france – deuxième jour

Just eleven short months after we arrived back in Australia, please enjoy the story of my second day in France. You can find the story of day one here, and the prologue to the trip here.


 

Having realised on my first day in France that my nice looking coat from Australia was just that, nice looking, we went warm coat shopping after a breakfast of brioche and yoghurt at the flat. After some messing around we found a high tech convertible warm jacket/rain jacket at a sports store. It’s not as nice looking as my Australian coat but being significantly warmer, 100% more rain proof and with eleventy-million secret zip compartments for valuables, it was certainly more suitable for long days walking through Paris. Importantly, it was also loose enough to fit comfortably over my favourite “Gran knit” wool jumper, another thing the Australian coat was just not up to. I was finally feeling warm and comfortable, so we began our day’s adventures.

We caught the train to the Catacombs but we’d lost valuable tourist time at the warm coat shop and by the time we arrived the line stretched around the block. We decided we didn’t need to see the Catacombs that much and we would try again another day. We crossed the road to head back to the train station and noticed Cafe Oz. Oh, LOL.

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We had a chat about what we might like to do with our day now that we weren’t going to see the catacombs and we decided on Musée d’Orsay so Monsieur asked a familiar looking local for directions, and then we made our way there. The lines to get in were, you guessed it, MASSIVE. We decided that since we’d failed to get to any of the popular tourist destinations very early in the morning, today was not our day for big tourist attractions in Paris, so we decided to go to Jardin des Plantes.

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IMG_4104A home for wild bees (les abeilles sauvages)

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IMG_4110 The Winter garden greenhouse (le jardin d’hiver).

We were able to see the layout of the whole site and some interesting structures but being Winter many of the garden beds were bare. I would love to see this garden in Spring or Summer.

We passed around an hour wandering the grounds, enjoying the clear blue skies and deliciously crisp fresh air, we decided to have a look at The Grand Gallery of Evolution at Muséum National D’historie Naturelle. Their huge collection of taxidermied animals was, in a word, incredible.

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The models of undersea creatures on the ground floor was interesting, and entertaining…

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After a couple of hours in the museum, during which I surprised myself with how much I could understand of the French written on signs next to displays (understanding written French is apparently a lot easier for me than either understanding spoken French, or speaking it myself!), we left the museum and the garden to continue walking some more streets of Paris.

Monsieur wanted to look inside Cathédrale Notre Dame, where we had been the night before, so we headed in that direction.

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Once again the line was enormously long and we elected not to join it. Who were all these people and why were they on holidays between Christmas and New Year’s Eve?!

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I am not a particularly competitive person usually but, for whatever reason, every time Monsieur and I were at the top or bottom of a flight of stairs (there are a lot of stairs in Paris), we would begin the descent or climb romantically, Parisian-ly arm in arm but finish it racing to be the first to reach the end. During one of these horribly immature not-racing-races I hurt my knee and it was at about this time that I realised that my good looking boots were also about as useful as my good looking coat had been when it came to walking up and down the streets, and steps, of Paris.

As the day ended exhaustion hit me, I had hit the ground running when I landed in Paris and after two days of walking, wide eyed wonder and mind stretching new experiences I was ready to shift down a gear. We made our way back to the flat where we had takeaway from a slightly dodgy kebab place over the road and retired fairly early. The next day would be New Year’s Eve and we had big plans to begin our day very early and end it very late…

 

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france – premier jour

Welcome to the second instalment in my stories from France. See the prologue here.

 

From the airport we make our way through the cold and still dark morning to the flat we will be staying at for the next two nights, it belongs to a member of Le Monsieur’s extended family and she wouldn’t be using it until new year’s eve. Now this will sound like a vomitous (is definitely a word) romantic cliché but I have no real clear recollection of my first train trip on the Paris metro because I was so fucking stoked to be with my love. I know there was luggage, and it was squishy for most of the trip but we got on the train very far from the centre of Paris so we did get to sit down. I know felt a rush of excitement as we disembarked the train, feeling sure we’d end up leaving luggage on the train or get separated after the pep talk Le Monsieur gave me about being ready to jump off quickly because we can’t make the trains stay at the station by blocking the door from closing like we can in Perth. I know also that I talked Le Monsieur’s ear off, not because I actually remember doing it, just because I know it’s what I do!

