Gut instinct

Kim Brass 3If you’re currently in Paris in this hazy last gasp of July, I’d bet the last slice of Raclette that you’re relaxing languidly in a rattan chair on a terrace somewhere, watching the people go by (and for the uninitiated, at this time of year, they’re not actually Parisians – they’ve all buggered off down south for the holidays, which is probably why you got a chair on the terrace in the first place). If you’re not currently semi-horizontal in France’s capital lazing with a glass in your hand, then I’d raise you my dessert that that’s where you’d actually rather be.

Kim Brass 6And mon dieu haven’t you got a job on your hands trying to decide which particular one to spend your hard-earned euros in? In rattan chair terms, Paris has provided wannabe loungers with an embarrassment of riches (a termed coined by a Frenchman don’t you know), and as many an inhabitant and visitor knows, trying to pin-down the specific markers of establishment quality is as difficult as avoiding a sun-splashed terrace in the first place. Hell, they can’t even seem to decide amongst themselves what names to go under, meaning the capital’s many awnings are stamped with the seemingly interchangeable terms restaurant, café, brasserie and bistro(t). 

Assuming each establishment offers relatively the same thing is as foolhardy as assuming that you’d experience the same level of warm welcome in Paris as you would in Provence (erm, nope). There’s a fine art to this thing, and you’re lucky things that I’m here to give you a hand in negotiating it all.

A restaurant is much the same as you’d expect from most countries in the rest of the world; the most formal of the bunch, with menus depending on the food type and chosen price range of the place. If you’re sucking up to/trying to score with/grovelling your heart out to someone, a restaurant is where you’d head to. If you know what’s good for you.

Kim Brass 4Don’t confuse a café with the greasy spoon type you get in the UK. Easily identified most of the time as there’s often a tabac (peddler of cigs and lottery tickets) attached, here is where you stop for a quick coke-and-toilet stop or a swift espresso before work (and FYI order just a ‘coffee’ and that’s what you’ll get as standard). Beware – prices are cheaper standing at the bar and take a leap higher if you choose to sit (often higher still if that’s on the terrace), and if you’re after more solid refreshment, the most you can hope for is a menu of lighter meals and snacks like omelettes and croque monsieurs.

Kim Brass 2A classic French brasserie used to be a place that brewed its own beer on site, but is now known for its professional service, printed menus, tablecloths and waiters in penguin-esque outfits. Here you’ll find a static menu of classics like steak tartare, confit de canard and andouillette (only for the brave, you have been warned). They tend to serve food all day, and here’s one thing that will BLOW YOUR MIND – some of them are called Le Such-and-Such Café so you’ll have to make sure you pay attention. Stand at the bar waiting for an espresso like a lemon in a brasserie, and you’ll be waiting a very. LONG. TIME. And just to confuse you, there’s a fledging beer scene in France which means that you might also stumble on a micro-brasserie, which doesn’t mean short waiters and tiny portions, but a (hopefully) great selection of Paris-brewed craft beer.

Kim Brass 5Finally, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, then try a bistro(t), a smaller type of restaurant, often with just one owner or family in charge that specialises in moderately-priced French home cooking like traditional cassoulet or blanquette de veau. Bistros were originally thought to originate from basement kitchens in Parisian apartment blocks, but these days they serve to be some of the quaintest eateries in the city. And if you’re still furrowing your brow in dissatisfaction, then the only places left to go are salons du thé for tea, coffee and cake, or bars for hardcore liquor to toast the highs and the lows of your holiday/afternoon/life.

And if you’re still not content after all of that, then I, nor Paris, can help you…

The green green grass of home

Kim MontS 3Normally, I’m the sort of gal that doesn’t need an invitation to have a lollop around in a large green space, being a country girl at heart, with fine English sap running through my veins. But a friend with small human in need of celebrating his three whole years on this earth steered me last weekend to a patch which hadn’t previously seen a great deal of lolloping on my part, and picnic blanket and thermos of wine in hand, I headed south on RER B to the resplendent Parc Montsouris.

