Sunday, 23 February 2014

Autolib'

One of the fantastic things I love about Paris are these "autolibs". Electric cars that are hooked up to a power source and available for everyone to share. 

Makes sense right? In a huge city like Paris you don't really need your own car. You might need a car for half an hour or so to get somewhere, perhaps when it's raining, or maybe for an afternoon to go to Ikea, or maybe a little longer to move apartments etc. For everything else, there are buses, trains, the metro, vélibs or, your own two feet. 

So the theory was, what if everyone was able to share a set number of cars stationed in enough locations in and around Paris? They could pick a car up at one station near their departure point, then drop it off at another station near their destination and, only pay for the time they used the car. Cheaper than hailing a cab or hiring a car, with the added flexibility of not needing to actually drop it back anywhere specific (now wouldn't it be cool to have an autolib' station at the airport...?! although I'm pretty sure the taxi cab industry would take to the streets and start protesting if that went ahead). 

Okay, so even better yet, what if these cars were electric? In addition to increasing the overall efficiency of the usage of these cars, Paris could potentially reduce carbon emissions, reduce noise pollution, reduce air pollution, reduce traffic circulation, and even reduce car-park-searching-stress-induced-road-rage...!

Wow. Wow, right...?!

And so, Autolib' was rolled out in December 2011 to complement the already successful Vélib bike sharing initiative from 2007. Come 2014, Autolib' now has almost 1000 stations in and around Paris and a fleet of around 3000 electric cars. 



Thursday, 20 February 2014

Pâtisserie Viennoise

Pâtisserie Viennoise is a cute little establishment tucked away nearby the School of Medicine in the Latin Quarter / Saint Germain area (look out for the street art). I was first introduced to this place by some Frenchies (always a good sign) and was impressed to see that it still remains very authentic even today, ie reasonable (non-tourist) prices that are displayed on a little poster stuck on the wall, not much English spoken and old un-updated decor. 



Saturday, 15 February 2014

Super Easy and Fast Homemade Classic French - la QUICHE

Before moving to France I had never made a quiche in my life. I had ordered them at cafés and polished them off quickly enough, but I had never actually imagined making them at home. Too hard I thought.

Until, I came over here and I was eating in Frenchie homes with Frenchies. I've had more homemade quiches than non-homemade quiches now. John makes them all the time, so does his Mum. John also bakes things like this, putting me to shame with his cooking and baking. Oops. Oh well. 

When I visited a girlfriend in the 18th, she made one in her tiny oven. When I visited my cousin's cute studio in the 14th, she made a quiche in her microwave! It seems like Frenchies see their quiches the way I would see a ham/cheese/tomato toastie-toastie or a bowl of instant noodles (except you wouldn't necessarily invite someone over and serve a toastie-toastie, or instant noodles.. unless they were a really good friend). 

It's the French equivalent of fast homemade food that's good enough to serve. With enough effort included to show someone "HEY, I TOTALLY JUST COOKED FOR YOU!" without the dramas and potential disasters of something more complex. Great for me as I am a bit domestically challenged in the kitchen and am always on the lookout for Nhan-friendly recipes that present me as a slightly better cook than I really am ;)

What I've also learnt about quiches is that the possibilities are endless! Quiche Lorraine is not your only option. You can put virtually any combination of veggies together and can't go wrong.

Today, I made an asparagus and mushroom quiche (sounds fancier hey?) and it turned out pas mal du tout! 

PHEW.

Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche


1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 small bunch of asparagus
1 onion
Spring onions/chives (small handful)
4 eggs
200mL crème fraiche
A dash of milk
Seasoning - whatever you feel like really - we used salt, pepper, paprika, mustard, tarragon, herbes de Provence

Preparation - 20 minutes
Baking - 30 minutes

First slice the asparagus diagonally and gently steam them, covering them over for 3-5 minutes after the water has started boiling. They should be tender but still firm and crisp.

Sauté the chopped onions and the sliced mushrooms with a knob of salted butter on low heat until soft (you can replace the butter with olive oil if you like).


Friday, 14 February 2014

Rob Ryan Exhibition (and MEET!)


