Paris through the eyes of a child
20 August 2015
Paris at last.
Poets, painters, authors and artists have waxed lyrical about this magical city’s mysteries for centuries and, seasoned traveller, you’ve probably been there too.
But for my little family from Sydney, Australia this was a trip of a lifetime... a first visit to the ‘City of Love’ made more special because we got to see it through the eyes of a child.
On a warm July day, Paris greeted us with blue and beautiful summer skies.
Tony, the polished and professional concierge at Shangri-La Paris had entrusted our son with a map and directions … and thank goodness Tony’s faith in him paid off. Our red-headed amateur tour leader was eager to explore without wasting a moment of our precious four days, and so we walked for hours on that first afternoon.
Iconic locations we’d seen only in movies and magazines came to life before us as we discovered the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde and Champs Elysees.
And in the middle of it all, in the stunning Tuileries Gardens of all places, our son joined with local children to play games on the manicured lawns.
As we watched him laugh and gesture to his new Gallic friends, it was clear that the barriers of language meant little when childish fun was to be had amidst the statues of Maillol, Rodin and Giacometti.
The setting sun (at 10pm!) and an authentic meal in a Parisian bistro set the scene for the sparkling spectacle of the Eiffel Tower’s golden lights …. a breath-taking finale to a memorable day.
But for our son, day one was just an entree… and so to the cobblestoned streets of Montmatre and the exquisite beauty of Sacre Coeur we ventured, maps in hand. On the steps of the cathedral, a harpist poignantly played Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ while a homeless man sat quietly by the door. The sobering sight was not lost on my son, who hurried to give the Euros in his pocket to another in need.
Later, we joined the throngs of camera wielding tourists eager to take in the sights as we climbed the Eiffel Tower. The quote of the day was embarrassingly mine… “It’s so lovely, but I can’t see the Eiffel Tower” I said as I peered through the telescope.
“You’re standing on it, Mum,” replied my young man, rolling his eyes at my naivety.
Day three and it was time to master the Metro and RER system to visit the Palace of Versailles. We arrived early, catching the same train as the hawkers who seemed to be on every corner of the capital, selling souvenirs from their bulging canvas bags.
As the golden gates opened, we were among the first to enter the magnificent estate. We marvelled at the opulence of the Hall of Mirrors, vast gardens and extravagance of the lifestyle that had been enjoyed by kings and queens.
“No wonder they chopped their heads off,” commented my young sage.
We discovered the secret of Sundays in Paris during our short stay. With stores closed and locals staying close to home, the somewhat deserted streets made for a delightfully peaceful walk along the banks of the Seine…. Until the rain came!
Scurrying for cover and aware that Parisian museums open for free on the first Sunday of every month, we opted for the Louvre…. only to encounter a four hour long line!
“Don’t worry Mum, we can see the Mona Lisa another time,” said my sympathetic boy as he patted my shoulder and led the way to Notre Dame instead.
Arriving just in time for Mass, with a full choir, incense and candles galore, even my Scottish Protestant husband was impressed… although he also wanted to know if he’d get wine if he went to Communion!
At the end of our all too brief four days in Paris, we asked our son what he would remember most.
He replied that the buildings were beautiful and the monuments amazing…but it was the people that would stay in his memory.
“People here are busy, but kind, Mum,” he said. “They took the time to talk to me, and I’m only a kid.”
“When I see tourists in Sydney, I’ll make sure they know I’m glad they came to visit our city.”
And so we travel on, proud of a boy who is learning that there are many ways to live a life and that, no matter where you come from, there is nothing more welcoming to a traveller than a smile