There are two things you learn right away upon taking a child to Paris: What kids want to see in a city comes straight from their Viewmaster slides; and schools are worth whatever you pay them for their role in keeping adults and children from having to fill eight hours a day in mutual activities.
I found out about the Viewmaster aspect of traveling when I asked at random among my 13-year-old's friends what they would like to do if they were going to Paris. To a jeune fille, they ticked off what was on the slide labeled Paris: the Eiffel Tower, boats on the Seine, the Sacre'-Coeur, "Mona Lisa" (it's the way you trick them into the Louvre), Notre Dame, the Bastille (they read "Tale of Two Cities" in eighth grade) and the Champs-Elyse'es (the carnival atmosphere and le drugstore factor).
The other fact seeped in slowly. When traveling, you are faced with the age gap squarely for the first time. A normal 13-year-old and a parent don't have that much in common, interestwise. I don't like to hang out at the neighborhood swimming pool, and my daughter doesn't like to spend Sunday afternoons at the Phillips Collection. In our own ZIP code the press of other business obscures those differences. Most days, a child and an adult are going to engage in the same activities at most about 10 percent of their time. The rest is "Don't miss the school bus" and "Clean your plate if you want dessert." You're upping the ante tremendously when you pack your bags for Europe. Once you are together every waking hour, joined at the guidebook and the once-in-a-lifetime sense of being in Paris, accommodations must be made on both sides.
Most travelers to Europe won't face the difficulties I did. Most people will have been better parents all along and, as a result, have less trouble getting their teen-agers to museums, cathedrals and the tombs of heads of state. So what follows is a worst-case scenario -- lessons culled from a recent two weeks in Paris with a 13-year-old. Make adjustments upward for every Saturday you went en famille to the National Gallery instead of plopping your offspring in front of the Smurfs.
Rule One Take the high road and get out in front compromisewise. Go to the Eiffel Tower as soon after the seat-belt light goes off as you can. Get it out of the way. Otherwise, it will always be, "Okay, so that's the Louvre; now do we get to go to the Eiffel Tower?"
It helps in making these compromises if you have never actually been a regulation tourist. I had never been to the Eiffel Tower. It existed and that was enough for me. Having first come to Paris as a student, I carried into adulthood deep dread of ever being classified as a camera-toting member of that breed.
But just like turning 30, being a tourist isn't as bad as I thought.
Calling a day's outing a trip to the Eiffel Tower allows you to slip in unnoticed some sightseeing on foot, the thing that children dread as much as some adults dread being tourists. With the descending preference of movement for many children being personal chauffeur, rickshaws, taxis, buses, subways and feet, you are going to have conflicts right there. But this isn't K Street and it is possible for them to learn that there are enjoyments that can be had only on foot.
So instead of going straight to the Eiffel Tower, take the Metro to Trocade'ro, within easy striking distance but an interesting walk away. Go through the Palais de Chaillot, which replaced the Palais du Trocade'ro in 1937, and walk out to the terrace, which gives you one of the most striking views of the Eiffel Tower in all of Paris. The Eiffel Tower always seems closer than it is; from that terrace, it seems as if you could reach out and touch it. This trompe l'oeil allows you to slip in a quick visit to one of the several museums in the palace. Called the Muse'e de l'Homme, it has on display Cro-Magnon man, discovered in 1872 on the French Riviera. This is a winner. The rest of the small museum is devoted to the history of man.
With one museum under your belt, head for the tower. To get there, you can walk through the formal gardens of the palace, a sight in themselves. Then you cross the short Pont d'Ie'na and you are there.
You wouldn't want to go to Disneyland without a child and the same can be said of the Eiffel Tower. It's a great way to see it: with wonder, with the thrill that comes from laying eyes on something you have seen in pictures as far back as you can remember.
It helps that it is actually interesting, with more to it than the Washington Monument, for example. There are three ways to see the tower: superficially, moderately thoroughly, and the way that takes your breath away. Go for the third. Take the elevator -- which will scare you to death -- to the top of the tower some 1,000 feet in the air. On a clear day you can nearly see Versailles. All around the top, there are plaques that identify the sights below. You can stop short of the top; there are elevators to two levels below that give a proportionately lesser view, but younger children and queasy adults might want to stay closer to the ground.
