Monday, January 30, 2006

A NoCrowds Kid in the Luxembourg

Eloise arrived Friday night on the Eurostar looking quite smart in her English school girl uniform. The next morning, she woke early and encouraged me to get dressed quickly. “Come on, Mom, we need to get to the Luxembourg before all the tourists arrive.” She was right, of course. Morning is better as the competition for some of the best activities increases as the day wears on. So off we went to the Luxembourg Gardens, the fabulous backyard of all self-respecting children of the Left Bank.

Every child can find his bliss here. There is a huge action playground which has never heard of litigation, a carousel where children collect rings on a stick as they go around (the more rings the greater the glory), a wonderful old fashioned marionette theatre, donkey and pony rides, swings, sandboxes, wooden sailboats to rent, a beekeeping school, and kiosks selling sweets, toys and, according to Eloise, delicious cotton candy which the locals know as "barbe de Papa (your father's beard).

My husband claims that the Luxembourg has changed little from when he was a boy living down the street on Place St Sulpice. He’s quite sure the horses on the carousel are the originals and they look it. Magical things can happen in the Luxembourg Gardens. Once when Eloise was riding the donkeys, a small American boy heard us calling Eloise and turned to his parents. "See, I told you she would be here." As it turned out, he had just finished reading "Eloise in Paris" and was sure that his favourite "enfant terrible" would be waiting for him in her preferred Paris venue - and she was. When we are in Paris, Eloise goes every day and has never run out of interest or enthusiasm. If you are looking for something that can give a GameBoy a run for its money, the Luxembourg has it.

Unlike financial and experiential nightmares like Disneyland Paris, taking children to the Luxembourg is as delightful for the parents as it is for the child. Parents will appreciate that you can check your child into the huge enclosed playground and sit happily outside reading the papers. The children will appreciate that they can pursue their “Lord of the Flies” behaviour without your intervention. If you look carefully, you will even see old men in black berets playing boules with Gauloises hanging out of their mouths. It’s perfect.

My restaurant suggestion after a hard morning of activites in the Luxembourg would be to head for Aux Charpentiers, an unpretentious bistro that has been in operation for more than 130 years. The food is hearty provincial French. The prices are correct and the atmosphere reminiscent of the Left Bank of yesteryear. My mother-in-law returned recently after a 45 year hiatus and pronounced Aux Charpentiers "still pretty good" which tells you alot about Paris, its restaurants and my mother-in-law.

Aux Charpentiers
10 rue Mabillon
Tel: 01-43-26-30-05
Open daily
Metro: St-Germain-des-Pres or Mabillon

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