"Paris is always a good idea." Audrey Hepburn.
Our visit to Paris was always going to have two main focuses of our attention; running and food. Paris offers both on a platter. Ce Bon!
It's the 40th year I have been on this planet, and 40 years since the first Paris Marathon was first raced in the stunningly beautiful city in 1976. The 40th anniversary Paris Marathon had been burning a hole in our families' calendar for almost 12 months, so the build up was intense to say the least.
Coupled with a serious desire for amazing food beyond brown rice, tuna and whatever tinned vegetables we could find in Dili…the build up was also burning a hole in our appetites!
Training in Dili is in itself a challenging experience (searing heat, pot holes, feral dogs, goats, angry pigs to name a few hurdles), so the road was always going to be less travelled towards a marathon.
A few injuries along the way didn't help either and Marco was literally held together by sticky tape as we arrived at Charles De Gaulle.
The journey to get here was one best left in the 'forgotten' pile for years to come, causing me to mutter under my breathe on more than one occasion 'never again!'.
We travelled from Dili to Paris via Singapore in one day (or was it two?), from a tropical hot and humid - 34c followed by a brisk 3c at 6am 'welcome to Paris' morning, which saw us lug our very weary, cold, and confused children to our hotel by 3 trains to our hotel.
Luckily the hotel was worth the effort. While small and nothing glamorous, the Eiffel Tower bid us good morning each day we stepped out onto the street and the Champs Elysees was a brisk 5-minute walk away. Other guests in the hotel were also in town for the marathon, and the large groups of Spaniards in particular know how to train for a marathon well. Apparently a good bottle of red in front of the fire at 11am while you prep your marathon joggers is all part of the game…
Day one was all about Marco marathon preparation (I had to drag him away from the Spaniards) and after dropping the luggage off the hotel and being told to 'amuse ourselves' for 5 hours until the room was ready, the kids gave us a look of horror when we told them we needed to catch another two trains to 'Marathon HQ' and collect Marco's bib and registration pack.
Not so difficult in the end, and without luggage to slow us down we followed the sea of fit looking people and arrived at the Paris Expo Hall. Multiple languages of excited chatter filled the room and lots of people having their photo's taken with everything from the official countdown clock (thanks to sponsor Tag) and groups of competitors in matching coloured tracksuits who had travelled far from Argentina to Zimbabwe and were hugging each other in front of the Paris Marathon signs; all part of the 57,000 entrant total for "Marathon de Paris-2016."
With every fitness company you can think of on earth peppering the hall, the seemingly 100's of expo booths were a runners dream come true and our own version of Disneyland. There were stalls beckoning us to register for the 'Marrakesh Marathon' Brussels, Oporto and the 'Bordeaux Wine country marathon' (maybe next year?), and other stands simply willing us to spend our hard earned cash on all manner of equipment to make us run that littler bit faster.
Bib safely in hand and the kids with a newly painted supporters poster, we headed to the hotel to plan the next few days activities with the intent of saving Marco's legs from too much walking before the race.
Our first few days were spent trying to convince the flagging children that it wasn't 2am as their body clocks were telling them but 3pm in the afternoon and they simply had to stay awake. Fail for two days straight with the boys falling asleep on both evening meals (Isabel is never tired and was just in permanent hunt for pastries).
With my own 'Rome marathon' still on the itinerary I even snuck in a 12km run along the Seine in 4c chill (quite the change from 34c Dili weather!) and tried desperately not to fall over my own feet as my head was spinning taking in the spectacular scenery of Paris.
Then it was race day - Sunday 03 April 2016.
Nerve central was the breakfast room where the clinking of cups and saucers were only slightly noisier than the room full of marathon competitor's racing heartbeats. We met another Aussie who was patiently watching the clock while munching her banana, and my favourite was the group of cheerful Scottish ladies from a running club who were busy making their own BYO porridge.
As a family we slowly made the journey down to the Champs Elysees with the thousands of other runners to find the starting place for Marco's pace, and with over 57,000 people taking their spots it was an awe inspiring site as the sea of competitors graced the famous strip with the Arc De Triomphe the back drop.
