18 September 2015

I went to France in August! Part the Second

There was one area where I took the "don't go to France in August" advice very seriously: Paris. As we planned the trip to France with my parents, I kept assuring them--and myself, I suspect--that we could and in fact should skip Paris on this visit. "It won't be Parisian," I said. "Everything good will be closed, and everyone there will be American," I said. But we did want to go to Dijon on this trip, and the easiest way to do that as a day trip was to stay in Paris for a few days.

Checking out the "statues" in the Louvre
You know where this is going, right? Guys. You can totally go to Paris in August. It's true, not everything is open--my favorite special-occasion restaurant (and one of my favorite places to bring my souffle-loving pre-schooler) was closed for the season, which almost made me want to call the whole thing off.

But a lot of things are open! And some of the things that are open, are un-crowded, on account of all the people not coming to Paris (and all the Parisians being on holiday somewhere else). My husband and I took advantage of traveling with the grandparents and spent a kid-free evening at a bar I love, and it was the first time I've been there that I could sit wherever I wanted and not have to vacate in time for a reservation in an hour. (It was also not air-conditioned, which may have had something to do with that. But they made up for it in special icy cocktails.)

Which reminds me: it is hot. If you're used to Irish or English weather, it's seriously hot. I kept saying it was great to have another chance to wear all the summer outfits that don't really get much use at home, but even that wore a bit thin when we found ourselves walking the 45 minutes home from Notre Dame through 90-degree heat at the end of a long day. But the other times I've been, it's been cold and often rainy, so the heat was a nice change! And a good excuse to eat lots of ice cream.

Part II: Paris and Dijon

Josephine would have happily come back to the playground
in the Luxembourg Gardens every day of the trip.
Paris is a particularly great place to take a small child in August. We've taken a baby to Paris in April a couple of times, and while it's lovely, there just isn't as much happening, kid-wise. This was the first trip where we actually found the Luxembourg Gardens playground--not for lack of looking on our other trips. (It's the first playground I've ever paid admission to enter, and it was worth it--it was also the most comprehensive playground I've ever been to.)

I'll admit: I started to get a bit parent-judgy about how closely everyone seemed to be following their kids. I've only ever parented in Ireland, and the playground approach here is pretty hands-off once kids hit three or so. But even the little-kid area of the Luxembourg playground (appropriate for up to age seven) has a lot of opportunities for a kid to bite off more than she can chew, climbing-and-sliding-wise, or even to wander off and hide; and before I knew it I was following along right behind my perfectly-capable three-year-old, too.

"We got wet! Daddy got really wet."
At least in the city center, Paris really goes all-out for families in summer. The city had built a beach along the banks of the Seine, which we didn't visit, and installed a funfair in the Tuileries, which we visited twice (because the preschooler needed one last go at the trampolines before we left Paris). She rode the mini-rollercoaster with me ("Everybody screamed. Mommy made lots of noise!" she told anyone who asked) and the log flume with her dad ("It was really surreal to see the Place Concorde and the Eiffel Tower from the top of the log flume," my husband said--and here was me thinking the surreal bit was watching my tiny child in that giant car on a freaking log flume, which suddenly looked it went a lot higher up).

Another interesting discovery: the Louvre will let you skip the line if you have a child in a pushchair with you. We joined the queue snaking around the courtyard in full sun, and no sooner had we opened our mouths to discuss maybe finding something else to do with our Friday morning, than a helpful official-looking person with a walkie-talkie ran over and said, "your entrance is over there." There was no line, and there was a platform-style lift to take us down to the ticket area--where another nice official-looking person pointed us to the shortest ticket queue. After that, we really had no choice but to let our pushchair-rider decide that all we were going to do that morning was look at statues; it was clearly her museum trip. I haven't felt so pampered since visiting Versailles when I was seven months pregnant (and also not allowed to wait in any queues).

Des fraises, des tomates, du pain, des abricots, du fromage,
les saucisses, les prunes--et la champagne, bien sur!
We took our day trip to Dijon on the Saturday of our trip, taking advantage of the super-fast TGV service from Gare de Lyon. We met our friends for a wonderful lunch at DZ'Envies and let the small one ride the carousel a few times, after spending a couple hours wandering through the marché and picking up things that wouldn't spoil before we got them back to Paris. It wasn't exactly what I'd imagined, but we did have a wonderful market supper that night in our hotel room (thanks in no small part to the hotel staff being generous with plates, glasses, and cutlery).

I will cop to having often felt surrounded by tourists on this Paris trip. This led to the one disadvantage of visiting in August versus, say, January: everyone's thinking in English. In January people I meet are, on average, happy to let me stumble through my school-French for the length of our interaction; in August they just switch to English. Heck, a lot of the time they start out in English. If you're hoping to practice your French, maybe don't go to Paris in August.

Once she got the hang of it, the bungie-trampoline
combination was the hit of the fair.
On the other hand, if you don't have any French to practice, you don't lose your cool in the city heat, and you're looking for a nice place to entertain three generations, August is probably the perfect month for your visit.