A city break with children? My God!

There was a fleeting but memorable moment shortly after we sat down at a table outside a bistro in the warm Parisian autumn sun when I began to smell, for the first time since a long time, that everything was going to be fine.

As a waiter filled my glass with inexpensive red wine, the world opened up again. And just like that, I was able to breathe a little easier. After 20 months, months that sometimes felt like years, family travel was back on the table, alongside steak frites and bread and soup and wine.

It didn’t matter that we all had masks and hand sanitizer in our pockets and ate at coughing distance from a pop-up tent offering rapid antigen testing to all comers. We were out of the country and in our element even though we were in Paris more by accident than by design.

Flights for Five Popes were originally booked to take us to a campsite near Barcelona last August, but with vaccinations for two teenagers still a long way off, we postponed the holiday to 2022. Ryanair was offering a free flight change until the end of 2021, so it was Paris.

We were off wandering unknown streets and marveling at the shelves of pastries in the bakery and the shelves of meat in the butcher’s

Four nights in a swanky Haussmann-style Airbnb on rue de Liège in the 8th arrondissement during the October half-term holidays cost just over €1,000 and we were gone.

Almost as soon as I landed at Beauvais, I found myself tangled up in the security gates, much to the delight of almost everyone in the airport. I blame the ignorance of travel.

After the shrill alarms were silenced by gunmen, a shuttle took us to the Paris car park where Ryanair passengers have been decanted for decades. Unable to find a taxi to accommodate five popes, we traveled in a convoy of two to the posh Airbnb.

With the bags thrown away, we were off to wander unfamiliar streets and marvel at the bakery’s shelves of pastries and the butcher’s meat shelves before sitting down in the bistro in the shade of our new home and order the french onion soup and the wine and the steak.

Almost as soon as we were back in our new home we were out, walking the 10 steps to the metro to catch a train two stops to the Champs-Élysées where we strolled to the Arc de Triomphe before we head towards the Trocadéro to contemplate the sparkling Eiffel Tower in the night.

While there’s a lot to be said for exploring cities – especially beautiful walkable cities like Paris – on foot, when you have three children in tow, one of whom is only three and is not not too in love with his buggy, the open top bus is still your best friend.

Sitting in my sunny French house with its floor-to-ceiling windows, I booked a bus and cruise ticket and off we went. Along the banks of the Seine we went, passing poor old Notre-Dame, still wrapped in its scaffolding, waiting to be cured. We crossed the river and past Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe, we went in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and near the glass pyramid outside the Louvre.

From the bus we hopped on the boat and saw the city from a different perspective. It was an effortless – if shamefully lazy – way to familiarize ourselves with Paris and well worth the £100 or so it cost.

Disneyland Paris: “We got up late, had a slow breakfast of fresh pastries bought from our local patisserie, before catching the hour-long train.” Photography: iStock

The next day we went with our pre-booked tickets to the Louvre, jostled by a crowd not entirely socially distanced to catch a glimpse of breathtaking art that almost always disappoints in spite of itself and queued for two hours to take an elevator up. at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There was hot chocolate and cold champagne and a walk around the upper platforms as darkness fell over the city.

The next day was Disney day. We got up late, had a slow breakfast of fresh pastries bought from our – now local – patisserie before catching the hour-long train to Disneyland Paris.

‘Who am I?’ I silently thought to myself as the young women walked away while my girls looked at me and did this face palm thing

In retrospect, we should have arrived two or three hours earlier. I joined a queue to pick up park tickets. It was the slowest queue I have ever seen and despite all my comments it never picked up the pace. Eventually we were inside, where it was just lovely if a bit confusing. Could really come in handy with some extra “you are here” type maps and some staff that could point the way from the Buzz Lightyear ride to the Indiana Jones ride. Once we got our bearings and did a few rides – using the almost essential fast pass – we had lunch, did a few more rides and watched a parade pass us by.

Then I shamed my two eldest. I may even have put all of Ireland to shame.

We had just come off a rollercoaster and were pretty euphoric when two young women approached us. “Oh my god, we were behind you on the roller coaster and we love your accents,” they say. “Where do you come from?”

