Down and Hot in Paris and London (with apologies to George Orwell)

This post is something of a departure from my earlier ones. It’s the record of a family trip to Paris, London, and elsewhere in France and the U.K. during the summer of 1995. My family that summer included my husband Herb; our two college-aged daughters, Meredith and Leslie; and me. Our home was in a suburb of Chicago.

I originally drafted this piece in 1995, shortly after we returned from our trip. I focused on how we survived the intense heat we’d encountered. Now, nearly 20 years later, the cities we visited may respond to hot weather differently than they did back then. But my post may nevertheless serve as a cautionary tale for anyone traveling anywhere during hot weather, even today.

Please don’t conclude that this trip was a disaster. It wasn’t! Even though we continually confronted the challenges of hot-weather travel, we nevertheless had a marvelous time. We laughed through all of our travails and mishaps, and they quickly became family legends that we’ve treasured ever since.

Because of its overall length, I’ve divided it into four separate posts, beginning with Part I.

PART I

In a sweltering summer when temperatures in Chicago soared to record-breaking highs, we took off for Paris and London. When Herb and I made our travel plans, it seemed like a great idea. For one thing, Northern Europe almost never had the high summer temperatures we usually had in Chicago. Besides, our older daughter, Meredith, was spending the summer doing research in Paris. What better excuse for the rest of us to fly there, meet up with her, then travel together in France and the U.K.?

In May, we booked our airline tickets, planning to depart for Paris in mid-July. By June, I began to get glimmers that all was not well. Meredith was reporting unusually hot weather in Paris, and media dispatches from Wimbledon noted London temperatures in the 90s.

It can’t last, I thought. This is freakish weather for Paris and London, and by the time we get there, things will have cooled off.

But by the time we got there, it was just as hot.

Younger daughter Leslie, Herb, and I arrived in Paris early Friday morning and headed for the taxi stand at Orly Airport. The air was shimmering with heat–at 8 a.m.–and we were grateful to grab a taxi with air-conditioning. We arrived at our modest hotel near the Luxembourg Gardens and found our chambre, a good-sized room with one double bed and two twins. Heavy curtains on the French windows were fending off the sun, but when we opened them to see our view, the sun hit the room, and the already-high temperature shot up even more. We rushed to close the curtains. Then, exhausted from our trip, we collapsed on our sagging mattresses.

Meredith met up with us later that morning, and we all set out for the Luxembourg Gardens, where we found chairs in a shady spot and pondered how to spend the rest of the day. A museum would surely be cool; protecting all that priceless artwork required air-conditioning. We couldn’t face the cavernous Louvre, so we headed for the Musée d’Orsay.

Hot and sleep-deprived, we dragged ourselves up the Boulevard St-Michel to the Metro, and took a sizzling subway car to the museum. Surprise! Once inside, having paid a hefty entrance fee, we were shocked to find the air-conditioning barely functioning. Weren’t Parisians worried about all those precious Monets, Manets, and Van Goghs?

We forced ourselves to look at a few galleries but eventually collapsed in some comfy wicker chairs, where we dozed off for the next half-hour. Other museum-goers stared, but we were too hot and sleepy to care. We finally made our way to the museum café, where we ate a light lunch and consumed a large quantity of liquid refreshment.

After searching for an air-conditioned restaurant near our hotel–and finding none–we dined outside on the Rue Soufflot and headed for bed, only to discover another problem: mosquitoes! Our beautiful French windows had no screens, and if we opened the windows with the lights on, mosquitoes attacked us from every direction. We decided to leave the windows closed till it was time to turn out the lights.

Once we turned off the lights and opened the windows, a delicious breeze entered the room, cooling us off for the night. But the mosquitoes still targeted us, even in the dark, and traffic noise kept us from having a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we awoke to a rainy Paris sky. In my lifetime of traveling, I’d never before been so happy to see rain! The gray sky meant lower temperatures, and we happily set out for another museum (the Musée d’Art Moderne, then featuring an impressive exhibit of Chagall paintings) without the threat of soaring temperatures and a merciless sun.

But as the day progressed, things got a lot steamier, and we decided to leave Paris a day earlier than planned. We would pick up our rental car and head for Rouen one day sooner. After dinner on the Rue du Pot de Fer, a pedestrian street a few steps from the busy Rue Mouffetard, we walked back to our hotel, prepared to be unwilling mosquito-targets one more night.

By now, we were all covered with bites, and the torment of itching had begun. Applying hydrocortisone cream helped, but not nearly enough. Meredith bought a more powerful French ointment formulated to ease insect bites, so we tried that, too. But those Parisian bugs were potent, and we proceeded to scratch their bites for days. (The bites on our feet created a special torment. Encased in heavy-duty athletic shoes–the better to walk in, my dear–our feet were not only piping-hot but also covered with bites that never stopped itching!)

The next morning dawned sunny but cooler. Miraculous! Did we really want to leave Paris a day early? Taking advantage of the cooler air, we set out on foot for the Marais, by way of the bouquinistes along the Seine, the Ile de la Cité, and the Ile St-Louis. By the time we arrived at the Rue des Rosiers, where we consumed kosher panini, the sun had become more intense, and the air was growing hot.

At the Musée Carnavalet, the displays of Parisian history and culture were fascinating, but the increasing heat and the enormous collection finally wore us down. Drained of energy, we spent the next hour sitting in the shade, zombie-like, in a small park just outside the museum.

Later, we walked to the Place des Vosges, where we sat for a while once again in the shade. The search for shade had become a rallying cry that resounded throughout the trip. “Shade!” I would shout, and the rest of our little group would hurry after me to reach the nearest patch of shade.

After another excellent dinner on the Rue du Pot de Fer, enjoying the sensory delights of a delicious breeze, I wondered whether we were right to leave Paris one day early. But the next morning, the sun was blazing with a vengeance, and all of us were grateful to pile into our rented Peugeot and head north to Normandy, where cooler temperatures awaited–or so we hoped!

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