So you want to take the kids to the Louvre, eh?

“Maybe we should just go get dinner instead…”

louvre, museum, paris, France, art, art history, da vinci, winged victory, mona lisa, denon, kids, travel, les halles, ste germaine, notre dame, glass, im pei, vacation

photo: www.louvre.fr

I sighed watching an endless line snake around the Louvre’s famed glass pyramid. The kids shuffled their feet, exhausted after a long, hot day absorbing a city that overwhelmed their young senses. Tourists clattered.  The sounds of a distant cello echoed from underneath a stone entry. Cigarette smoke carried laughter through the air. Feeling depleted, I felt my enthusiasm wane.  I just wanted some water, shade and somewhere cool to sit. But thankfully my husband, stubborn and sweet, persevered.  “We’re here.  We can do this.  Only if it’s we spend a few minutes inside, let’s at least try.” He was right.  This was our chance to bring the kids to the Louvre and rely on the pre-planning and research we did to make this moment work.

parents, kids, travel, explore, curiosity, Egypt, Egyptian art, museum, antique, archeology

For as many things as our family fumbles through while traveling, visiting the Louvre is one thing I feel like we got right.   A little strategizing and planning made our visit to the Louvre in August with kids, stress free. To be perfectly honest, I was completely (and pleasantly) shocked.

What made it work?

1. Paris Museum Pass. Our strategy started with the purchase of four Paris Museum Passes. If you are not familiar with the Paris Museum Pass, they are worth their weight in gold especially if you are traveling with kids.  You pay once for a 2, 4, or 6 day pass and have access to a myriad of Paris’s top spots (including the Louvre, Rodin, Arc d’Triomphe, Pompidou and more).  By using the pass we eliminated the pressure and cost of buying four individual tickets at each sight which, as a result, eliminated the need to make a general admission fee “pay-off”. We didn’t feel the pressure to spend max-time at any given spot and knew we could come and go as we pleased.

museum pass, paris, paris museum pass, mona lisa, easy, cheap, value, happy, travel, curiosity, train

http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

But that is not the best part.  The greatest perk of having Museum Passes at the Louvre is that you skip the general entry line.  There is a separate (and when we were there – empty) entry line for Museum Pass holders. We strolled right past that  long, snaking line in front of the glass pyramid and walked right onto the escalator down to the lobby. Right then and there the Museum Pass paid for itself!  It was like having a FastPass at Disney!  Best. Thing. Ever.

2. Go late.  The Louvre is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.  The last entry is at 10pm. We arrived at 8 and although it was late, the crowds and mammoth tour groups had waned.  We were grateful. The absence of tour groups was apparent when viewing famed works like the Mona Lisa. Don’t get me wrong, it was still crowded, but not enough that our kids couldn’t get a front row, close-up look at the famous smirking lady.  The lighter crowds were manageable.

And because the crowds are lighter, the Louvre lets artists set up in the main halls to paint under the canopy of the world’s greatest masterpieces.  Our kids were witness to some amazing art; past, present and future.  It was pretty incredible.

3. Know what you want to see.  We planned for three scenarios: must see, would like to see, and will see if the kids haven’t crashed yet. Of course the Mona Lisa which is housed in the Denon Wing was the primary piece we wanted the kids to see.  Most of the other pieces we chose were also in the Denon Wing, and we knew that keeping our visit isolated to one wing was probably the best idea for our family.  The Louvre is vast and paring our visit down helped tremendously.

summer, louvre, mona lisa, crowds, France, Paris, denon, travel, explore

4. Read ahead.  Give your kids an idea of the pieces they will see before you visit.  This helped because we didn’t have to spend our limited time getting them up to speed on what they were seeing.  It gave us the opportunity to revisit the work and talk about things we already discussed. We could prompt them with a few, “remember when we talked about XYZ?” It piqued their curiosity, and they asked a few questions but we didn’t feel the need to recite a diatribe about the who, what, where, and when of each piece.  Our reading let us sit back and enjoy what we saw.

5. What we forgot to do?  Study the Louvre map for exits and bathrooms!  It sounds so basic.  This was the only “ugh!” of our time there.  We got caught up in the artwork and the crowds and before we knew it, we were stuck in the Egyptian section and couldn’t find a fast route out.  We all had to use a bathroom.  We were all ready to go.  I checked our map, but every “Sortie” only led to more tunnels and corridors. Next time we visit, I will study the map like a HAWK.

map, paris, louvre, wing, art, lost, found, denon, sully, richelieu, children, travel, museum

theotherparis.net

As with any trip (with or without kids), a little planning goes a long way and the Louvre is certainly a testament to that.

Do you have any tips to share? Please do in the comments below!

