Having not heard French for a week it was quite a shock…
A few hours after a tearful farewell to my mother at the Eurostar station in London and I suddenly found myself back immersed in my other life in Paris. Any of us who have had the chance to spend time back home know just how intense it is to return to the French capital subsequently. It’s as if you have two parallel yet juxtaposing existences occurring in tandem and you find yourself just flitting freely between the two. This can, of course, leave you feeling a bit perplexed and lost as you switch off from one life to another in a mere moment of hours.
I remember encountering this dark shadow after returning to Paris post-Christmas and it endured, horrifically, for a week long period and left me feeling pretty debilitated. Determined not to experience this again, I recruited the company of one of my closest friends here to not only cheer me up but also aid me with lugging my gigantic suitcase back chez moi; a suitcase, I might add, jam packed ENTIRELY with food items – my mother refused to let me return without some homely ‘British essentials’. Our physical stamina was certainly tested as we hauled this lumbering beast across the city (on and off seemingly endless metros before a final marathon up my eight flights of stairs). Whilst it was to the mere onlooker a nightmarish situation, to us it was hilariously ridiculous and will be a memory we share and reminisce upon for a long while I’m sure.
Adamant not to waste the day, we took our weary muscles off to Le Marais for a standard stroll around the labyrinth of twisting-turning streets (many people say this area nestled away nicely is a must-do on Sundays and I fully agree!) Naturally all of this romantic idling about prompted a thirst to develop that could only be quenched by a good ol’ Parisian coffee. We headed eastward to sample the goods on offer at ‘Café Crème’ and we were not disappointed. Anywhere that can sell to you the idea of an ice coffee despite artic external conditions has to be good (and it was certainly worth the hype). Deciding to make today a full on day of exploration, we strolled along the streets to just south of Montmartre where we stumbled into a Swedish sweet shop specialising in…. pick and mix. I kid you not this city offers something for everyone – from both a romantic lover indulging in decadent foods and fine wines to the nostalgia-searching young adult desperate to find their inner child in the form of tooth-rotting and sickly-sweet delights. I personally am not ashamed to associate myself with the latter description and so my friend and I happily spent near to 10 euro at this little paradise. As we wandered back to the metro (stuffing our faces of course) we saw the sun setting beautifully upon the Sacre Coeur and I felt really quite content and happy to be back chez Paris.
After a lovely Sunday evening spent gorging upon homemade soup and croutons and watching the Eiffel tower’s final dazzling performance for the night leaning out of a pretty Parisian window with one of my closest friends (a truly lovely way to kick start proceedings for this final four months), reality bit when I found myself at work Monday morning, completely immersed once again in the usual vibrant antics and on goings of my host family.
Having not heard French for a week it was quite the shock to the system to be suddenly emerged in it but I enjoyed getting back into the swing (what other choice do we have!) I no sooner had arrived than I found myself being hurried into the back of an Uber taxi by an eager 11-year-old who was fit to burst with excitement at the thought of his imminent tennis tournament. I however (far from a tennis enthusiast) was not so delighted at the prospect of spending seven hours in the company of this sport but I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching my little man play. I, in true mother-style, was so proud of the sportsmanship he showed and how humble he was in triumph and how gracious in defeat. I even got to see a little nine year old boy (in a true fit of pique) whacking his racket off the floor and throwing rude hand gestures at his jeering brother on the side lines … and I thought tennis tournaments were boring?!
A hectic day was nicely rounded off with a beautiful drive across the city on the way back home in the taxi. Going via La Defense I felt so reminded of how incredible this experience is as I looked around me and saw the setting sun glowing warmly and bouncing around between the endless windows of the impressive and futuristic skyscrapers of the infamous business district.
Whilst I’m delighted my host child is excelling in this tournament, I dislike rather intensely having to be up at the crack of dawn in order to trot off to his next battles – oh the trials and tribulations of a jeune fille au pair!
I was luckily granted freedom at around midday kindly by my host mother and so I, as not to waste one second, grabbed my essentials and bounded off to a quiet area near Republique to try out a café I had heard so many people mention before; this little delight being ‘Lily of the Valley’. Picture Alice in Wonderland meets Mary Berry and you’re probably just about right! Flowers upon flowers covered the ceiling of this quaint establishment whilst we were being served (very reasonably priced) tea and coffee in the most quirky, floral and mismatched crockery you’ve ever seen but it so added to the charm of this adorable little fairyland. As if to add to the surrealism of the situation even more, the most beautifully and blindingly white torrent of snowfall proceeded to tumbling down from the heavens whilst we sat, all cosily, watching in the warm! What a bizarre yet wonderful treat in the middle of the day!
My host mother appeared to be up to date with the winter wonderland theme of the day as she served a delicious dessert of ‘floating islands’ that resembled two big snowy peaks floating elegantly amidst a sea of custard-like crème! Needless to say, seconds were consumed – naturally. Full to bursting, I waddled off to my friends after my short work shift for a cosy cuppa tea with herself and another bubbly au pair. The three of us compared and complained about our work situations (true au pair style) before chatting and laughing long into the night – just the way it should be.
Today was arguably one of THE best days I’ve had in Paris. As is always the way in this city, it is the days of spontaneity that turn out to be the most special and that was certainly true of today. Lucky enough to have the day off entirely (crazy I know!), a friend and I got up nice and early for a hearty breakfast of homemade buns before strutting off to a little hidden gem of Paris known as ‘le petit ceinture’. For those unfamiliar, Paris used to have a long circular railway entirely around it’s perimeter that no longer is in use thus leaving a gigantic ring of ‘abandoned railway’. Wholly terrifying as it sounds, I can assure you this is one of the most beautiful things to see in the city. Granted you have to quite like the whole ‘ugly pretty’ malarkey but I think almost anyone would be in awe of the sight of unruly trees, branches, and grass enveloped and enclosing this trench of ex-train activity (so long as you’re willing to clamber your way down some very dubious slopes, otherwise known as your entrances and exits to this secret treasure).
