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Visiting Southern France’s Aix-en-Provence with Children

June 25, 2019
Exploring Aix-en-Provence with Children

In the late spring, when my four children and I were staying in France’s Jura Mountains and it seemed that summer would never arrive, we jumped in the car and headed to the south of France. I desperately needed to soak up some sun.

Sun Seekers.

Our destination: Aix-en-Provence.

Aix-en-Provence, (Pronounced “EX”), is a small French city in Southern France about thirty miles north of Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea. Aix-en-Provence gets a whooping 300+ days of sunshine a year.

Where we stayed

I found a great centrally located and kid-friendly place for our three nights in Aix-en-Provence. Casa Appart, a self-catering apartment style rental is about a 2-3 minute walk from the center of the old town.

Our apartment in Casa Appart was lovely. I booked it through Booking.com, which is the site I use for most of my European travel (other than AirBnBs) because I can easily input my total guest count (me + 4 children) to find suitable room options. Our Aix-en-Provence rental featured two levels, a balcony, a small kitchen, and enough sleeping space for the five of us.

Casa Appart was super clean and cozy. While staying there, I felt like I was actually living in Aix, not just visiting the city as a hotel guest. I loved the shower and my bed was really comfy. I will note my only complaint with this location: a child unfriendly feature – an unbarred window in the lower level bedroom, which could pose a fall danger to a small child (it opens to an interior courtyard in the front of the apartment). Please keep in mind, this may not seem of concern to Europeans or anyone else traveling from other parts of the world, but to my American wired brain, this seems like an issue, though not enough to detract from this awesome rental pick.

Another plus. The staff at Casa Appart went out of their way to leave birthday balloons and treats for my child who was celebrating a birthday during our stay. Unfortunately, I think I messed up the review I left after staying there and I couldn’t figure out how to go back and change it. I intended to give it a 10/10, but think I must have skipped over a field because a lower rating was displayed. Additionally, there is a washer/dryer available for use ($) in the secured front apartment courtyard, which is always a plus when you’re traveling with kids or travel slow and light.

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Worldschooling 2016

October 5, 2016

Now that October is here, it feels like we’re on the final approach to wrapping up the year.  I have neglected to post regular updates this year, primarily because it has been a somewhat chaotic year with lots of projects and travel–while worldschooling, of course–sprinkled over the months.  It’s not that I haven’t had things to say or share.  In fact, at any given time, I probably have at least a dozen posts swirling in my brain that I ‘intend’ to post, along with hundreds of photos that I would love to share.

To get ahead of the holiday rush, I’m going to do an early wrap up with some travel highlights from the year.

It has been a fun and exciting year of travel.  Some of the places the kids and I visited or stayed at for extended periods of time this year included:  New York City, NY; Miami, Florida; Maine; Vermont; New Hampshire; Massachusetts; Connecticut; Turks & Caicos; Quebec, Canada; Switzerland, France, and Iceland.  And we aren’t done yet.  We still have additional 2016 travel planned before we ring in 2017.

scooters-nyc

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Sorry Telegraph, Paris with Children Rocks for ‘Les Enfants’

August 9, 2014

While chilling out in my Paris apartment tonight after an amazing day spent exploring the city with my four young children, I sat down in front of my computer to plan the next day’s world schooing adventure in Paris.  Scrolling through my Google News feed, I stumbled upon The 12 Worst Things to Do in Paris.

In bold, there it was:  #4 Taking Children Anywhere.

As a fairly seasoned solo traveller with four young homeschooling kids in tow, I admit it doesn’t surprise me in the least to see that taking kids anywhere in Paris would make the list.  Blame it on my crunchy, laid back roots and strong belief in the value of stepping outside of your comfort zone, but I’m a huge proponent of travelling with kids.  I simply can’t imagine exploring a new place without them, especially not Paris.

In my travels and experience over the years as a homeschooling, roadschooling, world schooling wander mom, I’ve consistently observed and heard from others across many borders that the very idea of travelling with children raises parents’ anxiety levels to the extreme.  Add a city like “Paris” to the mix, and Voila!  Taking Children Anywhere lands a top five spot on the no-no list, sandwiched somewhere between “Joining the Mona Lisa Scrum” and “Being the Victim of a Pickpocket.”

