Like many Canadians, Adèle Poratto Mullen of Red Deer can trace her ancestry back to Europe. But even though she was raised in a French-Italian home where she spoke French and was keenly aware of her European roots, she never had the opportunity to visit France until recently.
In March, Poratto Mullen participated in a conference for WWAFE, an international organization that promotes gender equality around the world. The conference took place in Paris and between meetings she took the opportunity to explore the capital city.
After the conference, she spent two days in London attending a meeting on achieving equality for women in parliament at the House of Lords, in the personal chambers of Duchess Harris of Richmond, before taking several days to travel by car through the French countryside.
Exploring France was a fascinating adventure and an opportunity to mix business with pleasure. Poratto Mullen enjoyed seeing the sights of Paris during the lag time between meetings.
“I have one tip for travellers who want to see the Louvre — don’t go on a Tuesday,” she said. “I decided to visit the Louvre one day and thought it might be nice to walk there. I spent five hours walking before I learned that it is always closed on Tuesdays for cleaning.”
All was not lost, as she ended up seeing many other sights during her five-hour walking trip such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Montmarte, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées.
“Paris is a wonderful city to explore on foot,” said Poratto Mullen. “I loved exploring the places I had seen on television or read to my students about in books.
“The only tip I’d have for others is to bring good walking shoes. My shoes were ruined after just one day of walking on the cobblestones.”
Before leaving Paris, she made a point of visiting the Opera House, which was “breathtaking” and catching a Zoro musical at the Folies Bergère.
From Paris, she travelled via the chunnel to London to attend another WWAFE meeting at the House of Lords. While in London, she watched the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace and heard the Queen speak on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
“I didn’t get a chance to personally meet the Queen, but seeing her stand on her balcony and make an address was exciting,” described Poratto Mullen. “Observing the Changing of the Guards was also fascinating.”
Her main business was complete after the London meeting, but she added a few days onto the end of her trip to explore some French Cathedrals and Royal Chateaus and experience the country outside of Paris.
“I have an interest in history, architecture and design, so exploring the French castles and cathedrals was captivating for me,” explained Poratto Mullen.
“I travelled by car from Paris to Orleans, Tours, Blois, the Loire Valley and then back to Paris with Monique Auguste, who is vice-president of WWAFE. Together we visited several cathedrals and chateaus along the way, staying in a different city each night.”
The countryside and the gardens surrounding the chateaus were stunning and exploring France this way was something that Poratto Mullen had always dreamed of doing.
“In each city or town, Monique insisted that we find a great local restaurant to get a feel for the real culture of the place as she had previously experienced this many times,” she said.
“I also enjoyed visiting the cathedrals and chateaus. My favourite was Fontainebleau — it is truly a gem because nearly every monarch since the 12th century has made a mark on this palace, including Napoleon’s last farewell.”
“I had always wanted to visit France, so when the opportunity to attend the WWAFE conference arose, I couldn’t resist adding a few extra days to the trip just to explore and see the sights,” said Poratto Mullen.
“I enjoyed the conference and I really feel that it’s important for women to stand up for other women around the world who are oppressed and don’t have a voice. But when you are in a beautiful city like Paris and a country like France, you need to take advantage of the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. Life is too short not to mix business with a little pleasure.”
How to pack vacation time into your business trips
Sometimes business people find it difficult to fit vacation time into their busy schedules, but one of the growing trends in business travel is to turn a business trip into a mini-vacation. According to Revenue Canada, if the primary purpose of the trip was business, adding a few extra days to see the sights does not affect a business traveller’s ability to deduct business-related trip expenses. Here are a few ways to pack some vacation time into your business travel.
• Add a few days before or after a business conference or meeting for the sole purpose of seeing the sights or just relaxing and rejuvenating yourself.
• Plan a layover — if you are travelling to France, you may be able to take a connecting flight and stop in London for a day or two on the way to your business meeting or convention.
• Be an explorer. A hotel room in Paris looks pretty much the same as a hotel room in Winnipeg, so instead of staying in your hotel room checking emails or watching TV, go out and see some of the sights in the city where you are staying. Try visiting a different museum or restaurant each time you stay in a city for business.
• Avoid eating at the hotel bar or at chain restaurants. These places are ideal for someone who is yearning for familiarity. Break free and eat local — it’s a great way to get to know the culture of a place.
• Try to avoid meeting up with colleagues after meetings. Use evenings to do your own thing and not as an extension to your work day when you’re on the road.
• The best thing about vacations is the tales you come back with. Try to come up with one interesting thing to tell your spouse or partner when you return home. See the sights. Create memories. Learn a new skill. Have an experience.
Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality (WWAFE) is an organization that works to eliminate religious fundamentalism, promote the advancement of women into decision-making positions and achieve of gender equality worldwide. For more information, visit www.wafe-women.org
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.