in the plebs and Americans who did no research before flying thousands of miles queue aged 1200 years. Approximately.

Once inside do not deviate to the audio guide stand or try to study a map just latch on to a tour guide and follow on (at a discrete distance) that way you’ll see all the good stuff in short order and if you’re lucky overhear some of the descriptions of the other stuff you’ve never heard of.

As soon as you enter the museum the kids will be more bored and miserable than they have ever been, ever and find stuff like the broken air conditioning units or signs for the toilets of more interest than roughly any exhibit. The children will be arguing with each other at every opportunity and pretending to touch the priceless Monet to help excavate your bowels in record time.

**Turns out….** The Monet is in the Musée De L’Orangerie which is near the Louvre, but not part of it. I hope this oversight on my part will not upset your worldview.

Now, having dragged the ungrateful little cherubs through the most intensive cultural experience of their lives they will be so bored and tired and miserable they will treat you to a particularly trying period of behaviour that ends with them (and naturally you and your partner) sat separately. This cooling off period will not cool anything off.

You have reached the end, you must now take on the final level boss. The gift shop. Here, the children will want to touch everything EVERY THING especially things clearly marked DO NOT TOUCH. You will spend a good twenty minutes saying “that’s more pennies than you have” “far too many pennies” and “ooh look, a note pad and pencil!”

An artists illustration of our day at the Louvre:

Details bit:

Louvre, Paris, France.

Paris Museum Pass £££ – worth weight in gold

What the kids really thought:

Truly amazing, very busy though and the Mona Lisa is the least fun assault course we’ve ever done.

What the adults thought:

Fantastic, plenty of exhibits other than the stuff you know about that will really impress and entertain. The Islamic Art Galleries are hugely interesting, the Egyptian and Romans bit too. Eat before or after just don’t eat there – we had some coffee, fizzy drinks and bread for about €300.00 served with typical French Va Va piss off and leave me alone. THE MAP IS USELESS see also the app guide or rather don’t bother, if the thing you want to get to is too far away it just can’t be arsed to guide you there.

The three laws of travelling with children

  • First, plan for every eventuality.
  • Second, be prepared for a new unseen eventuality to arise.
  • Third, just blag it where possible and expect your mental capacity to suffer from buffer underrun.

Travelling with children is easy. There I said it, all you have to do to get your stuff, yourself and your children from one place to another is to make sure that you have prayed to the right gods and that they are smiling on you. Homer, of Odyssey fame, didn’t even take his kids with him so let’s get this out of the way early on, taking your kids on holiday is a pain.

There are, however, a small number of things you can do to reduce the misery from a simple brain melting stress filled disaster to a mere brain melting stress filled category 3 disaster.

At the most elementary level you can break everything down in to ten minute chunks. If your journey is one hour long you need 10 ‘things’ to do for example. This however, does not talke into account Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle where for each additional hour the attention span of a child halves. Handily there is an equation to help you get to grips with this: IF(A=1)THEN(B=1)UNLESS(A=2)THEN(B=.5)/DOOM

So, for every hour of your journey you need to plan for infinite number of tasks. Also, for those of you reading the Cliff Notes version, no this does not mean the timed portion of your flights, trains, taxis or coaches and busses, it means from door to door time. Basically, you’re doomed. Deal with it.

I’m going to make a broad assumption that you are flying with your children, though this information is equally relevant to those on long car journeys and on trains or, at a push, coaches. For long bus journeys see my other post titled: ‘You’ve only got yourself to blame and next time it may be easier to just burn all your possessions in a ritual pyre then throw yourself on top’.

Be prepared, the Scouts aren’t top of the military pecking order for nothing and mainly it is because of their universal motto. Yes the SAS may have Who Dares Wins, but they’ve never caught an EasyJet from Liverpool John Lennon at 6am on a Wednesday much less a Ryanair from, god forbid, Doncaster Robin Hood to Reus at 3am on a Saturday. Who dares in those particular situations doesn’t win as much as has their body found folded in a suitcase somewhere outside of Speake on a wet Tuesday. “Suicide?” The investigating officer will ask the coroner “but, how?” “We’ve never seen anything like it, but he definitely put himself in the suitcase voluntarily” the coroner with confirm.

Anyway, have everything on hand. Tablets, cuddly toys of non-descript vintage, cuddly toys of the “OMG this one is my favourite” variety. Board games that fold up into impossibly small boxes. Drawing pads, books, pencils, crayons, felt tips, chocolate, non-chocolate treats, lactose intolerant foodstuffs (even if they aren’t lactose intolerant, best to be prepared remember?) Bread, milk, cheese, crisps, Heinz tomato ketchup, Fruit Shoot, water, Travella. The list goes on, so basically pack everything in your house. Remember however, that you cannot go over the 20kg weight limit for your checked baggage, assuming that you paid for some hold luggage. If you’re going to attempt travel with children taking cabin bags alone then you only have yourself to blame.

Assuming you have planned for every single thing that could happen then you’re golden. You’ll breeze through bag drop, speed through the security theatre and dash through duty free.

The alternative, of course, is to break the day up into decent sized chunks, take some diversion activities, keep something in reserve (playing spot the ‘thing’ should be your last line of defence when reinforcements are in sight) and just make the best of it trying not to let it all get on top of you. However, that approach is for the well adjusted normals of this world.