Paula in Paris – travels with my daughter

Aside

Two-year-old girl walking Parisian streets

A two-year-old Paula walking the Parisian streets

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.

Admiring a grand old lady
10-year-old Paula in front of Notre Dame

We admired Notre Dame from the outside

We decide not to join the endless queue to enter Notre Dame or climb the 387 stairs to the top. We mill around the busy square in front of the iconic 800-year-old cathedral, admiring the funny-faced gargoyles (stone-figures) on the facade and rose-tinted stained glass windows from outside. We try to picture Victor Hugo’s struggling Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame hiding in the towers somewhere. 

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.

Bridge covered with padlocks locked onto the bridge by lovers

A glittering testimony to romance

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.

Girl in front of sculpture in fountain

Paula poses in front of a twisted sculpture in fountain at Centre George Pompidou

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.

night-time photograph of Sacré Coeur

The sparkling white dome of Sacré Coeur.

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.

Travels with my daughter – Paris revisited

Image

Lunch in Paris on our first day

A very special gift 

This time last year my daughter Paula and I travelled to Paris for her 10th birthday for a weekend.

It was a gift that would provide us both with an endless supply of memories – the kind that form the life support of a mother-daughter relationship.

Paris was the obvious choice for what I hope will be the first of many travels with my daughter because it was where Paula spent the first two years of her life. We moved to Paris from the UK when she was only 10 days old.

A very different journey 

As we queued excitedly to board the Eurostar with hundreds of other tourists in the early hours of the morning, I was reminded of a nerve-wrecking trip 10 years ago, when my husband and I transported our fragile, crying little bundle across the channel, guarding over her like hawks.

This time the journey was much more relaxed. Paula and I fine-tuned our itinerary over coffee and hot chocolate, chatting and giggling non-stop.

Our list of must-sees included obvious tourist sites she’d been learning about such as Arc de Triumph and Eiffel Tower, as well as the more obscure haunts of an expat mum determined to enjoy her beautiful baby girl in spite of hostile Parisians and a lack of French.

She had no idea how terrified I was

As Gare du Nord was announced over the speaker system, my stomach tensed.  Could I do this? Could I really travel alone in Paris with a young child? Everyone knew I was completely directionless and hopeless at reading maps. How would I find anything without my husband – or a man by my side? My mind seemed to be erasing every French word I ever learned, rendering me helpless.

I looked down at my little girl, who was positively beaming – loving every minute of precious time alone with the mum she usually had to share with two younger brothers. She had no idea how terrified I was.

And so, I gathered our suitcases and coats and with it my courage. We got off, negotiated our way around the Paris Metro to our hotel near Notre Dame with little effort as if this was what we did every day of our lives.

First stop – lunch

After a short stop at the modest hotel to deposit our bags and in my case refresh my face, while Paula inspected every inch of the room and arranged her giraffe soft toy on the bed, we hit the Parisian streets in search of something typically French for our dejeuner.

We took our seats among office workers on lunch and map-reading tourists on the pavement outside a café. The chairs faced the busy square allowing us to observe the noisy and animated street spectacle over our Croque Monsieur and frites.

And so our adventure began…

(To be continued)

PS. If you like what you’re reading, please consider nominating me for a BIB award (see badges alongside this post to find out more) –  I can’t afford to pay you, but you’ll make my day…