Six years ago when I was living in London, one of my girlfriends (who was living in Paris at the time) came to visit me in London. One afternoon, she took me to the Bethnal Green boutique of her favourite artist, Rob Ryan

It was love at first sight. I instantly fell in love with his work and even after my girlfriend returned back to Paris, I would go to his Columbia Road boutique on my own and look at his work and spontaneously start to cry (in a good way, and sometimes in a sad way, but always sad in a good way if that makes sense..!). I always left the store feeling emotional, having been moved to tears by his artwork. The staff who worked there were wonderful and when I embarrassingly apologised they told me it was okay, it happened often enough and that I was definitely not the first one haha!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

10 (Inexpensive) Romantic Things to Do in Paris

('romantic' in the universal sense - ie I have actually done these recommendations more with my girlfriends than with an actual um.. boy)

So the other day, I was in the post office waiting in line. Ahead of me was a kid. Well a boy. Ok. Maybe he was a teenager but I would think 12, 13 tops (even though they seem to get younger and younger each year it feels). He placed his "clearly-a-boy-wrapped-this" parcel on the counter to post and I was able to quickly glance to see the 4 words written across the front: "POUR TOI, MA CHÉRIE ❤". All in caps lock. Coloured in love hearts included.  

The woman behind the counter sold him a box that cost 9.50€ in postage (err I'm sure I could have been able to find him a more cost effective alternative), but it didn't matter, he didn't mind at all. Eagerly, he handed over his 10€ to make sure his chérie would receive her parcel for Valentine's Day. 

It got me thinking about how comfortable the French are with displaying affection, even when it might come across perhaps a little.. corny..? (in other countries). I somehow doubt I would see something like that written so openly at a post office in Australia: "FOR YOU, MY DARLING ❤".

Yet, if anything, it was just as beautiful, if not more. I find the corny, the clichéd, the soppy just as beautiful as the discreet, subtle, meaningful and original. Because at the end of the day (for me personally) it's the thought and the courage to express it that is beautiful. Just like that 12 year old boy's courage to place his chérie's parcel on the counter for everyone to see. 

Sometimes, the beauty of the courage involved to take a risk and express how you feel surpasses the beauty of the romantic gesture itself. 

So here it is, my list of romantic things to do in Paris. From the unique and low-key to the clichéd yet not to be missed.

Love is damn hard to find, and even harder to keep. I spent many years looking for it (trust me you can ask my friends, I've only celebrated Valentine's Day twice in my life and I'm 32). 

So if you've found it, celebrate it. 

If you haven't, trust that it's up ahead and perhaps held up in traffic. Otherwise, maybe do something for someone else. I have to say the Valentine's Days where I sent flowers to a girlfriend (with my name on it of course, otherwise that would just be.. cruel) were better than those where I refused to leave the house until midnight haha. 

Joyeuse Saint Valentin!

PS You will notice that none of my recommendations require loads of cash, you really don't need to go all out, it's pretty hard to NOT be romantic in Paris. The cobblestone paths, the beautiful architecture, the breathtaking bridges, that romantic amber lighting, you seriously can't go wrong. I have purposely left out the sexy bars and swanky restaurants (for another blog post) - those places you can visit any time (and pay less for the same thing on another date). 

Celebrating love is best when it is simple, effortless and completely organic.


1. The Padlock Bridges - sure, everyone's done it and the real estate space on these bridges is getting more and more difficult to secure these days but there is still something beautiful in the romantic gesture of writing your initials and the date you met on a padlock, locking it up and throwing the key away in the Seine, forever, never again to be unlocked..   
Pont des Arts (Métro Louvre Rivoli)
Pont de l'Archeveche (Métro Maubert-Mutualité)

** This photo was taken a while ago, as was this post, when the bridges were less crowded. Upon a recent visit, I was very surprised about the sight of the bridges. It now feels like there are too many padlocks. They are being locked everywhere and anywhere, even piggybacking on top of each other, and even climbing up onto the street lamps like creeping ivy. The pretty bridge with a sparkly golden sheen from a distance now looks a lot different, and not necessarily in a good way. You cannot see through the side of the bridge (like in this photo) as multiple layers of padlocks padlocked on top of each other several times over completely blocks any light trying to pass through. It certainly was a prettier view when the padlocks were scattered on the bridge, each with their own surrounding breathing space. 

To add to all of this, just yesterday afternoon, a 2.8 metre panel on the bridge Pont des Arts collapsed due to the extra weight of these padlocks. Uh oh..

To be honest, I don't know how I feel about all of this anymore as while I love the gesture and romantic idea of padlocking your initials to something permanent and throwing away the key forever, I can understand why there are petitions to stop this tradition from getting carried away for the sake of the bridges and to preserve the untouched beauty of Paris.

