Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Paris Diary: La guerre 'fait maison'

Everyone around the world knows that La France is the country of food - and not just for food producers, but of beautiful recipes and astonishing chefs. France is second only to Japan for Michelin star restaurants, so it comes with no surprise that any threat to its food industry is a matter of grave importance.

I am of course referring to possibly the best projet de loi that has come out in a while from the French Government - its attempt to curb fraudulent "fait maison" (homemade) meals in restaurants in France. I think we've all experienced it at some place or another where we've ordered a pretty pricey, intriguing sounding meal only to be rewarded with a stale microwaved meal. Thankfully, the French have had enough, and are now well on their way to passing a law against any such act on meals labelled "fait maison".

I for one am all for this. Food fraudsters everywhere better beware! A microwave is no way of cooking food in France, let alone selling it. I'll let you know when this comes into practice!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Paris Guide

The Eiffel Tower by YW Photography
It's been a little while since I posted about my adventures in Paris, but that's mainly because I've been working my socks off at work! There have been some midweek escapades however, but having not taken many photographs I have to say it'd make for some very dull blogs! Instead, I've created my Paris Guide of places I've been and things I've seen that I would recommend to anyone visiting or living in the city. I may have only been here for three weeks but it's already growing!

So if you're visiting the city of love as a holiday, or moving here on your placement, or even just living in Paris, take a look at my recommended places to go and events to experience!

I also would like to add here a little thank you to the wonderful Yasmin of YW Photography who let me use her stunning picture of the Eiffel Tower above. You can visit her website at to see many more beautiful photographs or even book a photo shoot!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Paris Diary: Fête de la musique

Summer Solstice at Stone Henge, England
Yesterday was Midsummer's Day; Summer Solstice; whatever you want to call it. In England, this usually comprises of someone going "Oh, here comes the winter then, we're back on the downhill path, etc." and a few gypsy/hippy/pagan people gathering at Stone Henge, as depicted, right (taken from The Telegraph).

But not in Paris. Oh no! This Midsummer's Day marked the annual Fête de la musique, happening on June 21 in Paris ever since its introduction in 1982 by Maurice Fleuret (Director of Music & Dance) under Jack Lang (Minister of Culture). Apparently he found that 1 in 2 children in France played a musical instrument, and so Fête de la musique was born as a way of encouraging both professional and amateur musicians to take to the streets! It was so successful that it's now celebrated across a number of other countries (pull your socks up, Great Britain!).

Timbao on the night of Fête de la Musique
As for my night out, it consisted of bopping around Montmartre and Pigalle to drum orchestra Timbao, a DJ set outside Café Chappe, a death metal band, a tiny acoustic group, a man playing violin to house music outside Zazabar, an excitable ska band in Omnibus Café and then sashaying my way home past some great salsa music and through the crowds of Parisians dancing on the streets.

The most striking thing about it all was the pure happiness everyone, everywhere. Friends across the city told tales of the exact same thing; everybody dancing and smiling, cheering on the cars and bikes trying to get through their dancing bodies, applauding the residents who came onto their balconies to watch the makeshift dance floors that were the streets and alleys.

Tip of the Day: If you're ever around Paris in June, make sure it's June 21st!

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Paris Diary: La première semaine

Paris Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie - Avenue de Friedland
Despite the earlier mornings and later evenings, my first week in Paris has flown by! I'm settling in at work - the team are really friendly, the office culture is easy to pick up and the building I work in is amazing (let's just say I work on Avenue de Friedland... if you know Paris, and/or it's proximity to the Arc de Triomphe you'll know how posh it is!). I'm shadowing another student currently and she's been really kind to me as I'm still ironing out the kinks in working in an international business - the constant switches in language being my toughest task. My job comprises of scouting for news our clients will be interested in, so this means reading a lot of newspapers and websites (in both English and French) and sending out newsflashes and newsletters. Basically, lots of news!

