Delightful (Cheap) Diversions for Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in ParisParis is an adult city in many ways. I know plenty of children live and play there, but even the youngest French citizens just seem so civilized and classy. Maybe it’s all the berets and trench coats, expensive cafes and brasseries, world-class art museums and fancy chocolatiers. But when I think of Paris, kid-friendly is about the last thing that comes to mind.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel with tots to the City of Light. You can – and should – take your children to Paris.. for the art as well as the chocolate. Just watch your wallets, and check out these inexpensive, fun things for kids to do in Paris.

The Madeline Tour

Do your kids know and love Madeline? If not, get them hooked ASAP. You might think the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” is of no concern to boys. But mine really enjoy the story (maybe it’s the scar on her stomach?).

We pulled out the book a few weeks before our trip and read it occasionally. I made sure to pack it in my backpack so we could whip it out in front of the famous landmarks and compare the illustrations to actual places.

This turned out to be an excellent way to keep the boys interested and give them a reason why their four and six year-old selves should be interested in things like opera houses.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Examining the Garnier Opera House in the book and real life.

Tips

This website gives great information about where to find the locations illustrated in the book. However, it’s not comprehensive so you’ll need to do a bit of detective work yourself to figure out the other locations (hint: the Sacré Cœur isn’t listed on that site). See this thread in the TripAdvisor forums for comments on the location of Madeline’s house.

Cost: The DIY tour is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport to get yourself to the various sites.

Carousels

Carousels are practically a Paris institution. They can be found all over the city, and children of all ages will love whizzing around on fairy-tale horses and grungy motorcycles.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

The carousel at Montmarte.

Tips

The merry-go-rounds are scattered all over the city. Click here for a list of the six most beautiful and here for a more detailed list.

Cost: During the month of December, many of the carousels around Paris are FREE! However, we found that not all carousels were gratis; only the ones with signs stating so. Otherwise, the best value we found was 10 euros for 6 tickets (nontransferable to other carousel locations, sorry).

Auto Showrooms

The Champs Elysées may be one of the most expensive and fashionable shopping streets in Paris, but you might be surprised to learn the boulevard offers something for the young and young at heart… auto showrooms.

Car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, BMW, Toyota, and Fiat compete to have the most elaborate display of their innovative models. The best part for little boys? Some showrooms allow customers to actually sit in the cars. My boys went nuts when they got to sit in a “real racecar” at Peugeot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Kids going for a test drive. This car is a bit above their pay grade, no?

Tips

Click here for a manly take on some of the showrooms, and here for another post with loads of photos.

Cost: Free.

Playgrounds

This is kind of a no-brainer for us. We always visit local playgrounds wherever we go. Paris has some lovely parks and play equipment, but the locations are not as plentiful in the city center as you might think. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a notable exception (for the location, not for the amazing playground) as is Luxembourg Gardens which deserves its own section below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A small playground can be found here, behind the Notre Dame and just to the right.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A few other playthings are located along the south side.

Tips

A few Paris playground locations to add to your Google map:

  • Champ de Mars. Big toys are located at the non-river end of the park (with your back to the tower, it’s to the right). Pony rides, puppet shows, and go-carts are in the center of the park.
  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont. More wild and natural than your average play place.
  • Place des Vosges
  • Parc de La Villette
  • Monceau Park

Also, Lulaville has a gigantic list of Paris playgrounds that you can find here.

Cost: The playgrounds listed above are free. However, attractions such as pony rides and puppet shows cost extra.

Luxembourg Gardens

Another Madeline location, this is THE top park recommended for kids in Paris. Adults will love the peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous fountains, statues, and monuments. Parents will appreciate the fenced-in playground for big and small kids (note the cost, below) and the bathrooms complete with changing tables and kiddie potties.

Kids will be thrilled to watch the marionette puppet show which comes highly recommended even if you don’t speak French as well as riding the park’s classic carousel and floating boats in the pond.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

An hour too late to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Doh!

Tips

Lucky Little Travelers gives a great write-up of the park here. If you visit in winter, keep in mind the park closes quite early in the afternoon.

Cost: The Luxembourg Gardens are free, but an admission charge applies to the kids playground, carousel, and the puppet show.

The Centre Pompidou

If you’ve flipped through photos of Paris, you’ve most likely seen the Pompidou Center, a funky building that was designed to literally be built inside out. It houses modern art that adults can (hopefully) appreciate as well as interactive exhibits just for kids.

Tips

Petit Paris offers an excellent guide to visiting the Pompidou Center with kids including a breakdown of what’s interesting for each age group.

Cost: Check the center’s website for current admission prices. If you’re on a strict budget, you can pay the nominal fee to ride the escalators to the roof for a lovely view of Paris. Or, just enjoy the vibrant atmosphere in front of the museum.

Boat Tour

Given the success of our boat tour in Brugge, I knew my boys would have loved to see Paris from the Seine. However, we plum ran out of time. I’ve already got it down on our wish list for the next visit.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Boat Tours leave from here on the Île de la Cité.

Tips

Several companies run Seine boat tours. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf seemed to be the most reasonable, offering both day and night cruises.

Cost: Prices are rather steep for walk-ups. Visit their website in advance to book decently discounted tickets for adults and children.

Love Locks

I know that love locks are a “thing” in various locations all over the world. Sheesh, there’s even a bridge practically in my own back yard that’s piled high with padlocks. But seeing as Paris is the quintessential city of love, you really should make a stop and look at the gobs of metal declaring eternal L-O-V-E.

My boys are intrigued by the concept, but they don’t quite get it. T-Rex wanted to dive to the bottom of the river to find all the keys and open all the locks. I couldn’t explain to him the sheer futility involved in that (but maybe this episode of The Amazing Race would help).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Pont des Arts in the quiet of the morning.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

Visit the Pont des Arts in the early morning to have the place to yourselves. If you want to attach your own steely statement, purchase one in advance. I’ve heard vendors hawking locks can be found at the bridge, but I didn’t see any.

