BackPacking Granny hits Paris

“Could you please hold my crutch?”, I asked the England rugby supporter, as I struggled to get on the bus at the Gare du Nord. (I had a broken pelvis, the result of a rather too good a lunch in Antigua and some bravado on a bicycle!) However that is another story, and anyway it was 12 years ago and I wasn’t a granny then.

Last week I went to Paris, and found myself manoeuvering my grandson’s buggy, balancing the very heavy nappy/ baby bag on the handle of the buggy and carrying my own rucksack! My two sons and their wives were pushing, pulling and carrying all the other luggage you need when you travel with a 7 month baby from Australia to the UK and then on to Paris all in the inside of a week.

My heart sank as I looked at the taxi queue at the Gare du Nord, which was long and dismal, and I reckoned it would be at least a half an hour wait. I started to walk to the end of the queue beckoning my family to follow me.

” Venez, venez ici ” said the uniformed taxi queue official, “Moi” I looked at him horrified wondering what awful thing I had done wrong, I know I’m not an advanced buggy driver, but I didn’t think I had hit him. He gesticulated, as only the French can do, and I realised he was waving me and the buggy to the front of the queue. My two sons and their wives followed with an alacrity I haven’t seen in years.

” Pourquoi? ” I enquired….

-” Le bebe, le bebe”

And with that he whistled, and a people carrier taxi slid to a stop in front of us. My sons threw our mountain of luggage, buggy and all the bags in the back.  All you need is a baby!  And you get put at the front of the queue!  I wonder if my son would let me take the baby every time I travel!

“Where we go?” said the taxi driver to me ………..(being the control freak that I am,) I had assumed leader of the tour activities, anyway I was travelling with my children, 41 and 33 years old, so it was natural. The fact that one of them is a CEO and the other a Senior Strategist had not deterred me but then I always have been a bossy boots!!

I handed the taxi driver the address……….. I watched his neck get redder and redder…

” Eet is 3 minutes by the foot,” he said, ”you walk?”

Why are all taxi drivers so grumpy?

My sons collapsed in giggles.  BPG hadn’t looked at the map! The taxi driver was getting crosser and crosser; the   embarrassment of having to disembark was just too awful to contemplate….

” Tant pis” I said to the taxi driver, doing my best Queen Mum acting, head tilted and a sweet smile. “I will pay you 20 Euros.  Just DRIVE US THERE.

He did, and I am now a laughing stock.

BPG who travels to darkest Peru, BPG who negotiates sampan rides, and BPG who argues with Tuk tuk drivers was a complete and absolute wus!

Moving on, I am happy to say the apartment was absolutely wonderful, booked by my clever daughter-in-law through the Internet with a company called airbnb. The apartment is, as you know, 3 minutes from the Gare du Nord, very central, fabulously equipped kitchen, seating for ten, (we even  had a dinner party). It was scrupulously clean, a huge sitting room and kitchen,  3 bedrooms, a nursery and bathroom, and second loo.

Booking the apartment was a stroke of brilliance it really works for a family. It enabled us all to be together and was so easy with the baby. There were toys, a high chair, blenders, everything a mother could want. airbnb is done on trust (obviously you pay beforehand) but in terms of the apartment, you are living in the owners home, the owners’ clothes were still in their wardrobes, and their wine in the racks. There were some exciting boxes of designer shoes piled up beside the fireplace in my bedroom, size 39, my size, which looked very tempting but… I put the devil behind me and didn’t even try them on!   Probably the nearest I will ever get to a Jimmy Choo shoe!

The daughter-in-laws had done their research on places to eat; the first was a wonderful little hotel delighting in the name Hotel Amour, 8 rue de Navarin. It was very buzzy, full of creative types and fabulous food as well. A great place for an illicit weekend or to rekindle your sex life…. not that I think of these things anymore… I am told every bedroom is different and  there was some charming and rather naughty art work on the walls . We had a 4-hour lunch!

The second day, second daughter-in-law had the thumbs up from Gwyneth Paltrow on a restaurant near where we were staying called La Classe, 6 rue de Maubeuge. You sit at school desks and your wine glass goes in the inkwell. So I dipped in, excuse the pun!  Another 4 hour lunch….

The best thing about our trip, apart from the fact that it was UTOPIA for me to be with my sons and their wives, is that Parisians love babies, I thought they loved dogs but things have changed. Everywhere we went, we, and the buggy, were welcomed. The luscious hot waitresses cooed and hugged the baby, (if my sons could have climbed into the buggy for the same treatment they would have done).

The only touristy thing we did was Sacre Coeur; I waited at the bottom with the baby, whilst the others climbed to the top. It was a crisp sunny day and the thousands of tourists struggling to get pictures of themselves on the endless steps did not diminish the blue of the sky against the white of the basilica. The Champs Elysees was our next port of call, the girls wanted to go to Zara and the boys to Eden Park. Somewhat dispirited and feeling like an ugly sister, (the girls were trying on size 6 dresses), I decided to watch the beautiful people…….. well it was Paris Fashion Week. So I sat in the sun with the buggy and baby, on a bench watching the world go by. There was a woman, definitely not a model stretched out on the wide pavement sleeping, no one batted an eyelid they just stepped over her, but she wasn’t beautiful… in fact I didn’t see much Parisian chic. Perhaps they were all at the fashion parades? Most people seemed to be eating…fast food… perish the thought. The French are eating KFC and McDonalds… and we the English… Le Rosbifs had sought out the most wonderful restaurants and eaten like kings.

On our journey home, we walked to the Gare du Nord.  It took 5 minutes

The journey was seamless, my grandson continued to smile at everyone .As we arrived at St Pancras I looked at the taxi queue…. ugh… my mobile rang, our driver was waiting for us, thank heaven for Slough Taxis.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Lovely blog. And I’m definitely going to try some of your Paris suggestions for my next trip! Especially airbnb – thank you!

  2. Avatar
    Louloulapomme

    Love it! It is so true about the French with babies, dogs and the older generation. They respect them all which the British are losing sight of, possibly with the exception of dogs. An experience on our journey to France to live here was quite overwhelming. Exhausted by trying to do too much and forgetting we were too old to cope with hectic schedules, on our second trip back to our new house we accidentally filled our diesel car with petrol. Rouen was still six hours drive and we were ceremoniously tipped out by the rescue truck in the middle of the city with the dog (a 13 1/2 year old Labrador!), his bed, his food and a few overnight things. It was midday on a Saturday and nothing could be done as far as the car was concerned until the Monday. We sat at the station cafe wondering whether to hire a car and continue our journey as the dog was probably a no-no as far as hotels and restaurants were concerned. We were exhausted so I suggested we try the nearest hotel. “Do you accept dogs?” I asked in my halting French. “Mais oui! We will give you a leetel room for ‘im beside yours so ‘e can sleep good”. The dog was not impressed with their postage stamp size lift or the marble floors. Our next worry was finding a restaurant. We walked the streets with Wooster. He was in his element flirting with all the little poodles who minced past and then we approached a restaurant. “Do you allow dogs?” I again asked rather timidly. “Mais oui! ‘E is smoking or no smoking?”… Vive la France!

  3. Avatar

    I think we deserve a book filled with your deloightful anecdotes from your travels and travails!

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