Visiting France in March is both
the best of times and the not-so-good times. Tourist traffic is almost
non-existent, except for the “must see” spots in Paris but just like in
Ottawa, the weather is uncertain. We were greeted in Paris on the 18th
of March with sunny skies and temperatures reaching 15 C during the day.
That weather didn’t last. The winds blew, the skies were overcast, the
temperature dropped and the rains came. Our fleece we left behind in
Paris when we left for the tropics was well used and we made sure to
have rain jackets and umbrellas on our excursions. It still didn’t rain
all day but it was better to choose activities with an indoor element.
Our first order of business in
Paris was to see our daughter Erica, her husband Andrew and their two
boys, Atticus, 4 and Roman, 2. Just as we did in November, we
accommodated ourselves around their busy routines. It is a hectic
household on weekday mornings as the children are readied for school or
day care and the parents get themselves to work. Andrew is busy studying
International tax havens, much in the news recently, at the OECD.
pleased that his contract has been renewed until October 2012, so there
will be more trips to Paris for us in the future. Erica is a librarian
at a private bilingual school this year and hopes to return next year.
We tried to help out when we weren’t wandering around Paris, shopping
and preparing supper and keeping the laundry pile at a reasonable level.
We came to Paris a few days
earlier than originally planned so that Ray could attend an appointment
with Dr Dauzac, an Orthopaedic specialist. We were glad that Erica was
able to take the afternoon off school and act our interpreter. Dr Dauzac
reviewed the MRI photos and results done in Georgetown, Malaysia and
pronounced Ray well on his way to recovery. Dr Dauzac confirmed that no
surgical intervention is required but that he should not carry anything
heavy. Jeanne keeps her job as the packhorse. Outside of perhaps delay
bicycling for a few more weeks, Ray is expected to be able to resume his
usual active lifestyle as soon as he likes. The rule is that any
activity that doesn’t hurt, is fine.
This was good news for a walking
city like Paris. We were able to visit several areas in Paris that I had
visited previously but Ray had not. We made a walking tour of the Marais
area, including Place des Voges, admiring the architecture. We visited
the Picasso Museum in the Hôtel de Sale and the Musée de Quai Branly,
the brainchild of former President Jacques Chirac, an avid admirer of
aboriginal arts. It combines former collections from the Musée National
des Artes d’Afrique et Oceanie (Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia)
with some of the North and South American collections from the Musée de
We also visited areas that neither of us had seen
before. We wandered along part of the Canal St Martin. Opened in 1825 by
Napoleon I to supply Paris with water, it runs from the Seine north for
4.5 km. Tour boats ply the canal, as they do the Seine and pleasure
boats travel through the locks. There are even permanently moored barges
serving dinner to tourists and offering entertainment from rock bands to
light opera. Our walks took us through more parks, including the
beautiful Butte Chaumont with high hills and a lake. The Cour St Émilion,
with wine storage warehouses converted into upscale shops and
restaurants, was a good place to explore when the weather was less than
There is always a strike of one workers group or
another in Paris. This spring the teachers, including those at Atticus’
school were staging rotating strikes. We discovered why striking is such
a popular activity, issues aside. On our way back after one of our
excursions we ran into crowds of demonstrators congregating at La
Republique Metro stop. The teachers were gathering into their respective
union groups. Forget violence, it was a happy party atmosphere with live
bands, banners and balloons.
Paris is a “foody” city and
lunch is the best time to get a good value complete meal. Most Parisians
eat a long, multi-course lunch with a glass of wine so we often did the
same. Many companies provide 8€ food vouchers for their employees to be
used in a wide variety of restaurants. This is a government
subsidization program designed to encourage the restaurant industry. It
works. The restaurants are crowded with happy diners every day between
noon and 2 PM.
We can attest to the quality of food served in the
restaurants. We enjoyed coffee and croissants at several of the outdoor
cafés. We enjoyed a variety of meals during our stay. We met Erica at
two restaurants near her school and chose their “formule” lunch, a
multi-course bargain. We had lunch in a good vegetarian restaurant on
Île St Louis, had Vietnamese Phô soup in the Asian district and sampled
a plât de jour on the pedestrian market street, Rue Cler. Of course,
most of the lunches taste best when accompanied by a carafe of wine.
Erica and Andrew enjoyed a quiet
weekend in Lyon while the grandparents entertained their children. They
found the town much more attractive than they anticipated. Despite cold,
hard rain, they wandered the old town, built along the Rhône and Saône
Rivers. They included a little culture with a performance of the ballet
Giselle at the opera house on Saturday night. Being confirmed foodies,
they carefully researched restaurants and booked for Friday night and
Saturday noon meals. Their conclusion was that the Paul Bocuse
restaurant was not as good as they had been led to expect but their
Saturday lunch at Café Comptoir Abel made up for it.
While their parents were in
Lyon, the grandparents took the boys swimming at the Montparnasse pool.
The kids had a great time in the smaller pool jumping to us from the
sides. Sunday we took the boys to the nearby park where they exhausted
us kicking their soccer balls around and playing on the equipment.
Atticus has outgrown his Skuut wooden bicycle. His indulgent
grandparents took him to a local sports store and bought him a “trotinette”,
known as a scooter in North America. We considered that to be a safer
option for crowded sidewalks than a bicycle. Atticus loved riding the
trotinette to the park and is diligently practising his coasting
techniques. By next summer, Roman will be eating up the sidewalks on the
Skuut. For now he likes to pedal as he is pushed on his tricycle.
Eventually it was time for us to
say goodbye to our grandchildren and return to Ottawa. We look forward
to our next trip to explore more of Paris.