Cost: Free – plus the price of a lock if you so desire.

Ice Skating

At the beginning of the Christmas season, the city of Paris sets up several ice rinks for residents and visitors to enjoy. The most well-known location is in front of the Place de l’Hôtel de ville.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

T-Rex learning to ice skate.. all he wanted to do was learn tricks like the hot shot hockey players swishing around. Actually ice skating wasn’t on his agenda.

Tips

Popular ice rinks are located at Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Montparnasse.  I also noticed a small one at the Place du Trocadéro Christmas market. Since ice skating in Paris is as fun as it sounds, it’s understandably popular. The wait time for those needing rentals (especially at the Place de l’Hôtel de ville) is utterly horrendous.

Cost: Admission to the rink is free. Skate rentals cost extra (5 euros at the time of writing).

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are all the rage in Europe, and the whole family will love walking along the stalls, admiring the wares and sampling the food. Note that some markets are still up after Christmas, but some close before the 25th of December.

We only walked through one market at the Place du Trocadéro, but I liked this location better than many other markets I’ve seen in France and Germany. Each booth had its own country as a theme and sold various treats and trinkets from that land. Delightful!

Tips

Check the Paris Info website for locations, hours, and dates of operation.

Cost: Admission – free.

Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Window Displays

If you happen to be fortunate enough to visit Paris during the Christmas holidays, make a point to walk the window displays at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. When we neared the mega-stores, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As we pressed closer, I understood… they’re animated! Music! Lights! Wonder!Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

The displays are obnoxiously crowded, and you’ll have a hard time navigating with a stroller. Let the kids sit on your shoulders for a better view. And, speaking of views, don’t forget that Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have some of the most amazing free views of Paris!

Cost: Free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Even MORE Delightful Diversions for Kids in Paris

Have your own list of budget-friendly attractions for children? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

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Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with KidsAfter a rather frustrating week where it seemed our plans were thwarted by gobs of tourists at nearly every turn, we finally found our stride outside Paris at the Château de Vincennes.

Why didn’t we trek out to Versailles instead?

Well, other than the aforementioned hordes of holiday travelers, Versailles in winter is mediocre at best. The musical fountains are turned off, many statues are covered, and bike rentals are impossible.

Perhaps if the palace grounds had been crowned with a fresh layer of fluffy snowflakes, I might’ve felt differently.Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with Kids

The lesser known Château de Vincennes guards the town of the same name to the east of Paris. From the castle’s website..

Dating back to the 12th century, a little before the Louvre, Vincennes is one of the few castles which, from the Middle Ages to our time, has consistently found itself at the centre of French History.

Now that the City of Light is a sprawling metropolis, Vincennes is a mere suburb easily reached by metro, RER, or bus. Bonus: our apartment was within walking distance.

When taking the kiddos to the castle, check out the Donjon, the enceinte, and the Sainte-Chapelle before letting them roam around.  But, keep off the grass – this is France, of course.Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with Kids

The Donjon & the Enceinte

The Donjon (an eclectic mix of Don Juan and dungeon?) happens to be the highest medieval fortified structure in Europe.. which says a lot when one considers the sheer amount of castles on this continent.

Home of the royal family, the fortress was kept safe by incredibly thick walls (the enceinte) and a deep moat. More on the history and architecture of the donjon can be found here.

The enceinte, or fortified wall, impressed my boys immediately. More than a kilometer in length, the wall is armed with nine towers and a moat nearly as large as an Olympic swimming pool.

Practical Tip: The only restrooms at Château de Vincennes are located inside the Donjon, and visitors are required to purchase a ticket. Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with Kids

The Sainte-Chapelle

Started in the 14th century, the Sainte-Chapelle of Vincennes (see first photo in this post) is an elaborate Gothic chapel, albeit smaller than the more famous Paris version.

At one time, it housed the crown of thorns relics. The interior was destroyed during the French Revolution but has since been restored. For further reading on the history of the holy chapel, click here.

The Gift Shop

Okay, okay, you want find the Château de Vincennes gift shop on any list of French national treasures. But, I actually enjoyed browsing the wares here. Compared to the rest of Paris, prices weren’t astronomical and the selection of goods was exceptional.

Doc Sci ended up with a small yet sturdy knight’s helmet, and the boys both picked out medieval action figures.

Parc Floral de Paris

With purchases pocketed, we went once more around the perimeter of the castle before heading back to the apartment. Along the way, we discovered the gigantic sign for Parc Floral de Paris which lies just beyond the château.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore the park (which I hear has an excellent playground for kids), but we did have a little fun with our cameras.Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Peaceful Paris: A Morning at Château de Vincennes with KidsThe Verdict

After nearly suffocating from the sheer mass of people all week, our morning at the Château de Vincennes was a breath of clean forest air. We all needed a bit of quiet and a lot of space to stretch out, and a walk to the castle was an ideal ending to our last day in Paris.

I’m sorry to say that before our time at Château de Vincennes, I had never even heard of the place. I’d love to know – have you heard of or visited this castle before?

For more Paris with Kids posts, click here.Signature-Marigold

Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionParis might be a gorgeous gal, but she’s an absolute shrew when it comes to penny-pinching travelers.

We lucked out on accommodation; a friend of a friend lent us her place for the week. But food was a different story. While we could save money by cooking dinner at the apartment, logistics made lunch out a necessity.

As I briefly mentioned in my post on the French version of Chipotle, 9 euros for one burrito was actually reasonable in Paris! If you want a burger (which hopefully is only the starving expat crowd), be prepared to pay even more. We stumbled upon FrogBurger in the Latin Quarter and couldn’t believe it… 11 euros for a skinny burger?! At least they have some comical brews.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger prices!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger beers.

I combed Pinterest, scoured the Rick Steves city guide, and searched high and low in the blog world for the best budget eats in Paris. Below are a few of our favorites plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit and a few splurges.

Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Chez H’anna Falafel with a gigantic grilled eggplant on top.

Chez H’anna. Delicious, fresh falafel for under 6 euros. I could’ve eaten one of these every day! If you want to have a falafel tasting, do not waste your time at Chez Marianne around the corner. See L’As Du Fallafel below which is just down the street from H’anna.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

You never know what you’re going to find at Churrasqueira Galo!

Churrasqueira Galo. A short walk from the Sacré Cœur in Montmarte, this unassuming Portuguese chicken joint serves up gigantic platters for 9 euros. All five of us stuffed ourselves full of rotisserie chicken, salad, rice, and fries. We ordered two platters and barely finished the food. Even David Lebovitz recommends this place.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

My dark chocolate crepe at Chez Nicos.

Chez Nicos. One of the cheapest crêperies we found, and one of the best. The dark chocolate crêpe was stuffed with nearly a whole bar of chocolate! Doc Sci and T-Rex devoured the specialty – Nutella with an entire sliced banana.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Eiffel Tower pizza picnic from Pizza la Gourmandise.

Pizza la Gourmandise. Not anything near true Italian pizza, but the pies were a steal compared to most pizzerias in town. We ordered ours to go and ate in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

More Cheap Eats

  • L’As Du Fallafel. We ate at Chez H’anna instead, but this one is Lenny Kravitz’s favorite. Beware the queue! Mi Va Mi is across the street to add yet another option to the falafel question.
  • Gusto Italia. Pizza place (takeaway or dine-in) near the Eiffel Tower, slightly more expensive than Pizza le Gourmande. Two locations across the street from each other at 199 and 218 Rue de Grenelle.
  • La Charlotte de l’Isle. A cute and quirky tea room serving loose leaf and hot chocolate. We arrived just as the last customers were seated and the cozy dining room was completely full. Boo.
  • Breizh Cafe. Apparently, they serve the best salted caramel crepes and affordable savory galettes, but we visited on Monday when they were closed!
  • Berko. Another closed-on-Monday strike out, I must’ve been on a salted caramel kick when making trip notes because this cafe has the coveted flavor in meal-replacing cheesecake form.
  • La Crêperie Bretonne. Each crepe costs approximately €7 (as of September 2013), and the Ratatouille galette comes highly recommended.
  • Krishna Bhavan. Indian specialties, suitable for vegetarians and cheapskates.
  • Le Royal. Located on the infamous Rue de Grenelle. Carte highlights: 5 euro omelets, 9 euro plats, 14 euro menus.
  • Apparemment Café. After heavy French food and fried falafel, a create-your-own salad shop would be nice for a change.
  • Smooth In The City. Another stop for those in search of healthier fare. Fresh fruit smoothies and menus available.

Places to Splurge for a Special Treat

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

  • Angelina. At nearly 8 euros for a hot chocolate, this cafe is not cheap (nor easy to get into if you visit the location near the Louvre). Sneak into the Angelina tucked into a corner at Galeries Lafayette instead. Sure, the service is snobby, but savoring the liquid chocolate and fluffy cream is (nearly) priceless.
  • Berthillon Ice Cream. Lines were out the door here, even in winter!
  • Pierre Hermé or Ladurée Macarons. These cookies are obnoxiously expensive, but you shouldn’t leave Paris without trying at least one. Bet you can’t guess what flavor I’d recommend… (salted caramel!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionBon appétit! Did I highlight or pass over any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!Signature-Marigold

Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with KidsParis is nearly always picture perfect. Photos of Paris are incredibly popular on Pinterest, because let’s face it: the city is just gorgeous and completely unique. No matter how you feel about the City of Light, there’s no place in the world quite like Paris.

In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow and some friends of mine that are visiting the city this weekend, I want to share my top picks as well as some honorable mentions for where to find the best views in Paris.

Sacré-Cœur

If you’re an Amélie fan, you’ll be quite familiar with the amazing panorama that can be had from the famous Sacré-Cœur and the park in front of the basilica.

It’s free to walk up to the Sacré-Cœur and even inside of it (remember to wear appropriate clothing). However, to go even higher, ambitious ones can climb 234 steps to the top of the dome.

Details:

Metro: Anvers. Walk up the stairs or use the funicular (costs one metro ticket). Dome is open 9am-530pm and visitors must pay 5 euros each. To avoid crowds, come on a weekday or by 930am on a weekend.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

Climbing up to the Sacré-Cœur.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View from the Sacré-Cœur.

Galeries Lafayette

Am I really recommending a department store for one of the best views in Paris? Actually.. I’m recommending two department stores! And since these gigantic shops don’t charge admission, you can visit both for free.

Galeries Lafayette has the best view of the Garnier Opera House, and a good view of the Eiffel Tower.

Details:

Metro: Auber or Chaussee d’Antin. Open 930-8pm M-Wed, Fri-Sat (until 9pm Thurs). Take the escalator as far as you can go, and then the stairs to the roof (7th floor).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View from Galeries Lafayette.

Printemps

Just down the street from Galeries Lafayette, Printemps offers a higher vantage point (9th floor) and a bar/cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. Plus, it’s possible to see the Sacré-Cœur from Printemps which is another advantage over Galeries Lafayette.

The sky started sprinkling as we arrived, so we only stayed long enough to snap a few photos and admire the view. But, boy was it magnificent! The Eiffel Tower was all lit up, and the color of the sky? Unbelievable.

Details:

Metro: Havre Caumartin. Open From Monday to Saturday from 9:35 a.m. to 8 p.m. Late night Thursdays until 10 p.m. Take the escalators or the lift to the 9th floor.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View from Printemps.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View of the Sacré-Cœur from Printemps.

Tour Montparnasse

Higher than the competition (56th floors up!), the view from Montparnasse faces the Eiffel Tower and affords visitors 360° views.

Just a heads up for budget travelers: Montparnasse is one of the more expensive options, but at least the price tag includes the luxury of a lift and a climate controlled room.

