Sunday, 29 July 2018

Ten things about being pregnant in Paris

Following on from my getting married in Paris post, here's what I learnt 18 months later - ten things about being pregnant in Paris. 

1. French babies bake for longer in the oven

The French calculate 41 weeks as full term compared to 40 weeks in other countries like Australia where I'm from. I'm not sure why there is this variation of one week between country to country because I assume human babies follow similar gestational periods across borders right..? 
It can get confusing explaining this to your non-French friends and family but you learn to answer that question "when are you due" with a well practised response of: "1st of March according to Australia, 8th of March according to France, so we will see which country wins!"

2. Monthly check ups, pee and blood tests 

French pregnancies tend to require more monitoring, tests and appointments when comparing your standard uncomplicated low risk pregnancies with other countries. 
Unlike my girlfriend in Australia who was pregnant around the same time, I was required to have standard monthly check ups. You can opt for monthly gynaecologist appointments or the less expensive option which I opted for, free state subsidised monthly midwife "sage femme" appointments. 
Also take note that internal examinations were sometimes a part of these monthly check ups in France to check on my cervix.
France is also one of the few countries that regularly tests for toxoplasmosis, a parasite carried by cats and rodents that can also be present in poorly cooked food. 
I had never been exposed to this toxomawhatdoyoucallit in the past and was therefore not immune. Basically this meant that every month, I had to visit a lab to have a fasting blood test, as well as a urine test first thing in the morning. The blood tests weren't too bad, it was more the urine tests that were annoying. They obviously became harder and harder to collect as I gradually ballooned into a whale.

3. Weight gain recommendations

Which brings me to my next point - the French guidelines recommend that you aim to put on between 8-12kg during your pregnancy. We were reminded that we aren't "eating for two" (which is true..) and that it was important to eat a balanced diet (but basically not to go nuts). I still managed to put on 19kg by the time I got to the end, oops haha. Luckily I didn't end up with gestational diabetes.  

4. Birthing prep classes

I found these to be very informative in terms of content and delivery but understand that it can vary across the board. It was a great chance for me to brush up on my French pregnancy vocabulary. The general approach to pregnancy and birthing is more or less medical and somewhat clinical. There was no mention of birth plans, water births, home births, epidural-free pain relief etc but I was very impressed with everything else that was covered from making sure my position on breastfeeding was clear in the hospital to the pros and cons of natural tearing vs episotomies. 
There was even a class dedicated to fathers exclusively which my husband went along to one Saturday morning. He was prepped on what to do when contractions came in, how to recognise when it was time to get to the hospital as well as when to anticipate the drop in hormones preceding the "baby blues".

5. Their generous (but-I-don't-know-how-on-earth-it-is sustainable?) health care system 

When my pregnancy related sciatica pain set in at 8 weeks, I had physio sessions prescribed by my doctor covered by the government each week. My iron supplements and vitamin D supplements were also free, not to mention the DVT compression socks that were prescribed to me post-delivery. My dental check ups were free, and of course my whole delivery/hospital stay was free. The only thing we literally paid for was my husband's fold out bed hire when he stayed overnight in our PRIVATE ROOM, in a public hospital. 
Vive la France..? 

6. The epidural rate is relatively high and access to alternative pain relief can be limited

I read somewhere that 85% of French women end up opting for an epidural. At the beginning I wasn't keen on having an epidural, wanting my pregnancy to be as "natural" as possible (haha...). 
Appointments with an anesthetist at the hospital are routine at around 2 months before the due date whereby you are briefed on the epidural process, as basically everyone assumes you will end up opting for one.

Fast forward to the D-day for me, 34 hours of contractions/hell later after being induced, I was dying for this epidural that I was so against. 
Anyway, generally speaking as the epidural rate is so high, access to other pain relief options such as TENS machine, gas etc can be limited as well unless you are prepared beforehand (depending on the hospital). All I was offered at our particular hospital was a big exercise ball and running hot water. 
In hindsight, I don't know why I was so against having an epidural in the first place. The last 6 hours of my labour was such a beautiful memory. I was still able to move my legs and was encouraged to keep them moving in different positions. I was given a little button to press in case I needed to increase the dose. We had music on, I was bopping along and sending whatsapp photos to my Mum with my legs up in the air ready to give birth! 

