Babe Andrea’s departure early Friday morning not only marks the end of our steady stream of international visitors, it also (almost) marks my two month anniversary since moving here. It’s been a wonderful, fun but incredibly hectic 2 months exploring this great city with so many of our family and good friends. Six different groups in all – and we just got here!
That’s one of the benefits to living in such a historical, romanticized and popular place like Paris: lots (and I mean LOTS) of people want to come and visit. I like it because I get to see familiar faces and I have people to explore with. While we can’t see or accommodate everyone we know who decides to visit Paris (sorry Verly-Anne, sorry Charlotte) we were fortunate over the last few weeks to be able to see quite a few people and to make a good start to our new Guest Book.
It’s now time for me to start to forge my own, regular every day life in this great city. To that end I do have a few plans including a creative writing course, some photography workshops and, bien sûr, French lessons but, before I leave the summer behind I thought I’d take a quick look back at some of my highlights with our guests, as well as some thoughts on what made these visits successful.
First off were Mia et al. Mia and I landed in Paris on the same day – me, to live for the next 3 years while Mia, with her family, to enjoy a 1-week holiday. Needless to say we were both in entirely different frames-of-mind when we met up for the first time. Mai wasn’t staying with us but, as Babe Karma would have it, she’d actually rented a place within a 9-minute walk of us. This was a total bonus particularly in light of our different mindsets and needs. Besides the opportunity to spend time with Mia, her kids and her mom, it was really nice for me to have a Babe here to cushion the blow of my transition from Toronto to Paris.
Being an organized person, Mia actually had developed a robust but flexible agenda for their week here. The highlight of our week together – at least for me – was the 3-hour private guided tour she had booked at the Louvre and then so kindly allowed Gary and I to join them on. I’ve been to the Louvre a number of times over the years however, this visit was so much more meaningful with the commentary and insights of the wonderful (Rick Steeve’s recommended of course lol) private guide she’d found.
The other highlight (although Jonathon and Shelby may not see it the same way!) was our rambling, misguided “short” walk from our apartment over towards the Eiffel Tower. Neither of us actually knew where we were going. I think Mia assumed that I knew the way because I live here, completely forgetting of course that I’d only been in Paris as long as she had and was therefore equally lost. However, our ramblings led us to discover Montorgueil Street – the oldest market street in Paris – that was just pulsing with life, people and history. In the end we did walk a couple of miles out of our way, but Uber was close at hand and look at the fun we would have missed had we actually known where we were going beforehand!
Gary’s brother Paul, his wife Sylvia and daughter Nicole were our next visitors. Sylvia is Swiss and the family was on its way to Switzerland, making detours in Paris, Belgium and Germany along the way. While missed flights, lost luggage and assorted issues plagued the early part of this visit, in the end we had a lot of fun.
The highlights of this visit for me were not all Paris-based. First, I really enjoyed having the chance to explore Paris with 11-year old Nicole when Paul and Sylvia took a short break to Germany. After an interesting rambling walk through one of our seedier neighbourhoods – keep in mind that I’d still only been here for a little more than a week at the time so, yes, we were lost…..again – we spent a very fun afternoon at the Chocolate Museum. It’s a very well organized, interactive museum that not only explores the history of chocolate but also the history of Parisians’ relationship with chocolate. And the best part of all? – a chocolate making demonstration with free samples PLUS a room full of unbelievable statues and carvings all made out of…..you guessed it – chocolate!
The real highlight of this visit though was the opportunity I had to travel with Nicole to Belgium to meet up with her parents at Sylvia’s Uncle’s home in Esneux, about 1.5 hours east of Brussels. You all remember the photo of “Fast Freddy” I hope., well that was the Uncle we stayed with. This family welcomed me with open arms and we had a wonderful 2 days together.
I was happy to be able to host Sylvia’s 2nd cousin Mailis back in Paris just a few weeks ago while she completed a University Internship.
And then another Babe, Elaine, appeared with her husband, Kevin, to check up on me as they began their first real sans-enfants vacation in more than a dozen years. Now, let’s be honest, those of you who know Elaine will appreciate why I might have been a little concerned about this visit: Elaine has loads of energy. With 3 youngish kids this woman rarely stops moving – even on a “slow” day, so you can understand why I was quite curious what our visit together would look like. I needn’t have worried – “Holiday-Elaine” is easy going, flexible and….yes folks, even inclined to enjoy an afternoon nap now and again! And the every easy-going Kevin turns out to be the one more inclined to suggest additional activities and adventures. Talk about a turn of the tables, hahaha.
Although we all had a fun week together, for me there were a few highlights. First, was the evening of Gregorian Chant that we stumbled upon at Notre Dame Cathedral when we decided that the line-up during the day was just too long for us to join. Sitting together in that church and being transported by the chanting was magical – and, at only 90 minutes in length, was short enough that we didn’t all fall asleep!
The next highlights were at the Arc de Triomphe.
First of all there was no line up because the elevator was broken and most people were discouraged from taking the stairs. We, on the other hand, were quickly able to climb the stairs to the top! Second, Kevin suggested that he would stay at the top of the Arc and take a picture of Elaine and I lying on the ground 50 metres directly below him. Stellar idea Kev! I only wish the rest of the Babes had been there to join us for that photo opp!