Details:

Metro: Montparnasse-Bienvenue. Open every day of the year. For current opening times and prices click here.

Trocadéro Gardens

Okay, this one is cheating a bit because the view isn’t the best for the whole of Paris. But, for a fabulous family shot in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Place du Trocadéro can’t be beat.

It’s free, but beware the competition for photographic space.

Details:

Metro: Trocadéro. Open access at all times.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro Gardens.

Honorable Mentions*

*All sites listed charge admission to enter the viewing area.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

View of the Arc de Triomphe at night.

While you won’t find this last one in any guidebook, it just might be the best… There’s no place like your own space, and there’s no better time to see the pink light of Paris than sunrise. Breathtaking, no?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Where to Go for the Best Views in Paris with Kids

Paris at sunrise from our apartment.

Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite view of Paris? Would you add anything to my list?Signature-Marigold

The Absolute Best Thing Our Family Did in Paris.. This Time Around

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with KidsPhoto Credit

Ahh, Paris. Gorgeous, amazing, one-of-a-kind, and yet.. overdone. Doesn’t everybody have a Top 10 Things to Do in Paris (with Kids) list?

I can’t bring myself to write anything so run-of-the-mill for you. But, even if I could, the entire post would be a big, fat, whopping lie because we likely did not do 8 of the 10 things on our trip.

Instead, let’s focus on a few more relaxed, out of the way, low-key, winter-appropriate Parisian experiences. I’ll still dish on the good, the bad, and the beautiful… I just won’t wrap it all up put a “Top 10” bow on it.

Forgive me.

Forgive me?

Bouncing Around Paris – on a Bike!

Given our family’s love of the outdoors and the smashing success of our day out in Lucca last summer, I was determined to find a way to incorporate seeing Paris by bicycle.

We cycle daily around our little German town, and we love it. Who can argue with built-in exercise, no traffic jams, and zero emissions?

Lucky for us, Paris has established herself as a beacon to bike-friendliness. The city boasts the third-largest bike sharing program in the world (only two cities in China have ‘er beat) and the bike traffic lanes to support it. Unfortunately for us, the Vélib’ public bicycles are not designed for young children or parents toting babies.

The Company – Bike About Tours

Enter Bike About Tours, a recommendation from Rick Steves. While the company was technically closed for the winter, I still received prompt emails from Katharine. The prices seemed fair, the details convenient, and away we booked.

When we picked up the bicycles near the Hotel de Ville, Doc Sci chatted up the co-owner and realized he knew the other co-owner from high school! (Insert “small world” cliché here.)Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

The other thing we discovered when picking up the bikes were the variety of options for families. We ended up sticking to traditional three-speed bikes with child seats, but that didn’t stop Doc Sci and Screech from testing out a spiffy Dutch tandem that could accommodate one adult and two children. Sweet ride – but not the best idea when you’re unfamiliar with the equipment and the territory.

The Route

After a hearty handshake, we were off! Across the Pont d’Arcole, we slipped past the imposing Notre Dame before crossing the Seine once again and settling in on the Left Bank.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

We struggled to keep our eyes on the road (and the ever-changing bike lanes – yikes!) and not on the gorgeous landmarks whizzing by: Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, the Louvre, the Orsay, Pont Alexandre III, Palais Bourbon, Quai Branly… on and on the eye candy taunted us until the object of everyone’s affection slipped into view and established herself on center stage.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

So many people claim that the best view of Paris is from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I disagree. I think Paris without the Eiffel Tower is just another skyline, and how can the tower define the landscape if you’re standing on it?

For me, the better view is from the underbelly up. Stand squarely underneath Eiffel’s creation to appreciate the sheer mass of the structure. This is no girly trinket. It might have feminine frills, but the bones are literally ironclad.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

After scraping our jaws off the ground, we zipped over to a neighborhood pizzeria to pick up a mediocre pie that we promptly devoured on a bench in front of the iron lady herself. Terrible food, gorgeous company.

We gave the cycling legs a break at the Champ de Mars playground where we heard mostly English spoken (expat hangout?) before zooming off toward the Army Museum. We were having too much fun on two wheels to pay for a look at Napoleon’s tomb.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

I had high hopes for a walk in the sculpture garden at the Rodin Museum (surely my boys could handle that?!), but Big Foot spoiled our plans by falling asleep. We were forced to continue pedaling or face the wrath of an overtired baby.

Instead, I dipped in to La Maison du Chocolat where the only thing I could afford was a to-go cup brimming with soupified hot chocolate. Hello, delicious! The truffles are handled like pearls here, and the prices are about the same. Watch your wallets, folks.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Wearing our cocoa mustaches proud, we rode until we hit the big-time Boulevard Saint Germain. The day was wearing thin, and our nerves followed suit.  We stopped for another kid-friendly break at a small playground in front of the Musée de Cluny.

Had I not been so tired, I would’ve realized we were but a stone’s throw from Luxembourg Gardens and the fabulous playgrounds there. Ah, well, our small male army seemed satisfied with the paltry pre-fab, and Doc Sci and I amused ourselves by debating whether the sentry next to the free toilet was there to protect the paper or the people. Now, there’s a candidate for world’s weirdest job – waste watcher.

The day waned further, and we realized our bikes were not outfitted with lights (a major no-no in Germany). We rallied the troops and rounded out the day with a leisurely ride through the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité.

In case no one in history has ever told you, Paris is gorgeous at dusk.

With the bikes tucked safely back in their parking garage, we trudged back to our apartment knowing we’d have to spend the next days on foot. Paris really is better by bicycle.