7. Smoking and alcohol

Before being pregnant, I had this stereotype of the French not giving a hoot about recommendations regarding smoking and alcohol intake when growing a little human inside. Obviously this was a misconception on my behalf about general French society as there are guidelines, campaigns and posters educating the public about the risks associated with smoking and alcohol consumption while pregnant. 

8. Food rule attitudes

So I asked my GP (who was a mother of 3 in her early forties) what her take was on the types of food I should be avoiding while pregnant. Her response gave me an idea of the difference between French vs Anglo-Saxon attitudes. Whether or not I can extrapolate this experience to the entire French population is another thing. 
She basically said to me "look, you'll find there are women who swear they ate sushi, ready prepared salads, unpasteurised cheeses, foie gras etc while pregnant without a problem - it's up to you how you want to go about it - I'd say try to eat as fresh and home cooked as possible, wash fruit and vegetables properly because toxoplasmosis is higher in France but above all use your common sense and weigh up the risks". 
She also went on to compare freshly made mayonnaise from a fresh raw egg with a jar of ready made mayonnaise open for weeks and weeks in the fridge. Which was funny because in Australia at the time, there were strict guidelines about avoiding any eggs that weren't properly cooked while pregnant. I had friends who had not eaten runny eggs for 9 months. 
I went on to decide for myself which foods were higher risk and which ones were a negligible risk. Reliably sourced, fresh in date egg from a supermarket that was still a bit runny when fried? Ok. Dodgy sushi that had been left out all day, yeah nah.   

9. Public transport

Like any big city with a dense population, taking public transport isn't the most pleasant of experiences. There are people who are mindful and helpful, those who are oblivious and those who just don't care and continue to stare into their phones. 
Most of the time, people would notice that I was pregnant, offer their seat or ask those already sitting down to offer me their seat. I'm also a believer that I need to take responsibility for my own well being, which means that on public transport I need to make it obvious that I was pregnant and needed a seat. And each time I asked someone sitting down (especially if they were staring into their phones haha) to offer me their seat, they were more than willing to do so. 
I also learnt to favour the bus over the metro as there is a designated area for the elderly, pregnant, disabled and kids (except that one time where I was on the bus and there was also a blind man with his cane, another man on crutches and myself..)

10. Being out while pregnant

I find France to be a relatively "old school" country, which is one of the things I appreciate about it as a society. There seems to be an "it takes a village" mindset and it isn't uncommon to be on the receiving advice from random strangers. If you have babies or children, it isn't uncommon for randoms to interact with them, make eye contact and talk to them. If you are a tourist, locals might warn you of pickpocketers when your bag is unzipped. 
When I was pregnant and especially when it was obvious towards the end (thanks to the 19kg I had put on haha), I found the experience to be quite heartwarming.  
I remember walking slowly along the street and a random woman stopping to ask me if I was okay and if I needed any help. At the supermarket, there was always a lane reserved for pregnant women and customers would actually tell me to go to the front of the line. At immigration, I was also able to get fast tracked through the line when coming back from our babymoon and I clearly remember being able to skip lines for tourist attractions, and having access to the lifts when heading up the Arc de Triomphe. 
Preferential treatment towards pregnant women was very present around Paris which was a nice compensation from the daily grind. 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Snowy Montmartre

For the first time in my life, I was able to witness a breathtakingly snowy Montmartre last week. Snowy Winters aren't that much of a regular occurrence in Paris and even then, you need all these other stars to align in order to be in the right place at the right time. 

Not being snowed in, not having to go to work, not having to be anywhere and of course being able to get there before the snow turns into grey sludge are all elements to consider. Hence why I haven't had this opportunity to see Montmartre in the snow since moving here in 2012. And then, there's the whole having enough energy to walk around in the freezing cold not being able to feel your fingers/toes/face. Minor issues of course. I wasn't going to let a little hypothermia/frostbite stand in the way of snapping these shots! So please enjoy while I take you on a tour of early morning lightly snowed upon Montmartre (from the comfort of your warm room inside).

Chez Eugene looking like it should be on a postcard or something, it looks strange all bare like that without a customer in sight.

