Backpacking in Europe with kids – Part 1 (Paris)
We decided to take a last-minute trip before Christmas. I searched for hours looking at all sorts of cheap deals and different options, but we couldn’t decide if we should go somewhere warm for some winter sun, or hit the Christmas markets in Europe? I then looked at the Easyjet site, I found lots of cheap flights in the week we wanted to travel, so I ended up booking a flight to Paris, then on to Venice, all for under £300 for the 4 of us! Oh and did I mention we were going to backpack it all?!
A few days later, we each packed a little backpack and off we set…
I made sure I booked good flight times, and it made such a difference to the whole trip. I knew it was going to be a tiring week, so making sure there were no early or late flights made things a lot easier! Our accommodation for the first 3 nights was in a Hostel called Smart Place Paris, a short walk from the Gare du Nord.
I booked this place mainly because of the price, but it did look like a cool place to stay. A simple but comfortable hostel. It was ok, but when it said it accommodated 2 adults and 2 children, I did expect enough beds for us all, not the 1 and a half single bunk beds we were given! I ended up sharing with Pebble and Biz perched precariously on the top bunk with no side rail! It was fine, clean and there was hot running water, but the room was so hot that everyone slept virtually naked without the covers on! Quite a contrast to the near freezing conditions outside! There was however free tea and coffee downstairs, a table football for the kids and a guitar for Biz so he was happy! I wouldn’t rule it out if you’re on a budget, just check there are enough beds before you get there!
After dropping our bags at the hostel and lightening the load, we had a short walk to Sacre Coeur, where we had dinner looking up the hill to the Basilica as the sun went down. The food was pretty ropey, but just about edible. Refuelled, and ready to go, we took the funicular to the top to see the view!
Everyone was in high spirits and after a tough few days previously with Osito, he was on great form and really getting into the spirit of things! Pebble suggested we take a look inside the Basilica so we had a peaceful wander around. It was beautifully lit up with candles and the sound of a choir singing made it very atmospheric and Christmassy!
We could see the Eiffel Tower from where we were and discussed whether we would like to go then or the next day. All in favour of a night time visit, we caught the Metro across the city. The Tower is obviously lit up at night, but on the hour, for 5 minutes, it really sparkles with hundreds of little lights twinkling in the night sky.
Everyone was starting to flag by now, so I didn’t hold out much hope, but as we got there and saw it up close, we thought it would be amazing to go up it at night. It wasn’t too cold, there was no wind and the sky was clear. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Another hour had passed since we last saw the tower sparkling, it turned into our measurement of time and throughout the evening we saw it light up 4 times!
We had a couple of rides on a carousel before crossing the river, enjoying being playful together as a family.
One of the great things about travelling is that you don’t have the usual worries of everyday life. You can be more in the moment and enjoy simple pleasures. Something that I’m working on at home, but is often forgotten.
We went through initial security under the Tower, to find there was still quite a queue for the tickets. Then through more security and another queue for the lifts. Both kids were being extremely patient while we waited, taking it in turns to cheer each other up when needed! Eventually it was our turn to board the first lift, taking us up to the 2nd floor, and it suddenly struck me that I was actually quite scared! Not because of the height, but the lift, as I saw the inside workings of it looming above us! We squeezed inside and up we went straight to the 2nd floor then changed lifts for the final ride to the top! Pebble was on my back, Ositos hand in mine, all excited about where we were and what we were about to do! The top was breathtaking, wire mesh all around but open to feel the air on our faces, we could see for miles! We spent a little while at the top, kids using the toilets so they could say they’d had the highest wee in Paris! We headed down to get the lift back to the bottom and as we were taking a few pictures and trying to find the lift, there was a Security threat announcement asking everyone to get to the lifts and get down ASAP. A little shaken and trying to hurry the kids without scaring them, we waited for the lift with everyone else also trying to escape! At this point Osito decided he needed a number 2 and couldn’t wait! So Biz took him while Pebble and I waited for the lift. Luckily, the threat announcement was soon cancelled, so we made it back down in one piece!
By this point we were all pretty shattered, it was about 10pm and we’d been on our feet all day. Still with about an hour journey back to the hostel, we made our way across the city, taking in all the sights and discussing our day. Osito was remarkable, his little legs carried him most of the way without fuss, whilst Pebble slept in the sling. On the way home we stopped for some supplies. Trying to find suitable food for Osito was proving a challenge already, but we made do with olives, sweet corn and crisps for our late night snack, and eventually got him to sleep about 11:30, completely shattered as we all were! Osito said Paris was the best place ever!