Practical Tips

Just a few logistical notes…

  • We rented two adult bikes with seats attached for Screech (4) and Big Foot (1). We felt confident in T-Rex’s cycling abilities, so we rented a children’s bike for him.
  • In hindsight, it would’ve been better to rent a tandem (this kind – and yes, Bike About had one) because the bike lanes were somewhat different than what we’re used to in Germany.
  • Many roads have dedicated bike lanes and paths. However, in the absence of such a lane, bikes may use the bus/taxi lane. While we never felt unsafe in the bus/taxi lane, we were made well-aware of the drivers’ annoyance with cyclists in their way.
  • If you do not have children with you, I highly recommend the Vélib’ system as it is quite convenient and extremely cheap.
  • But for families who are looking for an excellent Parisian cycling experience, I would not hesitate to recommend or personally use Bike About Tours again. You can rent bikes or sign up for an actual tour. No paid advertisement here – just a good, old-fashioned friendly recommendation.

Have you discovered Paris on two wheels? Would you cycle the streets with your kids?

Signature-Marigold

Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?Hey, hey, happy February!  ‘Tis the Valentine season, and cupid’s quiver is full of posts on…. Paris!  I’ll be sharing all sorts of adventures, tips, and tricks for visiting the city of love with kids (oh, how romantic!) in the next few weeks.

Other gals may go for diamonds, truffles, or expensive perfume and whatnot.  But, me?  I’m much easier to please.  A three-pound burrito wrapped in shiny tinfoil should do it.

Chipotle… in Europe?

While we were in the magical city of Paris, we savored our first taste of Chipotle in nearly eight months.  It was the lovely Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris who first gave the heads up that the burrito king was in town.

Not long after, my friend Christy in Estonia (hi, Christy!) broke some even bigger news to me… Chipotle had recently set up shop in Frankfurt!  We needed to renew T-Rex’s passport in early January, and naturally we’d all be absolutely starving and in search of lunch after the morning appointment…

In a span of two weeks, we had eaten our hearts out at Chipotle in France and Germany

Chipotle… in Europe?  I must be dreaming.  But, I’m not.. they have SIX locations in London too!

So… How’s it Taste?

This is the real question, isn’t it?  If you slap a Chipotle sign on a mediocre Mexican joint, really, what’s the point?  The authenticity of ingredients and flavors is what’s important.

In short, both the Paris and Frankfurt locations dished up burritos and salads that tasted very close to American Chipotle cuisine.  However, we noticed a few slight differences.

German Chipotle:

  • Serves lemon-cilantro rice, not lime, that is extremely cheap in the worst way (think Uncle Ben’s, not basmati).
  • Beans are not as savory, especially the black ones.
  • Marinade on the chicken wasn’t as flavorful.
  • Salad dressing packs a punch – it’s much spicier than at home – and is noticeably creamier.
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa tastes even better than in America with a delicious, gentle heat.

French Chipotle:

  • Rice was also lemon instead of lime, but of better quality.
  • Salad dressing was extremely close to the original, but it had a subtle difference we couldn’t place.  Another taste test is on order..
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa is full of flame; our mouths were on fire!

In both the French and German locations, the portions were petty.  However, the staff acquiesced each time I begged for “a little more” of each ingredient.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Frankfurt, Germany

What’s Different?

Not much is physically different in the Paris and Frankfurt locations.  Both interiors are all done up in the same wood and stainless theme.  The brown paper packaging, logo napkins, clear plastic cutlery, Tabasco sauce bottles… it’s all there.  Even the water dispenser looks identical.

(Oh, and the water is free.  Some restaurants in Germany will serve you complimentary tap water but not cheerfully.)

The biggest difference between the American Chipotle and the French and German Chipotle restaurants is the price.

Both European locations charge 9 euros per entree (burrito, tacos, salad, bowl) with your choice of one meat (chicken, steak, barbacoa, etc).  All the toppings are included except guacamole which comes with an additional 3 euro charge.  Yikes.

Currently, a Chipotle chicken burrito in our old Orlando location costs $6.25 (steak, carnitas, or barbacoa will set you back $6.65).  If you were to convert the 9 euro German burrito price tag to dollars, you’d be looking at $12.15 per burrito… or almost double!  If you want guac with that, be prepared to fork over $16.20!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Paris, France.

That’s some serious cash for a beans & rice fix.  You might be wondering… why are the entrees so expensive?

The simple answer: ingredients.  To make Chipotle’s marinades, salsas, dressings, and other delicious menu items, you need foreign ingredients like chipotle peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, adobo, jalapeños, poblano peppers, and chiles de arbol.  These are usually Mexican or American products which means that they need to cross an ocean.

Unfortunately, the European palate doesn’t seem to be suited for frijoles which means that the demand isn’t high enough to produce these kinds of ingredients within the EU (perhaps climate is an issue as well) which would help reduce costs considerably.

Now, I can’t say I’ve ever asked for “everything” on my burrito back in America, but both the French and German Chipotle locations allowed us to order every single topping (except guacamole – see above) without charging extra.  I seem to recall that the fajita vegetables were instead of beans and that one may order cheese or sour cream.  At the European restaurants, you can have it all!

At least there’s a small consolation when it comes to order budget (and waist-line) busting burritos…

The Verdict

Frankfurt is our closest Chipotle location, but it’s still two and a half hours away.  When we add the price of fuel to cost of a burrito, it ends up being too expensive and time-consuming to be worthwhile.

In Paris, I was shocked when I realized that 9 euros for a quick dinner was average, so there’s a good chance we’d be regulars if we lived there.

For now, we’re happily obsessed with our town’s taco truck.  But, that’s not to say we wouldn’t indulge if we happened to be in Frankfurt… and I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t jump at the chance to try a British branch of Chipotle!

Any Londoners out there want to host a family of five for the weekend?  Burritos are on us!

Have you tried Chipotle in Europe?  If not, would you pay 9 euros for a burrito with authentic Mexican ingredients?

Signature-Marigold

Nerdy Travel Dad: Mulhouse Train Museum (Cité du Train)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)train museumMy oldest, T-Rex, turned six last month – six!! I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a six year-old… To celebrate, we took a drive to Mulhouse, France, and spent the morning at the train museum there (Cité du Train). 

