Give fleas a chance

I’ve been musing a lot lately about stuff. No, not stuff stuff, things stuff; that collection of material goods we accumulate (and eventually begin to choke ourselves with) as we meander through life. Here in our minuscule Parisian lodgings we have the advantage of not having the space for a whole load of material baggage (click here to discover more advantages of living in a chic match box), though when we do have the urge to shop, we do live in one of the best cities in the world to do it in.

Sure we have all the chains and the big names, chic arcades and sprawling malls – hell even the larger train stations in Paris are being turned into soulless shopping centres designed to lure in those sensible enough to have allowed themselves ample time to catch their trains. That’s not really what gets my carte bancaire sweating though, and I’m lucky enough to live less than a ten-minute walk away from one of largest flea markets in the world, where vintage chic melds with the beautifully bizarre and getting a real bargain beats battling around the rat run in Ikea into flat-pack submission.

If you’re heading up this way, eschew line 4 and the Porte de Clignancourt exit where cheap trainers and pleather handbags clog the lanes, and instead brave line 13 and get off at Garibaldi near the northern end of the main street Rue des Rosiers, meaning you’ll more easily get to good stuff and avoid all the tat (unless you really can’t do without some new incense sticks and a Bob Marley flag). Then all you have to do is keep an eye on your twitching credit card and decide which particular classic delight(s) your life and home are missing.

Rather than one big sprawl, the area is divided into lots of smaller markets (15 and counting), all specialising in slightly different things, though there’s furniture up the wazoo at every turn and if you have the time for a more comprehensive wander, it’s worth having a rifle through as many as you can (or bank balance will allow). See the photos for just a tiny taste of some of the gems I found on my way around. Needless to say I didn’t have a bag big enough to take a vintage pinball machine home, no matter how short the distance back to Granny Flat.

For those without a white van man on hand for larger purchases, there are plenty of smaller items to dig through from vintage postcards and knick knacks, to jewellery and classic toys. Remember though that actually digging may lead to some exasperated stall owners – ask before touching (‘je peux?’) and lead with your eyes; handling things is taken in some cases as a precursor to a sale. As with all flea markets, bartering is a useful skill, though you’ll have way more success if you bring cash (some stalls don’t take cards at all) and have a go at sealing the deal in French.

If you’re a visitor rather than a native and plan on organising your trip around a visit here, just be aware that the markets are only open at weekends and on Mondays, and you’d do well to try and avoid peak times if you want to snag the best bargains. Bad weather Mondays are treasure-searching gold.

Whatever your shopping motivation, for weary feet and spirits there are some weird and wonderful cafés dotted around, including some amazingly traditional French gems (remember the stall owners need to eat too!). And even if you haven’t been so lucky as to find that 19th century chandelier at the right price, keep your eyes peeled as you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local firefighters jogging around the area in their tiny, tight red shorts as they most regularly do. Sadly, no touching allowed, and models not for sale…

Click here to explore the various markets and offerings to plan your visit (available in English).

A right royal sunbathe

It’s that time of year folks – dust off the picnic blanket, grease yourself up in factor 15 and hit the park for a sizzling session or two of self-browning. Paris offers parks a-plenty for the purpose, though those with a more refined sense of outside fun in mind, might want to head to one of the city’s sculpted gardens.

Well hold your cool box right there sun-seeker, Paris hasn’t made this outdoor bronzing business quite as easy as we’d all hope, and actually not every green spot in town is open to receive a tartan blanket or ten. Think you can lounge uninterrupted on the grassy knoll in front of Sacre Coeur? Nope. You’ll get whistled at by killjoy guards before you’ve even settled in. The Jardin de Luxembourg might equally seem like a nice spot, but in fact amongst all that lush lawn, there’s only a tiny parcel that you (and a thousand other sun worshipers) are allowed to sit on. And each time I’ve been, it’s been in the shade.

If you want to keep your foray into the great green relatively central, then there’s only one real option where the grass is fair game, and the surroundings couldn’t be classier – the Place des Vosges, a geometrically perfect square straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If Louis XIV (aka ‘The Sun King’) had ever decided to take his title literally and mingle with the masses in a sunbathing sesh, then this is surely where he’d have done it.

Originally christened Place Royale (see, told you it was classy), it was the work of Henri IV (or at least his building crew) and was inaugurated in 1612, remaining to this day the oldest planned square in the city. It’s also one of the most elegant, and the prototype for many square places dotted around Europe, and single-handedly responsible for making the Marais one of the wellest-to-do parts of Paris. If it’s typically classically decadent Parisian architecture you want, here’s where to find it in geometric perfectness.

For your lounging pleasure there are ample patches of lawn to spread your picnic on, or plenty of shade under the rows of clipped linden trees if the french sun begins to bite. Play spot the jogger skirting the edges, let the kids battle it out in the sand pit or simply lay back and let the regal fountains trickle you into a reverie. Mostly though, just let your mind wander amongst the lucky residents enjoying such an address and try to come up with ways to make enough money to follow them (you’ll need to budget for upwards of €18,000 per m2 FYI). Tax avoidance to fund your dreams may not be in the spirit of the location however, given that the square was named after the people of Vosges in 1799, the first department in the country to pay their taxes to fund the revolution.