Of course, it's no one's fault. It has never been illegal to lock a padlock onto a bridge in Paris. It was just a romantic idea that gained popularity and now has taken on a life of its own. One could argue that technically everyone has the right to do something a little romantic during their stay in the City of Love, but I'm not sure if I would count this as my number 1 thing to do in my top 10 romantic things to do in Paris anymore. Maybe before, when it was a lesser known tradition, when you could be the only couple on the bridge discreetly declaring your love for one another, but not so much now when there are people selling padlocks and black textas as well as 30 other couples milling around competing for real estate! 

Ahh, if only we could turn back time.. (or find an alternative..)



2. Montmartre - one of my favourite areas of Paris, think winding paths, cobblestone pavements and cute little stairways. Find an alternate route to walk around the area that will beat the crowds. There's even an "I love you" wall featuring 250 different languages of 'je t'aime' at Square Jehan Rictus, Place des Abbesses (métro Abbesses)




I recommend to take a walk around Montmartre away from the hordes of tourists. Whatever main street you're on, skip it and go in further by a street or two and you might find some privacy like this couple did.. 



Okay, yes I know it was a bit creepy of me to take this photo, but I didn't realise they were in my photo until afterwards, then I thought it was kind of sweet (in a completely NON-CREEPY way).


3. Pack a picnic, grab a fresh baguette, some cheese, wine and fruit and head to the many beautiful parks of Paris. Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries, Parc Monceau, Buttes Chaumont, there are plenty to choose from. 


4. Take a walk at sunset past all of the beautifully romantic bridges of Paris. Grab a bottle of wine (and some glasses) and find a spot on the banks of the Seine to watch the world go by.


One of my all time favourite shots

5. The Louvre at night - wait until it's dark, grab a bottle of wine and some glasses to go for a wander. Walking around Paris at night time is definitely one of my favourite things to do. All the bridges, the amber lit buildings and the cobblestone paths. The tourists are exhausted and have retreated and the locals are already in bed. Find your own little corner and admire the beauty of the lighting around the Louvre. Paris is all dolled up and taking you out on a date.




6. Catch a view of the Eiffel Tower by night twinkling on the hour, I don't care how touristy it is a thing to do, I still get excited each time it lights up and starts to sparkle, no matter how many times I have seen it. It just feels magical, like something extraordinary is about to happen. Here's my favourite rooftop view for you to consider.




7. Les Bateaux Mouches - book a cruise down the Seine and sneak a kiss underneath the bridges (it's meant to bring good luck). Sunset cruises are the best in my opinion.




8. Go ice skating if you happen to be in Paris during the Christmas season. Outdoor ice-skating rinks are usually open between mid November and early March. Skate hire is normally around 5€. Just don't fall and break your collarbone like I did, trust me, it wasn't very romantic for John and I. 




9. Go carousel riding until you are dizzy and blurry like this photo! Carousels are usually situated near the Eiffel Tower, at Montmartre, Hôtel de Ville etc and are only a few euro for a ride from memory. Just ignore the kids that will be surrounding you and the parents that are looking on (well, at least that's what I did).




10. Lastly, my favourite activity - wander around, get lost and be anonymous.
Catch the scent of freshly baked pastries and wander in a random boulangerie to pick up something fresh out of the oven. Stumble across something like this, then find a bench to sit down to admire your secret find. Wander around aimlessly and get lost in the Latin Quarter, the Marais, Île Saint-Louis (be sure to grab some Berthillon ice cream if you are there in the Summer). 
On the other hand, if it is cold, warm your hands up with some hot roasted chestnuts from street vendors or a freshly made hot crêpe. Linger in a café (while sitting forward facing or alternatively in a cute little booth) and people watch into the evening.
Be anonymous, walk into private courtyards and pretend you are looking for someone. If you get busted just smile, apologise and walk away (giggling is optional). Get a little carried away and imagine you are in a film. I can assure you that no one will bat an eyelid if you or your partner show a little PDA, there will always be someone getting caught up in the moment more than you, and really nobody cares. 

You are in .. Paris, one of the most romantic cities in the world after all.



Tuesday, 11 February 2014

JEAN-PAUL HÉVIN Tea Salon

So I went on my very first blogger blind date the other week! 

I met up with the lovely blogger Kim behind 'The Wander Years' from Chicago. She works in freelance film and photography (yeah, I know, how cool is her job..?!) and has just spent a year in Paris. She said she'd wear a flower in her hair and I said I would be holding a book. Haha. Just joking, there's none of that these days with the Internet. Blind dates (of all types) are never really blind if you have any opportunity to do some stalking light research beforehand.  

We met up at the Jean-Paul Hévin tea salon in the 1st arrondissement because I knew that there would always be room upstairs for a long chat (good thing we did because our blind date went very well and three hours later we were still chatting away!). 

The staff are lovely and don't rush you out the door. I always try and snag a window seat because I love sipping a hot chocolate at my own pace while gazing out the window, people watching on rue St Honoré from above. 



Friday, 7 February 2014

You know you're on a Parisian metro when..


1. You forget that other colours actually exist in the colour spectrum besides varying shades of black, black and black. Or maybe on a wild day, a dash of grey. 

2. You are standing so close to your fellow commuter that you can feel their breath, and it feels strangely ... intimate/creepy depending on how attractive you find them.

3. You have 3G! Yay! Or E! Having an underground transport system that still gives you internet access now and then is great (especially when you are stuck and need to tell someone you are not standing them up).

4. You can distinguish the subtle differences between 
a) someone who didn't take a shower this morning
b) someone whose clothes have not dried properly and 
c) someone with just a, natural scent. 
You can also distinguish the respective different combinations and permutations between the three, with or without cologne.

5. Your ears prick up and you put your book/newspaper/mobile phone to the side when you recognise someone speaking in English. You then continue to discreetly eavesdrop into their entire conversation, sometimes resulting in you missing your stop. Damnit.




La Fourchette - Alcazar Top Chef Restaurant

Hands down, my favourite restaurant deal website in Paris is La Fourchette, or "The Fork" in English (the French version sounds much better, hands down as well).

I love Trip Advisor and all, and use it too, but in a different way. The limitation with Trip Advisor is that I feel it presents a slightly skewed perspective. The majority of people who use Trip Advisor are visitors, which means that sometimes their search will start and end there. They will then write a review and give a rating, which bumps the restaurant up, giving it more exposure, but within the same pool of restaurants. What I normally use Trip Advisor for is to cross check after I've found a restaurant, for reviews written in English and for tips of what to look out for. Visitors are after all invaluable for warning other diners what to look out for and providing details of what dish to try/avoid. 

I prefer to use La Fourchette, firstly because there is access to special promotions, but secondly because the reviews are made by a mixture of visitors, expats, Parisiens and Frenchies themselves. It's a great website for booking because everything is done online through the website or using the app. There's no need to call (and not get through, leave a message in broken French then not get a reply), there's no need to confirm (they send you an email and a text message as a confirmation), there's no booking fee and, there's no need to carry around a voucher/card/print out!

It is the equivalent of my London favourite Top Table :)

Often you'll find great deals like 50% off food or 50% off food and drinks. There are reviews from previous diners and you can filter by position, promotion, location, cuisine, theme and special lists the website creates. 

My recent find on La Fourchette was the restaurant Alcazar currently showcasing a TOP CHEF menu! Top Chef was and is John's favourite TV show, think fancy French chefs competing against each other with even fancier culinary challenges. Perfect to take him to an early birthday lunch!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Fête du Graphisme Exhibition on the Champs Elysées

The other night I took a detour from my normal route and stumbled across a pop-up exhibition on the Champs Elysées (I love moments like these when you can explain to yourself in hindsight why, why, WHY you took that wrong métro and got off at that wrong stop, after all this time in Paris). 

When I came out of the métro Champs Elysées Clemeceau, facing the Arc de Triomphe I saw on my left a series of posters from artists around the world. Each poster depicted the respective artist's interpretation of Paris.

The 39 posters were a part of the Graphics Festival or Fête du Graphisme 2014, running until February 18th at various locations all around Paris, involving about 200 graphic designers from 45 countries and their 500 posters.

These were a few of the posters: 


Kan Tai-Keung, China

Monday, 3 February 2014

Lunar New Year in Paris

2014 is my second Lunar New Year away from home. The last time I was away for the Lunar New Year was in 2009 when I was living in London. 

Sometimes, being away from something makes you gravitate towards it even more. Especially when you miss it so much and can't make it back. 

Which means that for 2014, I went all out. I don't think I have ever gone to this much effort to recreate the feeling of being home with my family to celebrate the Lunar New Year. And by "recreating the feeling of being home" I mean, desperately reaching out to pretty much anything that can be remotely associated to, being home for the Lunar New Year.