While I could simply say that this is one of the most fascinating museums I have ever visited, this place really deserves a Nerdy Travel Dad review, and Doc Sci will be posting for me today.  Even if you don’t love trains as much as Dr. Sheldon Cooper, you’ll soon see why a stop here is definitely worth your while.

All the boys in the thrifty travel house LOVE trains.  And, uh, that’s putting it mildly.  Every other day (or so it seems), my wife and I are interrogated as to when the next train ride will occur.  On the off days, they’re begging to go on an airplane.

Since our budget didn’t allow for an actual train ride for T-Rex’s birthday, we decided the next best thing would be to take him to the biggest train museum in the world, the Cité du Train in Mulhouse, France.  Not too shabby for a birthday, if I do say so myself.

When we rolled up on that Saturday morning, I had not done a lick of research.  Of course, the always-prepared Thrifty Travel Mama ensured we had the 4-1-1, but she just didn’t tell me.  Or I didn’t ask.  Whatever.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

After I walked into the building, I was genuinely surprised.  There were trains, tons and tons of full-size trains, all lit up, dressed, and costumed.  Mannequins dolled up in era-appropriate clothing peered out from the windows, demonstrating how train travel used to be.  This was awesome.

Quirky dialogue leaked out of tiny speakers in the train cars.  Well, at least I assume it was quirky.. it was in French, of course.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

This was my wife’s favorite train – a snow plow from the Alps.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

In case you’re wondering, the museum is pram-friendly. Here I am with Big Foot taking a look at those creepy stuffed people.

There were so many trains the boys kept running from one to another, peeking inside and boarding those open to visitors.  In the middle of the train yard, we discovered a switching booth with the actual switches outside just waiting to be pulled.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t budge, even with hefty amounts of grunting.  But, right next to the switches was a junction to easily illustrate why the switches were needed and what they did.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The switching booth.

After all that, I was quite satisfied with our experience at the Cité du Train.  I mean there was history, some railway engineering, creepy mannequins… what more could you want?

Oh how naive I was!  We had only just completed the first, much smaller depot.  A whole other GINORMOUS warehouse was waiting for us on the other side of the restaurant.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The museum’s restaurant, designed to look like a dining car.

The first building is dedicated to the history of French trains, and the second focuses more on the evolving technology of trains.

The technological exhibit starts with steam engines, works its way through diesel and electric, and finishes with the ultra-sleek, high-speed TGV.

One of the best displays in the second building was an active demonstration of a steam locomotive, complete with moving parts and, surprise, surprise, steam. The boys were fascinated by the train that was moving but not actually going anywhere.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The little engine that could… make a big fuss without going anywhere.

An adjacent train was literally cut in half so that inquiring minds could have a look and see what all the fuss was about.  The steam engine had color-coded lights for cold water, hot water, steam and coal.  It was a brilliant way to demonstrate how the engine works.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

The fascinating inner workings of a steam engine.

What could be better than a steam engine chopped in two?  Why, the ability to go underneath the train to have a look at the hidden workings below.  How many people can say they’ve been on the nether side of steel locomotive and lived to tell about it?

The thing I enjoyed explaining the most (and, as these things go, the kiddos understood the least) was how a bunch of straight pieces of metal could make round things move.  Being able to watch the steam engine wheels in motion helped to illustrate this, but it still was just a smidge over their heads.

Me:”You see boys when the steam builds up inside of this tube thingy, the piston, it pushes this other piece out.  Then this big straight piece of metal that is connected also goes out.  That makes the piece of metal that is connected to the wheel move back and while it moves back the …”

T-Rex: “Daddy look at the size of the wheel.  It is bigger than me!”

See what I mean?

The diesel and electric trains were also difficult to explain to the six-and-under crowd, so I didn’t press too much there.  Plus, the museum offered sooo many trains that some had to be just straight up skipped.  Take my advice and spend the most time on the steam trains since they are the easiest to describe and the most likely to spark interest in young minds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

Visitors could take a rest on old train car seats located throughout the depot.

After winding your way through the 70s, you’ll arrive at what kids will most likely think is THE BEST part of the museum – a TGV cockpit complete with bells, whistles, and buttons.  The TGV train was all hype and no science (in the exhibit, anyway), which honestly was perfectly fine with me because by the end of the line I think only Sheldon Cooper would want to see more trains.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

TGV!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

Inside the cockpit.

To top things off, the final exhibit was a super fun model train community.  Though not as large and extensive as Miniatur Wonderland, it was packed with zooming trains and working details (and a hefty dose of humor for the adults with keen eyes).  I don’t deny putting in my 50 cents to see it all come to life.

Nerdy or not, I highly recommend adding the Cité du Train to your list of “must see” sites in eastern France.Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - Mulhouse Train Museum (Cite du Train)

If you visit the train museum in Mulhouse, don’t miss the cities of Basel, Colmar, and Strasbourg which are all only a short drive away!Signature-Marigold

Visiting Strasbourg, France with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strasbourg with KidsI waited three days for the rain to stop.  And then, I decided to make a run for it.  A run for the border, that is.   Well, okay I didn’t actually run – I’ve already learned my lesson on that one.  No, this run to the border had a lesson of a different kind.

When traveling with kids, timing is everything.

This was supposed to be one of those hey-look-isn’t-France-so-stinkin’-amazing-and-check-it-out-my-kids-think-so-too posts.  But, that was before I realized T-Rex had bruised his heel while swimming the day before.  The boy who could hike the tallest mountain in South Korea was not even interested in walking a hundred meters.

Big Foot developed an awful cough and was majorly grumpy.  Turns out the poor thing had a touch of bronchitis.  Nice one, mama.

And, Screech, well, he’s just a major sass these days since he’s going through the “impossible 3’s.”  Don’t let anyone tell you the twos are terrible.  They’re a cake walk compared with the threes.

So there we were, a band of aches, pains, and trantrums, stomping our way around Strasbourg.  Below is a peek at our adventure.

The first thing I do when researching a new destination is to search for existing kid-friendly city guides.