The next day we’d planned to go to Disneyland! Everyone was excited! However Osito woke with the horrible cough that Pebble had just got over, and was pretty poorly. He was still up for the trip, so we headed out. As we were trying to buy the train tickets, a nice young lady told us in broken English that the trains were free today because of air pollution! Great, that saved a little we thought, and off we went! It turns out that all the days we were there the trains were free, so we had previously bought the Metro tickets for nothing! Would have been nice if the ticket office at the airport had passed that info on!! Never mind!
Disney was great, we went to the Walt Disney Studios side first as we’d not been there properly before. We saw a live stunt show to start off the day which was well worth it, especially as Lightning McQueen made an appearance which the kids loved!
My biggest bugbear was the food, I didn’t expect much, but the standard of food and the exorbitant price really wound me up! We half ate a chicken burger that then exited my body quicker than it went in, leaving us feeling pretty poorly for a while after.
It was a cold day but the sun shone and despite Osito looking and feeling pretty rough, he made a great effort to enjoy the day. Whilst we waited to go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, Pebble fell asleep in the sling. I was going to bypass the ride and let the boys go alone, but seeing there were no safety harnesses on the ride, we decided to take her on asleep! Bless her, she slept the whole way around and didn’t even flinch when going down the big water drop!! Hardy girl!
We waited for the first parade at the end of the day and then went on one more ride before leaving ahead of the crowds. We managed to escape quite easily and even got a seat on the train! An hour later we were back at Gare du Nord and stopped at a Grill house for dinner before going back to the hostel. We all collapsed and slept straight away! Osito woke in the night with ear ache, screaming out in pain. Thank goodness for my trusty homeopathy first aid kit! I gave him a remedy whilst we were searching the Internet for the nearest 24hr pharmacy just in case. Not long after, he fell back to sleep, only waking once for a few minutes and was completely fine in the morning!
As Osito has dietary intolerances, I had done some research before we left on where we could find gluten and dairy free food options. I found a great looking café called My Free Kitchen that was close to where we were staying. So, the following day, after a long lie in, we took a walk in that direction looking forward to finding some good food that we could all enjoy. Unfortunately, although it was a lovely little café, with a great looking selection of cakes, the food choice was a bit lacking. They change their menu each day so we weren’t able to check it out before. The only thing that vaguely appealed to the kids was carrot soup, which it turned out they didn’t enjoy! Biz and I ordered a veggie lasagna which was essentially a heap of spinach layered between some uncooked gluten free pasta. Not great. We did manage a dairy free ice cream to cheer them up at the end which was pretty tasty!
On from there to a place that my Dad had recommended, an area called La Villette. We were told that there was a Science Museum, and other things that might interest the kids. We walked towards the Cite des Sciences & L’industrie from Porte du Pantin Metro, which was a nice walk via a playground, but I think the best access is from Porte du la Villette station. From there you can enter the front of the Museum, whereas we got a bit lost getting into the building which was a little frustrating! As with everywhere in Paris at present, there were security checks entering the building, an unfortunate but necessary sign of the times.
Outside the museum is La Geode which is extremely impressive to look at from the outside and houses an Imax cinema and Planetarium, which we didn’t get to visit this time.
We wanted to visit the Science Museum, Cite de les Enfants, but this is done in timed slots of 1.5hrs which we didn’t know in advance! Luckily we only had to wait about 20 minutes before we could go in. It’s a hands on interactive museum which the kids loved. There is a section for 2-7 year olds and a section for 5-12 year olds.
Tickets are quite expensive when you’re paying for a family, 12 Euro each. It kept them entertained for a few hours, but I’m not sure it’s any better than the Science Museum in London which is free!
Included in the ticket is entry to the Argonaute, a French Naval Submarine. This was worth a visit, and both kids were fascinated with the tour and the audio guide as we walked through the claustrophobic enclosure. There is a small Museum at the end of the tour as well.
Our final day in Paris, was an early-ish start, we packed up our backpacks, and headed back to the airport for the next part of our adventure! Catch us in Venice for the next installment!
Here are a few things we found that made travelling a little easier with young children…
- Only pack enough that you know they (and you) can comfortably carry!
- Make sure you have plenty of snacks to give them a boost when they most need it.
- Try and book flights that are within their normal routine hours of waking, especially if moving on every few days.
- Take something little to entertain on flights or train/bus journeys – a magazine each worked really well for us. Especially as they both had a toy phone inside that they pretended to take photos with the whole time.
- Find lots of silly little games to play when their feet get tired or they start to get bored, We found this really livened things up and took their minds off the walking from time to time.
- If you can exchange a buggy for a sling or other carrier, it will make life a lot easier. Carrying a buggy up and down the stairs to the Metro and other attractions ends up far more tiring than carrying your child in a good carrier. (Believe me, I’ve done both!)