Can you even recognise Place du Tertre like that early in the morning..? It almost feels like Picasso, Dali and Renoir could come on by any minute (if not for that damn Franprix plastic bag sitting in the middle of the photo)

And of course Sacre Coeur and the lightly snowed upon lawns surrounding her.

And finally in true Parisian fashion, the council decides to lock up the gardens (probably to stop people from skiing or snowboarding down the steps!). Not so great for those who want to roam around but beautiful for us to take photos of the untouched snow overlooking Paris (minus the footsteps on the left of whoever decided to jump the gates earlier that morning). It's the first time I've seen this area of Montmartre like that, with nobody in sight. 

Because today, it's just Montmartre and I.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

A Date with Paris (in the SNOW!)

For the first time in 30 years, Paris welcomed its heaviest snowfall this week - a whopping 15cm! It might not be a lot for some, but for someone from Australia, this is the equivalent to an avalanche. 

A beautifully magical, surreal avalanche of the top things I love in life. PARIS (obviously) and SNOOOOOOWWWW..!!! (if only my baby was with me on this walk, and my Mum, oh and Frenchie haha). Frenchie doesn't share the same level of extreme intense excitement as I do when it comes to snow. Each time we see snow, I turn into this hyperactive yapping puppy on caffeine/Red bull/stimulant cold and flu tablets. I'm literally running around everywhere - up and down the hallway of the apartment, unable to speak coherently and a speed that is comprehensible. My eyes are permanently wide open, I basically stop blinking because if I do I'll miss a nanosecond of seeing that beautiful image of magical snow. I'll jump up and down and repeatedly yell out "IL NEEEIIIIGGGGEEEE" among all my other uncontrollable excitable gibberish. 

So anyway, back to the photos - please join me while I think out aloud on this walk to see the Winter Wonderland date that Paris took me on yesterday. 

Paris and I started off on line 6 - getting off at the Bir Hakim metro before crossing the road towards the Inception bridge. There I found a beautiful blanket of snow ready for me to lay my footprints on. This is the obligatory French-Australian shot, which is kind of funny because just last week I was in Australia battling 38 degree heat. I remember reassuring Frenchie "don't worry, we are in for a cool change tomorrow, it's going to be 35 degrees". Fast forward to this week and we are in -4 degree weather and the heaviest snowfall in Paris since 1987..! 

I continue the walk further along and the snow stretches for as far as the eye can see. I'm struggling to keep calm in public at this point because my heart is literally singing.

I walk towards the Eiffel Tower where the carousel is and glance back, to see THE SUN coming out from behind. I don't believe my luck...!!

I cross the road past the carousel and reach the other of the bank and peer over to see this "interesting" scene. Little bird footprints on the pristine white snow, an annoying dockless bike just strewn on the ground like that (SERIOUSLY WHO DID NOT CONSIDER THE FLAWS OF THIS BIKE SHARING CONCEPT? What if some idiot just comes and pushes the bike into the river?) and of course, remnants of the overflowing flooding of the Seine.

I walk along and eventually cross the road to make it to one of my favourite Eiffel Tower shots - rue de l'universite. There are others taking photos at this spot as well so I give up waiting for people to bugger off.

The sunlight coming through highlighting every little detail makes this one of my favourite photos.

I turn the corner and cannot believe my eyes, I am seeing shadows because the sun is so bright! It's this moment where I feel so blessed to be in Paris on this day, at this moment right as the sun decided to make an appearance.

And then BAM - the battery on my phone decides TO DIE. I don't know if it was too cold or what but I desperately try to revive it. The day that I forget to bring my portable charger is the day it decides to kick the bucket at 55% - WTF? It briefly comes on for me to take this breathtaking shot. Maybe it's the universe telling me to just enjoy the effing moment instead of trying to document everything.

My phone dies again and I am able to revive it one last time before it drops down to 1% for this shot. I put my phone in my pocket and walk away content to do as the universe suggests. I mean, I am on a date with my beloved Paris after all, I should put my damn phone away!