The first thing I do when researching a new destination is to search for existing kid-friendly city guides.  I mainly look for playgrounds, natural attractions, inexpensive places to eat, and shops hawking wares that my boys would like.

I found a few good tips here, including the suggestion to visit the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg, L'Orangerie.

I found a few good tips here, including the suggestion to visit the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg, L’Orangerie.

Not only does L'Orangerie have an expansive playground, but it also has a small zoo.

Not only does L’Orangerie have an expansive playground, but it also has a small zoo (free).

My boys enjoyed seeing all sorts of creatures like ostriches, goats, mountain lions, flamingos, tortoises..

My boys enjoyed seeing all sorts of creatures like this owl, as well as ostriches, goats, mountain lions, flamingos, tortoises..

Bonus - the park has restrooms at the west entrance (Allee de la Robertsau)..

Bonus – the park has restrooms at the west entrance (Allee de la Robertsau)..

And they're free!!

and they’re also free!!

As we left the park, I noticed that it is located very close to the Council of Europe.  Strasbourg also houses the EU Parliament.

As we left the park, I noticed that it is located very close to the Council of Europe. Strasbourg also houses the EU Parliament.  Unfortunately, my kids aren’t quite into government yet, so a visit to these institutions will have to wait.

We hopped a bus to take us to the city center, and passed this beautiful cathedral on the way.

We hopped a bus to take us to the city center, and passed the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral on the way.

After stepping off the bus, we discovered this funky fountain (Fontaine de Janus).  It would've been a nice place to tear into a baguette, but I was just plain ol' too cold.

After stepping off the bus, we discovered this funky fountain (Fontaine de Janus). It would’ve been a nice place to tear into a baguette, but I was just plain ol’ too cold.

I should mention that Strasbourg has one of the best Christmas markets in all of France which just happens to be open after Christmas as well.

I should mention that Strasbourg has one of the best Christmas markets in all of France and it just happens to be open after Christmas as well.

But I have to be honest.  I was not in search of winter trinkets.  No siree, I wanted a burrito.  Doc Sci was ready to order tacos for a month.  To go.  But La Cocina's owners decided to take a siesta... for two weeks.

But I have to be honest. I was not in search of winter trinkets. No siree, I wanted a burrito. Doc Sci was ready to order tacos for a month. To go. But La Cocina‘s owners decided to take a siesta… for two weeks.

Instead, we ate our sandwiches in the Petite France section of Strasbourg which is positively charming.

Instead, we ate our sandwiches in the Petite France section of Strasbourg which is positively charming.

We discovered two playgrounds right on the canals (off of Rue des Moulins).

We discovered two playgrounds right on the canals (near Rue des Moulins).

We were totally bummed about the burritos, and that made us totally not in the mood to even have a bite of Alsatian cuisine at one of these funky little weinstubs.

We were totally bummed about the burritos, which killed our appetite for even the smallest bite of Alsatian cuisine.  Should you be keen on downing a flammkuchen, do so at one of these funky little weinstubs.

Strasbourg seemed to be filled with two kinds of shops: those selling sweets..

Strasbourg seemed to be brimming with two kinds of shops: those offering sweets..

and those selling ridiculously cute but outrageously overpriced children's clothes.

and those selling ridiculously cute but outrageously overpriced children’s clothes.

I'm sure you guessed that we went for the sweets.  A great stop to make with the kiddos is La Cure Gourmande.

I’m sure you guessed that we went for the sweets. A great stop to make with the kiddos is La Cure Gourmande.

They get you in the door with the free cookie samples and keep you there with the mouth watering caramels.

They get you in the door with the free cookie samples and keep you there with the mouth-watering caramels.

Right outside La Cure Gourmande is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.  It's magnificent.  And huge.  I wanted to climb the tower, but all the injuries/attitudes/coughing shut that idea down right away.

Right outside La Cure Gourmande is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. It’s magnificent. And huge. I wanted to climb the tower, but all the injuries/attitudes/coughing shut that idea down right away.

So despite my plans for spending the day lollygagging around France, we decided to fold and go home.  All three boys dozed in the car while Doc Sci and I took in this amazing sky.  Strasbourg, I'll be back.

So despite my plans for spending the day lollygagging around Strasbourg, France, we decided to fold and go home. All three boys dozed in the car while Doc Sci and I took in this amazing sky. Strasbourg, I’ll be back.

Visiting the Alsace region of France?  Don’t miss Colmar or a trip to the three castles near Ribeauville.Signature-Marigold

Thrifty Travel Mama – 2012 – A Year in Review

Whew!  2012 has been a wild ride, full of experiences and surprises.  “Year in Review” posts are all the rage in the blogosphere, so despite my inclinations to do the opposite, I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

In January, I went fully frugal.  I shared my source for Free DIY Passport Photos.  I pointed you to the European Backpacker Index, a tool for researching expenses in European cities.  Oh, and I saved you from having to run to the store at the last minute by showing you how to make your own brown sugar.

February brought me a birthday, and Doc Sci took me to Milan (sans kids) to celebrate.  We ogled da Vinci’s Last Supper and the views from the roof of the Duomo.  We got caught in Carnival madness, and stuffed our faces with risotto, bread, pizza, and (of course) gelato.

I went crazy in March trying to make our awful concrete student housing apartment more homey on a very small budget.  I spiced up the kitchen, bathroom, and front entry.  I constructed a ginormous cork board wall in the living room and plastered it with photos.  I somehow also found the time to completely finish Rosetta Stone German and post a final review.

In April, our little family went home to the US for 3 weeks, stopping in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.  We soaked up the sun, and made kid-friendly activities a priority.  Among the boys’ favorite was our trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Back in Germany, May was part work and part play.  Doc Sci and I both took week-long intensive German courses.  We also managed a date night to the movies, complete with popcorn and assigned seats.