Literally translating as a very unappealing and frankly incorrect ‘mouse mountain’ thanks to years of linguistic tinkering with its original moniker of ‘Moulin de Moque-Souris’ (meaning the equally perplexing ‘mouse-mocking windmill’), this 15.5 hectare park is nestled in the 14th arrondissement and forms part of the quartet of vast green urban spaces across the capital created by the power duo of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann (capable of creating much smaller bits of green too), eventually completed in 1878.

Kim MontS2Much smaller than the bookend woods Boulogne and Vincennes, it echoes the hilly contours of sister park Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th, though unlike the others was designed specifically in the English landscape garden style. So far, so elegant and refined. It’s construction story though was a million miles away from its classic, cultivated exterior, being built on the site of a former quarry and a network of abandoned tunnels and mines which came to reveal a gruesome cache of some of the six million Parisians that were buried under the city in the 18th century. Around 800 skeletons were removed to their final resting place in famous catacombs of Paris.

Kim MontS 5Thankfully no hints of its macabre past remain today and you’ll find an undulating park perfect for picnics and frisbee or a good old-fashioned stroll. There’s also a duck pond towards the middle and a café and kiosk for something cold and refreshing should you be stupid enough to forget your thermos of chilled white wine. Kiddles will get all squeaky and excited when they spy the ponies offering rides round the winding paths, and joggers decided long ago that this is in the top five training spots that the capital can muster.

Kim MontS 4As for us, we took advantage of the wide open spaces and spread our picnic blankets under the shade of a giant tree, surrounded by fellow alfresco diners, snoozing citizens and lounging couples. We might not have seen any mice, but the bubbles (of the soapy-water-blow-into-the-air kind) and birthday cake(s) were far more interesting than any mouse-mocking that could have taken place. As English experiences in Paris go, all that was missing was a delicious cup of afternoon tea.

Reach Park Montsouris by taking RER B or tram 3a to stop Cité Universitaire.

Wall and Peace

Kim Rosa 1The Paris attacks. Widespread global terrorism and violence. Brexit. Has the world always been this conflicted and divided? Logged into my computer with constant tales of doom and gloom popping up via every available electronic avenue means a black cloud of political despair soon settled under the ceiling of the Granny Flat. Hitting the laptop’s off button and heading out for a head-clearing walk was the only solution.

This time my feet took me directly east, swapping the mildly gritty confines of my neighbourhood for the meanest streets of intra muros Paris in its poorest arrondissement, the 19th. Hardly the place to search out the soul-soothing beauty and goodness in the world you might think, but then Paris is a mistress that always surprises, and on this overcast Friday, she pulled out a colourful display from her sleeve in a place you’d hardly expect to find it.

Kim Rosa 2High above the tangle of train lines passing under Rue Riquet and round the corner along Rue d’Aubervilliers runs a 500m long artwork inspired by the famous American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat in the coloured section to a white passenger in 1955 made her a key figure in the fight against racial segregation. It was created at the end of last year to honour her legacy in line with the opening of a brand new train station named in her honour, serving RER E and relatively new tram line T3b.

Kim Rosa 3One of the most compelling examples of street art to be found in the capital, it is the work of 5 street artists (4 of them women): Kashink (Paris), Katjastroph (Nantes), Bastardilla (Bogota), Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (New York) and Zepha (Toulouse). Using a range of techniques and styles, their collective work is centred around ideas of togetherness, equality and unity with a strong anti-discriminatory message.

Kim Rosa 4In such times of scarily prevalent social turmoil, walking along and absorbing all of the positive sentiments were just what my politics-weary brain needed to reset itself. At a time when the world really does appear to be falling apart, it was magnificent to be reminded that there are always those admirable voices fighting for peace and justice, however difficult the climate might be. I toddled home to a restorative cup of tea with a renewed buoyant feeling that maybe armageddon was a little bit further away than the constant media gloom would have me believe. I might not be able to change the world as Rosa Parks did, but a little positivity sure does go a long way.

Click here for more information. Guided tours of the artwork available.