The first 'wave' of professional runners started at 0815, and by the time the last competitors were cleared to run (all managed according to pace) it was 1000. After bidding Marco good luck as he excitedly found his pace group, we had a few hours to kill and with the enormous crowds I decided to wander back to the hotel with the kids and watched the race on TV to see the Ethiopian cross the line in 2:07mins. That's roughly my HALF marathon time!
Knowing Marco was due to cross the 29km marker right next to the Eiffel Tower at 11:50am we trudged down the hill and followed the noise of the bands and colour of cheer leaders and family and friends supporting loved ones to take our spot, and watch hundreds of people go past. Some walking, some sprinting along, and some looking around for an excuse to stop! We finally saw Marco who was well and truly in 'the zone' and despite our holler's' and screams he ran straight past us caught in a sea of other runners all looking straight ahead willing the finish line to appear.
At the finish line we discovered poor Marco's jet lag and cramp had caught up with him at the 37km mark and I am still staggered he managed to finish in such a respectable time of 4:12mins. Due to a "freak" heatwave of 18c in Paris and the record total of 57,000 runners; the Paris marathon organisers had run out of water from the 37-42km mark. The rest of the day was spent with him 're-fuelling' on red meat and vegetables, and with a raspy voice explaining to Henry that no…he wasn't able to have a tickling monster game right now. Of the 57,000 odd people who started the race only 41,000 finished to give you an idea of how difficult the course was in the conditions of heat and limited water supply.
We were delighted to see the next morning the other guest's had also had successful races…and our Scottish friends were complaining that the weather was too hot during the run (they got sunburnt). They were also all nursing hangovers from the previous evening's celebrations down at the Seine with medals clasped in hand. 'But we ARE seasoned drinkers you know!' they insisted.
The remainder of the visit to Paris post-run was surprisingly busy as Marco's legs came back to life after a good nights sleep and that bottle of French red he had been dreaming of. We walked over 10km a day with the kids, visiting Notre Damn Cathedral, The Louve, the token visit up the Eiffel Tower, and we even caught the train one morning out to the stunningly beautiful Palace of Versailles to marvel at the rooms of gold and gardens of luxurious times past.
While initially concerned that the kids desire to see great architecture and art might not match ours, I was impressed by Oscar and Isabel's patience at the Louve in particular. The Italian and French Renaissance paintings can be quite 'ghoulish' and often enormous, so it's fair to say they were things they definitely hadn't seen before. Henry was unimpressed at the crowds queuing to see the Mona Lisa and instead complained loudly that he was in fact looking for Mickey Mouse.
Now finally, onto food.
As I said - with my race in Rome, I was still in 'training' mode and so the Red Wine and many of my favourite French cheeses were off the menu. That's not to say we didn't have the most amazing food experience we have had in many months!
Considering that I have a video of Isabel taking her first steps at 9 months old with the bait of a chocolate croissant, she was always going to 'go bakery' and between her, Oscar and Henry I think we were supporting a 5 croissant a day habit.
French restaurants by night were replaced with locally bought produce, including fresh strawberries and avocados, which were easily the best I have ever tasted. Cheeses - blue, soft and hard, ham, pastries, freshly baked and still warm baguettes and ripe tomatoes and you have a meal.
Our final destination in Paris was a night out at Disneyland for the 'tick in the box' kids item on the itinerary. While the kids enjoyed the day out, poor Henry failed to meet Mickey Mouse (deterred by the 2 hour wait) and the Princesses were closed for business. In fact half the park was closed for renovation (but funnily enough we paid the full price of the tickets…hmmmmm). Luckily the kids are easy to please so there were enough rides and parades and colour to make the visit worth our while. Just don't ask Marco about the 'Dumbo' ride…it wasn't a highlight J
So now we bid farewell to France, the visit way too short, but time is not on our side with the Rome Marathon less than 48 hours away.