Finally, a much simpler and less extravagant highlight, Elaine and Kevin were our first “official” dinner guests. As you know I love to cook and entertain and this was the first real opportunity I’d had to do so in Paris. I quite enjoyed myself and Gary and I both appreciated just sitting and visiting with our friends, rather than having to be “doing” something every second.
The next guests to begin rolling in were members of the illustrious BCO (that is, the “Bennewies Children’s Organization”, a.k.a. “our kids”). First on the scene, following a brief visit to Scotland, were Derek and his girlfriend, Emily. There is nothing like having your kids back under your roof – especially when you live across the ocean.
I feel at this point that I need to acknowledge one of Gary’s highlights from our summer of visitors: the chance to take Derek and Emily running along “Gary’s 7-mile Paris Monument Tour”. Mapped out carefully by Gary to highlight the most beautiful sites you can see in a 7-mile stretch near our apartment including: the Louvre, the Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, Gary simply loves this particular run along the Seine River. And he was thrilled to be able to share it with Derek and Emily. In fact, these 3 jackrabbits enjoyed this run a couple of times over the course of the 5-day visit (I didn’t join them because, frankly, I simply can’t keep up with them.)
Another highlight for all four of us was our evening French wine tasting class at “Le Derniere Goutte” (“The Last Drop”), a private wine store in St Germaine recommended to us by a colleague of Gary’s. Not only did we learn a lot about the various French wine regions, we also got to drink some great wine and I made my first friend, Lindy – although she does only live here 6 weeks every year – but it’s a start!
The biggest thrill of the visit was when the remainder of the BCO – Danica and Evan – arrived and we were all together for 2-days and 1 night.
We enjoyed a big family dinner, always a highlight for me and it was just so nice to finally have all our family together in our new home.
After Derek and Emily flew home, Dani, Evan and I headed off to the UK to investigate Law Schools for Dani. That entire trip through Oxford, Cambridge and London with those two was a highlight, along with subsequent days with Gary in Wells, Cheddar and Glastonbury. I promise to write more about these adventures including our day at Dismaland – at a later date.
That brings me to our most recent summer guest, Babe Andrea. Although she was the last in the series of visitors, Andrea was actually the first one to have “booked” in a visit way back in February – even before we had a place to live! On her way to see her sister in Spain, Andrea had the chance to enjoy a free stopover offer from Air France. We had a really fun week exploring various museums I’d yet to visit and taking silly “Babe” photos.
Our visit to Versailles with “Fat Bike Tours” was indeed the highlight of Andrea’s visit. This was something she’d wanted to do for a long time and she’d come prepared with all the information we needed to make it happen.
In spite of a little rain during our bike ride around the grounds, we had a great day. Riding a bike is indeed the way to see Versailles. Our guide was wonderful (and cute, of course a requirement of all Babe guides) and knew all the stories and history needed to make this visit really come to life for all of us. We purchased picnic supplies in the market and ate by the Grand Canal while we listened to our guide’s stories.
Another highlight of Andrea’s visit for me was the day we walked the Coulée Verte (“The Green Way”) a walking path similar to the Highline in NYC built on the tracks of a railway. Although we did end up walking it a couple more times than we had intended (thanks Google Maps), we saw some great architecture and visited a part of Paris that does not see many tourists.
And that brings to a close our list of summer visitors. Gee….no wonder I’m tired! LOL
In writing this post and thinking about each visit and what made it successful I thought it might be useful if I shared some of the insights I’ve gleaned in case you’re ever planning your own visit to a friend or family member living in a large, foreign, popular city:
- Be flexible. Weather, moods, health and desire all influence what you may want to do on a particular day. We had the most fun when we worked with these factors to figure out what to do at any given moment.
- Come prepared with at least a couple of ideas of specific places, activities, sites or things you’d like to see/do. It’s your holiday and you know what you enjoy -don’t leave it entirely to someone else to figure out for you.
- Don’t be scared or upset to go off on your own. Not everyone enjoys or wants to do the same things (or has the same level of energy) and that’s okay.
- Be upfront and forthright about things. If you want to do something, speak up. If you don’t want to do something, speak up. In other words: make yourself at home.
- If you’re staying with us, I will assume you’re coming to visit Gary and I as well as to see Paris. Given the fact that I actually enjoy cooking, let me cook dinner one (or more) night(s). Let’s stay in from time to time so we can actually just visit, enjoy a home cooked meal and some good wine and conversation rather than always having to be on the go. On the other hand, if your primary purpose is more directed at seeing Paris and its sites, we’ll happily recommend hotels and Air BnB’s nearby so we can get together for a meal or a drink in between your touring – no hard feelings but we’re not a hotel!We know you want to see Paris, but WE want to see YOU (and stuff we haven’t already seen in Paris)!
- Finally, don’t forget to sign the guest book (okay…. that’s something else that relates specifically to if you’re visiting me – either here in Paris OR at our place in Thornbury) but seriously, don’t forget to sign it or I’ll hunt you down!)
And now, that really is a wrap. Now that we’re on our own for awhile, it’s time for me to get busy figuring out what my life over here is actually going to look like. Thanks for reading – I’ll keep you posted.