The week of the ‘canicule’.

French for heatwave, the canicule meant that week four was largely spent trying to stay as still as possible in fruitless efforts to keep cool, before inevitably taking a dip in the kids paddling pool.

Unlike the majority of Monday’s I have been here, I was oddly motivated to get up and go straight away. With the temperatures climbing towards the 30’s, there is significant benefits to hopping on the bus straight after dropping the children at their activities to avoid climbing the mini mountain on which my house was built. I decided to pop up at the Moulin Rouge and have a wander, and palpitations at the ticket prices for an evening under the red windmill, before heading to Montmarte, a great decision if I say so myself. The cloudless sky ensure the views over the Paris were as stunning as I had hoped. The inside of the Sacre Coeur provided some much needed canicule shelter and, although I had already cheated and taken the funicular instead of the stairs, I decided to give climbing the basilica’s tower a miss for today.

Exploring Montmartre was next on the agenda. With an incredibly nutritious lunch of pistachio ice cream under my belt, I walked the cobbled streets of one of the most beautiful areas of Paris, avoiding getting conned into an awful caricature of my face. I think one of the things I will miss most about France is a decent pistachio ice cream.

Knowing Tuesday was going to be even hotter than the previous day, I opted to only leave the house when absolutely necessary. This was only to ferry the kids to and from activities; so luckily first thing in the morning, and last thing in the evening when I knew we were heading home straight to jump into the paddling pool. On which note, I should add I did spend a significant amount of my morning huddled over said pool searching for the puncture, beginning to wonder if it was actually some form of fools errand such as finding a left handed screwdriver.

Wednesday I was adamant that I would not let another day go to waste at the hands of the canicule! So I battled the weather and headed into Paris for a day at the beach. Quiche Lorraine and new friend in tow, we meandered to the Paris plage on the bank of the Seine below the Louvre. Wednesday night saw the return of the Great British Bake Off. After having explained the show and it’s cult following in great detail to my host parents, I ended up making the ultimate sacrifice and missed the highlight of summer TV in favour of having a social life. I’d like to say the few drinks in front of the Chateau de Versailles was worth it, but it’s a tall statement.

I soldiered on through the canicule for a Thursday picnic in the parc du Versailles. This was the closest I have been to the Chateau thus far, and the beauty, splendor, and sheer attention to detail of the whole area is overwhelming. We sheltered in the shade next to the canal and sought enjoyment in observing people’s cliche instagram-esque poses; especially those intent on getting as close to young swans as possible, which came close to loss of fingers when the swans rightly decided enough was enough. I’m now becoming quite well adapted to picnics in France, and after watching someone cut a camembert with a bank card for lack of a knife, I can confirm the garlic and herb cream cheese is the ultimate baguette accompaniment when you’re on the go.

Having excelled myself in the face of the extreme heat, I was reassured that I would survive living in Orlando where I will worship the almighty AC. However, Friday I opted to avoid getting so hot that even my eyelids began to stick together and thus rested sheltering from the canicule before taking on Paris by night once more. So sat outside the Pantheon we enjoyed warm wine, BN’s, and our own High School Musical sing-song.

Saturday was another Seine side picnic, complete with more BN’s. It seemed very un-French for the Mairie de Paris to discourage people from consuming alcohol during the canicule when a chilled glass of white was just so inviting. So against this advice, the Brits (true to form) soldiered on and headed for a bar. From henceforth I pledge to avoid irish bars like the plague*, they are just not the Parisian atmosphere I was hoping to find after dark. Yet the evening was far from wasted due to the beginning of some great Parisian friendships.

There was no time to wallow in self-pity on Sunday, for I was off on a boat trip with my host family. Thankfully it was finally a little cooler after the peak of the heatwave, and a cruise along the river was bliss. It was lovely to spend time with the family, see Paris from a new angle, and wave to those picnicking along the banks as we had been doing the night before.

 

Week 4 in numbers:

  • heatwave survived.
  • 3.5 seconds spent not feeling sweaty and disgusting.
  • dips in the paddling pool.
  • 1 inner city beach day.
  • initial paddling pool punctures found.
  • punctures found after having inflating and filling.
  • Moulin Rouge tickets 90% more expensive than I can afford.
  • episode of Bake Off (watched late).
  • 58 BN’s consumed (approximation).
  • 1 cultural and highbrow activity achieved.
  • trips on public transport where the scent was almost bearable.

 

*writing this blog in retrospect means I can confirm that this has not happened.

 

 

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‘Mona Madness’ – Paris week 3.

