Wonderful trip to Paris, while pregnant and with a toddler

Visiting Paris is a memorable experience, right?

Having done it with just my husband (when there was just us two) and having previously lived in Paris for seven years in my student years, doing it with a toddler in tow and pregnant was a (totally crazy) different experience.

Only joking, it was still wonderful, and not more stressful because, hold tight, we didn’t cram in too much during our 3 days there.

Packing too many things during the stay can make it stressful, so we wanted to have a relatively free and spontaneous programme, while also having a list of things to do/see. Having one key attraction per day was the perfect amount we found.

So on to what worked well for us?

Stay close to the departure/arrival station

Well, first staying somewhere close to ‘the point of entry’ i.e. for us the Eurostar arrival station, Gare du Nord. We booked an AirBnb apartment about 10 minutes walk from Gare du Nord and that was brilliant. It meant that we could ‘check-in’ first and drop our bags and have a quick refreshment/put my feet up. Also for our toddler it was exciting to discover a new place and enjoy some quiet time before we set off for an outing again.

Beautiful Canal St Martin area

The second good thing about the location of our apartment was that we were quite close to the beautiful canal St Martin, with its many coffee shops, bars and brasseries. So after a quick rest we headed out again and stopped for a late lunch in one of the canal facing, brasseries. Along the canal there is a playground, an additional attraction for our toddler who still had some remaining energies after all.

Being in a different country is interesting when you observe your own child trying to interact with other local children. And before you ask, no I wasn’t providing any kind of translation, to questions, such as “can i have a go at the swing”, that doesn’t need any translating, does it?

Balloon adventure at Parc Andre Citroen

The definite highlight of our trip was the “balloon” adventure. During my years of studying in Paris and working intermittently as an ‘au pair’ I had gained a good ‘children related’ knowledge of playgrounds and adventure parks.

One I was very familiar with was Parc Andre Citroen, in the 15th arrondissement. It is a little bit out of the way and not a main tourist attraction but for kids it is magical. 

The park has a number of gardens and a great fountain court with water jets that can be such great fun, in hot weather. You can sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic while you look at the balloon, which is not a “hot air” but a “tethered” balloon that goes up to 150 metres. The views of the Seine and the Tour Eiffel are splendid and it is not as crowded as the Tour Eiffel or Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

‘Toujours dans mon coeur’ Quartier Latin

Another favourite area I always love to visit when in Paris, is the Quartier Latin or 5th arrondissement, perhaps because I love to go back to the ‘student streets’ of la Sorbonne where I spent many splendid youthful years.

Jardin du Luxembourg cannot be sidelined and hidden in there, is another great adventure playground for kids, “Les Poussins Verts”.  This one was way too busy than the quiet and relaxing Parc Andre Citroen but it is centrally located and you also have to pay a small fee.

One thing we had not noticed on our previous trips, was the lack of escalators or lifts in the “Metro”. If you can manage not to have a buggy or can take with you a collapsible one, underground journeys will be less tiring.

By the end of the third day in Paris, while also quite pregnant, 7th months precisely, I was starting to feel the heat of the streets and the underground and it was soon time to leave.

Eurostar here we come!

Heading towards Gare du Nord and the exciting Eurostar journey, was extremely pleasant and another adventure for our toddler, the train and the tunnel under the sea!

Some photos from the trip, unseen before, enjoy!

I would love to hear if you have been to any of these places in Paris or have any others to share.

Love

9 sure signs that you live in Britain

There are a few things which are definitely British, things that you are not likely to experience in other countries. As an Albanian expat living in London I have been through them, in the last seven years of my life.

1. You know for sure you live in the UK if you still cover yourself at night, with a duvet in the summer.

2. You call the summer season, summer, just because that’s what called generally, but you feel cold and you go to work wearing a blazer and a scarf. Something you also do in the autumn and in the spring, so where is the difference?

3. You wear lovely summer dresses with leggings. Leggings were invented for the British summer. You would not need them in the Albanian summer.

4. One particular British habit seems to cause uproar in among fellow Albanian expats, sending thank you cards. You send thank you cards after birthday parties, when you or your children receive presents, when you receive greeting cards or thank you cards. To which you respond with a thank you card. And then what happens to all these cards? The cards industry goes from strength to strength in Britain but it’s something we used to do during communism in Albania and people feel allergic to it.

5. The summer solstice (21 of June) is not celebrated in Britain. Well it is but only at Stonehenge by some disciples of the sun. It is one of the best things they do in France; they celebrate it as “la fete de la musique” with gigs in public squares with a jolly atmosphere, drinks and a lot of “camaraderie” (read friendships).

6. When you start fretting about your child’s success in life at the age of 4, is definitely a sign you live in the UK. That is the age when they start primary school and there are many, many studies that show a direct correlation between your child’s future profession and earnings and the school they attend, of course private schools, feature highest.

7. There is only one country in the world where people are so polite, they don’t tell you what they think. In all other countries, people die to tell you what they think. But not in Britain, you can try but you will never succeed and you will always wonder what people really think of you, for ever.

8. British people are so protective of their land that they have all sorts of planning rules that discourage building on land. So it’s only about 10% of land in England that is built on. On the other hand, they have one of the most expensive housing markets. No wonder as they don’t want to use their land for other things, other than leaving it empty.

9. Green spaces and lush countryside is another sure sign you are in the UK. It’s great for the eye and for recreation purposes but does create huge imbalances between those that own and those that don’t (see above)!

Have I missed any other definite signs that you live in the UK? Have you got any others I have missed?