For a sneak peek inside before you get home to count the coppers in your piggy bank, head to the south east side of the square to have a wander through Victor Hugo’s house, where he lived from 1832-1848, just after the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. See if you can get an idea of the creative magic that lived here too – it was here where the seeds of Les Misérables were sown and the fledgling work began to take shape (finished eventually in 1862). Writing a bestseller might be the only chance you’ll ever have of living here after all…

 

 

 

Creative Grace

If you were one of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, which one would you be? The wealthy 8th, the shopaholic 1st? Maybe the hipster 11th is more your bag? Whichever one you think suits you best, I’ll bet my morning croissant that you didn’t pick the 19th – that largely forgotten north-east corner of the city that many a tourist fails to include in their holiday itinerary. Even Parisian residents have been immune to its charms over the years, and honestly who would blame them given the area’s history as the slaughterhouse centre of the city?

But tourist or local, anyone who’s anyone has woken up to the 19th’s awesomely shabby creative chic, and the fact that it has a personality that other quartiers should start to be very, very jealous of. I’ll be taking you round the many of its enchantments in months to come, but for now I want to introduce you to an achingly cool contemporary art space that would turn even the hippest corners of London pea-green with envy.

Jump on the metro if you must, but head east from Marx Dormoy along Rue Riquet to the corner of Rue d’Aubervilliers on foot, and you’ll be given a stunning glimpse into the creativity that’s at work in this part of Paris, when you hit surely one of the best graffiti walls the city has to offer (ancient blog post on exactly that here). It extends all the way up Rue d’Aubervilliers if you have time for a stroll to check it out, if not, head straight for the building on the right, an imposing modern art space offering sanctuary and inspiration, whatever your creative persuasions.

Completed in 2008, this multifaceted cultural centre is a hotbed of local talent, and invites artists of all disciplines to make use of the space to hone their craft, allowing members of the public to see their ingenuity in action. Whether a visual artist, a street performer or urban dance addict, there’s enough room for all to convene in perfect harmony (just watch out for flying juggler’s batons or hula hoops if you’re weaving in between the assembled crowds). Indulging in this creativity-in-progress is happily free to all, whether you’re an observer or an eager participant.

In addition to art in real time, there are also permanent and temporary exhibitions, film screenings, live theatre, dance and music performances (ticket prices vary), and an ever-changing programme of activities open to all from artistic workshops for children in the aptly named ‘Littlie’s House’, to free Qi gong (a close cousin to Tai chi) sessions at the weekends. Those with a more literary leaning will find a free book exchange shed in between to two main halls.

Folk led by their stomachs will find their more basic appetites well catered for with a selection of places to eat, including the main Grand Central Restaurant, hidden café and pizza truck for a fly-by feed. There’s even a nod to our commercial impulses with a book shop and a branch of second-hand wonder chain Emmaüs (see here for my own glowing tribute to my favourite shops in Paris). And the gritty past of the area hasn’t been forgotten either – the site may not have been one of the numerous abattoirs dotted around a century ago, but the two halls used to house the city’s municipal undertakers, processing 150 funerals a day. Maybe the creative ‘spirit’ of days gone past still resides here, I’ll let you be the judge.

Le CENT-QUATRE Paris, 5 Rue Curial (second entrance on Rue d’Aubervilliers), 75019

All the info you need is here (French and English)

Square Roots

kim-hdv-4Think of modern day politics and you’d be forgiven for thinking the end of the world is fast approaching. We have an orange cartoon villain as the leader of the free world, and concentrating on French soil, the name ‘Le Pen’ is looming uncomfortably large in a reality we hoped we’d never see. Can’t we go back to the Golden Age of politics when everything was just and fair, and made a whole lot more sense?

Yep, I don’t really know when that was either. To try and make myself (and you guys, obviously) feel a little better at the state of the world, I thought I’d take a peek back into French politics through the ages, and perhaps see how good we have it nowadays in comparison, harping back to the days when losing your (actual) head was the punishment for stepping out of line, rather then being roasted on CNN or having your Twitter account suspended. Compared to times gone past, believe it or not, this appears to be that golden age.

kim-hdv-1Now there’s no need to bore ourselves to tears trawling through the intricacies of the French political system (I like my soul and intend on keeping it), but instead let’s take a trip to one of Paris’ most important landmarks when it comes to governmental matters, albeit these days on a more administrative tip – le Hôtel de Ville. When I think of some of the concrete monstrosities that house those pesky paper pushers in the UK, well this beauty puts all of them to shame in quite damning fashion. I can’t imagine heading to a city’s council offices in absence of official business to lure me there, but Paris’ Hôtel de Ville is such a beautiful sight to behold in itself, that I’d quite happily cross the city on a rainy day just to stand outside and ogle at it.

kim-hdv-3But such architectural allure and elegance in fact hides quite a littered and lively past, or at least the square or ‘place’ in front of it does, having played host to events that have shaped modern day Paris since it was first know as ‘Place de Grève’ and used as a gathering spot way back in the 12th century. The word ‘grève’ refers to the gravel or sand that first defined the shorefront location, but also came to later mean ‘strike’ since it became known as a spot for unemployed people to complain en masse about their search for work, coining the expression ‘être en grève’ (to go on strike), now so fiercely engrained in the French psyche.

