I did not set out to go to Paris with my Mum. It just happened. I left school for my first job at 16 as an Advertising Copy Writer trainee. Two years later I landed my dream job as a cadet News Journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Commission Television and Radio newsroom in Hobart, Tasmania. This provided me with a good pay packet – equal pay with men – and six weeks holiday a year.
So in 1971 at the age of 19, I was ready to tackle my first overseas holiday – a month and a half in the UK. Travelling to Britain back then was a rite of passage for a lot of young Aussies, so a lot of us went.
I was going alone though as I had no boyfriend, or anyone else who wanted to travel with me. Until my Mum and Dad had the parental wobbles about their teenage daughter travelling by herself to the other side of the world, and announced they would come too!
You’d think I would have objected to that, but secretly I was a bit scared of my decision to tackle my lonesome trip.
Dad was from England, but he’d left after WW2 as a young man and had a lot of catching up to do with his extended family. So when Mum and I saw a super cheap three day trip to PARIS advertised in a travel agent’s window, we took the opportunity and were off the next weekend!
Our package hotel was a small three star, close to the central train station and only 100 metres away from the main Galeries Lafayette department store of the upmarket French chain, now the biggest in Europe.
To a young girl from the tiny island of Tasmania, Galeries Lafayette seemed so glamorous. I could barely afford anything there, but lashed out on a pair of brown corduroy bell bottoms. So trendy, so cool! Well, at least I thought so.
I wore those bell bottoms endless throughout the rest of our UK/Paris trip and for many years afterwards!
I’ve really had to search hard for any photographs I took on that trip – mainly because I didn’t take a lot. I’d bought a Super 8 video camera in Singapore en route to England, and was obsessed with taking travel movies with it. Absolutely no training in film! I panned around at everything – at warp speed – too quickly. You need a nausea pill to watch it!
In my photograph hunt, I found a travel tag with the name of the hotel we stayed at – Trinite, 74 Rue de Provence, Paris! I looked it up on the Internet and it is still there – 51 years later. It’s now called the Hotel Antin-Trinite, and from the photos on their website, it looks much the same as it did, with a decor upgrade! It was here that Mum and I discovered the French bidet, with no idea of what it was. See my May story – https://travellingtherese.com/2022/05/13/sumimasen-toire-wa-dokodesu-ka-or-excuse-me-where-is-the-toilet/
It was also at this hotel that I discovered the European hotel hallway system where lights automatically go on when you enter a corridor and then go off when you are gone. Except that in our stay at the Trinite in the 70’s, I never seemed to clear the small corridor, to and from our room, before I was plunged in darkness. A lesson in always having a torch when travelling!
We had no elevator, but fortunately we were only on the first floor – so the staircase was not a problem. On the TRINITE hotel website, you can even see that very same staircase which Mum fled up, like a tornado force wind, after an incident I describe later in this story!
Breakfast was included in our tariff – freshly baked rolls and french croissants with coffee. I had never had a breakfast like it. I didn’t miss my cornflakes, porridge or cup of tea at all! My exploration of the world’s culinary delights had begun.
To my surprise, the hotel, at the time of our visit, was run by Moroccans. Very nice people, and friendlier than any French people I have ever met in France. I should add that I have spent limited time in France, and sadly I’ve never made any personal connections there. So my view is probably a little askew. My brother and sister in law love having extended stays in French villages, and have a lot of good things to say about France. My youngest sister also adores Paris, her favourite city in the world.
Mum and I did the usual things you do on a quick trip to Paris – a city bus tour, a visit to Versailles. And a night time cruise on the Seine.
The cruise, on a beautiful summer evening in Paris, was wonderful. We met up with a young Australian girl travelling alone on our boat, and after the cruise, she walked back along the river bank with us to head to the nearest subway station. Mum was worried about her being alone late at night, and said we should accompany the girl.
When we started out, a main road was running alongside the path. But as we went on, the path and the road seemed to part company without us really noticing. Shrubbery between the two increasied until it was separated by a little badly lit parkland. It was quite late at night, and before we knew it, we seemed to be by ourselves on the path.
Mum and the other Aussie pulled well ahead of me chatting together, as I dawdled behind lugging my camera, purse and trying a little night filming with my Super 8 movie camera.