We got to the flat where I had a much anticipated shower, it wasn’t a particularly flash shower and it was probably in the smallest bathroom I’ve ever been in but I hadn’t showered in at least 24 hours and I’m a bit of a Barbie about these things so it didn’t take much to impress me at that point.

After my shower, when I was still only wearing a singlet and underpants, we opened up the windows to air out the stuffy apartment and appreciate the way the golden morning light danced across the facade of the apartment building opposite, while not quite hitting the pavement on the street below.

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It didn’t take long for the cold to chill me, the water in the gutters was frozen and the air was crisp. Le Monsieur asked me to hurry up and get dressed into the rest of my eleventy billion layers before announcing that he planned to take me to La Tour Eiffel!

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We walked back down the street toward the metro, well Le Monsieur walked and I almost skipped alongside him partly because his legs are much longer than mine and I have to skip every few steps to keep up with him and partly because I was terribly excited to be there. I waffled on and on about things that weren’t important at the time and that I can’t even remember now, and grinned stupidly at Le Monsieur.

“I’m in Paris, really, truly, actually in Paris… with you!”

On the way to La Tour Eiffel I’m warned not to walk on the puddles, because they’re ice and they’re slippery. Oh the cold! Now I know I’ve banged on about it a bit already but you’ve got to understand that the first day I was in Paris was also the coldest day of the whole three week trip, including the four days spent at a ski resort in the mountains! The damned puddles were frozen!

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Ok, so I don’t walk on them, but I totally stand safely on ice-less ground next to them and smash up the ice with the heel of my boot because frozen puddles are such a novelty for a woman born and bred in the land of the 9 month long Summer.

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We stroll along the Seine, and Le Monsieur films me on location telling a Bad Joke of the Day joke that I’ve been planning to tell for months. Here it is for your listening pleasure…

After filming that terrible joke we cross the road to get to La Tour Eiffel and FAR OUT! It’s so very, very, very excellent. We take ridiculous pictures and make a silly video to send to the sproggets.

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It’s here that I choreograph the first of what becomes a series of photos we call “peekaboo”…

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I wanted a picture of La Tour Eiffel from underneath, but I wanted it to be a picture that was ours, not some generic photo of one of the most photographed monuments in the world so,

“Hey can you please lean over the phone so just your eyes are showing like this…”

Yahoo, peekaboo!

We walk down the avenue away from the tower, through the crowds of people lining up to climb it, past market stalls especially set up for the holiday season – all selling the same mass produced souvenirs.

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Le Monsieur has his DSLR camera, he bought two new lenses for it before he left for France, and the camera and camera bag become a daily feature over the next three weeks.

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After La Tour Eiffel we walk across one of the many spectacular bridges that cross the river Seine and on the other side I make my first attempt at purchasing something in France. Naturally, I cock it up but the man serving me clearly speaks English, has a laugh at my expense and hands me the bottle of water, I take it and we head toward L’Arc de Triomphe. Boyo has specifically requested that I get a picture of it for him, so we take several…

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From there we walk down the Champs Elysees. It’s horribly crowded but we check out a few shops, looking for a warmer beanie for Le Monsieur and better gloves for me. We find a lot of ridiculous looking woollens and have a bit of fun playing around with them, but we don’t find anything just right.

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In one of the shops we see this really tall guy and get a picture for my brother-in-law who once had a wooden giraffe of which he was quite fond.

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At the end of the Champs Elysees we walk through another seasonal market, finally finding some warmer woollen accessories for the both of us there, and decide to head out to have a look at Notre Dame.

We pull out the map and eventually work out which route we have to walk and as the sun is going down we cross another beautiful bridge on the way to Notre Dame, pausing to admire the silhouette of La Tour Eiffel on the pink and grey sky.

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Also on the way we stop at Musée du Louvre, closed for the day by this stage, but still a spectacular sight. While there Le Monsieur has a brilliant idea…

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Just kidding, he just happened to stand under a street light.

We head on to Notre Dame, getting there well after dark.

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It’s quite spectacular and quite humbling for me to be standing next to a building that’s older than any I’ve ever seen before.

We decide to grab dinner at a place over the road from Notre Dame. I’m utterly exhausted by this stage, it being extremely late back home in Australia and despite my restful flight my body still wants to function on Australian time. Extreme tiredness and not being sufficiently layered with clothing to be warm enough have made me ridiculously hungry and I eat a larger meal than I have in recent memory.