 

A Sensory Carnival in Granada’s Albaicin Neighborhood

Buzzing mopeds, the exotic scent of incense and hookahs, fierce color, and leathered gypsies offering sprigs of rosemary… We’ve finally arrived in Granada.  And it’s incrediblel!  Our family who is travel weary and coming off of a nasty stomach bug,  immediately snaps back to life. We’re so grateful to enter this vibrant, boisterous place of mixed culture and wild history – both of which play leading roles in shaping the electrifying city known as the “Moorish Jewel”. Gritty and provocative, brilliant and benevolent, Granada is as unapologetic as it is welcoming.

After we get settled in our cozy apartment near the Plaza Nueva  we venture up to the Albaicin area and the eye-candy souk that serves as this neighborhood’s entryway.  Although it’s a gray and dreary day in Spain, color beams from every corner of the Albaicin!  For our family, the souk of the Albaicin embodies the city and keeps the tempo at a family friendly vibe (*see side note at the bottom of this post).  The colors, cultures, sounds and scents melt into a seductive, heady concoction. Our kids’ walk the streets, wide-eyed, only stopping to ask questions (or eat gelato).

Our first stop in the souk (Calle de la Caldereria Nueva) was a small, Turkish lamp shop operated by a kind man, who was happy to let a foreign family browse and take pictures.  The lights were heavenly.

Luscious color sparkled from every globe, and as our Turkish friend flicked different plugs in and out to show-off the light’s brilliance, our kids’ stood silent; fascinated by the light show. Wishing we could own the 900 Euro glowing blue chandelier, we opted for a much smaller and much more affordable table top lamp.  It’s our favorite souvenir.

Making our way up through the souk, we played the “Game of Senses”.  How many different things could we smell?  (Coffee, incense, perfume, smoke, spices/cooking) What catches your eye? (big, baggie & bright “hippie” pants, colorful tea cups, scarves, hookahs, colorful bags, leather) What do you hear? (laughter, guitar music, singing, different languages, dogs). It was a fun way to get our kids’ to connect with their new surroundings. Everything they saw, smelled or heard, was familiar to them and because of this, the city became familiar, or at least more comforting.  It was a fun way for them to connect with Granada and make the city theirs to enjoy. 

We continued to stroll the streets finding small alleyways and courtyards tucked into the Albaicin’s labyrinth.  Color and moorish influence was found at every stop. Street art abound.

Eventually we wound our way up to a (kind of seedy) playground.  We found out later (on an incredible, kid-friendly segway tour – post to follow!) that this playground once housed a secret passageway for Mohammed XII  (aka Bobadil), the last Moorish ruler of Granada. He used his underground passage to sneak from the Alhambra to the Albaicin neighborhood to visit his mother who was living in a nearby palace.  Bobadil was not very popular with his family let alone his enemies, so the secret protected passageway was necessary to his survival. The entry to the tunnel is still there but encased in an rub-el-hisb, or eight-point Islamic star made of marble. The eight point star symbolizes the end of passages. A poignant fit for Bobadil.

As our feet and our kids became weary, we stopped for a drink and tapas at the top of the Caldereria Nueva.  We were dazzled by street performers, and enjoyed a free tapas while sipping sangria. A perfect end to a great beginning in Granada.

The vibrance and soul of the Albaicin and Granada embraced us.  Even though we were surrounded by fellow tourists while walking the streets, we weren’t bombarded by tacky, airport souvenir shops or the artificial properness and antiseptic feel that’s typical in some tourist towns. Granada proudly wears her scrapes and bruises.  This city begs you to experience it.  Through that mantra, we fell in love with this provocative Moorish Jewel. We can’t wait to go back.

*…ON A SIDE NOTE

For a more in depth look into the city’s culture, a nighttime jaunt into the Sacromonte district (Gypsy neighborhood) to see a Flamenco show would have been eye-opening.  We were warned that this was not a good idea with young children, however if we had a few more nights in Granada we may have tried a taxi ride up to see the clubs and neighborhood after dark.  (We did visit the mysterious Sacromonte during the day.  Incredible! More to come in a future post!)

Family Kayaking in Southern France

Pont-du-Gard

When I think of traveling to France, I envision long romantic dinners,  strolling hand in hand with my husband and savoring an afternoon espresso at an outdoor cafe.  This was how I experienced France in the past. Without kids.

(Insert record scratch….)

Not this time.  Enter baseball hat, bathing suit, copious amounts of sunblock and splash-happy  kids loaded in two orange kayaks while gliding below one of the most magnificent World Heritage Sites on the planet: The Pont-du-Gard.  Because our kids led us to experience something so totally different than what I am accustomed to in France, kayaking on the Gardon River is now a favorite French memory for me.

Our family of four travelled to the Gard region last summer at the encouragement of my husband’s parents and fell in LOVE with the area.  The Gard, tucked neatly between Provence and Langudeoc,  allows for the best Provence has to offer but at the affordable Languedoc prices.  It’s also paradise for outdoor lovers.  Tons of hiking, rental bikes and vineyards to explore. And of course water to cool you off.