But not without a little selfie. I have never posted a selfie on the blog, actually I rarely take selfies on my own. But this occasion was a little different. Who knows if I'll be able to experience this ever again in my life. We've already waited 30 years for this moment, Paris and I..!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

70th DIOR Anniversary Exhibition

If there is one quintessentially Parisian exhibition to see this year, it is <Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve>. Currently on show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs down the road from the Louvre, the exhibition is open until the 7th of January 2018.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior, the exhibition puts together over 300 Dior haute couture creations, accessories and objects throughout the years on display. You will be taken on a journey through Christian Dior's life, his beginnings and rise to fame. The exhibition is organised through different colour schemes, different eras (under each different creative director's personal style) as well as different themes.

Start off your journey by discovering Dior through his favourite colour schemes..

Before moving on to showcase these gorgeous dresses by theme.

You'll be able to really see the contrasting influences of the individual styles of each creative director throughout the history of Dior. From Christian Dior himself to his successor Yves Saint Laurent, to Marc Bohan to Gianfranco Ferre. To the controversial John Galliano, to Raf Simons and then to the current creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri - the first female creative director of the House of Dior.

What I personally found fascinating was the history behind Christian Dior himself. The fact that he used to own a small art gallery that sold Picasso pieces back in the day. Or the story that back in 1919, at the age of 14, Dior met his first clairvoyant who told him that "you will be penniless but women will be good to you and it is thanks to them that you will succeed". 

Having previously worked for LVMH and Dior in London when I used to live in London, I only knew too well the lengths we would go to in order to ensure the perfect product launch. Every finishing touch had to be perfectly executed and this exhibition demonstrated exactly that. 

You'll be able to see how haute couture pieces are put together from the mock up to the intricate embroidery done by hand. 

The final room is the spectacular finale. If you don't want the surprise to be spoiled then scroll down for the practical information now!

One of my favourites!

Butterfly inspired gown to take your breath away..

Et voila! THE exhibition of the year in a nutshell. Get in before it closes next month.

I'd recommend to put aside a good couple of hours so that you don't feel too rushed (as the crowds can get frustrating already). Also, book online in advance if you can using the French website as the queues can get long if you don't. Also if you are under 26 and from anywhere in the EU you can get in for free otherwise tickets are 11 euro for general admission. Enjoy!

Musée des Arts Décoratifs 
107 rue de Rivoli
Paris 75001

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Being a tourist in Paris - HEY IT'S OKAY..

Hey it's okay..

1. To ask for directions, then not understand the answer but nod along anyway.

2. To proudly execute your perfectly mastered phrase : "ça coûte combien..?" only to completely blank out when given the answer.

3. To question the person who invented French numbers above 70 - seriously what's with the sudden switch to sixty-ten..? We were doing so well there..

4. That hearing the number 99 gives you a mathematical headache. Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf, 4 by 20 plus 10 plus 9..?? WHY?

5. That the only photos you have of yourself / yourselves on your camera roll are selfies..

6. .... or, poorly composed / weirdly cropped photos taken by strangers that you didn't have the heart to ask to be retaken - "oh yeah that's great, thanks!" (NOT)

7. To get annoyed with those tourists and their selfie sticks (but secretly envy them at the same time for being able to take photos without their outstretched arm in the foreground)

8. To actually be offended by the smell of urine in the metro and RER stations.

9. To get swept up by the romance of the City of Lights, forget about said smell then be rudely shocked again when you unexpectedly take in a waft.

10. To accidentally sleep in and miss something on the "must do" list - go away FOMO.

11. To have enough of French food day in day out and just crave something (preferably greasy) from home.  

12. To rock up at a museum, see the queue and think to yourself "yeah nah.."

13. To set off to do the Louvre with such profound appreciation, studying each painting intently - only to be struck down by museum fatigue an hour later (okay, next.. where's the Mona Lisa?)

14. To wonder bafflingly, how on earth Parisian women appear so effortlessly chic, the way their hair just falls to a side like that..

