What does the last of the housewives do?

Tag: Paris with kids

Skip to the Louvre, My Darling

It was great weather for ducks today.

So we went inside, as I had cleverly planned, having kept a careful eye on the weather forecast. The Louvre is almost as close to our apartment as Notre Dame, so it is almost possible to skip there. Our plan was to see five famous things, then wander aimlessly about. It is a plan that has served us well in the past.

First up was the Venus de Milo. Here is what the poor woman has to put up with every day.

If she had any arms she’d be all like…

A least she doesn’t have Chinese tourists taking photos of each other fondling her willy, as a statue earlier in the hall was suffering.

And here’s a painting we saw in another gallery, on the ceiling actually, of her discovery. I wish we could still fly. Perhaps you have to be naked.

Further along we saw busts of, reading right to left, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. I don’t know who the one on the left is.

I like the busts, they look like portraits, not like most of the Greek and Roman statuary about the place that’s all about their gods. It’s like you can say hello to these ancient thinkers.

We then followed the tourist hordes to see the Mona Lisa and I was once again underwhelmed. At least, being winter, we could see her up close, I have memories of her being about postage stamp sized. I think because so many of the paintings around her have been restored and are bright and vibrant and also by masters of the art that she suffers a bit. Opposite her is the Marriage at Cana, of which I have also not taken a photo and seriously that thing is enormous. You pretty much have to lean up against La Gioconda to take it all in. It was pinched by Napoleon from Venice, and he had to cut it in half to transport it, then have it sewn back together. I liked it a lot.

We rambled through some biblical stuff pretty quickly, we’d had a lot of Giotto on Italy. This one intrigued the Moose and I, the saint appears to be flying an angel like a kite.

We were always pleased to see St Sebastian, always looking fairly resigned to a little peeved to find himself full of arrows. We got in to the Delacroix area fairly quickly, and the Moose made me take a photo of his famous pick.

Delacroix witnessed the Paris uprising in 1830 and was moved to paint it as an allegory of Liberty leading the people, but apparently now it’s an internet meme. C’est las vie.

I do always love the small stuff we see along the way, like this mini mosaic around a fireplace in the hall housing the Crown Jewels.

Here’s one of the royal teapots, carved from semiprecious stone. No wonder the citoyens were annoyed.

We moved into a Middle Ages statue area, where there seemed to be a bit of an obsession with death. Perhaps because so much art was commissioned on the occasion of people’s deaths.



Muffet was annoyed when the Moose started intoning “Pié Jesu Dominé. Dona eis requiem”. I don’t know how he could help it, actually, I nearly did the same myself. So we went to find her pick, chosen from the Louvre website.

He’s an Egyptian scribe, and looks fresh as a daisy, ready to take down your every word as he has been for the last four thousand five hundred years. Almost as old was my pick, the stele upon which is inscribed the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest lengthy pieces of decoded writing in the world. It was a code of law written in the Akkadian language, and such stones were set in major towns so that all should know what the law of Hammurabi was. On the back of the stone is a depiction of the sun god handing the laws to Hammurabi. You can’t be thought to be making these things up by yourself.

We saw a copy of this in the Pergamon museum and it did look very similar to the original. But I like to know I’m getting the real deal.

It was a big day, but the last of the museums and what a one to finish on. It was fairly cold and sleety outside, so I knew what they really wanted was a long walk to what everyone tells me is the best icecream in Paris.

No lines here, but a very difficult decision re flavours. I got figue, a rich pink seedy scoop of divinity, very pleased I didn’t stick with my usual raspberry. Glad I don’t live here, I’d be broke and fat very quickly. Although, what with being a flaneur and all, possibly just broke.


The Catacombs of Paris

We went underground today. Underground tunnels full of human bones, what could be more kid friendly than that?

We had wanted to see some original catacombs in Rome, but ran out of time. So Paris is our last bone sighting chance. We managed to get out the door before ten am this morning, only to encounter a line. A line! We had to wait a whole forty five minutes. Apparently in the summer it would be more like four hours, we’re never going to be able to come back in the summer, unless it’s to eat pastries and icecream.

We hired the English audio guide, being travel wise now, it’s always worth it. What a story it told. Paris, millions of years ago, was under the sea which means that if you’re a Roman looking for some decent stone to build your temples and baths out of in Paris, you just had to dig down ten or twenty metres to find as much excellent limestone as you want. Not only Romans, but everyone who came after them enlarged the underground quarries and helped themselves. This explained to us why the seven hundred year old gargoyles adorning the cathedral of Notre Dame have little seashells exposed in the weathered bits. Nobody really cared about managing the quarries, they’d just pop underground and carve out as much as they wanted. The inevitable happened in the late 1700s, a large chunk of street and houses in Montparnasse suddenly crashed into the abyss. This started happening fairly regularly, with one section of pavement dropping twenty five metres. You can imagine that at that time Louis XVI had a lot on his mind, but this was so urgent that he set up a Quarries Inspectorate to start stabilising the site. They’re still in operation today. One of the workmen on this site spent his lunch hours carving out little models of a castle in which he’d been once imprisoned.

