An African mum living, learning, and documenting the process.

Marcy Madzikanda: On my not so solo trip to Paris

I have great love for this city and try to visit at least once a year if not more before I had my child. I realised I’d never written a blog about this city as I looked at previous posts. I hope this inspires both single travellers and those with children.


I promise to start working on a general Paris piece. I realise some people have a love and hate relationship with this city. I absolutely love it and did so the minute I got on the Eurostar and from the moment my foot touched the ground I knew the love would endure. I’ve spent a fortune trying to learn the language yet don’t speak it. My mind freezes when someone speaks to me in French (don’t ask) I can say greetings, please and thank you, ask the waiter if it’s okay to give my child her own drinks / snacks (you don’t have to but it’s polite) understand a bit more when I listen in on conversations. (Accents and speed slow my comprehension).


I’ve never had a bad experience. My parents visited once and hated it and vowed never to return, which put me off visiting but I had to experience it for myself. If you’ve never been I highly recommend a visit. I’d avoid high summer, it’s hot and it’s packed. I usually go shoulder seasons and have found it pleasant.


In thinking where to start I thought the most recent trip I’ve returned from with my child still fresh in my mind is apt. She has already been at least three times and once whilst pregnant. We always stay in different areas and always have a lovely time. On previous trips with my partner I knew I’d have someone to help with luggage and buggy etc. We also used the GB Pockitt as I can easily lift it up with toddler inside and carry it on stairs. On this trip I decided to leave the buggy as I’ve carried it on our three previous trips and only used it off a plane at Gatwick. I knew I’d go shopping so needed the extra space.


Travelling around Paris

Thinking about how you will get about Paris is important especially with children. Paris is compact and busy. It’s quicker to use the metro or walk to your destination. Buses and cars can get caught up in traffic.


To travel you need to purchase a ticket for your journey, these are called carnet tickets. You can purchase for a single journey or a pack of ten+ paper tickets onboard the Eurostar or at the Metro station. They don’t expire. However, these are being phased out for an oyster style card. It costs €2 and called Navigo Easy Pass you can pick this up from any metro and load up your choice of tickets. I believe the station assistants will only accept card payments. Though you can put cash in the ticket machines, which you can switch to English. If you use the paper tickets you must keep this until you exit the station. You can use a paper ticket on the buses as a hopper ticket and use for several journeys in an hour. This same ticket can be used on trams as well.


I noticed most Parisians use the baby zen yoyo buggy which is a light weight or similar. The metro is unforgiving with mainly stairs. Some stations have escalators, though you need to have used the right exit. The buses are small and like London will only take about two buggies or must be folded up. I’d avoid a huge travel system here. Our upper baby would be massive here.


Tip: Download citymapper – this will help you navigate the city like a local.


Accommodation

You must consider where you will stay, generally single digit arrondissements (boroughs) are ‘nicer’ especially if you are renting an apartment (think Le Marais district). The economic disparity of these areas is shocking but well worth observing, you can do this easily on a bus or tram and work out which areas you may wish to visit at a later time and order a drink whilst on a terrace and people watch.


Do however check the accommodation has an elevator if you need one (buggy and luggage) also check what floor you are on. Some rentals may not include this information, read reviews and ask the host and triple check before you get there. I think it’s fair to say to do this across France as one apartment we stayed in Marseille was on the fifth floor as well as another in Paris. They were both lovely but a trek to walk up. Before children this was not an issue and always a good work out but equally not so fun after shopping and having to take the luggage down.


With this in mind I wanted the easiest solution. Although I could have stayed with friends, ones apartment has a lift, the other doesn’t and lives up three flights of stairs. Both of these are just outside Paris so I’d need to factor in travel time to get anywhere. We were away for two nights, I wanted it as pain free as possible and maximise time on excursions rather than commuting on the metro.
I anticipated the yellow vest protestors on the streets. They have been protests taking place for nearly two years hampering movement across town (and businesses). I did not want to be stranded or pay excessive taxi fares.


After the convenience of my accommodation choices in Brussels and Lille I went for a similar option. The area around Gare du Nord is not the prettiest with shady characters looking for an easy mark. They will brazenly try to pick pocket unsuspecting tourists. I recall one such attempt years ago when I got off the Eurostar mid conversation with my friend. The girl deliberately bumped into me I stepped back and she was annoyed she hadn’t been able to get into my bag and was openly studying why she couldn’t get in. I said a few colourful words to her and she was unfazed.


Tip: I recommend cross body bags, under your coat, and pull your zips against your body to prevent access as well as coats with zips.


The hotel I chose was located across the road from the station. Immediately outside was the metro, there was a bar and restaurant in the hotel that both locals and tourists frequented. Travelling with my child meant I knew I’d be back no later than 6pm. To allow us time to wind down, get a drink or meal on the first floor before it got too busy and then retreat to our room for our bedtime routine.