To justify the #4 spot, the Telegraph author suggests that Paris is not for kids because of the potential need to fold a stroller on the metro.  Folding a stroller, even a dozen times a day, hardly makes a city terrible for ‘les enfants.”  Maybe inconvenient or tiring for mom or dad, but terrible for whom is this really?  Unlikely for l’enfant. I can’t even begin to count how many times, I’ve had to fold a stroller to shove it in the back of my vehicle in the country to go to the local mall or to go to a more stroller friendly road or trail, or how many times I’ve had to fold up the stroller to ride escalators, planes or metros in small and large cities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Sure, at least once, but probably more like three thousand times, I’ve cursed under my breath or whined about the annoyance of having to fold up the stroller — like when I used to have to fold it all the way down as flat as a pancake to fit on the airport x-ray conveyor belt — or carry it up stairs (or ask a random stranger to help carry it for me up a long haul) but I wouldn’t trade travel adventures with my children in amazing destinations like Paris just so I wouldn’t be inconvenienced for the world.

To further justify the #4 spot, the author notes, “We can’t say we weren’t warned. ‘A city that is terrible for ‘les enfants'”, one previous Telegraph Travel article said, shortly before we left” (link inserted as original published link was broken).  In that referenced 2012 Telegraph article, Paris with Children, ‘A City That is Terrible for Les Enfants,’ the author finds that having a toddler in tow is a “major impediment to appreciating the city” of Paris.  Boom, another slam for traveling with children. That author complains a lack of baby chairs in restaurants, long stair climbs, expensive, dismal food options, and unwelcoming guards who don’t want children to touch works of art are reasons that Paris blows for kids. No wonder parents are so freakin’ anxious to travel with kids.

Paris with Children is Totally Awesome Paris is hardly terrible for les enfants.  Like any experience in life, it’s the attitude that goes into an adventure that usually makes it or breaks it.  It doesn’t matter where you are–at Plymouth Rock, Disney World or hiking a mountain in the Bavarian Alps.  If mom or dad is stressed out, anxious, grumpy, or tired, kids will pick up on that and follow suit.  If parents expect to be comfortable at all points in their travel, to find the same conveniences of home or operate with the same cultural attitudes without being adaptable, they will be sorely disappointed.  They will find themselves reading worst lists, saying ‘we were warned.’

The Metropolitan – Metro. Though I no longer use a stroller for my youngest child–but he definitely could use one when he’s exhausted–I’ve  done tons of riding on the trains in Paris to see all kinds of parents navigate strollers and all sorts of strollers, ranging from sleek Euro prams to traditionally wide American double strollers.  One tourist mom almost ran over my first grader this week, trying to squeeze out of the metro at Concorde Place during rush hour, shouting “move please, move please, move please, I’m trying to get out” to everyone in her path.  Anxious mom?  Yes.  Did she get off with her stroller and child?  Yep.  Did people move when she so demanded?  You betcha.

Is the Paris metro doable avec les enfants.  Absolutely.  In strollers or without. Tonight riding the main tourist yellow line #1 from La Defense to Concorde Place, there were multiple moms, at least a half dozen toddlers and two strollers alongside me and my four children in one car.  In my experience, even in the most crowded train cars, Parisians especially, and tourists, too, make room for everyone to get on.  When I encounter a standing room only train, I would be surprised if someone didn’t offer up a seat to my little one or me with him.  I’ve only seen one person not “fit” on a train for lack of room, and that was simply because they didn’t seem to have the patience to wait a second for people to push back and make room, and opted to catch another train.

Parisian trains are fast and frequent. Trains come every couple of minutes, so parents with kids don’t even have to wait long.  We’re not in NYC, Dorothy.  There are elevators, there are stroller-friendly accessible doors at booth entrances and exits.  There are reduced fares for train tickets for the kids (free for under 4), and buying a carnet (book of 10) is a great deal.

Parisians Adore Kids In my nearly three weeks in Paris, I’ve only once had a saleswoman tell one of my children not to touch.  Of all stores, it happened to be a second-hand “Good Will” type of store, and not one of the posh upscale, Prada-type consignment boutiques either. Trust me, my children are far from perfect.  They love to touch everything they shouldn’t and when they shouldn’t, especially the boys.  But they usually know what the right behavior is in situations, and importantly, I do my best to model that behavior without freaking out about it.  Two guards at the Musee de l’Armee actually took the time to talk to my little ones about Napoleon’s Horse.  I’ve yet to have any museum guard give me or my children the evil eye or stalk us throughout an exhibit.  Did I mention that I have four very curious children, too?