Aside from work, I've been discovering a little more about the area I'm living in (I'd like to say Montmartre, but I'm two streets away from that... welcome to Barbès!). So far there's been no direct hassle, even with the "light" collision directly outside our flat, the roof of the shop next door falling down and the constant offering of fake cigarettes by illegal street vendors. Other than that, I've enjoyed a visit to the greasy friend chicken shop nearby (the legendary Chicken 75), then making homemade fried chicken with my flatmates and their friends and meeting the little old lady across the hall (even if that was because I sounded like I was bashing our front door down when my key got stuck...).

So, to round up this week, here are the top five things I've discovered so far:

1. The Distinction in Arrondissements
Steak and Chips
This is something I was warned about before I came to Paris, but it was more in reference to the architecture than anything else. In fact, it's pretty easy to discern which arrondissement you're in just by looking at the style of people's clothes and the price of a main meal in the surrounding restaurants. For example:

1st (Pont Neuf): blazers, tight jeans, patent leather brogues; 79,95 € for a three course meal and drinks
7th (Eiffel Tower): a random mix of foreign tourists and their clothes; 19,60 € for steak and chips with a soft drink
8th (Champs-Élysées): black shift dresses, silk scarfs, stillettos; 4,25 € for an M&S prawn mayo sandwich
18th (Barbès): cultural dress, socks and sandals; 6,50 € for a fried chicken meal

2. Work's Canteen
What a life saver! With my best intentions of avoiding the abovementioned expensive prawn mayo sandwiches, I brought in a packed lunch for my first day of work. No need! The canteen, serving quite a workforce, clearly benefits from economies of scale - 2,25 € for an amazing chicken and egg salad, with of course the usual free bread (bread is apparently free in all of France when served with a main meal), free carafes of mineral water, free salad dressings, olives, pickles etc. and only an extra 32 cents for a good amount of brie or a natural yoghurt. It's my new favourite place to eat.

3. The Weather
Even with England a stone's throw away, it's pretty clear the weather in Paris is definitely different. I'd say much more decisive - if you wake up and it's cloudy, it'll be grey skies all day. If you wake up and it's sunny, it'll be brilliantly bright all day.

4. The Architecture
A pretty obvious one, but it's worth a mention. Everywhere in Paris is beautiful. Everywhere within the 20 arrondissements is sculpted, carved and built with more flair than any other city I've been to.

5. Apples & Pears
The best foody thing I found this week was a cross between a yoghurt and a compote, in the form of mashed apples and pears. I think the closest thing in England is the same flavour of baby food, but here, it's actually acceptable to eat. And they're really, really tasty!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Paris Diary: La première exploration

The Louvre Palace and Museum
Sunday was the first day without ma famille - they took the long ferry journey home while I stayed in the cloud-ridden yet forever beautiful city.

Free time means exploration time so I journeyed out to Châtelet (Les Halles) with a friend, where we realised our error almost immediately - the surrounding shopping centre was dead. Sundays really are the day of rest on the continent, apart from the glowing golden arches, proving just how American le McDo really is.

Despite all this, we walked on and found ourselves on an impulsive trip to the Louvre, with a spot of lunch at a teeny tiny family-run restaurant. Prepare yourself folks - you won't find a proper meal here under 10 euros! The meal really was good though, tagliatelle with a special homemade sauce and as much parmesan as I liked.

Again, the Louvre turned out to be a bad idea - the day being the main problem. The queue filled the courtyard completely, so it was a quick spot of sightseeing until we stumbled upon a smaller museum - Le Musée des Arts Decoratifs - full of jewellery (including the jewelled fruit below), fabrics and interior design. And the beauty of being a student still meant free entry!

We then strolled around for a good few miles, admiring the city in spitting rain and reaching the Galeries Lafayette, and then into the cheesily-named Happy Days Diner for some super-thick milkshakes. Yum yum yum.

I also managed to pick up a Navigo Card on my way home, with the strange experience of having my photo printed onto the card through a little hand-held webcam by the cashier. The beauty of the Navigo is that it's issued free, and then it's up to you on how much you want to top it up by - all you need is proof that you live and/or work in the Île-de-France, and then subscriptions for a week or month in whichever zones you like are easily added to the card via the computer terminals.