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After our satisfying dinner we roll back to the metro where we spend a bit of time being confused over the huge number of trains available to catch before choosing the right train line and heading back to the flat. Day one is over. We’ve covered a huge distance on foot, seen so much and had a wonderful day reconnecting after more than three weeks apart. I’d call it perfection really.


The pictures in this post are all from my iPhone, and Le Monsieur has some that are of far better quality on his computer. I’ll get onto him about handing them over this weekend and hopefully post some really fantastic pictures of the same stuff next week. Until then, enjoy the story and stay tuned for pictures and stories from day two.
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france – prologue

“I’m not coming to France. There is nothing that will make me get on that plane.”

He sighs. Here we go again. I can hear the frustration in his voice as he patiently asks me,

“Why?”

I list a multitude of “reasons”. The same reasons he talked me down from a couple of days ago, and a couple of days before that, and a couple of days before that too…

I’ll miss my children. I’m afraid of flying. I can’t speak French. I’m afraid his family will hate me. I’m afraid of skiing. I’m afraid I will run out of money. I’m afraid…

It’s the day after Christmas. Tomorrow will be Boyo’s birthday. I have a ticket to fly to France the day after that.

Le Monsieur convinces me, again, that it’ll be ok. My sisters convince me, again, that it’ll be ok. My Mum convinces me, again, that it’ll be ok. My brothers in law convince me, again, that it’ll be ok. Even my twelve year old niece joins in with the chorus of people convincing me that it’ll be ok as she deftly picks apart every single one of my reasons to bail on the trip I’d been planning for several months.

The morning of Boyo’s birthday I wake before the sproggets. We are staying in a caravan at my elder sister and brother in law’s house in the south west of WA and even though it’s very early the caravan is flooded with the clear blue light of an Australian Summer dawn. Boyo lays asleep next to me, his impossibly long eyelashes dusting his smooth, pink cheeks. I don’t remember him coming into my bed overnight but in that moment as I watch him sleeping, studying his perfect just-turned-five-years-old face, I am grateful that he did.

I hear Girlie’s soft snoring from the other end of the caravan and realise that my eyes are wet. I’m going to miss them so much.

Boyo thinks his birthday is pretty much the best thing ever. He’s especially excited this year because he had gastro the day he turned four and today he is feeling well enough to make up for the lack of celebration the year before. His Dad drives from Perth to join us for a picnic under some gum trees. At the end of the day, we go back to my elder sister’s house. I’m packing up our things in the caravan in preparation for moving the sproggets to my younger sister’s house down the road, where they will stay for the three weeks that I am in France. I freak out again. My elder sister had spinal surgery in mid-December so she’s laying in her bed, recovering from being up and about at the birthday picnic. I go to talk to her. She talks me down. She suggests I visit my younger sister at work at talk to her about my concerns. I do, and on the way I call Le Monsieur and freak out at him (again).

Eventually, through the effort of those around me I’m calm again. We are at my younger sister’s house, in the room she has set up to be the sproggets’ bedroom for the next three weeks. We have read them stories, I have tucked them in, we are talking about my imminent departure. They are both so tired, but they don’t want to go to sleep because they know I will be leaving when they do. I decide that I’ve got to leave while they’re still awake, it’s the most fair way to do it. I cuddle my babies, I tell them I love them, that I hope they have a wonderful holiday with their Aunty and that I’ll see them at the airport in three weeks. I walk out of the room, hug my sister and thank her again for the incredible, generous and loving gift she is giving me by taking on guardianship of my babies while I do this thing I need to do for me.

It’s really late and I have a three hour drive to get back to Perth tonight. I have to go. I’m not even five minutes down the road when my phone beeps with a message that I don’t check until I pull over more than an hour later, I know it’s telling me the sprogs are asleep.

I call my Mum from the road side at midnight. The plan had been that I would call her when I got back to Perth, she’d pick me up from my house and I’d stay with her for my last night. I had cleaned the house and stripped the beds before we left to spend Christmas in the south west with my sisters but I tell her I won’t be home before 1.30am so she should go to bed, that I’ll sleep on the couch with a blanket and call her when I wake up in the morning. I get home and unpack, I potter about and finally lay down after 2.30am. Sleep doesn’t come easy. I tell myself that’s a good thing because it’ll be easier to sleep on the plane if I’m exhausted. I’ve never flown long haul before, but I’ve heard it’s horrid…

The next morning I call my Mum, she takes me to breakfast at Kings Park, for one last look at the beautiful Perth skyline before I leave, she tells me. I wonder if perhaps she’s worried I’ll fall in love with France and forget how wonderful my homeland is?