So week three started with an unexpected day off. Once again my lack of attention meant that I had failed to process that due to a French bank holiday, my family would not actually be returning until Monday evening. So, after wasting my Sunday evening, Monday was spent in true bank holiday style; staying in, watching Gilmore Girls and defeating a mountain of laundry. I am still unaware as to why, when I work so little during the week, I spent bank holiday in lounge pants, ‘working’. Two wash loads, and three ironed and made beds later, my family returned.

With her Parisian escapades preceding her, I finally met Vanessa on the Tuesday. It was far too hot* to do much more than sit in a cocktail bar and watch passersby getting splashed by cars driving through a burst water main. Such a shame…

Wednesday  attempted my first shopping trip in Paris, with varying levels of success. After my sandals met a tragic end the previous week, I could not cope without some open shoes in the belated summer heat. Shopping in a new country is always tricky because it’s a case of scouting out the equivalents to what you’re used to back home, something made all the more worse when you are searching for something specific which is going out of season. But 4 separate H&M’s later I emerged victorious, sandals in hand, with a vague sense for what french stores suit my style and are affordable. That evening I helped my host children sort through the previous years school books before the impending rentreé, where I found a photo of me in horse form (see below).

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In a highbrow mood, and equipped with more appropriate footwear than my previous museum visit, friday began with a trip to the Louvre. Thankfully I headed straight to the Louvre after dropping my kids to their activities so did not need to stand in the heat waiting for the security check, and being 22 and an EU citizen (for the moment, Brexit grumble grumble) I walked straight for free, simply flashing my ID. Now I cannot deny taking the odd snap here and there, but I seem to be in the 3% minority of guests who do not shuffle around viewing the paintings through a phone screen (or worse not even bothering to look at works at all, just the bloody phone).

If you are aiming to view the Mona Lisa then, unlike me, it may be an idea to head there first thing. I very much underestimated the ‘Mona madness’ as I shall call it, and meandered my way there, looking at everything I passed. Potentially a mistake, for when I reached the Mona Lisa it was swarmed with tour groups pushing and shoving to get as close as they could to take their photo and leave. However after being knocked on the head in the head by the phones of several unaware (/inconsiderate) tourists, I finally saw the famous painting. By this point having seen enough of the Louvre for one morning, and specifically ruined many a person’s photo because I oddly I wanted to stand and look at the paintings, I hopped on the metro for a restful afternoon before the kids descended. Turns out the Louvre is even bigger than I thought, for on closer inspection of the map, I had only seen half of a single wing of the building.

Having finally descended from my museum etiquette soapbox, Saturday meant hitting Paris hard. Following Vanessa’s lead, we met for drinks outside Notre Dame where we watched a fire juggling street performer (three times over for Vanessa to put her number in his hat along with her euro), before heading Saint Michel for my first taste of the Parisian bar scene. After trekking what felt like half of Paris, we arrived at some more typically French bars, before calling it a night. This was also my first taste of Parisian transport after dark. With all public transport bar the less than reliable night buses shutting down early until around 5am, we lasted about 20 minutes on the steps of the metro before we gave in and summoned my first uber. At this point I would like to acknowledge having followed Christian’s uber rules, and told those in the car nothing about myself, I did however fall asleep so I can’t be certain it was a complete success.

Sunday saw some host family bonding as we explored the forest by our house, which I enjoyed with surprising vigor considering. Weekend activities with my family are obviously completely optional, but with so much free time in the week to do as I please, I like to be an Aupair who involves herself in family life also. Getting stuck in really helps you to feel a part of the family dynamic and local life, while also being a great chance to improve your language skills.

And so ended another week in beautiful Paris.

 

Week 3 in numbers:

  • spirit animal discovered.
  • 1 museum.
  • 1 unexpected day off.
  • 1 new friend.
  • 1 Uber ride.
  • 12 episodes of Gilmore Girls (better).
  • 1.5 pages of Harry Potter read since last week (worse, but I did plough through an English book…).
  • 100’s of tourist photos ruined at the Lourve.
  • 3756 shops scoured for replacement sandals.

 

*at this point I was unaware of the impending canicule…

 

 

Paris Chapter II: the salmon incident.

We live and learn.

This week commenced with possibly my worst experience as an aupair yet, which is a bold statement.

After dropping Anatole at his activities, I spent the morning exploring Versailles. I gazed in awe of the stunning Chateau exterior and, although I am dying to explore inside, settled on exploring the town for the time being. By lunchtime I had worked up quite the appetite and hopped on the bus back to Chaville. Back at home, my host mum and I set to raiding the freezer for lunch, settling for salmon, spinach, and rice. This is where I made my crucial mistake. Somewhere in the Franglais speaking part of my brain, I failed to comprehend being asked if I wanted it raw or cooked.