This also means more exploration is (quite literally) on the card!

Tip of the Day: Make sure you know which days places are shut. Everyone in France likes a break; shopping centres and the majority of places are closed on a Sunday, however the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays... it really just depends on where you want to go!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Paris Diary: La tour Eiffel

The Champ de Mars
Saturday was a very different sort of day - starting out the many failed attempts at purchasing a Navigo Card (the new version of the Carte Orange, a metro travel card reserved for those who work in the Île-de-France) due to "technical difficulties", (despite plenty of employees telling me where to go, it seemed none of them knew it was closed) leaving me and a few other fellow citoyens scratching our heads at the SNCF office in Gare du Nord.

After this was a brief trip into Barbès for some UK-to-Europe socket adaptors (nowhere had them - not even Carrefour or Tatti!) and then for a French sim card (again, no-one had them except for Lebara sims, however our landlord has given us a phone with free UK calls, so there would be no need... all I need is internet!). Instead I decided to buy lunch for my family and walk to where they were staying, but as soon as they came down and saw my bulging bags they told me I was too late - they'd already had lunch!

Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel
However the day was turned around with a trip to the Eiffel Tower and then La Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel, a French restaurant just around the corner. I have to admit, I don't really get why people visit the Eiffel Tower. Sure, it's a breath-taking monument, especially when you see it for the first time, but to queue for a good while and spend a good amount of money to climb some stairs to see Paris from above - when there's plenty of other places to do the exact same thing for free - has me confused. It's basically France's answer to the Iron Giant - with a pricey fee, e.g. a plastic 330ml bottle of Coca Cola costs €5 there!

The Eiffel Tower
The restaurant however was amazing. Pricey and completely worth it - I had the best bolognese ever (even if it's not very French!). Then it was a quick run back to Toracdéro metro to avoid a heavy storm and all the way to Abbesses for a good walk around the - sadly closed - patisseries. The proprietor of La Brasserie did however recommend visiting Madeleine for the best patisseries - something I'll have to take up soon!

I also will quickly mention how I got locked out on the street - despite the three keys and five flights of creaky wooden stairs to get in, there's also a code on the main door that I hadn't been told. Magically the caretaker was sitting at the first floor window and shouted it to me, otherwise I don't know what I would have done!

Tip of the Day: Buy at least two adaptors before travelling abroad!

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Paris Diary: Les touristes

View from my room in Barbès
Today was the complete opposite of yesterday, I'm happy to say! I've now moved in with all my things (I thought I had too much but somehow, I've done a Mary Poppins and magically fitted everything onto my shelves and tiny wardrobe) and met my 3 flatmates. They're really really lovely, and quite honestly haven't had any trouble living in Barbès - despite the one pick-pocketing horror story from yesterday.

Before all that however, it was my first grand display of French in order to open a bank account. I went with the BNP Paribas close to my flat (that's a bank, not the "slightly" racist political party), but not before actually applying the age-old "ou est la banque?" that every french teacher in the land drums into their school children. A thank you is in order!

After spending a good 40 minutes in the bank discussing my account (which is in fact two accounts, that still need verifying via letters sent in the post across the road to my flat, to be signed and sent back across the road via post, along with more proof of identification and a standard 10 day delay before I get my card... Ah la France! The birth place of bureaucracy!) I left and had a quick leftover kebab for lunch (kinda gross, kinda nice) and then to finishing off unpacking.

After moving in it was onto some more exploration - stumbling into Montmartre, Abbesses (my new all-time favourite place to be, even if it's un peu plus cher...) and then accidentally some of the red-light district, spiced up with an odd wooden sword fight in the middle of a backstreet by a man and woman dressed in black (does anyone have any idea what this is about??). Then it was revisiting le Moulin de la Gallette, where we'd stayed close by on holiday 11 years ago (how I still have the memories I don't know!) and then climbing the grand old steps of the Basilisque du Sacré Coeur, whose, er, turrets I can see from my bedroom window.

