Paris with a Baby

September-October 2018

 

 

Even before she was born, I knew I wanted to take our daughter to Paris for her first birthday. Family and friends thought us fools and warned us of the perils.

The lines outside the museums are dreadfully long and then the Louvre museum itself is so vast; she won’t last.

I’ll tell you what – there were no lines when we went and they bumped us ahead of the two other people there because we had a baby. While it is not apparent or even intuitive, the museums are almost completely accessible for the people with limited mobility. My girl preferred to be worn, so I wore her in the museum. It had the added advantage of my being able to easily point out things to her and discreetly feed her on the go.

 What will she eat?

She ate everything. By the time we went she had started animal milk and solids. We had some  home cooked food that her grandmothers had packed for her to eat on the flight. In all their grandmotherly concern, they unknowingly packed enough for us to carry around as a quick, clean snack for the first two days.

You can’t take her to cafés. The cafés are not stroller friendly. They don’t have high chairs.

We heard so much about this that we invested in a second stroller. A lighter, more compact one. Only one café turned us away. The stroller usually served as her chair, so we never had to ask for a high chair either.

 You have to pay to use the bathrooms and they don’t have diaper changing stations.

I didn’t pay a single time to use the bathrooms. It’s true that they don’t have diaper changing stations; maybe one place did but my girl hates those plastic contraptions. She just won’t lie still on them. We used pant style diapers and never had a problem. In addition to restaurant bathrooms, we also changed her on park benches and discreet corners of  tourist attractions.

The very idea of going to Paris with a baby is sheer madness! You won’t be able to enjoy the city, saddled with baby.

We did everything we wanted to do. Having a baby in tow showed us a new way to travel. Instead of waking up early and whizzing around, we slowed down. We would start our day when she was ready, which was around noon. For every two hours she spent in the stroller or baby carrier, we spent an hour or two in a park or some place she could be free. The time differences, Mumbai-Paris-New York worked beautifully to our advantage.  We enjoyed every bit and so did she.

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Paris- for the Romantic Soul

October 2018

Paris is not the world capital of romance for nothing. You won’t see people kissing at every street corner; you can see more action in Bombay, if you know where to look.  While you won’t see people kissing at every street corner, I love how the local markets are all filled with fresh flowers – and men with a bagful of them.  C’est trop charmant, don’t you think?

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The local markets are everywhere. Every locality seems to have its own little market. The food is fresh, and so is the produce if you are interested. We bought our first meal in Paris at Marché Monge – the city market. We wandered into it looking for Marché Mouffetard. Sundays are flea market days.

The flower market at Île de la Cité has attracted avid gardeners and curious passersby since 1830 and converts into a bird market on Sundays. Canaries, budgies, lovebirds, parrots, doves… It is heartbreaking actually.

Broken hearts rejoice, all the locks on the “love lock” bridge – aka Pont des Arts have been taken down and it is now illegal to attach locks to the bridge. You can still bring your baguettes, cheese, wine and blankets and camp out on the bridge while musicians serenade you as the sun sets in the back. Book lovers can walk along the Siene and browse the little bookshops that line both banks, while admiring the views. The Seine is often described as ‘the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves’. The bouquinistes of Paris are booksellers of used and antiquarian books. Sit down at any of the numerous cafes around for a bite and a glass of wine. I had a wonderful vegan meal at Le Grenier de Notre Dame.  Or take your book, a baguette and a bottle of wine* to any of the big and small parks around. Find a bench and picnic.

 

“A book of verses underneath the bough.. A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou.”

*Don’t hold me on the wine. It might be illegal to drink in a public place. Please do your own due diligence.

Prague – Paisa Vasool for Everyone

My second trip to Prague was in August 2018. This started off as a work trip with four other colleagues from UK, followed by my family joining me on the Thursday for an extended weekend. Being our second trip, my colleague and me decided to play tourist guides to the rest and walked them to Charles Bridge to give them a glimpse of the river front and Prague Castle.

By August I had done 3 work trips with the lads and my stomach was more conditioned to accepting a bit more alcohol, in short, I graduated to the large pint. I won’t bore you with every place we had dinner, but it won’t be complete without mentioning U-Fleku.  The Brewery and Restaurant U Fleků in Prague is one of the most famous and most visited Czech cultural sites, such as the Prague Castle, Old Town Square, Vyšehrad, the Jewish Town or the National Museum.This place had a number of halls with a large beer garden / courtyard in the middle. The seating was very Oktoberfest’ish with long rows of benches and tables. The place was heaving with tourists and locals with traditional live music running in the background that helped create an atmosphere. Beer was continuously refilled until you ask them to stop, quite dangerous for light weights like me! I ordered the only vegetarian option which felt like a Czech version of a bhajiya‘ platter with salad. The waiter asked us to try ‘medovina’, a classic sweet honey infused alcoholic beverage. A small shot glass was enough to make us appreciate the ambiance. Don’t miss this place if you visit Prague.