Your children will definitely want to eat at the Jules Verne restaurant in the tower because they loved "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," because it's high in the air and because they won't have to pay for it. Keep in mind what Calvin Trillin said: Never dine above sea level because you can't eat the view. This is when you go down and spring for the $4 Coke.
At this point, you are near the Ecole Militaire (France's West Point), Champ-de-Mars and the Ho~tel des Invalides, the spectacular house Louis XIV built to house the soldiers he sent off to fight his battles. Today, it is the site of Napoleon's tomb. It contains one each of every horrible weapon ever conceived through the early 20th century, including blunderbussses and Viking swords. Any child who collected GI Joe paraphernalia will love this.
Rule Two Do less than you want to do. Believe it or not, this is enough for one day. Sit at a cafe' for a few hours and have the Coke, buy a baguette and sit on a bench and read, walk slowly back to your hotel on an interesting shopping street but don't launch another big activity, even if it is only 3 p.m. I found that I had to scale down my expectations: A 13-year-old's attention span is short, as your patience will be by this point. Crankiness in all quarters will set in if you try to do too much.
Rule Three Ease into walking. You know that walking around is the best way to see a city, but your child, who has grown up on car pools and class trips sitting happily on the top of a double-decker bus, isn't going to throw on the Topsiders and trek the length of the Seine the first day. Again, compromise.
Take one of the many boats along the Seine, one of the best ways to see Paris. A boat reduces the city to manageable size. And unlike Washington, Paris is a city that celebrates its river, was built along its contours. In two hours, you get a look at everything on the Viewmaster and more. The largest boats, the bateaux mouches, have open-air or covered seating according to the weather. The standard 75-minute tour operates from 10 in the morning to 10:30 at night and costs about $5 a ticket; for a shorter trip, there is the lunch cruise at 1 p.m.
If you want less of a production, take a vedette or motorboat, not a bad thing but not as comfortable as the bateaux mouches. These tours, by Vedettes Parisienes Tour Eiffel and Vedettes du Pont Neuf, take 60 minutes.
Floating along the Seine, your weight off your feet, was another one of those activities I had missed before because of the tourist phobia. It turns out to be a spectacular event for child and adult.
Rule Four Tennis shoes on everybody, no matter how much it clashes with the fashion statement you are trying to make. Anyway, walkers everywhere can be thankful that the fitness and the make-a-million-dollars-before-age-40 booms have intersected to replace wing tips and pumps with Reeboks as acceptable footwear on the Champs-Elyse'es as well as on lawyers sprinting down Connecticut Avenue. The stress of getting around an unfamiliar city is enough without a blister.
With pavement under your child's feet and a map and Michelin guide in hand, you can get around some of the more demanding activities, like the Louvre, that take time, a lot of miles and concentration before revealing their pleasures.
Rule Five Fine food is for grown-ups. If there is ever a time when you wonder what possessed you to cart a teen-ager to Paris -- and there will be times -- it is when you are pursuing your real reason for coming: food. This will upset the parent police, but French food should not be wasted on children. Forget broadening their horizons, educating their palates. They can do that on their own, when they get their first jobs. Not being able to distinguish between a terrine and a pate' isn't going to hurt their chances of getting into Harvard. If you are attached to a teen-ager who wants nothing so much as a hamburger and a Coke, I say give it to him, and count your blessings.
Steak frites, the Parisian equivalent of a Whopper and fries, are everywhere for 40F or less. For low-cost but better food than you could get along K Street, department stores are excellent, in particular the centrally located Bazar de l'Ho~tel de Ville, with an excellent lunch that would rival a much more expensive brasserie. The ice machine and limitless pitchers of water are worth the detour. Forget the cafe' at the Muse'e d'Orsay, which is very expensive and always has a long line, but seek out the one at the Beaubourg, which serves excellent food at low prices and provides a superb view of the city.
