Paris!! The Coronavirus, disability & me – My trip.

It had been 17 years since I last visited Paris. My youngest son had never been, his older brother only had sketchy memories. We were due a holiday and wanted something different – a city break. All being creatives, Paris had to be that city. We spent months researching the arrondissements, the tourist attractions and the places we could visit off the beaten track. We decided on an apartment rather than a hotel, wanting to experience a tiny bit of Parisian life, drinking coffee on our own balcony, overlooking the rooftops. Our train to London was booked, along with the Eurostar. I devoured novel after novel set in the City of Light. I was immensely excited, nothing could spoil our trip.

And then the Coronavirus hit.

We were part of a visit Paris group on-line – everyone remained upbeat – nobody was going to cancel – cases in distant countries weren’t going to deter people from travelling. But then the virus escalated and suddenly the countries affected weren’t too distant and after an outbreak in Italy it was only a mater of time before it spread widely in France. People began cancelling their trips, should we?

Two days before we were due to leave The Louvre was closed with warnings that more attractions would follow. A hotel of tourists in Tenerife was quarantined. We were concerned, not solely because of the virus but because we didn’t want to be stuck overseas. My son had to be back at uni on time for assessments otherwise he might have to repeat his second year.

The day before we were due to travel there was a massive rise in cases in France. I rang my insurance company, would they cover us if we didn’t travel. They wouldn’t. Rather than excitement about our impending trip, all I felt was a sick dread. Was I putting my children in danger? What should we do? On the morning of our departure, we were still debating. In the end we decided to risk it and hope for the best. Hurriedly I packed, clothes for rainy days, layers for the chill and plenty of things to do in case we were quarantined. Our journey was uneventful, no health checks were made or questions were asked when leaving our country or entering France,

On our first day I was anxious, we decided to have a calming wander around the city. I had a loose itinerary but knew from past experience the best way to enjoy Paris is to follow your feet and see what you stumble across, around every corner is a joy to discover.

We stepped out into the glorious Spring sunshine and meandered past the stunning architecture, sharing a smile. We were here! It was okay! Before long we spotted signs for a museum. When we got there it was closed, the sign on the door was in French but we understood the heading in thick, blood letters ‘CORONOVIRUS’ we turned away, just as a group wearing face masks passed us. It was sobering. Again I wondered if we should have stayed at home. The streets were quieter than usual. On the bridge a man coughed and visitors skirted around him, however there weren’t nearly as many people wearing masks as I thought there would be, most people weren’t.

A handful of attractions were closed because of the virus but there is so much to do in Paris it didn’t matter. As the days passed we (I) grew more relaxed. The city wasn’t crowded, it was always possible to get a table in a cafe. There were no queues anywhere, not even at the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay. It was Paris like I’d never experienced before and likely never will again.

In retrospect I am so glad we didn’t cancel our trip but that’s no judgement on people who do. Face masks and fear are things you shouldn’t have to content with on a vacation. Paris will (should) always be there, hopefully the virus won’t.

We crammed such a lot into our week, far too much to share but these were our highlights: –

Place de Vosges – This is the oldest planned square in Paris. The writer, Victor Hugo lived in one of the gorgeous houses here. It’s so tranquil it’s like stepping back in time. There are some amazing galleries and boutiques lining the square as well as the bookshop in Hotel Sully.

J J Leto is the best busker I have ever seen and definitely one of my favourite things. The second we saw him we settled ourselves on the pavement and listened to his entire set before buying one of his CD’s. It’s the unexpected delights that often make a trip. This was one of them.

 

We wandered along the river and ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens which was a very pretty oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Montmartre is one of my favourite places. I love the street art and the galleries. We visited the Montmartre Museum and I was thrilled to try the swing featured in Renoir’s ‘The Swing’ painting. The Sacre Coeur is stunning and the views across the city are breathtaking.

 

I’m a bit of a stationery obsessive so Melodies Graphiques was a real treat. I came away with bags of handmade paper, a dip pen and ink vowing to write everything the old-fashioned way from now on. Expect my next book to be ready in about 2029…

 

We were lucky that in between the torrential bouts of rain it was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes, soak up the atmosphere and eat a waffle or two.

 

The Eiffel Tower offers such sweeping views it’s great for a photo opportunities. For the best view of the tower head over to the Trocadero and of course, go back at night to see it illuminated and watch the light show that sparkles every hour.

 

I’m such an art lover but I knew we wouldn’t have time to see all the galleries and so I chose carefully. The Musee D’Orsay did not disappoint. I became quite emotional to see paintings I had admired for years via books (including Renoir’s The Swing – I think I’d nailed it.)

The French were so friendly. I greeted everyone with a happy smile and a ‘Bonjour’ and received the same in return. The food was heavenly – we didn’t have a single bad meal although sometimes we had to try several restaurants before we found a vegetarian option.

We would avoid – taxis – we sat in traffic for so long the first day we didn’t bother again. The metro is simple once you’ve done it once and there’s always someone who will help you out.

 

We came away laden with wine, cheese and chocolate; many happy memories and a love for the city. Paris – we shall see you again soon!