Pic courtesy- ufleku website. It looked a lot like this

Let’s get to the family part of the trip. Up until now, I’d only seen the ‘dark’ side of Prague, as we only had time in the evenings and the agenda was heavily inclined to places that served alcohol!

After a bit of research, I found a hotel quite close to Wenceslas square. The family had a bit of airport drama with flight cancellations etc which meant that by the time they arrived Prague it was mid- day and the girls were knackered.  After a much-needed nap, we got ready to explore the place on foot. Did I mention that last summer Europe was blessed with some never-ending sunshine and heat wave? It was early thirties and I was determined to try on that pink vest which I wouldn’t dare to wear in England. Besides that, was the only thing that coordinated with the pink themed evening.

We had the most enjoyable walk from new town to old. Prague has managed to maintain its heritage with its multi-colour facades along the street. The cafes along the street are pretty and unpretentious. Food and drink are not expensive in Prague when you compare them to other European cities. After a long walk to the town centre in the heat, we took a pit stop to grab a quick gelato for the little one. It was simply awesome. I wanted to show the family the Old Town square. As you walk along these lovely cobbled streets, you cannot ignore the Baroque architecture. Prague was once the cultural capital of Europe and it truly lives up to that title.

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The walk, in day light observing the rich heritage of Prague is simply spectacular. The little one was still sprightly, so we decided to head to the famous Charles bridge. The sun was about to set, and we managed to get clicked along the riverside. The riverfront promenade is bustling with more cafes and restaurants.

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The missus was a bit apprehensive to experiment the local cuisine besides her motherly instincts were flowing full throttle, so we had to find a dal-chawal place for the little one. On the way back towards the hotel, we bumped into Bombay Express. This was a life savior. If you are craving for Indian food in Prague, don’t miss Bombay Express (I think it is a chain in Prague as I saw it in more than one place!). We ordered a dal makhni, naan and paneer masala and may I say that it was quite simply delicious. I thanked the wife as by day five of staying away from home-food, I was craving for some desi food. On that tasty note, we called it a day.

The following day we decided to get a tram to Prague Castle. Remember I told you that Uber is good in Prague, trams are also good and cheap!  We arrived early and got a day pass to cover a few monuments within the castle. It gave us access to the Rose gardens, Cathedral, Gold lane among a few other historic buildings. The castle is on a hill top offering a breathtaking view of the city.

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After getting lots of photos, we entered the St. Vitus Cathedral. The intricate designs on the walls, the rose painted glass, high ceiling walls and the ornate decor was simply mind blowing. This is a must visit place and completely worth it.

The Cathedral was definitely the highlight of the visit. It was a visual treat from inside and outside. There is a lot to cover in the Castle. Our little one cooperated as we walked to tick everything we wanted to see. She was quite excited to see the castle exteriors, the rooms where the soldiers guarded the city and their outfits. The place has managed to preserve its history beautifully and highly recommended if you visit Prague.

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Day 3 with the family was meant to be any place of fun for the little one. We were toying with the idea of going to Karlstein which was also a palace type of place but instead chose to go to the zoo. Prague zoo is huge with a lot of area to cover. I would definitely recommend if you are travelling with kids and would probably start early in the day and get a cable car to the top. The zoo expanses on a sloping terrain and they’ve managed to get all the wild animals at the top end. We chose to walk up as the missus was petrified with the incline of the cable car (bad decision). Once up, we hired a mini train to take us around the park and we got to see a lot of the wild animals. Prague zoo is not a Loro Parque or San Diego Zoo in terms of different shows but nonetheless it has all wild animals one would want to see and recognize. If you are travelling with kids and want to do something locally, then it is worth a visit.

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I told you 2018 was a year of firsts and seconds. Two trips to Prague with completely different agendas but equally worthwhile and fun! Whether you decide to go solo, with a bunch of friends or with family, Prague has something to offer for one and all.  At the end of the tripthe little one said to me “Papa, Prague was the best because it was nice and hot!”. Paisa vasool! *

 

* Paisa vasool!  – got my money’s worth

-Nitin Kumsi – I’m not a born traveller, accountant, dancer, chaat-lover,reader or writer. l’ve just picked some of these habits along the way and stuck with some of them as I seemed to enjoy them more than others.