Somewhere in that time I also:
La Basilisque du Sacré Coeur
  1. Bought the most delicious ice cream - two scoops, one melon, one mango - and I can't compare it to anything better than Remi's reaction to grapes and cheese in Ratatouille.
  2. Was asked by a little girl if I liked One Direction and I said they're not bad (I had to lie, I didn't want to break her heart) and she told me she loved me. All in French!
  3. I saw a woman's bag get stolen as she watched a street performer. It's clear to see that these people target tourists, or those easily distracted and unaware of their belongings/surroundings. Don't get caught out.
After all this I got home, washed and rested my poor worn out feet. I don't think I've ever climbed so many steps in one day ever. Bienvenue à Paris!

Tip of the Day: no matter how enthralling street performances are, always keep an eye on your stuff!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Paris Diary: Le voyage

The ferry before we set off from Folkestone, Dover
Today was possibly the longest day of my entire life - forget Midsummer's Day, travelling to Paris from a sleepy East Anglian town via ferry is now on my list of things never, ever, ever to do ever again!

Getting up at half-six to rush to pack everything in the car (and coming short of jumping up and down on the boot to close it), along with the hazy, unpleasant drifting in and out of sleep until we reached the white cliffs of Dover was just the start. With a slightly sicky feeling in my stomach it was goodbye England, but not without the slow sly torture of the Channel - walking like a drunk up and down the deck was only cured by the strong ice coffee I bought onboard.

To give France its due, once the humid clouds dispersed it was a sunny, 25°C run through the rolling golden fields until we got to Paris. The welcome we received was from the sprawling suburbs - la banlieue parisienne - was a different story; tower blocks dotted between standstill traffic and little shacks belonging to immigrants was an unhappy sight and the blank stares at us - les etrangers - didn't go unnoticed.

This dissipated into a colourful, heaving welcome from Barbés (18th arrondissement), where my flat is. People in the street became as arrogant as the French drivers, swarming around the backstreets as we crawled along and (I hate to say it) feeling a little too close for comfort. This was reinforced by the scary story from a girl I bumped into in my building, telling me about having her phone pick-pocketed on her first day in the city. Not a great start.

The Parisian rooftops from Montmartre
The flat itself is teeny tiny but not too bad. My room is as wide as the double bed in it - no idea how they got that in there! - but after my family treated me to a meal, I'm staying at their rented flat tonight. Let's just say that the price tag really reflects how lavish the place is in comparison to mine (just look at the view from the window!).

And so to retire to bed, achey and confused. A bonne soirée to you, dear reader.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Case of the Mysterious Cupcakes

It's been a funny old month - revision periods always are. How unnatural, filling the mind of one subject, only to tip it out in pages of exam scrawl, and then repeat. The relief to finish my second year exams was dizzying, and I've really had a ball enjoying myself - going out pretty much every night since.

The one thing I wasn't expecting however, after riding the rollercoaster of emotions over the last few weeks, was the 6 mysterious cupcakes that turned up on my doorstep this morning, hand delivered by the wonderful Frost & Snow Bakery.

At first I thought it was a joke from my boyfriend, or even just one of my friends who was waving me a farewell before I move to Paris (by the end of this week I'll be there!). But so far, nobody's come forward!

As for the cakes themselves, they're gorgeously soft and smothered in buttercream, with the only clue being the strange "6" - or as has now been pointed out to me, "b" - decorating each of them.

The box itself was sent to "Bonjour Mademoiselle", which shows it's in connection to the blog but I'm still completely clueless! I'm sorry, strange cupcake sender, but I really don't know who you are or if I deserve these delicious gifts!

... What I'm trying to say is, let me know who you are so I can properly say thank you, and also let me know what the "b" / "6" stands for? This just gets curiouser and curiouser...

To everyone else, if I don't wake up tomorrow, call the police. I've been poisoned by cupcakes!

After some cyber-sleuthing (thank you to whoever runs Frost & Snow's twitter!) it turns out Westfield Merry Hill were the mysterious senders - but there's still no clue as to what the 6 (confirmed as a 6) represents! The mystery continues!