Oct 5, 2019

The Paris Diaries #1: How Old Ladies Travel. What They Think and Feel.

As the travel diaries head into their eighth(!!) year (I will begin as I always do) at the very beginning.  Be prepared, as always, for an excessive number of photos and an even more excessive number of words.  I'm on Sydney time in a Parisian hotel which celebrates Art Deco chic (photos in a future post) clutching a camping mug of T2 tea made with creamer (yes, owe you a photo of this too) doing what I often do at this hour - thinking, typing and wondering if it's too early to find the hotel treadmill...

These travel diaries began as a rewarding way to spend those hours waiting in lounges or getting through time zone shock each time I visited a new city.  Along the way, writing the posts has helped me create lasting and unique memories of each trip.  Without having to deal with boxes and boxes of physical knick-knacks I would otherwise have stockpiled back home as physical reminders of each trip.  

My life has changed over these years while the rituals of my travel largely have not.  I find these rituals calming and centring.  I began the travel diaries as a thirtysomething, childless newlywed.  Curious and excited about finally being one of those glamorous people who get to 'travel for work', a good twenty years or so behind my highly successful and very hard-working friends in the corporate world.

Time has marched on as the miles have been accrued.  I'm now a fortysomething single mother.  The novelty of conference travel has slightly worn off but the excitement and anticipation has not.  I remember my early years of motherhood and how the travel was the chance for a physical and emotional break for both mother and child.  Safe in the care of my extended family, the little guy has formed such strong and lasting bonds with his grandparents, uncles and aunties.  Treats would be had and bedtimes would be very elastic...  As for me?  I would return recharged (with bonus jetlag) loaded with gifts and clothes (ever tried shopping for a child's clothes with said child?  It's much easier to buy in bulk overseas on your own...).

Leaving on trips as the parent of a Year 1 student is bittersweet.  The need for physical rest and nights of uninterrupted sleep are less while the missing of a little person who feels, asks and makes you laugh increases.  The gifts are different now.  I have been given a specific list of little things to find as well as instructions about which stuffed toy gets to travel with me as my 'half lucky charm' (it's always Tigger and he's only half as lucky as a charm as the OG Master SSG... it is what it is).

But the excitement and anticipation are both alive and kicking.  These chances to travel as I do are a great privilege on so many levels and I will continue to embark on these little adventures with gratitude, joy and an open heart and mind.

Beginning at the very beginning, as I threatened to do earlier...

That final cup of 'proper' coffee the morning of my flight savoured after that one last run alongside the water.

QANTAS' mimosa stand and all those random but engaging conversations that seem to happen when long haul flying is imminent.  

Fresh off my chat with the guys who were bummed I was having my coffee before heading to the airport while they had to go back to work, I met another travelling parent who packed five (!!) punnets of Driscoll's special pick blueberries for his family trip to Hong Kong.  I only managed two punnets which I ate before I was even halfway to Doha.  Then there was the lady who had a case full of beauty samples and not just the sachets but face masks and dozens of mini bottles too.  Travel.  It gets strangers talking.

And just like that, time flew and so did I.  Boom tish.

As always, I lived my best life on the plane.

After my traditional watching of 'Ocean's Eight' (still love your hair, Deborah Ocean / Sandra Bullock), it was time to watch 'Big, Little Lies' season 2.  Isn't it nice to see women being portrayed in film and television in all their diversity and complexity?  Especially in the areas of motherhood and in their relationships.  That the 'happily ever after' is actually a mixture of love and happiness with a whole lot of frustration, impatience, anger and fear.  I am enjoying the progress that the entertainment industry as a whole is making in telling the stories of a wider range of people and life stages.

After 15 hours of enforced restfulness, those legs of mine were more than up for a 3-minute power walk to my connecting flight at Hamad International.

And then it was back to some enforced screen time ... and some last-minute French language cramming.

I've just discovered Simsdirect!  $44 AUD gave me 5G of data for use over 30 days (no hidden costs).  I can text locally in Europe with a UK mobile number.  It was so easy to set up, all you need to do is pop your new SIM in and you're ready to overshare on the Gram the moment you hit the airport. 

Beyond Charles du Gaulle, Paris looked like this for me on the day I landed - a Friday, I believe.

Parc Monceau is my local green space.  Two minutes walk from my hotel.  This is 'just' a side entrance...

This is my other landmark, Mr Loo's Pagoda on the corner of rue Rembrandt and rue de Courcelles in the 8th arrondissement.  It's my cue that tells me I'm heading in the right direction to the Metro and well yes... the shops.

Speaking of shops.  I won't lie.  The only reason I paid a visit to the Elysee Palace fresh off the plan yesterday was because of its strategic (for me) position on Rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore.

The police presence was heavy.  I'm not sure if this is a regular level of security for Paris in this day and age.  I had been warned that high police and military visibility was one of the major differences other travellers had observed in Paris recently but the heads up didn't prepare me for how I would feel myself walking so closely to heavily armed defence personnel a block away from cafes and the spendy boutiques.  I held my breath, walked that little bit more quickly and couldn't help visually scanning everything around me one more time just to be sure.....

Strategic shopping mission planned, it was time for lunch at 'my park'.

Which was a Buddha Bowl from Monoprix and managed to operate the self scanner on my own.  Conditioning and routine is a universal language, isn't it?  I could even make a best guess at the message that came up in French.  The scanner had detected an unexpected item in the checkout area.... 

I walked around some more after lunch in the park

before heading back to the hotel to meet my Citroen driving tour guide, Jean Paul of 2CV Paris Tourss.

It was such an amazing way to spend my first afternoon back in Paris.  Jean Paul was informative and volunteered to take touristy photos of me all over the city.  He also has driving skills I could learn from in my daily battles with the traffic of Sydney.  I have no idea how he knew when he could turn left and why he could stop in the middle of a busy motorway because there were't any signs telling him what he could or could not do like there are in Sydney.  There's a sign for everything driving-related in Sydney...

Casually looking up at the Arc de Triomphe through the top of an open-roofed Citroen on a Friday afternoon....

Everyone in Paris loves vintage Citroens and people would stop to smile and cheer Jean Paul on as we drove.  I was privileged to be a plus one as these local celebs showed me Paris.

The Moulin Rouge.

The whistle-stop tour took me through the city then on to Montmarte, Marais and St Germain.

I have a few walking tours planned for next week so this drive was helpful in helping me get my bearings.

Obligatory photo with the Citroen and the Eiffel Tower...

I took in a breathtaking view of Paris from Square Louise-Michel

with the Sacre-Couer behind me.

Paris is the city of love and of light.  

But it's not just a place for romantic love, it's a place that celebrates the love of life and humankind.  Already, it's been a place for me to make new and happy memories of this fascinating city and its people.  It will be interesting to reflect some more over the next week about how we've both changed, Paris and I, in the eleven years since we last met.

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