 

Paris – The Tourist Circuit II

October 2018

Arc de Triomphe at Place de l’Étoile at the top of the Champs-Élysées, a national symbol, but I had no plans for making a trip just to see it. I am not a big shopper. I find it tiring. Besides, my bags were overflowing from all things India. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées therefore held no special spot in my itinerary either. The LO fell asleep as we tried to find the stroller friendly way out of the Louvre, so we decided to skip the Jardin des Tuileries and go get a drink instead. Few minutes later we were on a subway to Champs-Élysées and when we get out we are at Place de l’Étoile, right at the Arc de Triomphe.

Raising a toast in Paris is an art like everything else. Use tchin tchin with your friends and everyone you’re on a “tu” basis with as a fun replacement of the more traditional “à ta santé” and “à votre santé” and semi-casual “santé”. Tchin Tchin!!

When we are done with our drink, it is time to head over to the Eiffel Tower for sunset. Years ago (in 2014) I wrote a blog post on the Esplanade du Trocadéro being better spot for photos than the top of the Eiffel Tower itself. That image of the plaza, with its fountains, pink skies and the Tour Eiffel stayed in heart. In the years that followed, the hundreds of Instagram pictures at the staircase messed my head up. We walked out of the subway station with no idea which way to go. I ask two security guards with my best lost face “Trocadéro Jardin?” They respond with, “Tour Eiffel?” and point us in the right direction. I just don’t get why they say Paris and Parisians are tourist unfriendly. We reach in time for sunset, but there are dark clouds looming and there is the eminent threat of rains. The tall slim frame, the lace like lattice work, the tower is as elegant and sophisticated as the proverbial French people. We didn’t have pink skies, but the light drizzle that followed adds its own charm to the moment and drama to the pictures. We watch as the lights on the tower go on.

The carousal here let’s adults ride. There is a wedding photoshoot in progress. The husband opts to stay out and take a picture while the LO and I go on her first carousal ride. I think she loved it.

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October is a wonderful time to visit Paris. The summer crowds have gone and the winter hoards are yet to descend on the city. It’s not too hot or too cold. We have the most perfect weather imaginable on our trip, bright, sunny, cool enough to not miss air conditioning, yet warm enough to not warrant a jacket. We are out all day, every day. We wake up late and breakfast on baguettes, croissants, orange juice and coffee; reach our first stop in time for lunch.  Our time is divided between attractions and parks. We walk into little cafés for a drink in the evenings. Explore some more. Meals are a leisurely affair. Again, must be a cultural thing. The wait staff take their time to come to you and simply disappear after serving your order. The bill is left on your table, in case you are in a particular hurry.

Paris – Victor Hugo ; Literature and Architecture

October 2018

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Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. Standing here at sunrise, I see how delicately embellished and ornate the facade is. How slim the carvings are! I caught part of a guided tour while the husband stood in line for us. This is one place where “le poussette”* did not get us ahead of the line. No concessions in God’s house. The flying buttresses and rich sculptures make a great impression from the outside, and the grand organ, vaulted ceiling and rose windows wow visitors inside. The best way to admire the facade is from a slight distance. Look at it from the Pont Petit. I did this on an early morning walk while the husband and LO were sleeping. While they both bring love and happiness to my life, it was wonderful to have Paris all to myself for just that hour or so. This was on a Sunday, around sunrise, so I did really have Paris mostly to myself. Standing there on le Pont Petit, I even got to use my best French lines, “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?”** It was to a someone asking me for directions.

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You cannot talk about the Notre Dame and not talk of Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo, the French poet, playwright, novelist, statesman, human rights activist – the man who championed the cause of conservation of the Notre Dame. During the Revolution Notre Dame had been used as a saltpetre plant. By the nineteenth century it had suffered so much neglect that builders wanted to reuse its stones for bridge construction. His Hunchback of Notre Dame was an effort to save the cathedral from demolition. The church is as much as of a character in the novel as Quasimodo and Esmerelda.

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We spend our first evening at Jardin du Luxembourg. Hugo was one of many writers to appreciate its charms. It’s too hot to sit by the water and watch the children push boats, so we head to the carousal.  I want to put the LO on the carousal, but they won’t let me go on it with her. Only children. She’s too small to go by herself and besides she’s never been on one before. We walk further and find a shady leaf spot to let the LO loose. She entertains herself, us and passerbys by collecting fallen leaves. On the way out, I make a quick detour to check out the Medici fountain. A quiet spot towards the back of the garden.

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My broken French, everyone else’s decent English, my fellow people from the sub-continent and natural charm get us to the riverfront. From the riverfront we make our way to the Notre Dame. The Cathedral is closed, so we walk around it and settle down for supper followed by the cutest icecream I have ever eaten. Rose shaped! Rose shaped using any flavour of your choice and as many flavours as you want. I went with sorbets. +1 to being vegan.