Suddenly from Mum a scream -“Quick, run!”
I stood stock still, bewildered at the sight of Mum and our Aussie companion racing away at an Olympic pace. I shouted back – ”What are we running for?”
Mum kept running, and screaming ”Run, run. Just run!”. She did not look back. And so we all ran, for quite a while. I couldn’t keep pace, so overloaded with my cameras and a stack of pamphlets I’d collected on the cruise. Eventually, they stopped and waited for me to come puffing up behind them, still asking ‘What are we running for?”
It was all a mystery to me. I saw nothing. They saw plenty. A ‘flasher’ had emerged from a bush in front of them, his undies down by his ankles. Afterwards, I queried whether Mum really thought he could actually catch up with three of us with his ankles harnessed together by his undies. And was he really going to take on this Aussie trio and do what? I reckon he, at least, got a very good laugh at our comedic reaction.
Nethertheless, Mum was very rattled by the experience. Very upset and nervous. This was her first overseas trip. Before that, there had only been a ferry voyage across Bass Strait for a short holiday in the big smoke – Melbourne around 1954!
We arrived at our subway station. We should have twigged that we weren’t on the right side of the track, as plenty of people were gathered opposite us, but no one else was on our platform. A man, realising our situation, beckoned us, and called across the track in broken English, asking where we wanted to go.
’Don’t look, don’t look, don’t answer him,” Mum said in a panic. I calmly pointed out that we were clearly on the wrong platform and the man was probably trying to be helpful. Eventually, Mum realised he meant well, and we crossed to catch our train.
On arrival back at our hotel, Mum was still in a state of high anxiety. When we explained what happened to our kind Moroccan hotel hosts, they sat her down for a cup of tea. She calmed down and began chatting about our river cruise, while I went up to our room.
About ten minutes later, Mum arrived in a fearful state. ”Lock the doors, one of those Moroccans is after me!”
Now, my Mum was a good looking woman and only 18 years older than me. But what 19 year old thinks her Mum is attractive to men? Especially to the rather handsome young Moroccan she was talking about. The next morning, Mum didn’t want to front the hotel staff at breakfast. So I said I’d go downstairs to the foyer to seek an explaination of what had happened.
Turns out Mum paid the Moroccans a hefty sum for the cup of tea – which actually wasn’t necessary as it was complimentary. Not grasping the value of the French franc or understanding the currency notes, she gave the young Moroccan the equivalent of about $50! He began to protest and called after her as she raced upstairs, thinking he was in hot pursuit! He simply wanted to give her the money back. Lost in translation! It was all smiles and apologies after I explained to Mum that they had no ill intentions. She got her $50 back and decided the Moroccan hosts were very nice people indeed.
Our three days in Paris went like a jiffy. We had a great time, despite our little misadventures and quirky moments. A much cherished time with my Mum. I vowed to return to Paris with a lover/husband sometime. It never happened as other countries like Greece and Japan captured my heart.
I did, in fact, return to Paris briefly by myself several years later. Well, the outskirts of Paris, en route back to England. Everything seemed so expensive on my backpacker budget. So I welcomed a cheap hamburger at this new American place they called McDonalds!
PS: What is it with France, me and flashers? On another trip to the south of France some years later, I was camped at a remote spot in the forest near Argentière, close to Chamonix, with a Tasmanian mountaineering friend and his British girlfriend. He went off on a challenging climbing day, while we girls stayed the campsite. Suddenly, the British girl let loose with a tirade of furious fluent French! Shocked, and not understanding a word of what she was saying, I turned towards where she was looking and there he was – a flasher – totally naked. Not even any undies wrapped around his ankles a la the Paris flashed!
He absorbed her verbal onslaught, looking more shocked than I felt, then turned and ran! We were a bit shaken, but were soon laughing about the incident.
Apparently, she said to him something along the lines of “What on earth do you think you’re doing! Are you trying to show us that weeny little excuse for a penis? Go away, you silly man!”
C’est la vie!
IN MY BLOG NEXT MONTH, I’LL BE WRITING ABOUT ONE OF MY FAVOURITE CITIES IN THE WORLD – HOBART, THE CAPITAL OF TASMANIA