Lastly, a few words about disabled access. I have compromised mobility and although I didn’t take my wheelchair I was heavily reliant on crutches. I have walked more this week than I thought was possible (and am paying for it heavily!) The French are super conscious and considerate of anyone disabled. Each time on the Metro I was offered a seat. Had there been queues at attractions I could have skipped them if I’d asked at the front of the queue. There are a lot of stairs in the city. Some avoidable. Some not. The Sacre Coeur has a few hundred but you can avoid most (there are still some) of these by riding up in the Funicular (which is free with a metro pass). The Pantheon had a ramp. Most restaurants and cafes unfortunately have toilets downstairs. There are very few lifts in eating establishments. Most metro stations don’t have them. There are many toilet facilities scattered around the city which I think should fit a wheelchair in. Some of the larger places (The Musee D’Orsay for example) have wheelchairs which you can borrow.

THIS is absolutely the highlight of my career

A few days ago, on holiday, my youngest son excitedly told me Lego are making a ‘Stranger Things’ set.

‘You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalised in Lego,’ I said.

We travelled home this morning, and after I’d showered I opened the door to my study to find this Lego model of my office – complete with inspirational quote board – on my desk.

Next to it was this note: –

So many amazing things have happened over the past three years with my books, and I hope there are many more causes for celebration to come but genuinely no amount of books sales, chart domination or award nominations have come close to the feeling of pride I got when I read this note. Whatever you do in life, to be a success in the eyes of your child…. there is no greater success.

Rest, relaxation & 3 great reads

Last month I coped with my son leaving home by sending him off to uni with 3 important things (you can read that post here). I spent the first few days of his absence drifting sadly around the house. It was when I lit a candle in his bedroom I knew I had to get out and do something productive so I dashed to Asda to stock up on chocolate. When I arrived I reminded myself how well I was doing on my sugar free diet, how much better I felt and so instead of a bar of dairy milk I headed into the in-store travel agent and bought a holiday to Lanzarote instead (and it was fun explaining that impromptu purchase to my husband).

Days later myself, my youngest son and my husband were on a beach. It was an odd sensation, trying to relax. It was the first time, in a long time, I hadn’t had a looming deadline from my publisher. I deliberately hadn’t packed my laptop, instead I’d taken a stack of books and I intended to read *whispers* for pleasure.

Historically I used to read a couple of novels a week but in the last few years I’ve been so busy writing my own books there’s been little time for reading. On the occasions I’ve managed to snatch precious minutes from my day, I’ve ended up reading one of the huge pile of proofs in my study awaiting quotes which all tend to be psychological thrillers as that’s the genre I write in. On my break, I was determined to read something different, and I did.

The One With Hidden Depths – First on my list was Graham Norton’s cozy crime debut ‘Holding.’ I’ve long been a huge Graham Norton fan. I pre-ordered this the second it was announced but I’ve been putting off reading it because… if I’m honest, because I thought it might not be very good. Sorry Graham. 

I dove into the pages expecting them to be peppered with brash humour, outrageous jokes, which I wasn’t sure how would translate into a novel, but what I found was a gentle story set in rural Ireland, sensitively written by someone who knew his characters inside out. The gradual unfurling is slow but I like that in a story. There’s a depth to the characterisation you rarely find in debuts. So much so I googled whether Graham had a ghost writer, apparently he didn’t. There’s a vulnerability surrounding the small community featured in this story, that doesn’t come from the characters alone. I’ve since bought Graham’s second novel ‘A Keeper’ and I won’t leave it too long before I read it.

The Chilling One – Next up was ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ by C.J. Tudor. As a teenager I was a real horror buff and a big fan of Stephen King but as I’ve got older I’ve… I’ve grown into a bit of a wuss  I suppose and so I tend to shy away from the genre. That said when Steven King recommends a writer you sit up and listen and that, along with the fabulous cover, swayed me into putting on my big girl pants and diving in. Goodness. This book is creepy. Right from the start a sense of unease settled over me, despite my brilliant backdrop of blue skies and golden sands. This story is so atmospheric with a refreshingly unique voice. I do love it when I start off loathing a character but the writer gradually draws me in until I’m rooting for them. I’m glad I didn’t read this alone at night, but I’m so very glad I read it. 

The Weepy One – A writer friend of mine recommended ‘Bitter’ by Francesca Jakobi to me and told me I’d love it, and she was right. I find it utterly fascinating when a story is based on some semblance of truth and this one, based on Francesca’s grandmother, drew me in completely. It could have been hard to picture a time when divorce was scandalous and single parent families an oddity but thanks to the evocative writing I was right there with the beautifully crafted characters, living out their obsessions with them. This book is thoughtful, heartbreaking and utterly compelling. I am desperate to know what happened after the final pages. 

Aside from reading, it was a fabulous holiday which kicked off to a thrilling start when we popped into WH Smith’s at the airport and found ‘The Surrogate‘ on the shelves. Once we’d arrived, we hired a car but didn’t explore this gorgeous island nearly enough which is a good reason to return (although we did stumble across a fabulous bookshop who stocked ‘The Sister‘ – hurrah!) What we did do in-between reading was wade into the sea to feed the flurry of fish with cooked vegetables we saved from lunch.

We also went sea trekking for the first time. Walking around the ocean bed while hooked up to air was an odd but amazing experience and a privilege to be up close to so many sea creatures in their natural habitat. 

Evenings found us at a beach bar, sipping cocktails and watching the sun set.

It was while gazing out to sea I had an idea for a romantic novel I felt ridiculously excited about but within 48 hours of being back in the UK I’d (fictionally) killed someone. I feel relaxed, refreshed and ready to put the finishing touches to my fifth psychological thriller, and as for writing romance? Maybe one day…