We were so motivated and full of adrenalin after having to climb some metal framework in order to get back onto solid footpath where we emerged by jumping over the bridge wall likes weird wild animals – and the looks received from passers-by certainly validated this! Not wanting to waste this ‘exploration’ bug we decided to tick off some sights we wanted to see of which included the church at Saint Germain Des Pres: a truly stunning and detailed building so rich in history after having been reconstructed in 990!
As expected, we had now built up quite a hunger and so we began our walk along Boulevard de Saint Germain (stopping off at a very pretentious ‘designer’ chocolate shop just for a nosey and later bumping into the cutest market selling dried fruits, nougat, nuts and the most GIGANTIC brioche you have ever seen in your life!) Just around the corner from the Sorbonne was our chosen food joint of the day – Nossa. Delicious Portuguese Piri Piri chicken in various formats accompanied by an array of choices for your side ranging from hearty and wholesome chips to herby new potatoes only puts an eight euro dent in your wallet – could be a whole lot worse!
An adorably decorated and cosy-feeling restaurant equipped with cheery and friendly staff made for such a wonderful experience. We, finishing just before their mid-afternoon siesta closing period, were the final ones to leave meaning we managed to engage in a bit of banter with the staff as they turned up their tunes and we all had a little sing along! This later prompted an old lady to come in and begin dancing, to which the waiter responded by joining her for a brilliant and hilarious duo performance to the Keiser Chief’s ‘Ruby’ – a random yet wonderful memory to have.
Full well and truly to the brim, we waddled off along the streets of the Latin Quarter as the sun shone down as we found ourselves bumping casually into the Pantheon. Given entry is free to us 18-26 year old EU-ers we of course went in and wandered, in awe, around the gloriously elaborate main rooms and the hidden labyrinth of famous graves below where we found ourselves casually in the company of the likes of Victor Hugo and Voltaire amongst many, many others.
When we emerged from this spectacular and intricate beast we found ourselves being showered in the most glorious sunrays that inspired us to stroll around this lovely and rustic area. We stumbled upon ‘Rue des Irlandaises’ which (as both my parents are Irish) I felt most obliged to have a cheesy photo with. We were suddenly hit then with the standard Parisian fatigue that can unfortunately only be cured with a café session (woe is us) and today’s recommendation was the family-friendly and quaint ‘Sugar Plum Café’ who’s welcome sign reads “The heavier you weigh, the harder you are to kidnap. Stay safe! Eat cake!” Oh alright, if you insist.
Today was a full day of work that went actually very smoothly and I found myself having so much fun with my two little fellas (their current obsession being a face-swap app that makes for some very amusing end results). A pleasant little break in the middle of the day came courtesy of my host mother who sent the eight-year old and myself out upon a bakery-run (a 30 euro shopping list comprising of eight eclairs, four brioche and two baguettes – oh how very French)
Awaking at the crack of dawn so as not to waste a precious Saturday (we aupairs are all familiar with the sanctity of these weekend breaks!) my friend and I hopped upon the metro and headed north. We decided today was going to be about seeing some of Paris that was unknown to us. Self-proclaimed experts with the central area of the city, we were on the hunt for some new territory and my goodness weren’t we pleasantly surprised. The infamously ‘dodgy’ line four terminus ‘Porte de Clignacourt’ was our first chosen victim. A few footsteps out of the metro and we stumbled upon a quirky little spot named ‘Le Recyclerie’.
We named this space ‘hipster haven’ because, my goodness, you cannot even picture the level of alternative there. A converted abandoned railway station has become a communal space for chilling, coffee drinking, gardening, walking, farming and brunching (of course upon the organic produce grown there). Upon entry you are greeted by a record collection and vinyl section (and this is only the beginning of quirky things you stumble upon). It is one of those places you immediately become fascinated in and it certainly made for a pleasant start to the morning (given the coffee went for one euro!)
Nice and awake, we then strolled across the area to Marche Dauphine – a must see! I can only compare this maze of cute and crazy stores and stalls to that of perhaps the Camden Market in London. We were just so lost in the endless antiques and trinkets lining the walls (and we even found an old English telephone box hurrah!!)
Our wandering feet took us off to refuel at the infamous and petite El nopal (a Mexican grub paradise!) where we dined under the sun’s rays alongside Canal Saint Martin. What a wonderfully interesting area the outer North-East of Paris is. It is almost a different city entirely and so astoundingly lively. We strolled our way to the most fascinating café you’ve ever seen namely ‘Pavillion de Canaux’. A somewhat converted house has become a network of quirky and cute rooms decorated in the manner of a house! This means one can find themselves IN a bathtub drinking coffee or upon a sofa perhaps whilst surrounded by colourful walls or even flowerpots hanging from the roof! It was a truly lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Most of us aupairs have been so lucky to have a bit of free time off these past two weeks (courtesy of the school holidays) and so, to celebrate this and the fact none of us had the dreaded babysitting shift, we chose the hidden gem of the ‘Comptoir General’ for our nightime antics. True to form, my friends and I danced, sang and joked into the early hours (often daring each other to complete the most outrageous and embarrassing dares but why not hey!) It’s moments like these that make all of the little niggles and frustrations of being an au pair oh so worth it. Onwards now to the next few months of fun, laughter and memory making with some of the best people in the world.
By Alice Warde