15. To feel pretty chuffed when a tourist asks you for directions..! (YAY I look like a local..!)

16. To give in and just embrace being a tourist in Paris. It's more fun that way anyway, now who's up for that selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower..? ;)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A Wedding in Paris Part Deux

Following on from A Wedding in Paris, Frenchie and I made a quick trip back to Adelaide, Australia where I'm originally from to meet my extended family and friends. It was a nice chance for him to see the city where I was born and grew up and also to kind of prove that he actually existed all these years while I was living overseas ;) 

As with many intercultural and interracial relationships, the balancing act is often played out like a playground see-saw and ours was no exception. We had already had the French wedding, now it was time for something in Australia. Of course the French side of our relationship has always been heavier. We had met in Paris, speaking Frenglish briefly before switching exclusively to French. Sometimes, it would teeter in the middle when we dropped by my Chinese-French relatives' place in Paris. We would all be speaking French together yet eating traditional home cooked Asian food. However for the most part it was me doing the integrating into his personal, family and social contexts - not to mention into his language, culture, traditions and country. 

Occasionally, the see-saw would tip itself over to my side and Frenchie would have to integrate into my context for a change. When my bubbly Australian friends visited, when we travelled to Anglophone countries, when we stayed with my friends and of course, this exact moment when we travelled to Adelaide.

We held a mini cocktail reception where Frenchie probably learnt about 100 odd names in the space of 3-4 hours haha. We were then fortunate enough to go on a wedding photo shoot (as a wedding gift) by the incredibly talented Ky Luu from B Captured. Ky is an award winning wedding photographer whose accolades include multiple consecutive titles of South Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year, AIPP Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year as well as 1st place Wedding Category International Loupe Award.  

Ky took us on an exhilarating whirlwind tour of Adelaide's secret locations. His passion for photography was evident from the get go. He would be jumping to stand on his car in the rain, lying on the ground, climbing up trees, doing absolutely anything to get that perfect shot. Such dedication and passion and relentless effort present at every single shot. If only I could have flown him over to Paris for our French wedding back then..! 

Anyway, here are some of our favourites to share of my hometown Adelaide. Abandoned fields, dramatic rock faces and cliffs, enchanting forests, sweeping vineyards, rolling valleys and long stretches of rhubarb bushes.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Five Places to Visit in Paris in Spring

Spring has sprung in Paris..! Probably my favourite time of the year in Paris, Spring has this magical fairy tale effect on the city, like we needed yet another reason to be swept off our feet hey..? 

Blush pink cherry blossoms cover the skies, beautiful magnolias bloom from their branches, delicate little petals resembling rose pink snowflakes cloak the ground and the hint of warm sunshine and clear blue skies gently awaken us from our Winter hibernation.

While there are many stunning places to visit in Paris during Spring, here are my top five unmissable recommendations.

1. The Eiffel Tower

Sure it's been done to death but who can resist having one of these photos on your camera roll for a pretty Parisian keepsake...?

My Love for Paris tip: If you are facing the Eiffel Tower with the giant park behind you, head to the left side where you will find a big magnolia tree. There you'll be able to capture a shot like this from below the tree. Head to the right from the same central position to find the other different coloured blossoms.

2. Parc de Sceaux

I've dedicated a whole blog post about this well hidden Parisian secret. It is a little further out from central Paris but easily accessible by RER if you have a spare afternoon up your sleeve. Definitely worth the trek to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

My Love for Paris tip: Drop by a supermarket and grab some picnic essentials to make the most of your afternoon amongst the cherry blossom trees.

3. Notre Dame Cathedral

If you are directly behind the Notre Dame Cathedral, head to your left towards the water but don't cross the bridge just yet. Keep walking towards the front of the cathedral and you'll find a little sandpit and benches and a beautiful big cherry blossom tree to sit underneath.

My Love for Paris tip: Grab an almond croissant (my favourite!) from your local boulangerie and shotgun a seat under the cherry blossom tree for some people watching - the kids playing in the sandpit are super cute to watch (in the most non-watching-kids-on purpose way of course..!).

4. Jardin du Palais Royal

This was where we attended our very first Diner en Blanc event! 

Magnolia heaven is all I can say.

My Love for Paris tip: Bring along your current book. This place is much more peaceful with lots of seating available on the park grounds. Escape the crowds, opt out on the people watching from above and just enjoy a quiet moment under the magnolia flowers to yourself.

5. Saint Germain des Prés

And finally, another cherry blossom spot in Paris. This one you'll be more likely to find locals than tourists.

My Love for Paris tip: Make the most of this spot by escaping the tourist dense areas and visit the surrounding Saint Germain des Prés quartier.