Letter from Paris: In the Slow Lane

Inside entry to Hokusai exhibit at Grand Palais, Paris

Inside entry to Hokusai exhibit at Grand Palais, Paris

We’ve been moving rather slowly after our whirlwind week with Clive’s son and family.

This is partly because we wanted to make every minute count when they were here, and partly because — life being what it is, even in Paris – we both came down with bronchitis (which neither of us has ever had before). Thanks to an unexpected but worthwhile first-time visit to the American Hospital at Neuilly, where we were diagnosed and given several prescriptions, we’re finally getting back to normal. So this week we’ve opted for the slow lane, trying to balance seeing a few current exhibits with walking and bench-sitting and just soaking up this incomparable city.

Coffee and (free!) view at Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, Paris

Coffee and (free!) view at Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, Paris

If you’re headed to Paris in the next few months, we recommend the exhibits at the Musée Luxembourg (‘Paul Durand-Ruel, the Impressionist Gamble’), Musée Marmottan Monet (‘Impression, Sunrise – the Biography of a Painting’ – I went twice), Grand Palais (Hokusai, a blockbuster show with amazing depth of detail and many stunning works), and Musée Carnavalet (‘Paris Freed’ photography exhibit & views at the time of 1944 Paris liberation).

Musée Luxembourg, Paris

Musée Luxembourg, Paris

Our only major remaining event is hosting our wonderful upstairs neighbours, visiting ‘chez nous’ for the first time ever. They and their family have lived in the building for three generations, speak no English and yet could not be nicer to us. They hosted us in their apartment earlier this year and I’m pleased (and a bit nervous and excited) that we’ll finally reciprocate. Contrary to the maddening stereotype of rude Parisians, they — and others we know — could not be more kind or helpful.

The next day it will be time to say ‘Au revoir’ to Paris, board the Eurostar and return to our home by the sea in England.

Catching some lovely Vitamin D in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Catching some lovely Vitamin D in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Paris: en Famille

About to go up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

About to go up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Our time in Paris en famille is passing quickly. Clive’s son and family are making the most of their time here. They’ve seen many major sights, experienced much of what Paris has to offer, and visited Disney (Day One) and Versailles.

At the gates of Versailles, near Paris

At the gates of Versailles, near Paris

As for Clive and me, we’re savouring these last precious days before the Aussies return Down Under on Sunday.

Our last full day together will be Saturday, culminating in a Parisian birthday party (5 days early) for a special little girl who’s turning four. On the same evening in the U.S., my cousin’s daughter will be married – one of those times I think many expats can relate to, when I wish we could be multiple places at once.

Saturday night we’ll be sending love and all good wishes to the beautiful bride and groom in Massachusetts. Here in Paris, we’ll celebrate the blessing of the youngest member of the family and the time we’ve had together.

Smiling at Grandad as they share a spinning teacup at Paris Disney

Smiling at Grandad as they share a spinning teacup at Paris Disney

Her grandad will be quite emotional when she and her family depart on Sunday, and I’ll be by his side to wave them good-bye. All being well, we’ll next see them in Australia next March.

Walking from Passy metro, Paris

Walking from Passy metro, Paris

Not that Clive and I are tired or anything, after keeping up with the Aussies, but I’m thankful we’ll have another (almost) week in Paris to move at a slightly slower pace, see a few current exhibits I’m very excited about and soak up a little more of this city before we return to our home by the sea in Felixstowe.

Taking older grandson (& his mum) to a favourite Paris museum

Taking older grandson (& his mum) to a favourite Paris museum

I can’t end this post without including the blessed news that this week also marked the successful live kidney transplant for my U.S. stepson. We are eternally grateful for his angel donor and her family and that she and my stepson are both recovering well.

Candles burning at Notre Dame de Paris, two in particular for my stepson and his donor

Candles burning at Notre Dame de Paris, two in particular for my stepson and his donor

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

Letter from Felixstowe: Paris in Mind, with Children – Family-Friendly Extraordinaire

Mr Monkey does the Luxembourg Garden

Mr Monkey does the Luxembourg Garden

Clive’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren will have about six days in and around Paris next week. They all adore Disney (at least two days, we’re told) and are also considering Versailles. For the times they stay inside the Périphérique, Paris’s ring road, they’ll have endless choices about what to see and do.

Since Paris with children has been on my mind lately, I thought I’d offer a quick list (developed over quite a few years) and some tips for anyone thinking about visiting Paris en famille. It’s a family-friendly and child-friendly city extraordinaire, metro stairs notwithstanding – take a collapsible stroller for the youngest ones.

As is so often the case with children, the key is to combine sightseeing activities with time for playing and eating, so everyone stays relaxed and has a great experience. I can’t think of a better place than Paris to do all three.