I don’t even like sushi, yet being the bumbling Brit I am, I adorned a stiff upper lip and soldiered on through. One whole salmon fillet later and I was equal parts proud, relieved, and somewhat repulsed. Henceforth I will be concentrating harder on what is being said in French as I’m not sure I will ever forget the slimy fishy feeling of a whole raw salmon fillet. Naturally my attendance to lunch at home has drastically decreased.

Tuesday I finally met another Au Pair! I’m quickly deciding the Parisian metro is not my favourite mode of transport, often involving as much time walking as it does on the train, and multiple ambiguous exits. Combine this with my lack of French mobile and meeting people in central Paris can get tricky. Yet after one very confused phonecall about how we were both outside H&M on Rue Rivolli, and unsurprisingly concluding there were multiple H&Ms, I met Sally. In true Parisian style we sat in the street and indulged in a Croque Madame and some day drinking (strangely I didn’t opt for the salmon tartare), before wandering half of Paris for a patisserie.

Wednesday I explored the Le Marais area of Paris, enjoying some vintage shopping, giant marshmallows, and hopping through archways to find yet more fabulous architecture and sights to behold. Thursday I made the rookie error of trekking across Paris for a bakery that was recommended to me, only to find it was closed. Yet it wasn’t an entirely wasted morning as I got to enjoy the canal and find a shop where one can buy guns and balaclavas. The afternoon was spent portraying a cultured individual at the Musee d’Orsay (which is not the ideal place to discover your shoes are squeaky.

Having Paris on your doorstep you feel you need to make the most of every minute, however pacing yourself is key to being an Au Pair. It’s wonderful to have so much free time in the day to go galavanting in the city, but coming home and trying to match the energy of two children in the afternoon can take it’s toll. Sometimes you need to remind yourself it’s ok to not explore for a day. Thus friday was a rather lazy day; catching up on some online French lessons, writing this, and, of course, some all important Netflix time. After seeing my family off for the weekend, I headed straight to the shop for a Pizza and a bottle of wine!

Saturday saw my first night out in Paris. I met some wonderful girls and felt truly Parisian with my baguette, cheese, and wine on the banks of the Seine. Sunday, therefore, consisted of the three N’s; Netflix, nuggets, and napping.

 

My second week in numbers:

  • 85,315 steps (once again I felt compelled to do most of my exploring the day I wore heeled boots).
  • major lessons learnt; importance of museum appropriate shoes, stop wearing heeled boots, I don’t like raw salmon.
  • 14 episodes of Gilmore Girls…
  • 3 pages of Harry Potter completed since week one.
  • french films watched. enjoyed.
  • 1 weekend survived home alone.
  • 1 broken shoe.
  • Alcohol units: somewhere in the thousands.

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”

– Thomas Jefferson 

After navigating the underground with a suitcase the weight of a baby elephant, being barged about by the most unendearing of Londoners, I boarded the already delayed coach to Paris. The highlights of the journey included catching two Jigglypuffs, and the child who discussed at length the logistics of the Eurotunnel and the possible drowning of the whole bus. But eventually I spied the Eiffel Tower and Disney castle on the horizon.

I was greeted by host family at the bus station, and having never been to Paris, my host mum gave me my own tour as we drove through the centre of the city towards Chaville. I resisted giving a little squeal as we drove past the Eiffel Tower. However, squeal was given on realisation that the Eiffel tower can be seen from my bedroom window.

After spending the first day settling in, learning my way around, and honing my sporting skills playing tennis in the garden, it was time to venture into Paris. With tickets coming out of my ears, I navigated the Paris metro (which seems to involve almost as much walking as it does being on a train) to pop up at the Louvre. After enjoying watching the multitude of people waving their arms round attempting to get the perfect photo of them ‘touching’ the tip of the pyramid, I saw the Arc de Triumphe, the Paris opera house, bought some much needed throat sweets, and had a sit down in the Jardin des Tuileries. True to form, I found a boulangerie and indulged in some quiche and coffee, sitting outside and watching the world go by in true Parisian style, before heading to Notre Dame. After an evening of discovering just how entertaining snapchats filters are for a 7 year old (finally, I understand the need to turn your face into a giant raspberry), I spent the next day chilling around the house.

My feet having just about recovered from Wednesday’s 24,346 steps, I headed to the Eiffel Tower when I sat in the sun and indulged in some reading. I then headed to Boneshaker Donuts to sample a maple bacon donut before exploring the Grand Palais area. Once again I was 1 hour early to collect Romane from her activities because as yet I had not fully put my trust in Parisian public transport.