I couldn’t have picked a better hotel. There are definitely other hotels I want to stay in but when I factor in the commute, traveling alone, infamous traffic or added costs for taxis (car seats) etc. this choice was effortless and I highly recommend. At the time I booked it (nearly five months prior) I requested a quiet room, away from elevators and street sound as well as the possibility of an early check-in if available as we would arrive just after 10am or the option to leave my luggage until such time I was able to check in. (I noted I was familiar with the area and anticipated some noise). There was a room when we arrived and I was able to check-in (no added costs) and chill for about 45 minutes before we went out for a stroll. I had a perfectly quiet room. It was so peaceful we slept so well during this break.

View from our room

I tend not to cram in a lot of things in Paris. It’s more about leisurely walks in different neighbourhoods, meals, catching up with friends etc. I’ve seen most of the tourist attractions and museums also with this trip and #Covid19, there was a notable absence of tourists. For example, I always go to this pharmacy to bulk buy toiletries, they do deliver in London but there is something about walking around the store and finding deals that brings me joy. My friend suggested I should have ordered and had it delivered to my hotel (something that hadn’t crossed my mind) but I like visiting this pharmacy it’s an experience in itself. There is also a market just outside so you can have a stroll, buy lunch then bag some deals from the pharmacy. The pharmacy is usually packed with Asian tourists who come in bus loads to shop. I barely saw any other than the staff employed to assist them.

What we did:


Tip: You can walk to Jardin des Plantes for a picnic or see an exhibition than stroll down to the Grand Mosque for tea and some sweet pastries from Place Monge.


We had the most delicious crepes for lunch. Simple, packed full of flavour, fresh and inexpensive. We took the metro to visit Parc des Buttes Chaumount in the North east of Paris one of the fifth largest parks in Paris and I now have one more to visit. I tried to get there one time and all the people I asked had no idea what I was describing (terrible pronunciation). But that was before citymapper so I will check that off my list. My descriptions of ‘sloping lawns’ and ‘dramatic waterfalls’ won’t do this justice, neither will my pictures I simply insist you visit.


I can imagine it being very busy in summer and my friend said it’s open late into the night in summer and many locals will go there for late night drinks and pizza.

The famous sights in the park were designed by other prominent Parisian designers, The Temple de la Sibylle, a miniature version of a Roman temple was designed by Gabriel Davioud who designed several monuments for the urban Parisian parks as well as fountains including Fontaine Saint-Michel. The Bridge that leads to the path that takes you to the temple was designed by Gustave Eiffel (Le Tower Eiffel). Check the escalator at the metro is working when you go. It was being repaired so we went to the next stop and walked a few minutes to the park.
We discovered a bus that went directly to Gare du Nord outside the park so hopped on that. This gave me an opportunity to see areas I’d never seen before and it gave me pause for thought. Paris is so complex. This post is not the place to begin these discussions though being able to see this when you travel is important.

Cafe culture


The following day I wanted to go on a river cruise on the Seine. I’d never done this before but I have walked the length of the Seine. (Don’t ask – I hadn’t planned to do it, but was tricked into it. Glad I did it after the fact). I checked an app to purchase tickets and the cruise was available stating Batobus was running that morning. We left and arrived in time but noticed the river was higher than normal. There’s a stretch of pavement you can usually walk on, completely submerged in water. I checked the website and they had cancelled tours because of the high water levels. We spent some time on a carousel ride, took a photos of the Eiffel Tower, it’s no longer as it was before when you could walk freely under the tower and take pictures. My option B had been to visit the Aquarium (cheaper than London) but France is taking #CoVid19 seriously meaning many public spaces are closed you can’t even greet people ‘normally’ (two or three kisses on the cheeks) because of this, there were no yellow vest protests which was a relief. We decided to avoid enclosed spaces and instead made our way to St Germain for a Lebanese lunch with friends. My child had asked for macaroons (currently her favourite treat) we were meant to go Arnaud Larher, but happened to see Pierre Hermes enroute so had some there (also fractionally cheaper). An indulgent treat.

The bridge


After this we went to Jardin Luxembourg which is another lovely park to walk around, people watch by the lake, and just take ‘it all in’. There was a fee of about €2/3 for the child and €1 for the guardian to access the playground. We decided to go on a carousel ride €2, and my child went on her first pony ride she was delighted €6/8. We had drinks in the cafe and were meant to have gone to another place but we were done for the day and wanted to spend time in our hotel.

First pony ride


We freshened up in our room and dumped bags then went to the bar for drinks (one Vespa Martini) – perks of traveling solo with a child. Then went to the restaurant we decided to have our dinner in our room which was actually perfect.

Vespa Martini


The following day we had a lazy morning in the hotel. I decide on a nice hotel in the event I can’t leave for whatever reason, I’ll enjoy my time in the hotel. We checked out, left our luggage then went out for a stroll. My original plan had been to have lunch in the hotel, however as we’d had dinner there the night before, there wasn’t anything I particularly wanted to eat. It was an okay meal but not over two days.
My child had previously seen a child with a ballon from McDonalds. The minute she saw the logo, she just had to go there for our final meal. It was purse friendly so no complaints. We then went back to the hotel for coffee while waiting the final hour before we crossed the road for an uneventful trip back home.

Final coffee


This was a lovely short break to Paris that I highly recommend. I felt so at ease traveling with my child alone, and also navigating Paris public transport on my own. Even my Parisian friend was impressed as I turned up early or on time for all our engagements.
Until next time.

Mx

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