For those sagging spells that are sure to come, pack a bag in the morning before you set out. Go to the neighborhood boulangerie and cremerie (or the omnipresent Felix Potin, the Paris equivalent of Larrimer's) and buy a baguette, a wedge of cheese and cartons of juice for food breaks (stores close between noon and 2). What you don't realize until there isn't a refrigerator handy is all the free-lance eating your child does. You forget that it takes a quart of milk, a ham sandwich, a half a package of Oreos to bridge that chasm between lunch and dinner. This is okay at home but time-consuming and expensive on the road.
Rule Six About midway through the trip, take a tour. In general, tours are the easy way out. But the easy way out has been given a bad rap. Some things, like Versailles, are too big even for a grown-up, and that's where Cityrama comes in. It costs more than doing it yourself but not that much more, since there are about five separate admissions to the various sights at the Palace. For 180 francs (about $31) -- 90 francs for children -- a double-decker bus deposits you at the door of the palace (instead of having to walk what seems like miles after getting off the city bus), provides a three-hour tour of the palace, including the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the Grand and Petit Apartments, as well as the gardens and the Grand Trianon, a kind of guest quarters for visiting heads of state, where among others, Nixon slept. It is also the site of the antics of Madames de Pompadour, du Barry and Marie-Antoinette when they wanted to escape the rigors of life in the big city.
In giving over the instruction of your young to a guide, keep in mind that you wouldn't try to teach them algebra, so why should you try to teach them French history? Accept that your child will give his rapt attention to the superficial canned lecture of a tour quide rather than to your perceptive observations on the Sun King.
Rule Seven Repeat, as often as necessary: You didn't come here to have fun. You came to learn something. This lowers expectations and allows you to see the rest of the high spots and have fun while doing it every once in a while.
Once we understood the basic rules of play, it made the time we had left in Paris easier.
Still thinking height, we climbed up the 164-foot-high Arc de Triomphe. You can't see nearly as much from here as from the Eiffel Tower (everything gets compared with the Eiffel Tower), but that isn't the point: From here you can get a clear picture of the way Paris is laid out. You see the city as the 12-pointed star radiating from the arc that Baron Haussmann planned it to be.
Then we walked down the Champs-Elyse'es -- more carnival-like these days than elegant, with its Benetton and fast-food places, but that proved to be about the right ratio for my daughter, who was calculating whether the sweatshirt in the window of Benetton was cheaper there than in Georgetown. There are still more traditional cafe's along the Champs-Elysse's than there are Wimpys, so we sat for a while and watched the street theater, including fire-eaters and mimes.
The Champs-Elyse'es ends at the Place de la Concorde, dominated by an obelisk carved in 1200 B.C. in Egypt and now the oldest man-made object in all the city. Kids love the history of this square since it involves guillotines. A who's who of heads rolled here, from Louis XVI to Marie-Antoinette.
Ready for a little luxury, I thought a plush tea in the garden room of one of Paris' grandest hotels, Le Crillon, might leave Courtney with an indelible notion of what French elegance is about. (This is only a partial exception to Rule Five; you don't actually have to eat here -- a drink is enough.)
Then a sharp turn to the left led us on a free walk through the gardens of the Tuileries, all that remains of the palace once occupied by Louis XVI and Napoleon I, designed by Louis XIV's gardener, Le No~tre (who also was responsible for the gardens at Versailles). There are lots of benches to sit on, children floating boats in the fountain pond, nannies pushing prams, old men playing lawn bowling and ice cream vendors. For us, it was a good way to see how Parisians spend their free time.
By this time, we had checked off most of the slides on the Viewmaster, even if we had cheated on a few of the sights and seen them only from the middle of the river. Even I was conceding that not everything needed to be seen from the inside out.
We were looking for a substantial outing, not too taxing, but with a lot of variety. We settled on the Montmarte section of the city. It has everything: height (although not as high as the Eiffel Tower), a slide (Sacre'-Coeur, the Romanesque-Byzantine church that can be seen from just about anywhere in the city), food (street vendors sell Cokes for 15F -- about $2.60 -- the cheapest in all of Paris), shopping, a wax museum and a red-light district, although Pigalle is just a shadow of its former bawdy self. Montmarte also has the advantage of being the best example of postcard Paris remaining. What child living in Washington hasn't encountered a Toulouse-Lautrec knockoff hanging on someone's wall?