Once I had succeeded in trying to coax a 7 year old into showering in dressing in double time, we bundled into the car and headed off to the grandparents in La Baule for the weekend to switch children for the coming week. Saturday consisted of a slap-up meal on the beach, playing in the sea, napping on the sand and a seafood feast. I successfully achieved a tan and am now sure that anything I set my mind to is absolutely possible. Sunday we went shopping in La Baule, a beautiful french seaside town, had Sunday lunch as a family, and returned to Paris (this time with a different child and enough french books to keep me going for months).

Although I have spent a lot of this week drinking in the sheer beauty of Paris, it has also included a little bit of work. I’ve only had Romane during my working week, making for an easy start. She is super independent meaning the morning routine is more about overseeing than being actively involved. I’ve been greatly entertained by her trying on every pair of shoes I brought, complete with model poses.

So there we have it, week one as an Aupair in Paris complete.

First week in numbers:

  • 71032 steps (too many of which were in low heeled boots).
  • 13 hours spent in online queue. Subsequently, 2 Cursed child tickets purchased.
  • 10+ people with clipboards I have told I don’t speak English to. I have almost perfected the french pronunciation of ‘non’.
  • 8 starfishes accidentally (probably) murdered by my host children.
  • 6 major Paris landmarks visited.
  • 5 pages of Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers read.
  • 4 new foods tried.
  • 2 major lessons learnt; do not cross a Megabus driver, and that a green pedestrian light does not guarantee a car will stop.
  • 1 swim in the sea.
  • 1 cold battled through.
  • 1 million cheese based calories consumed.
  • 0 host child meltdowns.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

And on that note, I am off to Paris.

It’s hard to stay still when you have itchy feet. I’m simultaneously waiting for the start of my Disney program and missing being in a country that I have fallen in love with. Here began the brief conflict of to ‘adult’, or not to ‘adult’.

I chose the latter.

It wasn’t a difficult decision really – considered, but not difficult. I could spend the next three months bumming around Essex picking up the few shifts I can here and there just to add a minimal amount to the savings I can already comfortably take to America, or go on a new adventure. It’s not that I have never travelled, I’ve been very lucky, but I’ve never really seen any european cities. So here’s my chance to tick seeing Paris off the bucket list.

I’ve been smart and saved money even whilst Au Pairing. As an Au Pair you might not be raking it in, but you’re not paying out for basic living expenses either. I’ve not scrimped (I’ve very much eaten, drunk, and been merry throughout), but I’ve been economical. So although I might not earn as much as I could in England, I know I won’t be losing money.

Having been stretched by two fantastic european adventures already this year, I couldn’t resist the opportunity that this surplus gap year time presented. After all, come November 2017, who knows what might have come from my year working for the WDC. I don’t want to miss my chance for this carefree little adventure.

So I’ll be hopping on the Megabus on August 1st (what I’m sure will be an experience in itself) and heading to Paris for two months. With the promise of picnics in Versaille castle park and that all important gut feeling, I’ve been lured into living and working in (the extensively google mapped) Chaville. This time someone is mad enough to be  trusting me with two impressionable young people, who are apparently as excited for my arrival as I am.

So here’s to two more months of eating cheese, speaking Franglais, and making memories.

 

“But you didn’t really live at the top of the Mountain…”

Yes, I really did.

My first Au Pair experience literally did take me to the top of the beautiful Mont Lachat in the Savoie region of France. I lived above a restaurant at the top of the slopes above the little village Crest Voland. To get to and from the apartment you had to go by some combination of Skiddoo, Quad, Chairlift, Skis, or on foot. But I wasn’t completely isolated. Yes, the wi-fi (pronounced wee-fee en Francais) was the speed of internet about 30 years go, but I could still hop in the car and explore different places, go shopping, and go out for a drink.

Granted it was only for three months and perhaps it might have got to me after a while, but for those three months, it was perfect. After the stress of my final year at University and producing and directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I theorised that moving up a mountain could be a fantastic wind-down. And waking up to see the sun washing the mountains in a pink glow each morning was reinvigorating.

I had been thinking about becoming a Seasonaire after having watched friends explore the opportunity, seeing Nat venture off to Au Pair Switzerland, and having some time to kill waiting for Disney, the two ideas fused. But it was more than just a means to an end. Sure it seemed much more appealing than getting up at the crack of dawn for breakfast service and cleaning toilets as a chalet host, but I knew I loved working with children from all the laughs that were had while working at Big Mouth Theatre.

So after trusting my gut and finding a fantastic host family, I hopped on a plane, and a bus, and a quad to find myself at the top of the mountain ready for my first adventure.