Before our August trip, we knew kayaking was an option and thought it would be fun for the kids to try, but didn’t know what are options were.  We researched the three outfitters on the Gardon River all of which are located in Collias and all of which looked fairly similar.  We opted for Canoes-Collias and were thrilled with our choice!  They were friendly, accommodating, reasonably priced and picked us up (on-time) at the end of the float.

Admiring the “Pont” before the adventure!

Collias, located about 8km up river from the Pont-du-Gard is where our adventure began.  Before entering the (cute – must-go-back-to-visit) village we found a  patisserie where we stopped in to grab baguettes, snacks and drinks for the voyage. We then headed on to Canoes-Collias which is easy to find and very hard to miss!  All of the outfitters have ensured their signs are posted at every roundabout and intersection.  Literally.  You cannot miss them!

Upon arrival, we parked up the hill in the private parking lot near the owner’s home.  There was plenty of parking so if you are like me and stress about finding decent parking in small European towns, you need not here.

We met with the canoe crew down by the river and since we reserved a kayak ahead of time (suggested during the busy summer months) our process of getting checked in and geared up with life vests was pretty fast.  The manager on duty was hilarious.  He knew we were from the northeastern US and promptly started cracking baseball jokes about the Red Sox and Yankees! My kind of guy.

The young college kids they have working loaded us into the kayaks (we rode 2 per boat, 1 adult & 1 kid) and then they pushed us downhill into the water.  Splash-down commenced and we were off!   Kids were a-shreakin’!

The 8km journey down river is gorgeous.

You paddle through little dips and swirling water holes, past caves (which you can lightly explore), weathered limestone cliffs and quiet, pebbled beaches.  The water is crystal clear and the kids had a blast just watching the fish swim below them.

Picnicking along the river bank was a great option for us.  We were thankful that we stopped at the patisserie in Collias for provisions.  The kayaks have a watertight plastic barrel on the back to store your essentials which makes a picnic a viable option.  We spied a little beach and swimming hole up river and paddled over to hop out. Eating ham baguettes and crisp palmiers while sipping Orangina, with an ancient chateaux behind us, the bright Mediterranean sun above us, and cool, clear water before us made for the kind of day that goes down in the record books.  Add happy, engaged kids to the mix and we were in heaven.  THIS is what family vacation is about.  Something that makes everyone burst with pure joy.

Our lunch was followed by some swimming and chatting with other kayakers floating down river.

We eventually hopped back in our boats and continued our voyage.  By the time we reached the magnificent Pont-du-Gard the crowd had grown as did our excitement.  We had visited the site the day before and witnessed THE CLIFF JUMPERS!  This had drawn the attention of our son whom, at the time, was 8 and was so desperately wanting to join the fun.

Although there is a popular spot for jumping in directly underneath the famed aqueduct, we stopped just before the Pont-du-Gard and found another spot that was just as fantastic, but less pressured.  Our eight year old son mustered the courage and finally jumped in the Gardon 12 ft. from above!  We were so happy for him!

Our daughter, who was 7 at the time opted for another jumping hole, just past the Pont near the swimming holes.  She  loved it!  Plus this spot allowed us to take advantage of some more swimming and rock wall building with new friends.  A great opportunity for the kids to try out their French with their peers.

The journey ended about a 1 km past the Pont where kayakers pull their boats out on a little beach (again, you can’t miss it) and hop in a van to go back to Collias.

Our experience on the Gardon led us to do it again a second day.  It really was that incredible!  Not only was it FUN but we were able to incorporate a bit of Roman/European history. Sneaky parents…

Overall, this was the expedition that made our family experience in France really gel.  It combined unforgettable family fun with local culture and history.  We were allowed those small moments, to laugh and learn and enjoy a different aspect of France’s rich, natural beauty that we never dreamed of experiencing.

Pont-du-Gard, France

QUICK FACTS:

Canoe Collias:  http://www.canoe-collias.com/

Prices: 20 Euros per adult, 17 Euros for children 13-17, 12 Euros children 6-12.

Distance from Uzes: just under 10 Km (8 miles) about 15 minutes

Distance from Avignon: just over 23 km (17 miles) about half an hour

Distance from Nimes: about 16 km (10 miles) about 20 minutes

Food Options: Picnic, or wait until you reach the Pont-du-Gard for restaurant service.  There is a nice outdoor restaurant on the Right Bank, Les Terrasses.  Food is ok, a little pricey, but great views and laid back atmosphere. http://www.pontdugard.fr/fr/content/restaurant-les-terrasses

 

 

 

Daily Photo – Flea Markets in Southern France

Flea Market Finds

On a recent family trip to France, we visited the bustling flea market in Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue near Avignon.  This charming town, complete with fairy tale streams and antique water wheels is worth a visit any day of the week, but the Saturday flea market is exceptional.  The prices were a little high, but the kids haggled in French (thankfully, the people were very kind and adore kids!) and they found some reasonably priced treasures.  Here is a picture our daughter ‘s favorite vintage soda bottles.