Inside the Gerard Mulot pastry shop
Inside the Gerard Mulot pastry shop

DAY 11 — PARIS — Green, red or purple?

Not crayons, French Macarons, the best cookie you could ever taste.

We’re in Gerard Merlot, a shop famous for macarons in the St Germain district of Paris, with our guide Genevieve, who we’ve met through a terrific company called Tours by Locals. You correspond ahead of your trip with a local guide who can tailor a tour to your liking—food, design, architecture, kids… I like that the guides are all locals and that you’re charged by the tour, not individually.  “The point is with a private guide you can customize anything and be flexible,”says Genevieve, who also takes families to Giverny to see Monet’s house and the surrounding villages, Versailles and even Champagne.

Genevieve, the mother of two teens, often squires around American Families who she says try to see too much in too little time. Sound familiar?  “The children are exhausted and the parents nervous.  They are so exhausted.”

“In Paris, you want to wander and discover but that takes time,” she says.   As we walk by the famous St. Chapelle 13th century church, she mentions there are concerts every night at 7:30;  at Notre Dame that kids love climbing the bell tower.  In winter, there is free ice skating in front of the Hotel de Ville, Paris’ city hall.

With younger kids, she says, she suggests parents read some of the Madeleine stories before they come and then discover Madeleine’s Paris.  Try out the hop-on-hop-off boats like Batobus that venture up and down the Seine , stopping at famous sites—kind of like the hop on hop off buses we know in the USA (they have those here too) but more fun.

She shows us the Square Rene Viviani just across the Seine from Notre Dame which is a great photo-op with the famous 850-year old church in the background.  And the oldest tree in Paris—dating back to 1602.

Kids of course will love the Luxembourg Gardens with its famous puppet theater, the chance to sail small boats.  The flowers in summer and spring are beautiful—it takes 45 gardeners… As we pass by, they are cleaning the beds and Genevieve scores some geranium plants that they were going to throw away.

Then we stop in a wonderful patisserie – Gerard Mulot — with its rainbow-colored macarons—green pistachio, dark brown chocolate, red strawberry, there’s black current and salted caramel, lemon, coffee…the list goes on and on.

This place is known for their breads too so we can’t resist a pain au chocolat.  What a spot to stock up for a picnic!

They’ve also have the amazing fruit marshmallows—yellow banana pink strawberry… orange, and green pistachio. Can you imagine s’mores with these?

Rue de Seine, Genevieve says “is like a street of museums,” with gallery after gallery.  “You have to take time to luck. You can’t run from museum to monument.”  Especially not with kids!  “And in between, there is so much to see!”

A few of the thousands of locks on Paris footbridges
A few of the thousands of locks on Paris footbridges

She’s absolutely right of course.  We walk over the Le Pont des Arts that kids will love because this has become the “locks bridge” –bring a lock from home, write your names on it and hang it on the bridge.  There are thousands of locks here—I wonder how many of the couples (Kim and Julien, Verunk and Roman, Lena and Manu, Mitch and Mel) are still together.

We go to La Bovida, where Paris chefs shop and eat foie gras next door at Comptoir Epicerie Fine along with the best onion soup I’ve ever tasted.

Try to encourage the kids, Genevieve says, to try new foods, to not only eat steak frites, as good as that is.  And be prepared that meals might take longer with games. Of course you can grab a sandwich at a place like Cosi on 54 Rue de Seine, a crepe (Avant Comptoir) or if the weather is good, a baguette with ham and cheese to eat in the park  or along the Seine.  Quiche is another good option for kids.   If it’s market day, stop in at a market and peruse the cheeses, the breads, the veggies and fresh fish.

After she leaves us, we head first to the wonderful Pompidou Center, which has the largest collection of modern art in Europe.  Kids will love this museum as much for the building—walking up through Plexiglas tubes with wonderful the views of Paris and the art—there are of course Picasso, Matisse and other masters, but kids will marvel at the huge sculptures—the one that looks like a  jelly fish with spices inside.

And because we had the Paris Pass that allowed free entrance to so many museums, we took the metro over to the Cinema Museum of France.  Any kid who is an aspiring film maker will love this place with the clips of movies from the turn of the 20th century and the first movie cameras.

Owner of Cafe Cartouche who whipped up steak frites especially for us
Owner of Cafe Cartouche who whipped up steak frites especially for us

Time for dinner.  Where should we go?  The guy taking back our English audio sets suggests Cartouche Café on the Rue de Bercy down the street that has been a restaurant here for 100 years in the 12th arrondisement.  It’s still early for dining in Paris — just 7 p.m. and no one is in the tiny bistro. The owner says they are booked for the evening with cinema-goers.  We mention we just wanted a simple meal of steak frites.  The owner offers to seat us.  

So it’s just us in the tiny restaurant—the best home-made fries on the table along with the steaks served with the butter sauce.   That’s the kind of experience that makes a vacation day truly memorable—the kind of experience you have to allow to happen.