The work proved so popular that he started carving out some steps so that visitors could access them. He didn’t finish the steps because the roof caved in and killed him.

About ten years after the stabilisation works had begun, Paris had another problem. Its cemeteries were overflowing. They tried digging up some old bodies that nobody cared about and stacking them in charnel houses. This was a temporary solution that rather annoyed the householders around the charnel houses, with reports that fresh milk or soup would go off in a couple of hours and my dear, the smell!. And then the Cemetery of the Innocents started overflowing into peoples’ cellars, and that can’t have been pleasant. So there was a problem of a whole lot of dead bodies that nobody really cared about any more, and nearby there was a massive set of limestone tunnels deep underground. In 1786 parts of the quarries were blessed and the transfer of all of the bones in the Cemetery of the Innocents started, travelling by hearse preceded by priests in the dead of night. And here they are.


It’s estimated that there are the bones of six million Parisians down here. More cemeteries were emptied into here, the transfer didn’t stop until 1859. Almost none are marked or noted, but they are arranged very neatly.

The bones of such luminaries as Rabelais and Pascal and Charles Perraut (author of Cinderella and Puss in Boots) are certainly in here somewhere. The effect is at first shocking, then a bit overwhelming, then it’s kind of nice that everyone’s in here all together. Very Socialist. There’s a little corner arrangement for a whole lot of bodies dumped on a street during the French Revolution.

There are quite a few plaques around the place with deathly poetry in French and Latin. There’s a monument to a poet with one of his teen angst poems on it, about how life was futile and nobody loved him. He died suddenly in his twenties after being thrown from his horse, so never got the chance to burn that kind of thing. His bones aren’t behind the monument, they’re in with everyone else.

Eventually we wend our way out of the bones and into some caverns with information signs about the rock formation and fossils that nobody reads. There is an example of the kind of rock formation that leads to cave ins, this one has been coated in concrete to stop it reaching up to street level.


That’s the kind of thing for which the Quarry Inspectors are always on the lookout. Constant vigilance.

It made a nice change from churches and museums. But I did pop into Notre Dame to get my book.

We only had to wait in line for a couple of minutes, during which time I chatted to an Asian man who, after learning that I was from Australia, complimented me on my English. Tourists.

More Stairs, this time French

I should start by mentioning that our Paris apartment is up a flight of one hundred stairs. I haven’t personally counted them, but a friend who stayed here a couple of years ago did. No lift.

It does mean that once we’re out of the house, we’re reluctant to go back until dark. So it was about morning tea time by the time we wandered over to the Cathedral of Notre Dame for another crack at the stairs. There was a much smaller queue, they only let a few people up at a time, and we amused ourselves by watching French driving. I’ll put a picture I took a little later in the day, of a bus trying to turn into a very narrow street and being blocked by a girl on a bike who rolled her eyes and moved forwards a few inches every time he rather politely beeped at her.

Notre Dame is way down the list for number of stairs, but more than our flat, of course. I’ll have to make a table. There’s a bit of a tease where you buy your tickets a flight of stairs up from where they first let you in. There’s a gift shop there with a book of biblical calligraphy that I simply must have, but one was only in there a few minutes before they ushered you up the real stairs. I have to go back. I shall go back. Anyway, gargoyles. This one was my favourite, he was eating a creature that was simultaneously biting him on the leg.


We could have looked at them for ages, every single one is different. But they do shuffle you through.
I would rather have liked a look at Saint Chapelle on the same island, we could see it from the top of Notre Dame. But you had to pay to get in, the entrance was underground and the kids said they couldn’t do two in a row. And then it started raining and they were hungry. So we wedged ourselves into a real Paris bistro.

It’s a little bit of a torture to me that my children are not terribly adventurous eaters. I’ve looked at lot of restaurant menus, and there just isn’t anything in French restaurants that they’re going to eat. So our first dinner I made the Horror cry with joy by taking them to a sushi restaurant. It was really good, very authentic looking, unlike the one we saw in Munich that also served chop suey and tomato soup. And since then I’ve been cooking at home. Lunch is slightly easier. At this bistro the Horror had a croque Monsieur with no ham, Muffet had one with ham, and the Moose had a plate of chips. In his defence, the chips in Italy were horrendous, so he hasn’t had any for a while. I had a ham and cheese sandwich on a delicious baguette. The Horror turned his inside out so he could pretend he was eating a toasted cheese sandwich.