We approached Montmarte slowly, by getting off the Metro at Place Pigalle rather than the closer Anvers. This took us past Picasso's studio, once gutted by fire but now rebuilt, called the Bateau-Lavoir at 13 Place Emile-Goudeau, and by the famous Historial wax works, which authentically duplicate not just people like George Sand, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir but Paris as it used to be, with cafe' scenes and artist's studios. We ran into more varied street action here than perhaps in any other section: mimes, fake Beatles Bands, artists penning instant portraits, oom-pah-pah types, even the odd Elvis impersonator.
We saved the actual climb to Sacre'-Coeur by funicular to last, and as a bonus we got to watch Paris slowly come to light as dusk fell. It doesn't really get dark in Paris in the summer until about 9:30, but the lights start coming on sooner.
Which brings me to another tour that was a hit with both of us: Paris at night. The city fathers have made lighting second only to maintaining and restoring the landmarks of Paris, and both buses and boats have 10 p.m. tours. It's true it's the easy thing to do and makes you feel virtuous to be doing anything at all at that hour, but we were ready to feel virtuous without exertion. And there is the justification that Paris is after all the City of Light.
I had held out on taking the walk down the Boulevard St.-Michel, a combination of Georgetown and Dupont Circle, with a little Mazza Galleria and a lot of blaring rock music thrown in. In the end, I agreed to the walk through hell if we could bracket it with a short tour of Notre Dame, which sits at one end of the boulevard, and the Luxembourg Gardens at the other end, with a stop at the Sorbonne in the middle. We had seen Notre Dame several times but went in, walked up the winding narrow staircase to the tower (a stepladder compared with the Eiffel Tower) and had yet another spectacular view of the city.
There are probably a lot of rules about seeing museums with a teen-ager, and I broke all of them. I always want to go for a long time, not only because it's cheaper (each visit costs about $5) but because it takes so much time to get into the spirit of the thing. There are 200,000 works to see, and just as you find the place in the half-mile stretch you want to be, it's time to go.
With the Louvre, my solution was to go once with Courtney to see the Big Three: the "Mona Lisa," the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo, and then send her off to buy postcards and small gifts along the nearby Rue de Rivoli. We met several hours later. Then several times when I had lunch plans, I placed Courtney at the Louvre in the company of da Vinci, Rubens and Vermeer for the length of her attention span, about an hour and a half: no safer place, no better company and the price is right -- children are free.
Other than the Louvre, there are two must-see museums: the Muse'e d'Orsay and the Beaubourg. The last, with its modern art, music center and cine'mathe`que -- which tells the history of movies -- is the most accessible to the young. But the Muse'e d'Orsay -- in the newly renovated Gare d'Orsay, which now houses the huge collection of the closed Jeu de Paume -- contains much that is familiar, from Monet's water lilies to Degas' ballet dancers. Both of these museums are much easier to cope with, in terms of size, than the Louvre, which is the size of several football fields. We went to the Muse'e d'Orsay on a Thursday, when it stays open until 9:30 p.m., had lunch and spent the afternoon there. We left to have an early dinner and then I returned, on the same ticket, for another couple of hours.
A warning: Most teen-agers are not going to go for Paris' amusement park, gardens and zoo, the Jardin d' Acclimatation, especially those jaded by Disneyland or King's Dominion. But if you just have to get away from pavement and buildings, take the Metro to Les Sablons on the northern edge of the beautiful Bois de Boulogne and try the bowling alley and miniature golf. You can also rent a bicycle, which allows those gross motor skills to operate in other than walking mode. Forget the pedal cars in the mock city with traffic signals and gendarmes giving tickets for running red lights, which all the guidebooks tout. It's really for young kids.
The final piece of advice I would give a parent traveling to Europe with a teen-ager is to do as I did and, after a week or so, ship him off to a French family outside Paris for a week. That removes the sense of too-much-too-soon that comes with being in Paris and brings your child back down to family-based earth. More important, the cost of all those restaurants you long to go to is cut in half by the absence of a ravenous teen-ager. You can eat all night, sleep all day, sit in cafe's and watch the world go by. You can be a kid again yourself, the one thing you can't be when your own is along.
Margaret Carlson is a Washington writer.