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We are not done with Victor Hugo. The man who loved Paris. The next day we head over to Place des Vosges. After letting the LO explore a fountain and make a mess of her clothes, we walked around the park looking for Number 6 -“Maison de Victor Hugo”. I take a quick peek and posed happily in the doorway down from Number 7. It’s a gorgeous looking mansion with a lovely front yard. Few steps later I see a plaque for Number 6 and security at the entrance. It’s almost lunch time so we skip the museum in favour of a short walk to at Marché Bastille.  Fresh, fun lunch, a surprise viewing of the National Monument and we were on our way to the Louvre.

 

 

 

* poussette – baby stroller

** “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?” – I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?

Paris – for Vegan-etarians

October 2018

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I am vegan, is Paris for me? Absolutely! Paris is a big city. I am vegan. I am not committed, I cheat without guilt, but I try. I found it really easy not to stray. Except for the croissants I had for breakfast, a couple of crêpes, few glasses of wine and one pastry, all of which could have easily been avoided, I think I was very good.  Paris is a gastronomical delight. You can find foods from all over the world. We ate Lebanese, Thai, Indian.. all of which have vegan options. Pasta can be ordered without cheese and meat. Sandwiches can be made without cheese and meat. I had warm vegetable soups, which in addition to being good for my vegan soul were also very soothing for my sore throat. I have been told that outside of India Paris is the only place where Mac Donald’s serves vegetarian fare. Ask for “without cheese” and you are sorted. Paris has some lovely vegan restaurants and cafes. There’s Le Grenier de Notre Dame near Notre Dame, L’Abattoir Vegetal at Montmarte,  Hank’s Vegan Burger, Le Faitout… Happy Cow can give you the whole list. Head to the wonderful local markets and buy what you need. A baguette, some jam, fresh fruits and veggies. If local markets are not your thing, go to a supermarket. Learn to say no to those macaroons and pastries that look too beautiful to eat anyway, and you are safe. Paris is for EVERYBODY!

P.S. I used to think vegan was a dietary preference but it seems it has now evolved into a lifestyle choice.

Paris – The Palace of Versailles

October 2018

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Cellphone photo-please excuse the quality

Today is devoted to Versailles – the palace, the city, the perfumery. Okay, we are only going to see the palace and grounds. After a very Parisian breakfast at the hotel, we set out. We choose not to buy our tickets in advance online. This did not end badly for us, but I think it’s always smart to buy you tickets in advance if you can and avoid wasting time in queues. When we get to the palace, there is a long line to get in. Luckily there is no line at the ticket counter. I buy us tickets while the husband and LO join the line. They have made considerable progress by the time I get back, but I the lady at the ticket counter had told me we don’t need to wait in line since we had the more expensive tickets. The man minding the line is of a different opinion but the “poussette” gets us sent to the front of the line. Strollers are not allowed inside the palace. We check the stroller in and wear the baby. I have to say this about my baby carrier, I wore the LO throughout Paris- at the museum, the Palace, the streets, the markets, hundred stairs up a particular subway station and didn’t feel the strain. Not in the least. The king’s chambers befit royalty. So grand!!  The ceilings take my breath away. When we get to the fabulous Hall of Mirrors, even the LO is impressed. She keeps looking up and clapping with joy. In the rooms before, she is a little irritated with the crowds, but in this room, she transforms back into the happy child she is.

DSC_0663We packed a picnic with us and eat it in the gardens. The LO takes a post prandial nap in her stroller. Strollers are allowed in the garden. We want to take the trolley around the grounds, but the man says the stroller needs to be folded. While we wait for the LO to wake up, I fill the husband in on the French Revolution history. When the LO wakes up we take the trolley around the grounds. We get off at The Petit Trianon and let the LO play around for a bit. Marie-Antoinette, who had such trouble adapting to life in the court, received the Petit Trianon as a gift from Louis XVI in 1774 and developed a great attachment to this estate. The queen used the hamlet as a place for relaxing walks, or to host small gatherings. We don’t go into the house, preferring to play with the LO outside. The estate of Versailles is vast. You can spend an entire day going from garden to beautiful garden, admiring the landscaping and sculptures.

DSC_0694As we make our way out, we find ourselves under the King’s window and I exclaim how marvelous it must be to wake up to this view. Perfectly manicured gardens rolling out as far as the eye can see, bounded by woods. “And, one day, he saw thousands of people running towards him.” “The Revolution.”, he volunteers. I try to explain that’s not how it happened. I mean it sort of is, but the royal family escapes. Almost, they get caught because of the foolish King. “He came for his wallet? “. “What!!” “Passport?” This man never lets me forget why I married him!

 

* poussette – baby stroller