When my 11-year-old daughter and I decided we would go to Paris, it was largely a reaction to our visit to India, which is not an easy place for inexperienced American travelers, one of whom was under the age of 10 at the time.
Securing our visas alone was quite the adventure and that was before we’d ever left Nashville. Getting to the Taj Mahal? Holy wow. THAT was the most difficult travel experience I imagine I’ll ever have.
So upon our return to the US after that trip (and really, I don’t mean to slag on India; we’re both very grateful to have had that experience), 9-year-old Lily asked if we could go … somewhere different than India … the next time we left the country.
Two years later, Paris it would be.
Being in Paris with your 11-year-old daughter is very nice indeed. You will get lost and frustrated, annoyed with each other and cranky, but remember you’d be doing all those things at home, too. In Paris (and all travel, I believe, especially international), you will bond over someone else’s culture in a way that creates your own unique one.
Some details of our trip:
If you break Paris into interest buckets, which I did after hearing from so many friends who’d already fallen in love with the city, you see there are five, maybe six:
Art and Architecture
Fashion / Shopping
I would personally add “Gardens” as a sixth, because I’m so into that topic. But you could easily absorb it into Art and Architecture since the gardens in Paris are so artful and entwined with the architectural landscape.
For Lily and me, Art and Architecture (and Gardens), and History were the core components of our trip. What we enjoyed:
– The Louvre and Musee de’Orsay are divine, though we were annoyed with all the people taking pictures inside the former (ourselves included). Lily literally gasped when she realized she was standing in front of Monet’s most famous pieces. As for me, I like the spookier, gothic works full of people getting decapitated or meeting their maker or both. I am dramatic like that. The gardens around the Louvre and the buildings themselves, particularly Musee de Orsay, are as inspiring as the exhibits held within.
– Versailles: Truly incredible and absolutely worth a side excursion. Because it’s outside the city, I assumed it would be a challenge to get there on my own and so I booked a bus tour with a travel agency.
We ended up canceling our booked trip (which was non-refundable) because we had had a rather rocky, jetlagged morning and just couldn’t swing it. In hindsight, I would have done in the first place what we wound up doing the next day: take the Metro for less than a dollar. The metro will get you to within three blocks of the palace gates, and you aren’t limited to someone else’s timeframe.
– The Loire Valley: I also booked a tour through the Loire Valley, and we are both very glad I did. Our double decker bus was gaudy and embarrassing when we would pull up to these exquisite medieval chateaux in the bucolic French countryside, but our guide was great and we were able to see a part of France that literally made my heart swell it was so gorgeous and steeped in history. I should say thank you to my brother’s mother-in-law for recommending we do this.
– The Catacombs: Being from Tennessee, Lily and I have toured our share of caves, which have a spiritual ecosystem in addition to a geological one.
The catacombs under the streets of Paris reminded us of the feeling we’ve gotten in places like Mammoth Cave, where human history and the history of the earth are so entwined. Thanks to Catherine Fleenor for suggesting (via Lily’s Instagram account) that we check out the catacombs.
– The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. We did the Eiffel Tower as soon as we got off the plane and discovered we were too early to check into our hotel. We climbed to the highest level and drank champagne (well, I did, because Arienne Holland told me to), and then ambled around getting lost for literally several hours because – at that point – I hadn’t smartened up enough to get a map of the city or a subway map or even a card with our hotel’s address.
Notre Dame and walking along the Seine around it was the last thing we did our last night in Paris after the best meal we had there, which was at Itinéraires in the Latin district and was ah-may-zing. Thanks to Keith Miles and Cindy Wall for recommending that one. The whole evening was magical.
Speaking of food, here is a short list of tips we acquired based on our own trial by error experiences:
– The fewer translations a menu has, the better the food. That makes it more challenging for travelers who don’t speak French (like us), but it’s worth it to work your way around the language barriers.
– A good waiter will explain the menu and offer a recommendation. Take it.
– Fixe prix options make it easier to figure out the entirety of your meal before you get started on the individual courses.
– A great restaurant will have fewer items than more, so there’s less to trip over.
– If all else fails, just order something with frommage in the description.
– Street food: Look for places full of single ladies shopping for lunch. Tourists, myself included, are happy to settle for a random butter-and-sugar crepe. Men will pick up a sandwich. Single ladies shopping alone have more particular tastes. (With apologies to my foodie men friends, especially Keith Miles who handed me a fantastic restaurant list before we left Nashville).
And, finally, some random things we learned together:
– The Metro makes it very cheap and easy to see as much of the city as you wish. It is confusing at first, but maybe only if you are like me and have the directional sense of a toaster. Lily had nailed it by Day Two.
– People make out in public a lot in Paris. Lily went from disgusted to amused by this. I went from amused to utterly sympathetic. This is such a beautiful, romantic place, OF COURSE you want to make out in the streets.
– While you may eat horrendously during the day (crepes and bread, bread and crepes, ICE CREAM), you will walk so much that it basically negates the effects. I know this because Glass One of the evening wine was more than a sufficient buzz.
– Speaking of wine and walking: The wine is so fabulous here. Without Lily, I would have drunk more. Without me, she would have slept more.
– We really like the way French people say “Franklin D Roosevelt”, which is the name of one of the metro stops. It’s like Franclan d’Roozvel.
– We learned to say “please”, “hello”, “good evening”, “thank you”, “goodbye”, and “exit”. Pleasantries are good in any country. So is finding your way out.
– People in France (and also India, we learned two years ago) think of Elvis when they think of Tennessee.
– Men do not have long hair or twirly waxed mustaches or boldly displayed chest hair in Paris. I saw that like twice and felt homesick for Nashville, where they do.
– Another thing they don’t have in Paris: TVs in the bars and restaurants. This was a huge reprieve for me (and I am not one of those anti TV people, just an anti-public consumption of it), and I was proud she felt the same way.
Finally, and importantly: Traveling with your child is ultimately not about the things you see or do. It’s about the things you figure out. We talked about how a nice beach trip relaxes you, but a trip abroad can change you. One is a vacation. The other is an adventure.