Looking back on our UK trip seems a bit dreamlike now. It’s raining almost once every day here in Nairobi and between powerful, dramatic downpours it is muggy, sunny and warm.
Last week England was green, full of daffodils, tulips, budding trees and tons of lovely family and cousins playing – there was rain too, but it was the kind of temperature that you could cover up in long boots, jeans and a raincoat and not feel sweaty (like in Africa). It was chilly on grey days, we wrapped up in scarves – for once, I didn’t have to worry about shaving my legs!
The highlight of my trip was two nights in Paris with my husband without children to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We left the children with grandparents in UK and had never left the children before – not because we are complete saints but we just would never feel comfortable leaving them home alone without a family member to babysit – and they are all far too far away to do this.
Living here in East Africa, the security risks are higher than at home and while the nannies that people employ locally are wonderful, they couldn’t necessarily drive your child to a hospital in an emergency. A few expats I know do leave the country while the kids stay at home with staff members but I wouldn’t do that. An alternative might be to leave overseas visitors/family in charge of your house, but with all the alarms and security precautions, the four wheel driving and unfamiliar environment, in my opinion that is not ideal either. What if a gang decided to break in during the night? It’s not such an extraordinary scenario, it has happened to us before.
Anyway, back to Paris, it was fab. It had been so long since I went to Europe that I felt I had almost had lost the confidence to go to anywhere but England. We did all the wrong things like true Kenya Cowboys – forgot to buy a guide book, failed to book museum tickets in advance, scattered Swahili words into our pigeon French, went off without any plan of what to do.
It all worked out though. We miraculously got a bus from the airport into Paris and found that it stopped just walking distance from our hotel. We jumped onto the bateau mouche and cruised up and down the river. On a clear morning we queued for 45 minutes to get into the Eiffel tower only to find that our queue said ‘Escalier seulement’ so ended up climbing stairs for the equivalent of 48 stories with my vertigo prone husband clinging onto the rails.
When one of a collection of gypsies from Eastern Europe who were hanging around the tourists sites asked me ‘do you speak English’ I fell for it and said ‘yes, I do!’ loudly. My husband rolled his eyes. She wanted me to give her money. When I came across another the next day at the Louvre, I was a bit wiser. This time when the lady said ‘Do you speak English’ I said, ‘No sorry I don’t.’.... in English. My husband rolled his eyes again.
We jumped on the Metro, had a wonderful meal at Monmartre, picnicked in the Tuileries Gardens, indulged in coffee flavoured éclairs and breakfasts of pastries, hot chocolate and croque monsieur and best of all, hired bikes. Paris has this fabulous system called ‘Velib’. There are bikes for the public to use deposited in racks all over the city and little maps so you know where to find them. You see men in suits riding them with their briefcases in the front basket, smartly dressed middle aged women with their baguettes and students zipping around looking bohemian.
It took us tourists some time to work out how to get the bikes out of their electronically locking racks (you need a credit card with a chip) but it was worth the effort. We had one gloriously sunny day on bikes. Travelling faster between the sites meant that the city opened up for us. The idea is that you don’t keep the same bike for long but keep clicking them into the various racks around the city then taking a new one when required. It gets increasingly expensive the longer you keep the bike but the first half hour is free. The only downside is that when you reach your destination you might find that the ‘Velib’ rack is full, which means you need to hang about until someone comes along to take a bike and create a space. Having said that, we found that we didn’t really have to wait for long before the next ‘Velib’ convert came along to grab a bike.
It was a little nerve racking to cycle in Paris. Though there are lots of allocated bike lanes people do drive fast. When we approached ‘Place de la Concord’ without helmets and my husband said ‘straight on!’ brightly, I decided it was time to dismount and push for a while rather than risk leaving my children motherless. When my husband said it was OK to cycle on the pavements and he hadn’t hired a bike so that he could push it around Paris, I protested again. After all, it said very clearly on the handlebars in French ‘I will not cycle on the pavements’. Imagine my mirth when he was stopped by a gendarme outside Sarkosy’s house and told very firmly to get back on the road. My husband feigned innocence, ‘you mean we must cycle on the road with the cars? Oh! I see’ he said and rode off sheepishly.
The euro was horribly expensive compared to the pound, the queues outside the Louvre, Notre Dame and Musee D’Orsay were hours long and my feet got very sore but we had a magical time anyway. I would recommend ‘Springtime in Paris’ to everyone - it's just a shame that we live so very far away.