It was a trip loooooong in the planning. We had easily been talking about it for a year. I bought my plane tickets and booked my hotels six months beforehand. It was Springtime, even Easter time, in Paris after all. There was no time to waste. We both had visited Paris in the past and this was just about seeing each other and introducing the kiddos to the City of Lights. Single parent friends with a 25 year old friendship.
As the departure date grew closer, I began to have a few misgivings. The forecast indicated cooler and wetter weather than we had hoped for. And work, it was busy. Very busy. I began to think this could possibly be the worst time I could have chosen for a holiday. But it was C’s school holiday. Also, our first longish vacation since arriving in Malawi. And, as one person told me, “croissants still taste good in the cold and the rain.”
We departed on a Friday. Ethiopian Airlines from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa via Malawi’s second city Blantyre. A two hour layover in possibly one of the worst airports in the world (Bole International Airport seems to be in constant construction mode), then a seven hour flight to Paris, arriving at 6:30 AM. Yes, AM. We both had the sniffles and had developed a cough, but we were no worse for wear. After a wee bit of difficulty finding our shuttle to our hotel, we checked in before 10. CZ and Little C, who also visited us in Shanghai, were already in Paris, though at a different hotel. CZ reserved her hotel with points and had been able to redeem at the swanky Westin. Swank was too dear for me, so I booked around the corner at half the cost.
We met up and hit a sidewalk cafe for brunch. It was simple. Avocado toast. Fruit salad. Hot cocoa. It cost a pretty penny but there is nothing like it in Malawi. We headed then to the Tuileries where C and Little C enjoyed the carousel and trampoline park. Next, we rode the Roue de Paris, the Paris Ferris Wheel, located at Place de la Concorde. This summer the wheel will be disabled so I wanted to ride it before it is gone.
Not having tired out our 6 and nearly 4 year olds nearly enough, we hustled them on to the metro and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. We had no plans to go up but both kids wanted to see it. And the moment when they caught sight of it — fantastic! They were so taken it with it took a little convincing to get them to move along to the beautiful double-decker carousel across the street. Several rides and a snack later they were satisfied.
Next up we planned to take the one hour cruise on the River Seine with the Bateaux Parisiens. We could all use a little time off our feet and give the kids a good view of many famous landmarks. But here is where we ran into our first bit of trouble. The boats were running, but due to heavy rainfall the Seine levels were too high to take the usual route. We declined. We headed back to our hotels.
Day 2. Easter Sunday. We had been lucky to score tickets to an egg hunt and Easter festivities at the Parc Andre Citroen. We had a late start in the morning – CZ and Little C still had jet lag and C and I had overnight-flight-itis. It was also on the cold side and quite overcast. Yet the Easter event turned out to be quite a lot of fun, and all for 5 Euros. The kids took part in a super easy egg hunt and then turned in their eggs for a fabulous gift bag. They also were able to play a few free games and pick up some more toys and books. Afterwards though the plan had been to ride the hot air balloon (actually a gigantic helium balloon) that is also located in the park; however, due to high winds it was not operating. The kids were happy to play at the park’s many playgrounds but I felt a bit grumpy to miss out on something else from my Paris 2018 must-do list. We had lunch and headed over to the Paris Aquarium. At least that was on my list (because I have a passion for aquariums — I am serious).
By the third day, the sniffles C and I had acquired during our flights had turned into full on colds with hacking-up-lungs strength coughs. Instead of admiring the Moulin Rouge as we awaiting the mini train to the top of Montmartre, I headed to a pharmacy. I came all the way to Paris to go to a pharmacy… Then as I drugged myself and C and we waited for the mini train, C and Little C played on a giant sewer grate with air flowing up. One of our best 30 minutes in Paris. I kid you not.
The train ride was fun. The massive crowds of people at the top, less so. We grabbed lunch in the square. C tried chocolate mousse for the first time. Declared it delicious. No doubt about it, it was really, really good. The architecture beautiful. The artists’ works amazing. I had been to Montmartre in 1989 and 2003; I love it. Yet the low temps, light rain, pushing a stroller on cobblestone through swarms of people, and our colds were getting to us. We decided to locate the Dali Museum — CZ had read that kids actually respond well to Dali’s whimsical and quirky works of art and it would be a chance to be indoors for awhile. We found it, but wouldn’t you know it, closed for renovation! And then C had had it. She had no interests in taking the funicular, no interest in finding the carousel. Something is definitely wrong when my kid does not want to ride a carousel! CZ and Little C stayed at Montmartre and C and I made our way back to the hotel for a nap.