My preschooler has received too many head pats to count from random strangers and extra attention at cafes (one waitress giggled as she brought him a second and then third fork after he ‘accidentally’ dropped his…gee, I had thought we were well past the drop and pick up game).  At the green market he received a lollipop from a vendor–un cadeaux pour le monsieur.  At the pool, my oldest daughter was showered with attention by staff and locals swimming laps alongside her in the pool.  At the Paris Plage, my family met lovely Parisian families.  Our children played happily together in the sand. I’ve been showered with stories in French and English–and some of both–by locals talking about their own children and traveling with their children.

A little fyi, the French are no strangers to traveling with children, especially during the traditionally hot summer weeks of August when many travel hours with their children to soak up the French Riveria.  Simply put, travel with kids isn’t exactly a foreign concept to Parisians.

Cheap Eats, Free Deals – In Paris?  Really. Paris is for kids.  Proof?  In addition to reduced train fares, kids under 18 are admitted for free at most museums.  They are also given discounts throughout the city.  For example, Open Top Bus Tours offers kids a three day pass for the same cost as a day pass.  Kids get a discounted rate to climb the Eiffel Tour stairs.  Kids get reduced fares at the municipal swimming pools.  Kid pricing in Paris certainly helps mom or dad’s wallet.

If you rent an apartment in Paris, check out Homeaway or AirBNB for great family options, not only do families get a better bang for their buck, tons more space than a hotel room, and often a washer and dryer (which means packing lighter and easier travel), but you can save tons of money by shopping like a Parisian at the grocery store and local markets and cooking food your children will actually eat.  If my picky eater wants cereal for breakfast, he can eat that, and if I want to go to a cafe, we can go after he has eaten–it’s a win, win.  We save money, he eats what he wants, and I get to eat without hearing any whining about the menu options.

Quite honestly, though, my kids love Parisian food, dining out or eating at our apartment home, especially baguettes, croissants, green beans from the open market, and crepes.  Nearly every restaurant or cafe serves crepes.  What kid doesn’t love crepes with Nutella, jam or sugar? Breakfast for dinner, now that’s a good go-to for dinner, not to mention bread with butter or a baguette with cheese, when a picky eater just can’t find anything to love on the menu–it’s not like they’ll live on only crepes or bread forever.

When in Rome do as the Romans Do, When in Paris… Paris with children rocks.  It’s one of the easiest cities, I’ve yet to travel and navigate with children in tow.  Blending in and trying to act like a local Parisian goes a long way to making Paris a terrific city to explore with children. Making an effort to speak the language, encouraging your children to make an effort to try to speak the language, if only “Merci,” showing respect to people with whom you come into contact, “Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur” (Parisians appreciate courtesy and place a huge emphasis on manners), and modeling culturally appropriate behavior for your children will go a long way to make a traveling experience with children positive.  It may be Paris, but the old saying, treat others as you’d like to be treated, works the same here too. paris_toureiffel Traveling with children isn’t always easy.  It’s tiring.  Kids have meltdowns.  Parisians get that.  So do parents.  Parisians get that, too.  Keep reasonable expectations and be flexible with your limits –and your children’s limits – if you only last 30 minutes in the Louvre, so be it.  If you wake up too exhausted to take on a city tour, bag it and grab a Latte “for take away” at a cafe, pick up a few snacks at Monoprix and head to a park or playground.

Need a break from the kids?  Sign them up for a class.  There are tons of art classes, language classes, music classes, cooking classes, etc. just for kids.  There are nanny agencies, hotel babysitting services and advertisements for babysitting services.  Of course, there’s also cheap wine, too–perfect for unwinding after the kids are nestled in bed.

It’s pretty surprising how adabtable kids can be, especially when mom or dad makes the effort to let go of their own expectations of what they should or shouldn’t do or see when travelling. It’s Paris.  It’s all good, so roll with it.  It will be one of the best things you’ve ever done.