The day begins at 8:00 A.M. as you leave the Odéon hotel in the sixth arrondissement, Saint-Germaine-de-Prés. You and your partner are vacationing with your two children, ages 5 and 9, who want to trace the footsteps of their favorite literary character through Paris. The children are ardent admirers of Madeline, the fearless Parisian heroine of Ludwig Bemelmans’ series of children’s picture books, the first of which was published in 1939. Bemelmans also illustrated his books and he drew the twelve little boarding house occupants and their governess/nurse in many well-known Parisian settings, from the Place de la Concorde to the Bois de Bologne. So, today your family is setting out on "The Madeline Tour", a full day’s itinerary planned to inform and delight the child in all of you.
From the hotel you walk a short distance on Rue de l’Odéon, which intersects with Rue Racine at the Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe. Jogging to either your left or right to go around the theater, you can then cross Rue de Vaugiraud, which will take you to the entrance at the northeast corner of the Luxembourg Gardens. You have about one and a half hours to spend here, and you want to get some breakfast from one of the crepe makers in the park and visit the children’s area, as well as explore the wide pathways that were made for walking amongst the trees and flowers. Of course the children have brought their Madeline books with them, planning to compare what they see with their eyes to the illustrations they know so well!
When you are ready to leave, exit onto Rue Guynemer from the northwest side of the park. Taking a right turn upon exiting, walk north on Rue Guynemer. Cross the street at Rue de Vaugirard, make a jog to the left to get onto Rue Cassette and continue north. Crossing Rue de Mézières, continue until you intersect with Rue de Rennes. The Saint-Sulpice Métro stop is now only a short distance away. On the Métro you are going to take the #4 line, towards Port de Clignancourt. It is four stops to Cité, on the Ile de la Cité.
When you arrive on the Ile it’s about 10:00, still pretty early by tourist standards. The Métro stop from which you exit is one of the prettiest in Paris, one of the original stops from around 1900, done in the Art Nouveau style. As you glance to your right you see a beautiful display of color – it’s the marché aux fleurs, which of course you have to wander through before going on to Notre Dame Cathedral. As you exit the flower market, make sure that you are on the Rue de Lutèce, with Notre Dame on your right. Follow Rue de Lutèce to Rue de la Cité and turn right. Follow it to the first cross street that you come to, turn left and continue to the Rue d’Arcole, which will take you to the front of Notre Dame. Here you can compare your Madeline illustration to the magnificent real thing. Hopefully you will be in better weather than the 12 little girls of Bemelmans’ illustration were! While you can go inside, and climb the 225 step spiral staircase of the North Tower if you wish, that’s not your objective today – not with two children in tow!
Once you’ve had your fill of the Parvis-de-Notre-Dame (the busy square in front of the cathedral) you can walk around to the right side of the square and down to the river where you will find the BatoBus stop. Board the first boat that comes along - you shouldn’t have to wait long, as they run about every 30 minutes. The BatoBus will continue east, taking you past the Ile Saint-Louis, the smaller of the two islands. The boat will go as far as the Jardin des Plantes on the Left Bank, then turn and head west for the return trip up the Seine.
As you approach the western end of Ile de la Cité, make sure you have your book open and ready to check out the Pont Neuf, oldest existing bridge in Paris. This illustration is from Madeline’s Rescue, and is the bridge from which Madeline falls into the River Seine. Continuing west on the river, you will pass the heart of old royal Paris – the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and Place de la Concorde. On the opposite side, you’ll see d’Orsay Museum, which was once a train station and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the domed roof of Hôtel des Invalides. You’ll also travel under some wonderful bridges, including the ornately decorated Pont Alexander III.
By the time you arrive at the point of debarkation near the Eiffel Tower, you are all well-rested but hungry. It’s time to have some lunch and you have a special place in mind, so you start off across the Pont d’Iena to Les Jardins du Trocadéro.
Pausing briefly to look back across the river at the Tower, you walk through to the other side to the Métro stop at the Place du Trocadéro, talking about some of the scenes in which the Tour Eiffel appears in the Madeline stories. You board the #9 line towards Mairie de Montreuil, traveling only one stop to Franklin D. Roosevelt on the Champs-Elysee. Changing to the #1 to Château de Vincennes, you go three stops and exit at the Tuileries. You will find yourself on the Rue de Rivoli, on the north side of the Jardin de Tuileries. Walk west on the Rue de Rivoli, to number 226 (if you see Rue de Castiglione, you’ve gone too far) where you enter the beautiful salon de thé, Angélina.
By 1:00 or 1:30 you’ve all finally finished your leisurely Parisian lunch. The children were so impressed with the quiet elegance of the restaurant that they used their very best manners throughout. Now, though, you all are ready to walk off some of the effects of Angélina’s special hot chocolate, Le Chocolate Africain, so you head for Tuileries Garden. The Bemelmans illustration from Madeline doesn’t match up very well with the present day park, but there will be enough similarities that the children will be able to compare the two scenes. Very recognizable in the drawing is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, with its beautiful rosy marble columns and bronze horses of San Marco (copies of the originals from Venice). As you stroll through the park it’s a good opportunity to talk about the length of time that the gardens have been in use and try to imagine all the different people that have enjoyed the space through the hundreds of years – perhaps if they try very hard, the children might be able to imagine gentlemen in tall black top hats and ladies in elaborately decorated dresses of silk with matching parasols slowly strolling through the park on the same pathways on a fine sunny Parisian day.
After a couple of hours you are ready to move on once again, so you exit the garden by heading south on the Avenue du Général-Lemonnier. This will take you down to the Seine, where you can stroll along the Quai du Tuileries to the Quai du Louvre (heading east). Cross to the Left Bank at the Pont Neuf, remembering that this was the bridge that you saw from the BatoBus. The street that you will find yourself on after stepping from the Pont Neuf is the Rue Dauphine. You can follow it south to Rue de Buci, a short, narrow bit of street that has a wonderful food market. Again, as with the marché aux fleurs earlier in the day, you cannot pass by without poking around a bit! A short time later, as you are walking out of the market, you realize that, amazingly enough after the lunch you had, you are hungry again – it must be all the walking that does it!
Continuing east, the Rue de Buci turns into the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts. There are many inexpensive little places to eat tucked amongst the little clothing shops and shoe stores, but you continue on to #27, La Crêperie des pêcheurs. This little crêperie, with its rough wooden walls hung with painted seascapes and its cotton string fishing nets hanging from the ceiling has been a favorite since you discovered it on another trip long ago.
As you eat your galette and listen to the children talk enthusiastically about the day’s adventures you’re happy knowing that you’ll be hearing these same stories long after the picture books rest on the shelf.