Here are a few of my favourites, by category and then combinations:

Sightseeing: Churches & Monuments

- Climbing famous landmarks: Eiffel Tower (and it sparkles after dusk for five minutes at the beginning of each hour); Notre Dame – stairs up to the top ‘walkway’ (or stay at ground level as I much prefer & take photos of your loved ones at the top); Arc de Triomphe

- Sainte-Chapelle – for older children, breathtaking upper level

- Sacré-Coeur – take funicular up & enjoy great free view at top

- all of Paris is a sensual sightseeing delight for children (and adults): the Seine alone provides terrific entertainment with many different kinds of boats flowing up and down. My son at toddler age also loved Paris’s garbage trucks and men in green jumpsuits with powerful hoses & plastic brooms; he later developed a youthful passion for watching and riding metros and became an avid Paris map-reader and metro-route-planner. I’m hoping Clive’s grandson(s) may also enjoy using Paris par Arrondissement and planning our metro routes.

Museums – basic strategy = go at opening, do one or two things and be done

Inside the Louvre Pyramid

Inside the Louvre Pyramid

- Louvre – Pyramid, escalator down, find Mona Lisa

- Marmottan – introduction to small museum & downstairs Monets

- Orangerie – even younger children appreciate the huge Monets

- Rodin – garden & sculpture garden behind the museum

- Pompidou – at least the escalator to view at top & back down to the fun Stravinsky Fountain

- Natural History (eg if kids into dinosaurs, which mine was not)

- Musée d’Orsay – for older children, interior & giant clocks, walk thru Impressionist galleries on top floor, café at end

- Special interest – Police museum (‘had’ to visit when my son was six), maybe this time les Poupées (dolls) and/or Magie (Magic)!?!

Parks & Gardens – Picnics

Cooling fountain at Place des Vosges

Cooling fountain at Place des Vosges

- Luxembourg Garden – a timeless favourite for all ages (photo at top of this post) – sailboats on the central basin & large play areas

- Trocadéro Gardens – sloping down past statues & fountains to the Eiffel Tower

- Champs de Mars – below the Tower – one adult can stay with youngest child/ren at play areas while older ones climb the Tower

- Place des Vosges in the Marais – stunning square with cooling fountains on a hot day

- Ranelagh Gardens – by Musée Marmottan – play area, an old-fashioned carousel & lawns for kicking a soccer ball

- Square Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame, Parc Monceau, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin du Palais Royal and striped Buren columns, Square du Vert Galant (the triangular-shaped tip of Ile de la Cité with its flowers, benches & weeping willow tree) … and really anywhere! There are play areas ALL OVER Paris so it’s always easy to pause to let the kids run off some energy and the adults sit on a bench and rest, too.

Food & Cafes & Restaurants

Picnics are the way to go, though I also believe it’s good to introduce children to café-sitting and perhaps a meal or two in a bistro or brasserie. But for the most part, Paris offers a world-class banquet of goodies that children especially adore.

- any boulangerie or patisserie treats: row upon row of colourful sweet selections – macarons, chocolates, mini-tartes and quiches … Yum!

- baguette sandwiches of any kind, available everywhere; hotdog & cheese on baguette with an Orangina

- crêpes from a street stall (save Breizh Café for the parents) eaten in a park – ones made with Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread are always popular

- hot chocolate at Angelina

- ice cream from anywhere – parents may appreciate Berthillon on Ile St-Louis or Pozzetto in the Marais

Shops & Department Stores

- Monoprix – all over Paris – fun to browse and reasonable prices

- BHV – stationery section, café with views at top (parents can venture into epic basement DIY section, if interested)

- papeteries – one of the BEST kinds of Paris shops – many to choose from & aisles of colourful notebooks, writing pads, markers and all manner of stationery treasures


- Paris is a walking city – just about anywhere you go offers something interesting to see or do or eat

- Les Berges de Seine – looking forward to showing Clive’s family the restored Seine riverbanks, especially between Place de la Concorde and Pont d’Alma – and seeing if the kids enjoy the climbing walls, play areas & floating garden

- the quais of the Seine – past booksellers in the city centre, along Quai d’Australie (and the Aussie Embassy) between the Eiffel Tower and Bir Hakeim – anywhere!

