Obamas soak up picture-postcard Paris

8th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Obamas received a rock star welcome, with large crowds gathering wherever they went.

Paris -- The US first family played tourist in Paris with a packed weekend schedule of art, food, sightseeing and shopping squeezed in at the end of President Barack Obama's whirlwind diplomatic tour.

From the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame cathedral and a private tour through the Pompidou Centre, Obama, his wife Michelle and two daughters took in some of the best on offer in Paris in less than 48 hours. The Obama girls also got a special tour of the Louvre.

"American people love all things French, you've got the food, you've got Paris," Obama said before flying in. "I haven't returned for a long time."

Stealing a few hours of private time at the end of a swing through Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and the D-Day commemoration ceremonies in France, the US president took his daughters to Notre Dame and the Pompidou modern art museum, as well as out to dinner.

For 10-year-old Malia and Sasha, 7, it was their first excursion abroad as daughters of a US president.

The Obamas received a rock star welcome, with large crowds gathering wherever they went.

"I want to see him because he has made us love America again" said Patrice Thevenin, dressed in an Obama T-shirt on his second gruelling day of Obama watching on the Paris streets.

The treats for the Obama girls began Friday, when they climbed the Eiffel Tower with their mother for a bird's-eye view of Paris, a visit that ended magically as the tower lit up with thousands of sparkling lights.

The next evening the family were cheered by huge crowds as they visited the Gothic Notre Dame cathedral, then went to dine in a Paris bistro.

Thousands of Parisians and tourists lined bridges over the River Seine as the 30-vehicle motorcade headed for the old-style eatery complete with red-chequered table-cloths, apron-wearing waiters, and wood panelling.

"The atmosphere was very relaxed," one waiter told AFP. "They said they had a wonderful meal and the president was extremely nice to the staff".

Obama chose roast lamb, but no wine. The others went for beef fillets.

The president departed at noon Sunday, leaving his family to lunch at the Elysee Palace with President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife Carla, then dine in the evening at a high-end restaurant renowned for its soufflés.

Before his departure, the entire family plus Michelle's mother took a long ramble through the Pompidou museum.

Later, Michelle Obama took her daughters to the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa, to cap off the day with more traditional works.

"They visited the museum from top to bottom, they saw it all," said a spokeswoman for the Pompidou Centre, the mammoth glass and steel arthouse wrapped in coloured pipes.

"It was very relaxed, very unofficial and very family," she added, quoting the head of the Pompidou Centre, Alain Seban, who shepherded the Obamas during a private tour of the six-storey museum that lasted more than two hours.

From Calder to Kandinsky and women artists from France and the US, Sonia Delaunay and Shirley Jaffe, the family "were extremely interested in everything".

The girls were given time to make their own Calder-style wire sculptures before the museum opened to the public, and dad "was very attentive to his daughters."

Obama, in a white shirt and no tie, Michelle in a white cardigan with her hair tied back, and the two girls, could be seen on the top floor admiring the panoramic view of Paris, as people waved at them from below.

After lunch, the girls and their mother went shopping at a high-end children's fashion store, Bonpoint, a firm with a 50-million-euro turnover and nine Paris stores.

Afterwards, as the Louvre museum closed to normal visitors, the Obama party was offered a private tour escorted by its director Henri Loyrette, a spokesman said.

"They saw the permanent collection, with an emphasis on works that would be of interest to children," he said.

Michelle Obama and the children return to Washington on Monday.


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