...Was our first destination to kick start summer 2014. From childhood holidays, my gap year, a degree from Université d'Aix-Marseille, right up to my coup de foudre with Sienna's papá; France is and always will be a place very dear to my heart. So naturally I wanted to take my daughter across the Channel, and perhaps spark her very own life-long romance with "La Belle France". And, of course introduce her to all my old friends, too.
Flights were looking expensive, because I didn't just have to pay for myself anymore! These days airlines charge you a small fare for your baby, even if the baby is still small enough to go on your lap! Then I remembered the Eurostar passenger train (children go free until the age of 4). Sienna and I were living in Nottingham at the time, so St. Pancras International Station was less than a 2 hour train ride away (you can buy ridiculously cheap train tickets between most cities in England with Megabus).
Taking the Eurostar really couldn't have been a more perfect way to ease us into international travel together. We avoided the hustle and bustle of airports, luggage restrictions, airport transfers, cramped seats on board, and even saved a bit of money too! For the price of a return ticket by plane to Marseille, I booked a return ticket on the Eurostar to Paris, and a first class return ticket to Marseille on the TGV (the first class upgrade was just an extra 9€! See idtgv.fr for offers.). On most trains across Europe, infants under the age of 2 travel free of charge. Getting on and off the train with "bébé et baggages" can be a bit tricky but most people are willing to help so just ask! I have asked for more favors from strangers than I have my own mother (now that is saying something!).
Arriving in Paris I was glad to have decided against bringing Sienna's pram. The metro in Paris looks impossible with a pushchair (although I did see some mothers brave enough to do it), most of the stations are quite old and don't have disabled access. Taking Sienna in the sling meant we weren't restricted in any way and she is generally more contented when I carry her in there, too. Visiting a city as a tourist does generally entail a lot of walking which might put you off carrying your baby all day, but it just gives you another reason to make a pit stop in any one of the thousands of Brasseries on the streets of Paris, stopping to take it all in. "Un petit café" (or "un déca" in my case and for other breast-feeding mummies) and "une crêpe au Nutella" on a street terrace with a beautiful Parisian backdrop, one of life's pleasures, n'est-ce pas?!
On the subject of breast-feeding, I wasn't sure if it was taboo to do it openly in public or not. In England I would do it wherever, whenever (when your baby is hungry, your baby is hungry!). To be on the safe side I stopped off at the McCafé at McDonald's on my way to the Pompidou museum. Not my first choice, but I thought that with it being a global brand it would have facilities such as a changing table that a typical French cafe wouldn't. Wrong - I couldn't find a changing table in any of the toilets! I was perhaps looking in the wrong place but I was very surprised that there were no baby changing facilities there. I ended up having to change Sienna's nappy on a park bench which was fine because the weather was gorgeous but that's obviously not a year-round solution in the French capital (leave me a comment if you know the answer!).
A good place to get all of your baby essentials is Monoprix. Although a bit on the pricey side (but nappies generally are anywhere anyway), Monoprix supermarkets are conveniently located and they have an extensive range. You also have the Pharmacies which are literally on every street corner. Look out for Pharmacies which have orange labels stamped on every product. These are discount chemists which sell top brands (Biotherm, Avène, La Roche Posay, etc.) at great prices, ideal if you need to purchase products such as sun cream for your baby.
During our stay in Paris we were so lucky to have the opportunity to go for lunch at the Il Carpaccio restaurant, part of Le Royal Monceau five star hotel. An old housemate of mine currently works there so he got us a great discount. It was a fabulous experience and the food was "TROP BON!". Truly out of this world! I highly recommend it (see my review on TripAdvisor), but be prepared to splash out a bit!
Now a trip to Paris would not be complete without my favourite thing - Les Macarons. I just love them! I used to think I was a La Durée girl through and through (a stroll down Champs-Élysées to their beautiful boutique at number 75... Call me the tourist!), but on this latest trip I discovered their rival brand Pierre Hermé, and oh my! They are simply divine! My 10/10 definitely goes to the Passion Fruit And Milk Chocolate macaroon but really every flavor is just magical. Whereas La Durée macaroons are definitely the classics (think Marie Antoinette), Pierre Hermé has mastered the art of mouth-watering combinations. What's more, there are PH boutiques scattered around the city so if you are pressed for time and want to beat the La Durée queues then I really recommend picking up some macaroons at 39 rue de l'Opéra and sitting on the steps of the stunning Parisian opera house to savour them. They come in a sweet little box (but then again so do La Durée macaroons) called "Les incontournables de Paris" - the must-see's, but really the must-eat's of Paris!
After 3 hours on the TGV we arrived in Marseille ensoleillé - sunny Marseilles. The city was elected European Capital of Culture 2013 and it really has changed a lot. Villa Mediterrannée was inaugurated in April 2013 as part of the program and is truly worth a visit. It includes museum MuCEM, sky walks to the fortress Saint-Jean, panoramic views of the city and a rooftop café. While in Marseille, "moules-frites" and a walk along the Corniche or up to Notre Dame de la Garde is a must, and if you are into wine then try the well-known white from Cassis and red from Bandol, two beautiful towns further along La Côte D'Azur.
It's time for me to say "À bientôt" but more importantly "Bon voyage!" if you are in Paris for the Paris Fashion Week or headed to La Belle France this summer. I'll leave you with a song from the soundtrack to the film "An Education" - "Sur Les Quais Du Vieux Paris" by Juliette Gréco.
If you squint slightly it's almost like you've been whisked off to the streets of Paris....!