I expect right about now everyone is really, really jealous of our trip to Paris. Flooding, high winds, chilly temperatures, a closed museum, and taking care of a sick kid while feeling under the weather yourself. It certainly had all the hallmarks of a magical getaway. Then we learned of the transportation strike to be held over the next two days. #winning
On our fourth day luckily I was not the only tired mommy. CZ too was flagging. With the strike we were not sure of our transport options and wanted to stay close by. Lucky for us we were staying in the heart of Paris, so we walked through the Tuileries to pass the Louvre and then over to Notre Dame to show the kids the church and gargoyles. They oohed and ahhed and then made haste for the playground. Given the state of the few playgrounds in Malawi, this still made our trip to Paris worth it. Although it felt the coldest day so far, the restaurant in the Latin Quarter warmed us all right up. It was cosy, crowded, with good food, and the waiter messed up multiple things on our order. C’est la vie.
No worries. The following day we headed to one of the happiest places on Earth: Paris Disneyland.
First though we needed transport. We had had the idea to take the RER train to the Paris Disneyland station. Kids love trains. CZ and I love trains. But there was the transportation strike. Although both of us were beginning to think walking 15 minute from the hotel to the train station with 2 little kids, their strollers, and our luggage might be too much. (OK, I was still convinced we could do it though I was strongly sensing CZ thought me off my rocker on this point.) So we booked an Uber – and we rode to our Disneyland hotel in the comfort of a sleek Mercedes van. And the sky was blue! And the weather warm! C’s cough was gone! The magic of Disney?
I would like to say our 5 days at Paris Disneyland were idyllic, but any parent of a child would see right through that. Little kids passing the Rainforest Cafe gift shop, the World of Disney, and LEGO stores every single day, not to mention all the goodies in Disneyland itself, is not a recipe for contentment — well unless the parent buys many of said goods. C managed to wrangle a whole Princess Anna costume, including cloak, out of me. She wanted the boots too but I negotiated for 2 LEGO sets instead. Yeah, I have never been very good at haggling, clearly. We all just had a really good time.
It was with great sadness that our final day in France arrived and we had to say goodbye to our friends (and to Paris and all it has to offer, which is, no surprise, different from Malawi). C and I had our final dinner in Paris in the airport — at McDonald’s. Don’t judge. There is no McDs in Malawi. Then we boarded our overnight flight from Paris to Addis Ababa. We settled into our seats, preparing to start snoozing as soon as possible. We watched the safety video, the flight attendants prepared for push back…
Then someone in the back of the plane, about ten rows back, started yelling. In the first few seconds I will admit my thoughts went to terrorism — when someone in the back of the plane suddenly starts yelling “Listen up people!” once we are all buckled in, it is probably natural to think so. But as he continued his purpose became clear “Help me! I am a refugee. They are taking me back to my country and they will kill me.” He repeated this over and over and over in loud yelps. He was a handcuffed deportee being escorted by 2-3 armed French police. What was amazing — still amazing — to me is that so many other passengers inserted themselves into the drama. Passengers were verbally sparring with the police officers and the flight attendants. I am fairly sure in the US this would guarantee these passengers an escort off the plane. But in this case, it did not. Over time, other passengers came from the front of the plane to also throw in their two cents. There was definitely a camp for the deportee and a camp against. And no respect for the police or flight attendants. It took over an hour to resolve the issue — the removal of the deportee from the plane.
Our Addis to Lilongwe flight too had a late departure. No reason given. I fell asleep soon after boarding only to wake up two hours later and find we were still on the tarmac! As soon as we landed I sent a message to my nanny/housekeeper/driver who had come to pick us up at the airport. She said she was there though not feeling very well. I tried to get C and I through immigration and baggage claim and customs as quick as possible. TJ, our nanny, waited outside. As we walked to the car, she collapsed in the parking lot. Malaria. There I am after traveling for 14 hours with C, a cart with 2 suitcases, a stroller, a backpack, still with my racking cough that doubles me over, attending to my disoriented and very ill nanny lying in the parking lot. I do not know where my car is — TJ has the keys in her hand but can barely talk or lift her head. But a bunch of good Samaritans help us out. One man runs through the parking lot with me looking for my car — my nanny had been able to whisper my license plate to him. We find it and I drive quickly to where my nanny and C wait. I had left my 6 year old and my handbag with my wallet and passport sitting on the luggage cart. Two men helped TJ into the back seat. Another put my luggage in the trunk. And yet another got C into her car seat.
My nanny went to the hospital for four days. I was diagnosed with a lower respiratory infection and stayed home from work for two days.
So wow, yeah, that was certainly not the Paris getaway I had planned. Never a dull day for sure. CZ and I cannot wait to plan our next trip!