“One last time…I want to go back to Paris one last time before I die” Argh.
I cringe every time I hear that line. It’s just too darned macabre (maman will live forever, after all.)
This is not my mom’s first “farewell tour” back to the old country. We have returned to France twice in the last decade with her firmly believing that “this could be it”.
Mom was a young 79-year old when we were last in Paris. On that trip, she was drinking rosé and dancing at Ernest Hemingway’s Jazz Bar at the Closerie des Lilas. She was hoofing it up the steep, cobblestoned rue Mouffetard and scooting down metro stairs to get around the city with me.
Now, at 84, and emerging from two years of isolation during “la grande pause,” maman is using a walker and only weighs 90 pounds. Her longing to return seems more pressing – not because of her age but because she needs this. I need this. We have to get back to Paris where both of our hearts sing.
So, last Mother’s Day, I decided that this very special trip was going to happen. It couldn’t be that challenging, right? After all, I run a company called Paris for Seniors and itinerary planning is what I do. But, making plans and actually traveling with a senior – especially your own mother – are very different experiences.
Where to Begin? Good Planning
I spent years working in video production, which involves three phases: pre-production, production and post-production. During that time, I learned that the success of “the show” rides on well thought-out pre-planning. This applies perfectly to trip-planning as well. Take the bugs out of travel before departure – from the comfort of your home.
Start early, make lists about what you want to see and do and most importantly, have fun doing it. Mom mostly wanted to go back to her old neighborhood in the Latin Quarter where she was once a student. I just wanted to be back in Paris – anywhere.
How to Fly Stress-free with Seniors
We booked our travel in May for an August departure. We decided to use Air France for their stellar reputation and, I’ll be honest, their champagne option for all, not just those in business class. The food, wine and bubbles are included in a regular economy fare and the cabin crew and wheelchair assistance service are exceptional.
Even though my husband, Kirk, and I were traveling with mom, we booked full wheelchair assistance. This allowed mom, and her porters (us) to pre-board. When you’re traveling with a senior with a walker, a big carry-on bag and a violin (she’s a gifted musician), along with your own carry-on, you need the space and the time that pre-boarding allows. You know what it’s like…hundreds of passengers pushing through that narrow aisle, jockeying for overhead bins.
When we landed (feeling great I might add), we were the last off the plane but it was in the Zen of a cleared-out cabin with an attendant and a comfy wheelchair waiting for maman at the exit. We were whisked away through special doors and secret elevators and then cleared seamlessly through customs and security.
We had pre-ordered a personal pick-up service where, just outside the Arrivals gate, a well-dressed driver was holding up a sign with maman’s name on it. He became the wheelchair pusher and the Air France attendant with us helped with all the luggage we had retrieved.
Our reserved ride was in a special parking zone for designated tourism vehicles and before we knew it, we were loaded into the van, offered cold Evian and snacks, and on our way to our hotel.
Where to Stay: Your Home Away from Home
For our first week in Paris, our friend had offered us her lovely home in the 19th arrondissement. For week two, we chose a hotel near my old Parisian neighborhood in the Latin Quarter. The Best Western La Demeure came recommended to me by my daughter, Maddy, a world traveller with excellent taste. I normally stay in more rustic hotels but La Demeure was just perfect for this trip with maman. Our room was so Parisian – by this, I mean elegant white bed linens, high ceilings and the classic black Haussmannian wrought iron balconies that are unique to Paris. We even had a beautiful marble fireplace upon which I placed maman’s violin.
Our special treat every morning was le petit déjeuner au lit (breakfast in bed). Oh, how decadent to dip buttery croissants into our café crèmes while maman did her morning crosswords and I read my Maigret mystery novel. I discovered that sticking to maman’s regular at-home morning routine was important and made for a gentle, unrushed start to each new day. We would also go over our plan for the day, leisurely get ready, and then I would call our driver…
Best Way to Get Around the City of Light
While my mother could use the metro on her last visit to Paris, we decided to bite the bullet and just order taxis. The metro has just too many stairs and, while maman could have navigated it, I would have had to carry our bags and her walker and I was just not up for that. I’m no spring chicken myself!
Most of my Paris for Seniors clients are adult children who want to give their parents a “Bucket List” type experience of Paris. Sometimes the seniors are travelling alone; sometimes they’re accompanied by their children and grandchildren.
While it may cost more, I always recommend that older seniors (alone or with their family) hire a private English-speaking driver or negotiate with an Uber or taxi driver for a tour of city highlights or other places (if the senior speaks French). This allows “vintage visitors” to travel around Paris in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and gives them the freedom to stop anywhere they please to get out, explore, use the loo or sit in a café. One can also hire a personal guide to assist while visiting the sites or to get an off-the-beaten-track tour.
Most tourists usually only have a few days in Paris. While taking a métro or bus saves you some money, you will lose time (unless there’s a huge traffic jam) and precious energy using public transportation. I have experienced first-hand how tiring and stressful it can be to get down to the hot, crowded métro or wait for a bus on the wrong side of the street. Trying to hail a taxi or find a taxi stand also takes time away from enjoying the city. Push the easy button and get good, comfortable transportation and go only where you want to go!
Maman and I found our personal (taxi) driver on our second day in Paris. Mr. B rescued us from the blazing sun where we were wilting waiting for a bus. He was very knowledgeable and so helpful that I asked him if he could be our driver while in Paris. He answered very enthusiastically, “Bien sûr chères Mesdames – voici mon numèro WhatsApp.”
Install WhatsApp on Your Cell Phone
Parisians love WhatsApp and truly, what’s not to love? It’s free and so easy to use. Just add your driver to your contacts. We used WhatsApp with Monsieur B throughout our four days in Paris. We would message him at the beginning of our day with “the plan.” Day One was a right bank highlights tour.
More than just our driver, Mr. B helped my mother get her walker out of the car, took pictures of us everywhere and parked close by while we would sit on a terrace for a glass of crisp rosé in Montmartre, the Louvre, and the Marais.
Day Two was the left bank where maman wanted to see her old university, la Sorbonne, stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens and then visit the apartment on boulevard Montparnasse where she and my Canadian dad used to “study together” in the late 1950’s. We ended that perfect day on the terrace of Le Select for champagne and foie gras – just because.
Some Final Words of Advice…. Tout doucement (easy does it)
As I mentioned earlier, it was really helpful to keep mom’s routine similar to the one she has back home in Vancouver and that included an afternoon nap. Our lunches in Paris almost always included wine – which slipped us easily into a decadent sieste before WhatsApping Mr. B to come pick us up for our afternoon and evening fun!
Something tells me, I will be back to Paris again for yet another “Farewell Tour” with maman. How wonderful that would be!
Truth be told, with all the lovely sites of Paris around us, the most beautiful part of this trip was just being together and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
P.S. Self-care. Please take time out for yourself when travelling. No matter how much fun you have, it’s important to re-charge your batteries. I booked my “Vivi time” when maman was resting or happily reading, painting or playing her violin at the hotel. I visited friends for coffee, worked a bit in a nearby café and even went for a massage. I’m sure maman enjoyed her “Thérèse” time without me, too!