Doc Sci let us tag along with him to Berlin in June.  He attended a brainiac conference while the boys and I played at Legoland.   And speaking of brains, I got mine to work long enough to pass my German driver’s license exam.

In July, I switched to extreme nesting mode.  I stocked the freezer with a gazillion meals, and organized our life into one happy turquoise notebook.

I took a six-week break starting in August to bring our third and final little traveler into the world.  His birth story is the kind nightmares are made of.

We ventured out to Frankfurt in September to get the little guy his passport when he was only two weeks old.  And good thing, too.  Later that month, Big Foot found himself coasting through five countries on four planes, five trains, and two buses, in the span of three days.  No sweat for a seven week-old.

In October, I posted reviews of flying Delta Airlines and easyJet with a baby.  I should’ve shown you these fashionable Oktoberfest pull-ups, but I was too busy scoring freebies for babies and mamas in Germany.

November was an exciting month for us.  We bought a car!  Doc Sci wrote a fabulous guest post detailing the adventure.

We took our car on a little road trip to France in December.  It was all the travel we could muster in between the zillions of Pinterest projects that filled my days and nights before Christmas.

Every year has its highs and lows, surprises both good and bad, and 2012 was no different.  It’s just how life goes, and I’m thankful to live it with my awesome-amazing-how-could-I-describe-you-in-just-one-word husband and three blessed boys who make me laugh every day.  Here’s to 2013!

Our First French Road Trip – Château de Saint-Ulrich

Hooray!  We’re stretching our travel wings again, and making small steps toward becoming European road trippers.

This past Saturday, we swallowed our breakfast whole, and then rushed to pile all the boys in the car.   We wanted to leave before Big Foot’s nap time, so that he could (hopefully) sleep in the car.  Yeah right.  The kid hates his car seat.

Our destination?  The Alsace region of France in general, the region north of Colmar specifically, and the three castles above Ribeauvillé exactly.

Though the new car came with a built-in GPS navigational system, we hadn’t tested it out yet so I made sure to print out driving directions just in case.  And good thing, too.  The directions while in Germany were accurate, but the French ones were not.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.  Let’s recap.. in pictures.

Screech, Big Foot, and T-Rex ready to ride.

Screech, Big Foot, and T-Rex ready to ride.

Driving to France was much quicker (and less painful) than running there.

Driving to France was much quicker (and less painful) than running there.

It might sound exciting to drive through France, but this is what you're in for... lots and lots of fields.  Blah.

It might sound exciting to drive through France, but this is what you’re in for… lots and lots of fields. Blah.

Since the Navi wasn't working properly, we made our way to Ribeauville using the printed driving directions.  But after a  couple of quick turns and I lost my place in the text...

Since the navi wasn’t working properly, we made our way to Ribeauville using the printed driving directions. But after a couple of quick turns, I lost my place in the text…

...and we ended up in the thick of the pedestrian zone!  Oops.

…and we ended up in the thick of the pedestrian zone! I could’ve stuck my hand out the window and touched the goods for sale, we were so close.  Oops.

As we were meandering our way out of the teeny streets, I looked up and saw our destination!

As we were meandering our way out of the teeny streets, I looked up and saw our destination!

We followed the road until we came to a parking lot and a dead end.  I asked some nice French lady (in German) if it was the way to the castles.  She assured me it was, so out piled the boys and up the mountain we went.

We followed the road until we came to a parking lot and a dead end. I asked some nice French lady (in German) if it was the way to the castles. She assured me it was, so out jumped the boys and up the mountain we went.  After a few minutes, we came to this sign.

The path to the top was quite steep, and most of it was covered with small rocks.

The path to the top was quite steep, and most of it was covered with small rocks.

We pressed on, and suddenly the path cleared.  Though the castles were still a long ways off, we at least had the end goal in sight.

We pressed on, and suddenly the path cleared. Though the castles were still a long ways off, we could at least see what we were after.

Before we could reach the castle, though, we'd have to cross this area of solid rock.  Though it was a bit dicey, it was nothing like hiking Hallasan.

Before we could reach the castle, though, we’d have to cross this area of solid rock. Though it was a bit dicey, it was nothing like hiking Hallasan.

I was really proud of the boys for hiking up a mountain for a whole hour without complaining.  In the end, we promised the first snack to the first boy to reach the castle.

I was really proud of the boys for hiking up a mountain for a whole hour without complaining. In the end, we had to bribe them to pick up the pace during the last five minutes of walking.  We promised the first snack to the first boy to reach the castle.

The payoff for such a short but steep hike was huge.  The view from the top was nothing short of marvelous.

The payoff for such a short but steep hike was huge. The view from the top was nothing short of marvelous.

While Doc Sci and I ogled the scenery, the boys played in the ruins.

While Doc Sci and I ogled the scenery, the boys played in the ruins.

You can see

You can see Chateau de Girsberg from Chateau de Saint-Ulrich.  It’s also possible to hike to Girsberg, but we didn’t want to push our luck with the little ones.

At the top, we attempted to take some family Christmas pictures.  As I was packing up, I noticed we had company from a token French guy in a beret.

At the top, we attempted to take some family Christmas pictures. And I do mean attempted.  Getting three boys under the age of five to all look at the camera and not make dorky faces is nothing short of a miracle.  As I was putting the camera away, I noticed we had company from a token French guy in a beret.

Bellies were rumbling, so we decided it was time to go.  But what a great day we had breaking Big Foot in to what I hope will just be the first of many hikes.

Bellies were rumbling, so we decided it was time to go. But what a great day we had breaking Big Foot in to what I hope will just be the first of many hikes.

On the descent, we handed T-Rex the camera and let him snap a few shots.  Here's what I found when I downloaded the pictures.

On the descent, we handed T-Rex the camera and let him snap a few shots. Here’s what I found when I downloaded the pictures.

Thanks, France!  We'll be back soon.

Thanks, France! We’ll be back soon.

Love France?  Check out our trips to Strasbourg and Colmar and read about the time I ran from Germany to France.Signature-Marigold