This is the second instalment of my trip to Paris with my 10-year-old daughter Paula. The first part of the story is here.
Stepping back in time
Lunch in the little French Café costs a small fortune and had he been there my penny-pinching husband would have certainly mentioned this over every forkful. In stead, I relish my Croque Monsieur and salad and my rare freedom to enjoy every delicious bite.
After our meal, Paula and I stroll down towards the historical heart of Paris around Ile de la Cité, caught up in the maelstrom of slow-moving American tourists and annoyed Parisians weaving their way purposefully through the crowds.
What promised to be a bright Spring day, had matured into the glorious sunshine and cloudless skies of mid-Summer and we strip off layer after layer, stuffing coats and jumpers into my bulging back sack. With every layer I discard some leftover anxiety about stepping back in time with my daughter.
I let Paula dictate our pace as being a tourist in Paris can be exhausting, even for adults, but I needn’t have worried. She shows no sign of wanting to slow down, exhilarated by her beautiful surroundings and long-awaited quality time with mum.
We stumble across the Pont de L’Archeveche, which comes as a surprise to me. Our guidebook solves the mystery. Covered in brightly decorated and engraved padlocks attached to its wrought iron railings, the bridge is a glittering testimony to romance. Apparently couples lock the padlocks onto the bridge, declaring undying love and then throwing the keys in the Seine. For Paula this is the stuff of fairytales, but my inner cynic can’t help wondering how many of the rusty keys on the bed of the Seine now belong to broken hearts.
Next stop: Centre Pompidou – a monstrous modern building of glass, cubes and utility pipes running on its outside. Its bold colours and sharp contours a shock to the senses after the medieval magic of the city’s gentle heart.
Paula and I giggle hysterically at the obscene twisted, colourful sculptures in the fountain in front of this cultural centre, taking turns to pose for photographs.
Footsore and slightly sun-burnt, but with soaring hearts we find our way back to our humble two-star hotel to take a break from five hours of uninterrupted walking.
Sacré Coeur – keeping a promise
Buoyed by our successful day, I decide to take advantage of the beautiful light and venture out a bit further to the hilly Montmartre, from which the sparkly white basilica of Sacré Coeur rises above the city like an overprotective parent.
The narrow, cobblestoned streets are as always teeming with tourists shuffling from tiny shop to shop, touting the same bright fridge magnets, Eiffel Tower-emblemed T-shirts and kitsch trinkets destined to end up in forgotten drawers thousands of miles away.
We pass through the hordes, declining invitations from street artists to be immortalised with a few pencil strokes, and climb the endless stairs leading up to the brightly lit dome of the basilica like a stairway to heaven. Paula matches my every step. We peer into windows offering enviable glimpses of bohemian Parisian life along the way, similar to the windows of opportunity which enticed a much younger me to become a part of it.
By the time we reach the top, it is dark and the city opens up in front of us in a sea of magnificent lights, just as it did 11 years before, when my husband promised me the sun, moon and stars if I moved to Paris with him.
Despite some seriously tough times, I realise I would probably agree all over again if he asked me here, with the white dome towering above us and the illuminated icons of the city at our feet.
By now the crowd had thinned out and suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by loutish, drunken youths involved in an argument on the brink of turning violent. I grab Paula’s hand and we fly down the stairs back to the safety of a touristy bistro, where we squeeze in among two tiny tables, indecently close to our neighbours, and recall the highlights of the day over chicken nuggets and Coca (Paula) and a quarter poulet and du vin rouge (me).
If you want to know what else Paula and I did in Paris – keep reading my blog, the third instalment is on its way.