Combinations / Locations – a few favourites

One of many rotating & spouting objects in the Stravinsky Fountain, Pompidou Centre

One of many fanciful rotating objects in the Stravinsky Fountain, Pompidou Centre

- Orangerie, then play in Tuileries, hot chocolate at Angelina, walk back to Place de la Concorde

- Notre Dame, play in park behind it, then bridge over to Ile St-Louis, ice cream at Berthillon and/or picnic down by the riverbank

- Notre Dame, cross Pont d’Arcole, play in Square Viviani by Shakespeare & Co, walk through St. Germain

- Luxembourg Garden, walk up Blvd. St-Michel & across Pont St-Michel to Notre Dame and/or Sainte-Chapelle

- Musée Marmottan, then play in Ranelagh Garden, walk down rue de Passy to Trocadéro & view of Eiffel Tower

- Eiffel Tower, then play in Champs de Mars

- Louvre, then Pont Neuf, down to Square du Vert Galant – or Pont des Arts over to rue de Seine

- Pompidou Centre & Stravinsky Fountain, walk in Marais & play/picnic in Place des Vosges

- Arc de Triomphe, walk down Champs Elysées, play in Champs Elysées garden (or in high summer or winter months, continue to Place de la Concorde and ride the grand Ferris Wheel)

- Musée d’Orsay – escalators up to Impressionist galleries, views thru giant clocks, cold drink or snack in café at end, then picnic & play in Tuileries

Whatever Your Interests

The opportunities to have an amazing family time in Paris are, truly, endless. So much about making the trip memorable depends on the children’s – and parents’! – interests. Whatever they may be, the City of Light will deliver, and more.

Arc de Triomphe & the Champs Elysées

Arc de Triomphe & the Champs Elysées

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

Letter from Felixstowe: Keeping up (trying to) with the Aussies

Clive & his grandchildren, a few hours after their 24-hour journey

Clive & his grandchildren, a few hours after their 24-hour journey

This week has been all about our Aussie visitors — Clive’s son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren – who for their first week of this European trip are staying in a rental accommodation just a few doors away from us.

The gang arrived Monday morning and it’s been non-stop since then, at least for me and Clive. We’re always amazed when we get together with families with young children – it’s such an immediate throwback to those years of child-rearing, parental juggling and exhaustion and infinite needs, demands and joys. We’re not sure we can keep up with their normal pace, but so far we’ve been giving it a try.

Before the family arrived, we said to each other that we had a simple objective: that everyone would enjoy themselves, they’d feel they could really relax and be on holiday, and that we would do everything we could to make the time together as wonderful as possible.

Family at the beach, Felixstowe

Family at the beach, Felixstowe

I’ve written before about my role as a step-grandparent. As much as I appreciate my relationship with Clive’s children and grandchildren, it’s obviously not the same as being their birth parent and grandparent. So my focus is also on Clive, and on doing what I can to support his preferences and ‘go with the flow’ as regards each day’s plans. I know I’m blessed that this is easy to do.

Tomorrow is Clive’s daughter-in-law’s birthday. It’s a lovely treat that we’ll be able to celebrate with her and this family on the day.

Clive & his grandchildren, busy on the beach, Felixstowe

Clive & his grandchildren, busy on the beach, Felixstowe

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from (a considerably quieter) Felixstowe.

Letter from Felixstowe: Scotland, Either Way

Scotland, either way

Scotland, either way

Last week in the Scottish Highlands, we saw ‘YES’ banners everywhere. This week, back in Suffolk on a river cruise, we met a couple from Edinburgh, currently living in England. They said they were incensed they don’t have a vote in this week’s independence referendum and believe they were excluded because Scots living elsewhere in the UK would likely vote ‘NO.’

I think it’s fair to say most of our friends would prefer – overwhelmingly – to have Scotland remain in the UK.

As for me, American by birth and Australian by citizenship, I was raised to applaud and revere the USA’s fight for independence, with the Revolutionary War also named the War of Independence. It was of course a totally different situation and the countries are an ocean apart, but I think many people can appreciate a nation’s impulse and pride and yearning to be, and be seen as, independent.

In Australia, I witnessed the republic referendum in November 1999. During those years, which included the run-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, I was impressed over and over again by the country’s energy, capability, intelligence, optimism, beauty, and success on countless levels. Yet for various reasons, the referendum was defeated. A key voice in the ‘No’ campaign belonged to monarchists, and many of our Aussie friends valued the country’s connection to the monarchy and wanted it to continue.

In all the discussion around the Scotland referendum, I haven’t heard much about the monarchy (though we haven’t listened to all the debates).

The entire UK seems to have been electrified by today’s referendum. It’s a momentous time for everyone and either way, change will reverberate throughout the UK in months and years to come.

And either way, we’ll always love Scotland.

Highlands footpath, Scotland

Highlands footpath, Scotland

Letter from Scotland: Five Highlights of the Highlands

Moody evening on Loch Ness, taken from Dores

Moody evening on Loch Ness, taken from Dores

Visiting the Highlands in the run-up to Scotland’s independence referendum, which occurs on 18 September, is quite an experience.

