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A bicycle for Maelia, a new friendship through Fodors

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As some of you may remember, a young French mother posted on this board asking if there was anyone willing to bring a bicycle to Paris for her. Using Walmart.com, she'd found the bicycle of her three year old daughter's dreams: a Dora The Explorer bike, her favorite cartoon character. She hoped to have Pere Noel bring it as a present Christmas morning. But the shipping to France was over $400.00! So, I volunteered to bring the bicycle, as did others on this board. We all understood a mother's desire to give her child the perfect gift.

My imaginary Christmas elf suit was pulled out of mothballs and given a good dusting off. The red and green striped tights didn't do wonders for my thighs, but the shoes with the curled up toes and jingle bells still fit perfectly. The green felt hat with the feather lent, I thought, an air of insouciance to the whole ensemble.

The bicycle was ordered from Walmart, delivered to my office where, during the next six weeks and four hurricanes, it was shifted from behind my desk into the locked security room and back again four times. Didn't want to keep it at home, as the office building is newer and, presumably, more hurricane-proof. (Which turned out to be true. My place flooded, the office remained high and dry.)

Checking the boxed, unassembled bicycle in at the Orlando airport was no problem, but imagine my dismay when, at CDG, it failed to appear on the revolving luggage carousel! As the last of all the other passengers departed, we sat there forlornly, still hoping the box would emerge. We'd nearly given up, when I spotted a man wheeling a cart containing several items, among them THE BOX! I pounced on him like a lion on meat and seized my prize!

Our rental apartment wouldn't be ready until the day after we arrived, so we stayed in a nearby hotel the first night. To save us the trouble of dragging the bicycle down the avenue to the apartment the next morning, the French family arranged to get the bicycle from us at the hotel. Little Maelia wouldn't know what was in the box, so it could be hidden away until Christmas.

At our initial, brief meeting, I was a little shy, but my hesitation fell aside when we were warmly welcomed with hugs from Stephanie, Patrick, and their little girl.

Stephanie is lovely, Patrick is a gorgeous guy from Martinique, and as for Maelia, just picture a tiny, bubbly French Shirley Temple!

Stephanie, who has often opened her home to foreign visitors through Servas, the cultural exchange program, offered to drive us anywhere in or outside Paris, have us stay with them, or do anything else to show their thanks. We agreed to have dinner at their home later that week.

My granddaughter had gone on to Amsterdam, so it was only my grandson (almost 12) and I who took the train to Palaiseau, the town south of Paris where they live. Stephanie met us at the station, then drove us along the town's winding main street, prettily lined with black iron lamposts adorned with overflowing flower baskets, the shops all lit up for evening shoppers. Looked like a Thomas Kincaid painting!

At their flat, Patrick reintroduced James to Maelia, reminding her, "This is James, say hello."

Well, Maelia thought James' name was "hello", so from then that's what she called him, "'ello"! For some reason, she just fell in love with James, climbing into his lap for lots of impromptu kisses and sudden hugs. In French, she urged him to "Come on, 'ello! Come play in my room, 'ello!" She found all kinds of reasons to ask for his help, solemnly bringing him things to put together for her, etc. When he hid behind a door, Maelia wandered through the flat, calling out, "'ello, where are you, 'ello?"

While Patrick prepared dinner, a scrumptious pork roast with a succulent sauce, Sstephanie and I talked and talked. She'd be such a great resource for anyone travelling to Paris, where she lived most of her life before moving to Palaiseau. She can be contacted at Maggy91120@aol.com.

After dinner and wine, I set my big Longchamp bag on the floor, so that Maelia could rummage through it to find the Dora The Explorer toys I'd gathered from various stores for her. (I had planned to give the toys to Stephanie to put away for Christmas, but she generously wanted Maelia to know who gave them to her.)

As she lifted out each toy, Maelia's delight increased, but she thoughtfully paused to excitedly demonstrate each one's features to both parents. When she discovered the two foot tall, plush Dora pillow doll, she hugged it tightly, joyously shouting, "Dora! Dora! Dora!", as if she couldn't believe Dora had come out of the TV set and into her arms.

Those moments alone made the whole trip worthwhile. The new friendship with Stephanie and Patrick was the frosting on the cake. Stephanie speaks English well, Patrick doesn't. But he does speak Spanish easily, as do I, so during the drive back into Paris (while Stephanie readied Maelia for bed) he and I talked and talked about many things. James, sleepily silent in the back seat, seemed astonished to hear his grandmother unexpectedly blather on in another language.

So, that's my trip report for this vacation, which became one we'll never forget. It was as perfect as perfect can be. Next time I'm in Paris, it'll be my turn to prepare dinner for this wonderful French family. I only wish it could be tonight!

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