Family Time in Paris

Paris France March 2009

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March 2009

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. He is 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.

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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 l’Homme.

Place de Voges

Canal St Martin

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 perfect.

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.

Teachers striking in Place La Republique

Cafe on Canal St Martin

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. 

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