We run some errands, have a hair cut and a manicure, we are killing time before I have to be at the airport.

At the nail bar I hear that a plane has disappeared, suspected to have crashed into the ocean after a storm. What the fuck? Thanks for that one sky daddy!

Mum takes me to the airport and after I’m checked in and she’s bought me a horridly overpriced lunch she confesses that she wasn’t sure I’d make it this far. Well, I’m here now having handed over my babies yesterday and my bags just now so I suppose I’m going to France. It’s time to board so I thank my Mum, take a deep breath and get on the plane.

My first flight, to Kuala Lumpur, is awful. The turbulence is bad and the news of the missing plane weighs heavily on my mind. I discover that I am an anxious flyer. I wish Le Monsieur was with me. I wish my children we with me. I’m in a horrid limbo of being stuck in a tin can bouncing from the part of my heart I left in my homeland and the part of my heart I’m traveling toward in a distant and unknown land.

I’m so relieved to land in KL and for a moment I consider asking to swap my ticket to France for a ticket back to Perth. That way I will still have to get on another plane but only once and not for 13.5 hours. My stopover is only two hours and before I’m really consciously aware of what’s happening I’m sitting in the departure lounge waiting to board my next plane. A french man sitting next to me tells someone that he’s just received word that it’s snowing in Paris. This news makes my heart skip a beat and I start to feel a bit excited. There’s snow, and there’s my lover, at the end of this flight…

As I’m sitting in my designated seat a flight steward approaches me,

“Excuse me madam, there are seats free at the back of the plane if you’d like a row to yourself?”

What luck! I’ve heard this happens very rarely, already this flight is better than the first.

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I move to the back of the plane and gratefully spread myself out across three seats. My first long haul flight is a dream, quite literally as I am able to lay down to sleep for 8 hours of the 13.5 hour flight. I’d had very little sleep at home the night before and so sleep comes easy. When I land in Paris at 7am local time my face, hands and feet are visibly swollen, but I’m refreshed and my body is already prepared for local time. I did it. I’m in Paris and I’m so close to seeing my love.

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I follow the crowds through customs, get a stamp in my brand new passport, collect my bag and walk through the arrivals gate. I scan the crowd for Le Monsieur, I see him before he sees me and I run toward him, launching myself at him. It is so, so, so good to see him, to smell him, to kiss him again. My eyes are wet, again, unsurprisingly because I cry at anything. He pulls himself away from me,

“Do you have another coat in your bag? Now is the time to put it on if you do, it’s very cold.”

We move to the side and I put on extra layers. I’m actually here. I’m in France. With Le Monsieur’s hand in mine I walk through the airport doors and a rush of cold hits me. I’ve never felt so cold in all my life and it’s time for our adventure to begin…

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lying on the floor in a puddle of sad

Lying on the floor in a puddle of sad.

That’s what Boyo was doing at the airport this afternoon when we took Monsieur Lapin Blanc to catch his flight.

In that moment, as I watched my child slump to the ground and cry I was torn between feeling utter frustration at his display and a desire to join him on the floor as he lay there crying. He had a freedom you see, that children have and most adults don’t. He felt free to express his emotions, not sanitised for socially acceptable consumption, just as they come.

Boyo was tired, and Boyo was overwhelmed. Boyo also wanted me to take out a personal loan to buy him a drink from the overpriced airport cafe because he didn’t bring his water bottle with him. I didn’t deal with it very well. I was tired and I was overwhelmed. I didn’t want to take out a personal loan to buy a drink from the overpriced airport cafe. Most of all, I didn’t want to be going home without Monsieur. My petulant inner child didn’t want to say goodbye to Monsieur because that’s hard. We said goodbye to Monsieur though, and went to a shop on the way home to buy comfort eating supplies (chocolate) and wrapping paper. Saying goodbye felt weird. I feel a bit weak. Knowing that it’s only for a few weeks, it shouldn’t be so hard, right? Well, it was. It is.

I know that Monsieur has his family waiting for him at the other end. His mother, his father, and his sister and her family are excited to see him after an absence of far more than three weeks, and he is excited to see them. I am pleased for him, that he has such wonderful things planned for the time he will have with his family. I desperately hope he has a fabulous time and I look forward to meeting his family when I join him at the end of the month. I just wish that saying seeya later didn’t feel so hard.

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