“We are from Ireland,” we told them. “Where are you from?”

“Hawaii,” they replied.

I heard the words “Hawaii? That’s where Moana comes from” coming out of my mouth followed almost immediately by “And Lilo and Stitch”.

I was like an American meeting Irish people and proudly telling them that Darby O’Gill was from Ireland. And the little people.

“Which a m I?” I silently thought to myself as the young women walked away while my daughters looked at me and did that palm thing that young people do.

The return train journey was more terrifying – for me – than any of the journeys. We were literally the last people to leave the second or third happiest place on earth and the only people in our car for the first two or three stops. Then people started to join us in dribs and drabs. I imagined how vulnerable we seemed – innocents abroad – and I imagined all the terrible things that could happen to us if rascals boarded the train and decided to use our money and our phones.

This didn’t happen and eventually we returned to our apartment without anyone else in our travel party realizing how freaked out I was.

Chocolate mousse

The next day we wandered around the Marais before heading to one of my favorite restaurants in the world, a place called Chez Janous. It’s not luxurious in the Michelin star sense, but the food is excellent, the chocolate mousse is served in a giant bowl and the staff are lovely. It’s pretty cheap too.

This probably explains why it was booked until midnight and we were turned away. We made another plan and booked lunch for the next day – our last in Paris. Chez Janous was as good as I remembered.

From the restaurant we took a taxi back to the bus depot and Beauvais and back home to Dublin, tired but as happy as I remember. It was good to be in the world again.

Five more city trips with kids

ROME: One of the most child-friendly cities in Europe, if not the whole world. It’s both accessible and – if you do your homework – inexpensive. Airbnbs in places such as Testaccio where locals live are easy to find while restaurants in local neighbors offer spectacular value for money. The Roman ruins, bloody history and art make it an exciting place even for youngsters while the weather – apart from the dead summer heat – is simply stunning. Oh, and considering that pizza and pasta are part of the national dishes, feeding the kids couldn’t be easier.

LISBON: One of the cheapest capitals in Europe, value for money is a big plus for the city when traveling with the family. But that’s not all it has to offer. The weather is great, the city center small and easy to explore, and the public transport system easy and cheap. The beautiful beaches of Cascais and surrounding towns are a short train ride away.

AMSTERDAM: What was once better known as Europe’s Sin City isn’t necessarily the one that immediately comes to mind when you think of family vacations, but it’s a perfect city for traveling with kids. . The canals and its cruises are magical, its science museum is a marvel and the museums and galleries are wonderfully accessible to children of all ages. The Ripley Museum will be of particular interest to children of a certain age and a certain appetite for the horrible. It also has some of the finest playgrounds in Europe designed for families who actually live in the city. And the food is excellent and brilliantly varied. Rather than staying in town, it is strongly recommended to settle near Harlem or Zandvoort en Zee. You get all the benefits of staying in a big city with all the relaxed comforts of a small town experience.

LONDON: The closest major capital of Ireland, London is a place not to be overlooked for family holidays despite its familiarity. It has a huge range of activities that kids will love, including the obvious ones including Madame Tussauds, Tower of London and Dungeons. The Thames cruise is good, and the open-top bus tours rarely disappoint kids, though parents can be forgiven for cursing all the traffic jams along the way.

MADRID: Our best advice for traveling to Madrid is to not bring your family here in July or August. While temperatures over 40 degrees might seem pleasant when you’re experiencing a cold, dark Irish winter, it’s miserable and you’ll find yourself dodging the sun’s rays the way you might dodge the rain at home. But apart from the summer heat, Madrid is beautiful. You can easily feed a family of four for under 50 pounds if you’re crafty about it – the patatas bravas, tortillas and the odd bowl of prawns at a sometimes unpromising bar will set you up nicely. San Miguel’s food market is an easy way to eat on the hoof while the ubiquitous and incredibly cheap menu del dia can still be found with three courses – including wine – to be had for not much more than just a dozen a bit off the beaten track. The museums – notably El Prado and the Reina Sofia – are great while a rowing boat on Lake Retiro followed by a picnic is a memory that will last. The bustling El Rastro flea market is also fun, but don’t lose your wallet. Or your children.

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