From the moment we arrived and noticed ‘YES’ banners posted on street poles lining Inverness’s main thoroughfare to a visit to Culloden Moor, the site of a historic battle in which Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army were defeated in bloody battle by English government forces, we’ve been struck by how vital and important the issue of Scottish independence is to the Highlands.

Even as this momentous question will be decided in next week’s vote, visiting the battlefield – and then Clava Cairns, a 4,000+ year-old burial site – has made me equally aware of how small we really are in the infinite sweep of history and time.

Small or not, I’m here this week, with Clive and his daughter Kylie, in a beautiful part of a beautiful country. I’ve enjoyed taking the back seat (most of the time) and our days have been active and full.

With still one day to go, my top five Highland highlights are:

1 The scenery. Sunny, cloudy or in-between, it’s fantastic. No doubt the Highlands are also gorgeous in winter, though we’re not sure we’d be brave enough to visit then.

2 Walking. Our walk along the footpath at the top of Aonoch Mor in the Nevis Range is probably my single favourite activity of this trip. (The gondola ride up and down is also terrific.) In Inverness itself, we enjoyed an evening walk along the River Ness riverside pathways and islands.

A Highland walk - Clive on the footpath, Aonoch Mor, Scotland

A Highland walk – Clive on the footpath, Aonoch Mor, Scotland

3 Boat ride down the Caledonian Canal into Loch Ness & a visit to what’s left of Urquhart Castle. I’m usually not a castle person, and despite the rampant ‘Nessie’ industry (similar to local souvenir-selling the world over), the views and setting are worth the trip.

4 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery. I can’t recommend this small, quality museum highly enough. The ground floor contains superb exhibits of Highlands natural history, geology, civilisations and languages. The first floor contains equally impressive exhibits on Highland history from the Jacobites to the 20th century.

5 Dores. This is a tiny town on the eastern shore of Loch Ness, with a historic inn where the waiter introduced us to Irn-Bru and Black Isle Blonde and the beach out back offers views down the length of the loch.

6 Bonus find: Nairn Bookshop. A fantastic independent bookshop in the charming harbour town of Nairn, on the Moray Firth 15 miles east of Inverness.

A Highland walk - view of Loch Linnhe & Fort William on left, from Aonach Mor, Scotland

A Highland walk – view of Loch Linnhe & Fort William on left, from Aonach Mor, Scotland

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Felixstowe: Home, Family and Dreams of Travel

Home by the sea, Felixstowe

Home by the sea, Felixstowe

Home is where the heart is, or as Clive sometimes says, home is where you make it. The challenge, of course, is that home can be in multiple places and sometimes our hearts are pulled in multiple directions.

I’ve just returned to Felixstowe after a sobering two weeks in the USA. My stepson and dear friends continue to inspire everyone who knows them with their courage and bravery as they face life-altering medical conditions.

Clive’s father’s funeral took place the day after I arrived home. Clive and his father were never close — Clive says ‘we never had a father-son relationship’ – but my hubby has done a wonderful job taking care of his father’s needs, especially during the past four years. In recent weeks, while coping with the aftermath of hand surgery and a lingering arm wound, Clive handled all funeral arrangements, planned the service and delivered a eulogy that received many compliments from people who knew his father.

We’ve felt very disjointed lately and I’ve been moving around so much my mind can’t seem to stop jumping around and worrying about people I love. I was away for 13 nights in the U.S. — split up as 1 (London airport), 5 (DC), 2(NJ), 2 (CT), 2 (NJ), and 1 (in flight). This kind of schedule was routine in my career days but now I ruefully admit I just can’t keep it up. I love arriving home and settling back into our daily routines and life by the sea in England.

And yet … we only have a few days until it’s once again time to pack our wheelie bags. This weekend, we’ll meet Clive’s daughter in London as she arrives from Australia and we board a train together for Scotland. These are plans made long before other events happened this past summer with loved ones in the US and UK.

I’m hoping the Highlands scenery will be a balm for all of us, including Clive’s daughter who has an intense working life in Australia, and that we’ll be able to rest our eyes and hearts and minds on Scotland’s great natural beauty. I’m looking forward to taking a back seat — figuratively and literally – and happily going along with whatever Clive and his travel-savvy daughter cook up for our daily explorations.

So I think we can be both homebodies and travellers. We can cherish our family time and the particular place on the planet we call home and we can still dream of travel and following our bliss to special places in the world.

And I remind myself that sometimes we need to take the lead but other times it’s okay to let go and take the back seat.

Felixstowe beach huts & North Sea

Felixstowe beach huts & North Sea

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Scotland.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers