Thursday, 3 February 2011

Lunar bunnies

Despite flying solo in Paris, I thought I would theme up this Thursday given it is New Year in all those far Eastern countries who follow the lunar calendar. Every self-respecting Western city has itself an Asian quarter so a couple of google hits later and I had chosen the lucky venue that would be my host to toast in the year of the rabbit.

When I first arrived 2 weeks back, I was really amazed by how well connected the city was and how there were so many Metro stations - you can easily walk 3 stops in heels no problems. Now I have fully embraced the French culture and took the Metro a short distance to get to Rue Sainte Anne. The evening looked promising as the entrance to the street is presided over by a large Asian supermarket generating a good quantity of local trade.

At 7pm, it was still pretty early by French eating standards but these canteens open all day and I walked past a few which looked quite busy to get to Higuma - a well reviewed Japanese noodle bar. On entry, there is a large open kitchen bar where the noodles are made where there was one Japanese business man having a glass of beer - waiting for his food, still dressed in his camel coat but with his trilby hat on the bar top. The waiters and the chef were however Chinese and there were distinct Chinese influences around the restaurant. The food arrived in Chinese blue willow decorate bowls and there was a greasy jar of chilly oil on the table. There are days I crave Chinese food but today I had wanted something Japanese - simple and clear. 2 more couples came in whilst I was there but really, it was fusion in the worst sense and I have no intention of going back there.

However, I am still excited about the year ahead. I like that the year of the rabbit follows that of the tiger - 2 such complete opposites. Hopefully we will be able to notice the change in pace of life as we apply gentle persuasion to mould this year's destiny as opposed to the fierce force we had to apply last year.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


It's bitingly cold in Paris at the moment - to the extent that I seriously have to much a deliberate effort to make myself leave the office to buy lunch or even go home! Suffice to say, I haven't packed the appropriate clothes for this kind of weather...

There are some amazing restaurants here but they are absurdly overbooked. Largely helped by restaurant owners manipulating demand by only opening from Tuesday to Saturday and only for dinner. Many websites will not give tight opening windows but actually state a time you can call to make reservations and even then you have to be sufficiently understandable in French to a waitress who also has to serve the people who have managed to get into the restaurant! Where do all these people come from? It's not tourist season and I'm pretty sure it's not fashion week...

Another quaint French crazy is their Metro system. The signs are beautiful and point you to another era when Paris was full of music and feather boas but they have also kept an archaic ticketing system. Weekly tickets last for the week beginning Monday so if you are coming for a week starting on Wednesday you pay the full weekly price for a ticket that is valid only until Sunday. Similar thing for monthly tickets which only run from the 1st of each month and are the same price no matter how many days there are left in the month. This is ridiculous in itself, but even more amusing are the queues of French people on the first day of the month queuing to buy their new monthly Metro ticket when you can pre-buy it up to 10 days before the start of the month. Were they taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of month end or is there a silent protest against this crazy and inefficient system which we foreigners are not privvy to?

Anyway, I had a pretty smug smile this morning going to work with my pre-paid ticket...

Monday, 31 January 2011

Lundi Lundi...

It's Lundi in Paris and there was a sprinkling of snow in the early morning. I know this as my friend left on the first Eurostar back to London. The time difference means he can take the 7am train from Paris and be at his desk in London City by 8:30am. All very impressive although it meant I was left in no man's land - tired but awake and waiting for my alarm...
Not that I am complaining. The weekend was glorious and despite the chill, we managed to pack in everything I wanted. It is amazing how many English blogs there are devoted to eating and going out in Paris. The wine tasting lived up to expectation and we stopped by the Maison Europeeane de la Photographie to see the latest photo exhibition which covered topical subjects such as the meaning of war as well as the big fashion names and famous landscapes from new angles. Much more manageable than a trip to the Louvre which I feel can be quite draining after all the queuing you do to take a look at a picture of a smiling woman which you have seen a million copies of.....
The food was unsurprisingly very good. One of the best things we did was to have brunch (which here seems to cover more the lunch-dinner slot so maybe we should call it lunner...?) at Rose Bakery which is run by apparently run by an English lady (blog-pedia-style knowledge) with student waiters who were more than happy to serve you in English which I think takes the charm out of coming to Paris - half the fun is seeing whether you can ask for what you want and trying to look like nothing is wrong when something completely unexpected arrives! Then we went to a chocolate boutique run by the much coveted Jacques Genin. I believe this is the first time he has sold direct to the public (his chocolate usually only sells to the top restaurants & caterers) and it was truly worth visiting. If anyone visits Paris, I can really recommend it. The shop is deliciously clean and spotless, all the staff are wearing clinical white overalls and the hot chocolate (proper thick molten smooth chocolate....) is served in classic white tea sets. The whole experience makes you feel very special.
We walked out of the City Centre past busy Republique towards Bellevue and ended up at a beautiful hilly park with fir trees and a lake feature with a suspension bridge which takes you up to a little stone gazebo-type structure. I would say it's much prettier than the Luxembourg gardens on the left bank which are crowded and surrounded by the sounds and fumes of busy roads and tour buses.
Am determined not to fall into the trap of finding something I love on the first weekend and re-visiting it with different friends. For my next victim/friend who is coming next week, I am only going to do new things. The google trawling through the memoirs of past Parisian travellers starts again in earnest!

Thursday, 27 January 2011


My rate of cash consumption has been nothing short of amazing since I arrived in Paris. So much so that I had to resort to a dinner of bread and nutella tonight - which thinking about it was quite a treat... In the line at the little bakery, I was wondering how I would get through a whole baguette and whether it would still taste good tomorrow when the woman infront of me asked for a "demi-baguette". Genius - these people have thought of everything!
Part of the eating light is because my friend is coming over to visit me for the weekend tomorrow. He probably doesn't appreciate just how bored I've been but basically the last week I have been planning the weekend to fit in all the things I have not had the balls to do on my own. Also have scheduled in a trip to Notre Dame and the Ile from which the whole City originally began and have chucked in a tour of the pere-lachaise cemetary where Jim Morrison is famously buried (along with other alumni including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust...etc etc) as a bit of a weirder treat.
And of course, what trip would be complete without a good French wine tasting.... I came here for a friend's hen night a few years back and did this really fun tasting so have looked up the guy and booked us in. As it happens, he has done quite well for himself during this time and now runs a wine bar and tasting rooms close to the Louvre. Can you imagine being good at something like wine which is something everyone enjoys and likes to learn about and which can be quite good money? If I were to have a strike of entrepreneurialism, I'd like to think there is something I could put my all into which I would actually also enjoy doing.
Something to ponder over the weekend but I'm not sure if I'll have time to schedule it in!
One sleep to go!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

City of lights

I'm starting a stint in Paris - somehow I have been able to convince my work that this is integral to the process and it has all happened fairly quick. Having said that, nothing in Paris happens quickly at all and it has taken the month of January to get internet access in my new flat.
Even the French are supposed to dislike Parisians but so far they have been very tolerant of my distinct lack of language skills and I seem to have arrived in the middle of the grand soldes so all the shops have -50% plastered on their windows which has really helped to make me feel welcome too...
The one downside is that I am out here on my own and I can't help thinking the whole journey would be all the better for being shared. I am, however, making amazing progress at eating out alone. I refrained from putting myself in that embarassing situation to begin with but there are so many bistrots and bars that look so good that I was quick to develop a thicker skin. I've found if you go mega early (6:30pm ish) then the restaurants are still empty, you get served quick, waiters are more tolerant of you umm-ing and ahh-ing through basic French and I don't have to pretend to be reading a book to look as if I am not listening in to all the conversations around me. It's quite liberating actually, each meal is like an extra boost of confidence (as well as completely delicious!). I think I may even try it when I am back home.