9 Sure Signs You Live in Britain

Our memorable family holiday in the Ardeche region, south of France

This is the reworked and final draft of my ‘travel feature’ assignment – I shared an earlier version of it here on the blog and after I received some comments (by email, a great benefit of sharing your work) I have reviewed it below.

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For the adventurous family who likes to design their holiday and enjoys driving, France is an excellent destination offering countless possibilities.

After having completed the rite of passage of most British car travellers and spent a week in Brittany, the previous summer, we decided to travel further afield this time, to the south of France.

Our final destination, Vallon Pont d’Arc, a small town in the centre of the Ardeche region, offers spectacular views of the river Ardeche meandering through towering limestone cliffs.

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche. The night before we had a storm raging through but barely bringing temperatures below 30 degrees next morning.

An impressive 60 m high, naturally formed arch gives its name to the town and forms the entrance to this tourist honeypot.

In the summer, streams of colourful canoes go under the Arch in their descent of the river Ardeche, the most popular activity in the area.

With two very young children, our two year old son and our French friends’ one year old daughter, we opted for the comfort of a holiday house. To our benefit the house had been recently renovated, with a particularly exotic touch – a spiral iron stairwell brought from Thailand!

A house within walking distance to the town centre was ideal and soon our early morning strolls for fresh croissants, became a ritual that the children enjoyed.

Vallon Pont d’Arc is centrally located making it easy to go on half-day trips to nearby places. And for us long distance travellers, it was fantastic not to spend a lot of time on the road.

The town itself is home to a host of markets where local producteurs sell their delicious products. Ham, saucisson, wine, cheese and lavender flavoured nougat were some of the delicacies we tried.

Lavender is a local speciality and many by-products are sold in the local Lavender Museum, where visitors can also take photos in idyllic lavender fields.

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d'Arc, in Ardeche

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d’Arc, in Ardeche

Although tempted to only relax by the river or sit in a cafe while watching locals play petanque, we also had more physical activities and went canoeing, through the famous arch and into unspoilt pebbled beaches alongside the river. For those interested in pre-historic art, the area is a real treasure with its many pre-historic caves.

And if after swimming and canoeing in the river, enjoying panoramic views or immersing yourself in history, you feel eager for more, there is still plenty to do.

A number of villages of particular beauty are close by and have old houses clinging on to steep slopes, impressive beaches surrounded by high cliffs and pedestrian only centres where you can cool off with an artisan ice-cream.

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Having a chocolate and vanilla ice cream might not be the climax for everyone but it certainly was for our son as was the coffee flavour for our friend Jérémie.

The impressive range of activities, natural beauty and culinary delights made Vallon Pont d’Arc a perfect holiday destination, worth getting to after long hours of driving from London. In a car without air-conditioning, I can now reveal, something that we will remedy before our next drive through France.

Our family holiday in the South of France, in the Ardeche region

This is the second part of my assignment for the ‘Freelance journalism and feature writing course’ with the London School of Journalism. I have to write a 500 words travel feature about a place I have visited recently. I chose to talk about last summer’s family holidays we had in the Ardeche region, in the South of France (covered in the blog in 4 previous posts Holidays in Ardeche, South of France 1, 2, 3 and 4). This is a summary of the trip with useful information about the practicalities, how to get there, finding your accommodation and our impressions. At the moment it feels a bit like too much brochure talk, not very personal, what do you think, do you find that? I would appreciate some thoughts on how to change it and make it more personal. Thank you. 

Vallon Pont D'Arc in Ardeche_________________________________________________________________________

For the adventurous family who likes to design their own holiday and enjoys the thrill of driving through a country, France is an option close to home.

When travelling, in the summer, a car with fully functioning air-conditioning is a must for not spoiling the fun.

Out of all the exciting options France has on offer, we decided to travel to the South, in the area of the National Reserves of the Gorges of Ardeche, from London. Recommended by our French friends we embraced the idea of discovering a new part of France but also having a different holiday by a river,  rather than the sea.

Travelling with a 2-year-old means some compromises need to be made, such as breaking the journey in two parts and if possible travel at night. Crossing the English Channel through the Eurotunnel, is quicker and more economical that taking the ferry. Also children love it.

Driving down and back through the ‘Autoroute des Anglais’, the A26 from Calais to Troyes is straightforward, although the tolls need to be considered in your budgeting. On the way down we stopped at Dijon and on the way back in Reims, taking the opportunity to visit its famous Cathedral. The second leg involves driving through the A6 and A7, the “Autoroutes du soleil’, quite busy going south but less so, on the return.

After Montelimar you leave the motorway for smaller, meandering routes, up high in the mountains of Ardeche.

Vallon Pont d’Arc, our final stop, is a beautiful town with many markets and artisan shops.

Finding the right holiday house can be easily done through English or French websites. A place that is at walking distance from the town centre is a bonus, as it is pleasant to take the children for a stroll in the morning to buy the croissants.

Most of the activities are child friendly but depending on the age of the child, you may choose to go for a swim rather than take a toddler in a cave, especially not the ones with many steps going down a dark cavern.

The river Ardeche, does not get very deep and its cool waters are sublimely refreshing. Canoeing is very popular and you can choose from trips of different grades of difficulty. The scenery is stunning particularly as go under the iconic Arc, a natural formation, the town gets its name from.

A number of villages of particular beauty are at close driving proximity and have river banks for a quick swim or pedestrian centres where you can stop for an ice-cream while you watch locals play petanque.

Vallon Pont d’Arc has all the charm of a French holiday destination, with an impressive range of activities for the whole family, alongside natural beauty spots and culinary delights. The perfect mix recommended by our family, for a perfect holiday.