Thus fortified, we walked to the Eiffel Tower along the river bank. It’s not a particularly exciting walk, the river is mostly lined by blocks of the city approved Paris apartments. So I had to put up with a fair amount of scuffling and squealing and general high jinks, which has led to me accompanying my dinner tonight with a generous helping of Medoc plonk. It was really only my problem, there were very few pedestrians out on this drizzly Monday. We did pass a building covered with plants.

And then we were there.

Trips to the top in the elevator were booked out, but we were happy to take the stairs. They were only opened to the second level due to the drizzle, but that was well and truly high enough for us.

Look, there’s the pool they jumped into at the end of Rush Hour 3. It looked a lot closer in the movie.

When we descended we crossed the river to take a closer look at the pool and blow me down if there wasn’t a genuine double story French carousel with horses with real horse hair tails and accordion music playing with no one on it. How could we resist?

Home again home again jiggety jig, but all the time looking out for what the kids are hoping to turn into a Paris ritual – the macaron tasting. The first night we bought a box of sixteen from Maison Larnicol around the corner. We took them home and solemnly placed them in the middle of the table, put out plates for all of us and poured ourselves a glass of water – to clear the palate between tasting. We would then choose one each and try to guess which flavour it was. Tonight’s were from de Neuville, more expensive so we only got twelve, but we preferred them. The tastes were stronger and the texture a bit chewier and the flavours less exotic.

At least they’ll end up being connoisseurs of something.

We’re in Paris

The last piece of the intricate puzzle that is our European Odyssey that we started putting together about six months ago is settling into place. We’re down to four, the main man having gone home to fill the depleted coffers for a bit. I thought we’d have a relaxing day today, look about us a bit. I popped out with Moose this morning to see the place in the daylight and blow me down if we didn’t come across some guerrilla art.


A couple of chaps were careful placing numbered origami cranes around the statues while another chap photographed the whole thing. It was just delightful. When I’d finally dug the rest of the family out of bed a couple of hours later it had gone. That’s exactly the kind of thing I was expecting from Paris.

The kids wanted to see Notre Dame, just around the corner from our place, so we went there first. We’re only a block away from the river, so they spotted it straight away. “Can we climb it?” asked the Muffet. I don’t know what’s got into that girl. We had a walk through first, and that was very successful as it was everyone’s favourite style of church (Gothic, though I have a soft spot for the madder Baroque), and there was a sung Mass going on.

We decided not to climb it today as there was a queue, we’ve been spoilt by being winter tourists and not having to queue for anything. Except the Pergamon in Berlin, just before New Year. That hurt. We’ll go back again, the kids want to see a gargoyle close up and it’s only five minutes walk.

I thought to get a feel for Paris we’d walk along the Rive Gauche for a bit, then stroll down the Champs Élysées. We arrived in the Tuileries about lunchtime, so got some French hotdogs and rather more French crepes for lunch and sat in the thoughtfully provided chairs by the pond to consume them.

There was some argument as to who spotted the Eiffel Tower first. It certainly wasn’t me.

The kids are tour fit now, so a stroll of that length was no problem at all for them. You can see the Arc de Triomphe very clearly from the Place de la Concorde. “Oh, it looks like the arch of Constantine” remarked my well travelled children. It was very pleasant to stroll with the happy Sunday afternoon crowds, occasionally popping into a shop, spotting the odd six foot tall lacquered praying mantis women on the arms of creepy old men, and watching the children’s surprise as the Arc got bigger and bigger and bigger. “Of course we can climb it”, I assured them. When we finally got there we spent a few minutes watching even seasoned locals battling to leave the dreaded roundabout someone foolishly put around the thing. I guess there’s really no other solution to getting around it, there was a lot less traffic in Napoleon’s day.

It was an easy climb after St Peter’s Basilica, though the kids argue that the Campagnile in Florence was the hardest of all. The view is terrific, particularly as you can see how beautiful a bit of thoughtful town planning can be. Of course it helps if you have an emperor willing and able to knock down the medieval heart of the city to implement it.

Inside the top of the arch is a little display with a map of Europe with all of the arches of note on it. You clicked on it and a picture and description came up. We had actually seen a few of them, but we were particularly pleased to click on Iran to see a reproduction of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon. We saw the original in the Pergamon Museum just a few weeks ago, though it feels like an age.
After a stroll back we rather felt that we deserved some macarons.

We had four each (they were rather tiny) and ate them very formally. We would each choose one, bite it, and try to guess what it’s flavour was. We didn’t get all of them, almond is a flavour that can overwhelm anything else, and I was pleased to swap my run of the mill flavours for one each of lemon peel, rose and bergamot, not popular with the younger set. We think we like them, but aren’t quite sure yet. Well, I am, of course. We might try a different shop tomorrow, or maybe go for some glaces. You just never know.