I ♥ surprises…

…and planning.

Yesterday’s day of birthday surprises in honour of my mother went well. We strolled happily through a very sunny London; spent nearly three hours engrossed in afternoon tea; drank cocktails; and spent the evening watching Alison Steadman cavorting about the stage in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (highly recommended, though it closes this month). What I had not expected, on returning from the bathroom somewhere between pots three and four of Ceylon tea, was the appearance of a parcel and card addressed to me.

Opening it, I discovered a card containing a train ticket and a cryptic (ok, not so much cryptic as written in small writing around the edge of the inside) message plus Drina Dances in Paris – a volume of one of my favourite childhood series. This package also solved a mystery I had been pondering for several months – what I’d be getting up to over the weekend of July 9th…

On February 21st, I was sent an e-mail from ‘birthdaysecrets at hotmail…’ informing me that a surprise was being planned for my forthcoming 30th and asking me to state my availability across a series of summer dates. Later, I had further e-mails confirming dates and instructing me to await further information. I told a few people of this intriguing development – several thought it was some form of elaborate hoax – while others encouraged me to guess what it was.

The thing is, I’m a canny bean and I noted various factors:

  • The first e-mail was sent during a weekend when my mother was staying with my sister.
  • The writing style was similar to my sister’s.
  • My parents announced that they were holidaying in England this year, beginning on July 8th.
  • It’s well known that I’ve never been to Paris and it’s high on my list of places to visit.

I didn’t put too much effort into cementing these guesses – I love surprises and liked the effort that was being put into it. However, I did test the Paris guess (one friend having pointed out that I might be bitterly disappointed), when I had a week of in March and went to the spa, I mentioned in passing to both my mum and sister that I’d toyed with the idea of a spontaneous trip to Paris. In reality I was too tired for Paris and didn’t have enough time to plan (a fact I mention to them too) but they stood firm and didn’t let on.

But why not surprise me at St Pancras on the day itself? Well, although I love surprises, I’m also passionate about forward planning and organisation – especially where travel is concerned. So, in addition to the childhood Parisian clue, I’ve been left a Dorling Kindersley guidebook so I can decide on an itinerary. Fabulous.

And it gets better. When sharing my news with a friend this morning, he pointed out that I would be missing out on the essential pre-travel trip to Stanfords (or Daunts) for travel guides. However, on closer inspection I’ve discovered that the guidebook is in fact the one my mum and sister took with them on their mini-break to Paris in 2000 (published in 1997, it contains references to Francs) so while it will be fantastic in the city (DK are brilliant for details) I can justify buying a small guidebook of my own too – which can be added to my collection. Trips to Stamfords are also useful for the purchasing of travel journals, though I’m not sure that a weekend trip justifies a journal – aforementioned friend suspected I do one anyway, he may be right.

So yes, I will make it to Paris before I’m 30. I will make my first trip over the channel since 2003 and my first time on French soil since 1996 – I feel I’ve been neglecting continental Europe somewhat. Tips on what to do during a summer weekend in Paris would be appreciated, am I right in thinking that the Louvre can wait? Is wanting to go up the Eiffel Tower utterly touristy? Is it wrong to only eat croissants, baguette and cheese all weekend? Most of all, how far will a GCSE in French get me? (I suspect people will not be terribly interested in the many fascinating facts I can explain about Gloucester…Gloucester cette une ville moyenne dans le sud-ouest d’Angleterre. Il y a beaucoup de distractions en Gloucester, il y a une piste de ski artificiel...) Do let me know.

In the mean time, I’ll be revelling in the reading of an old favourite and, in about 24 hours, ruing the fact that the rest of the series is in Belfast.


  1. Fun! I thought it would be fun to go to Paris for my 30th, this October, but being in Canada it’s a little less likely.

    I have been there once before & I’m sure your French will get you through. Every time I spoke French I was answered in English. Comforting & disappointing at the same time.

    Agreed on the Louvre & the Eiffel Tower. 🙂

  2. I’ve still not been to the Louvre despite multiple short stays in Paris but everyone says you need a whole day there. I loved going up the Eiffel Tower, no matter how touristy cheesy. Also liked walking along the Seine crossing random bridges. Both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur are pretty at twilight, though you can’t go inside after about 5pm. Pere Lachaise Cemetery is fascinating though it can easily take up half a day or more. Random Moroccan restaurants are a good bet for quick, cheap, tasty lunch. Those are my helpful hints!

  3. @Laura – it’s always the way, you travel somewhere hoping to practise your language skills & then they spot your tourist credentials from a mile off!!

    @Kate – I’d read about the cemetery in the Drina book & was intrigued, but it’s probably worth taking longer over. Like the sound of the bridges. Thanks for the tips!

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