As I write this, after a very early start and a long day organising staff (and my husband!), I am enjoying a glass of Provençal rosé and a double cream brie from Tasmania. It’s wonderful. The house is quiet, the cats are fed, my Paris playlist is playing…
Tonight, in honour of my son’s birthday, I write about his experiences in Paris.
My son visited a cold, wet Paris last October with friends. It was the second week of a 7 week trip and homesickness kicked in when their highly anticipated Airbnb was cancelled at very short notice for no apparent reason. I am told this is a fairly common occurrence in the large cities at the moment, as the government cracks down on short-term letting. The popularity of room-sharing has impacted the availability and pricing of long-term rental opportunities even in my city so imagine what it’s like in Paris. They found another apartment but it wasn’t a patch on the previous one and in a decidedly less salubrious neighbourhood.
The boys climbed the Eiffel Tower and visited the Louvre and generally played tourist for a few days, but they were in Paris primarily to see a band they all love and this was the obvious highlight. When he left the city for Barcelona he was happy to say goodbye. The weather hadn’t been terribly kind to them; although with more than 300 days of rain on average a year no one should expect anything but rain in Paris! Many say the city is most beautiful in the rain, to quote Midnight in Paris, but I prefer a sunny day, but I do always carry an umbrella and a shawl. They loved their Growlers concert and I think if they had stayed in a hostel they might have had a better time in my favourite city.
When my boy was tiny, probably around two years old, we were walking through a shopping centre. He was riding in the shopping cart and he spied a huge poster in the window of a travel agent, advertising Paris (as if there is any other destination…). He pointed and said ‘Mummy, look, Eiffel Tower.’ The kid had no hope; he was always going to be indoctrinated.
When he was seven, a little skinny blonde kid, we towed our caravan over from England and spent weeks in the Brittany, the Loire, the Marne and finally Paris. He was homeschooling but I think he learned far more from the travel that anything else we did that year. It helped that he was a book-worm. I am so glad we were able to do this trip pre-iPad although lugging books around was the price we had to pay.
I think my son’s memories of Paris are sun-soaked and relaxed. It’s very different visiting a city as a child, seeing it in depth over weeks, compared to visiting as an adult. He never had to worry about where he was sleeping, what he was eating, or whether he was safe. He knew he was fine as long as mum and dad were around. What a lucky boy.
Never one for theme-parks, he basically tolerated Disneyland Paris, enjoying the Star Wars themed attractions but gritting his teeth when I dragged him on the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean rides. He enjoyed the Louvre, being uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful during our visit, unlike his daddy who complained non-stop. When we left the museum, I asked my boy what he liked in the museum. Boobs, he said. I counted 15 boobs. I was a bit taken aback. 15? Sets of boobs? No, individuals, he said, but didn’t feel the need to explain further. I left him to his thoughts.
You have to remember that this all happened pre-Facebook, pre-iPhone and pre-Instagram. There were no locks on bridges and no-one was losing an eye to a selfie-stick. Of course you could search the web, but we had been on the road for a few months by this stage and had given up planning too much. It seems like so long ago that you could tempt fate and just turn up somewhere, like a psychopath. I wouldn’t dream of even going to our local surf-club without booking.
So, yes, we got very lucky seeing as an official exhibition of Star Wars props, costumes and sets had just opened at the La cité des sciences et de l’industrie at La Villette. If I had planned it, I couldn’t have done it better. On that first day in Paris we were greeted with enormous billboards in the Metro advertising the exhibit. Our boy couldn’t read the French but he would know that logo anywhere. The park at La Villette is brilliant and he rode his scooter all the way back to Paris. These days I would search maps to see what was around the local area but back then we could either pull the guide-book out or simply wander. We always chose the wandering but then we missed stuff. We missed the Canal St Martin by one street, choosing instead to follow the train line for our little train-obsessed travel companion. We were always happy as long as he was.
Speaking of which, the Paris Plage proved a huge hit with him. Australian kids are so used to being outdoors, we were so lucky with had two solid weeks of fine weather with just a couple of showers here and there, and one cracker of a thunderstorm. I thought we were back home in Tropical North Queensland. The city had closed off the expressways for the summer and he was able to do a wall-climb on the quai, overlooking the river Seine and the Ile St Louis. He was so pumped afterwards I had to stop him from climbing the lamp posts.
We had bought him the scooter in London and he rode it everywhere. I recommend it to everyone taking young kids. Let’s fact it, I’m talking about a boy. I’ve never had a girl so I can’t tell you about girls, but my son would have revolted worse than a peasant in 1789 if I had made him walk all over Paris, but he rode that scooter everywhere. When our Australian friends arrived from Italy we walked for miles, one day making our way from The Arc de Triomphe to Montmartre and back to Notre Dame, finishing our evening at the Irish pub right there on the quai. That scooter was a stroke of genius; if I do say so myself.
The scooter even went with us to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Security has always been a concern in Paris but 13 years ago you could still just wander around under the tower, or scoot around as the case may be. There was nowhere to leave the scooter and we really wanted to go up. The lines were so long…queuing with a small boy is not fun. So we climbed the stairs. When I think about my husband carrying that damn scooter up all those stairs I shake my head. What a good man, what a great dad.
He also had a soccer ball that we had picked up in England. Europe was completely football-mad with the World Cup being held in Germany that year. We spent hours in parks kicking that ball around and like all kids he found other kids to play with who were instantly his new best friends. I felt bad sometimes, taking him away from his friends so we could travel, but I knew he would benefit from it far more than it would harm him. I feel sad that he didn’t enjoy Paris as much as he did Barcelona or Amsterdam but that just means he’ll have to go back again and do it again.
Happy birthday, possum.