The past week has been one of pain and sorrow for Paris. As the city comes to terms with the atrocities of Friday 13th, I have cast my mind back to happier times: my first ever trip to the French capital.
I was 16 and had just taken my O Levels. The long summer before my return to school as a sixth former lay ahead. I wanted a holiday and felt mature enough to travel without my parents.
An idea struck me. I had a pen friend in France, Odile, who had been to stay with us a couple of times. This felt like the perfect opportunity to see her again and to improve my language skills before starting my A Levels.
So I contacted her and she duly invited me to come and stay at her family’s home near Châlons-sur-Marne, as it was called at the time. (It has since been renamed Châlons-en-Champagne.) Her father was a wine grower, who was part of a co-operative that made champagne.
During my week, the family took me on a day out to Paris. I remember a trip along the Seine on a bateau-mouche and some confusion over the Thames – it took me ages to understand that the French call London’s river la Tamise.
“It was a day of touristic cliché perhaps, but I was 16 and it was my first visit to the French capital. I loved it”
Of course, our trip involved a visit to the Eiffel Tower too and we strolled along the Champs Élysées. It was a day of touristic cliché perhaps, but I was 16 and it was my first visit to the French capital.
I loved it then. I love it now. I guess I will always love it, no matter what.