If we’re talking about gallic stereotypes, then nothing says French history like the bloody story of the guillotine. Well you won’t find a real one here, but stand in front of the Hôtel de Ville and you’ll be standing on the spot where the very first executions by guillotine took place, the bloodiest place in the city for a mere four months until the scaffold was moved elsewhere (more of that another time). Hardly a stranger to death though, the Place de Grève had been the official execution spot for at least 500 years before using various other medieval methods like the gallows or pillory. If walls could talk, eh?

kim-hdv-5Well, luckily enough these days, they kinda can. Not as in the narrators of grizzly legends gone by, but as modern beacons of hope, continually and silently reminding us that there is light at the end of the tunnel via the city’s motto ‘fluctuat nec mergitur‘, found on numerous municipal coats of arms adorning the sides of the building. Luckier still, you won’t find the bloodshed of ancient justice here these days, rather a charming carousel a world away from the horrors of old. It’s also the spot for many a special event, and ubiquitous protest of course, keeping the old rebel spirit alive.

For those heading inside, there’s always an exhibition or two worth a browse around (normally free), and my condolences if you’ve found yourself here (to attempt) to get some actual paperwork done. Whatever your motive, you’re doing the city a great disservice if you don’t take a couple of minutes outside to give a nod to its colourful political past.

Visit the official website here.

Rose and shine

kim-rose-4It’s on my friends. Forget conquering Williams and centuries of bloodshed on the battlefields, when it comes to epic contests between France and England, we only have to look towards this month’s rugby six nations championship to really sort the men out from the boys. Sport not your thing, huh? Odd. But no need to worry, there’s a much less bloody battle that takes every day for us Brits living amongst the French, on the level of our most basic sustenance. When it comes to breakfast, it’s time to pick your side.

kim-rose-6Whether you’re just a visitor to France, or have decided to take the leap to secure something more permanent, we’ve all dreamt of those lazy breakfasts on a French café terrace taking our time over a croissant and a café au lait. During a short break, it doesn’t get old and for a week you don’t tire of putting away as many pains au chocolat as your conscience can handle. But live here for a while and that little marmite-coated voice starts to become more and more persistent.

kim-rose-1But here’s the rub; living in France’s capital, it becomes quite a cloak-and-dagger affair favouring the British breakfast fayre when every bakery on every corner screams ‘pastries!’ as loud as their buttery-crumbed cries can muster. But sometimes, just once in a while, that croissant-filled utopia just doesn’t appeal and the thought of dipping things into a big bowl of coffee for a moment seems like a crazy way to combine liquid and carbohydrate breakfast pleasure. Sometimes all that will suffice is a steaming hot bowl of porridge. Thankfully I’ve found British breakfast heaven over here meaning that I can enjoy that hallowed Sunday brunch experience without wistfully wishing the pastry on my plate was a thick slab of marmite-slicked doorstep white instead.

kim-rose-2Rose Bakery can be found on one of my favourite streets in Paris, rue des Martyrs, snaking up towards the 18th arondissement not far from Sacre Coeur. At the weekends breakfast can be a very busy affair (so arrive early, they don’t take bookings) but you’ll be treated to a menu of Anglicised petit dejeuner classics including muesli, scrambled eggs and delightful eggs benedict. It’s also a chance to try and introduce your Francophile mates to the strange world of marmite (the French name should work in your favour) – watching their faces contort in disgusted delight is quite the Sunday morning pick-me-up.

kim-rose-5You can also choose from more lunch-y options from the homemade salads and savouries on offer, or if breakfast is something for you that other folk do, head over in the afternoon for a slice of cake (sold by weight) and a cuppa proper tea. Just like a proper breakfast of boiled eggs and soldiers, if you want to get afternoon tea right, us Brits have the upper hand when it comes to cake, and Rose (named after the British owner, er, Rose) makes sure the French don’t forget it.

Those who don’t have the time for a queue-up sit-down affair, you’ll find plenty of goodies on offer to recreate the authentic British bakery experience at home, on offer in their swanky new takeaway bit. This blog has been bought to you fuelled by their frankly incredible carrot cake (not cheap, but sooo good), I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it’s been worth it…

Rose Bakery, 46 Rue des Martyrs, 75009, open 7/7

Elevated Expectations

img_3481When you consider the choices on offer, months don’t get much worse than January. Last Monday marked what is billed as ‘Blue Monday’, what has officially been calculated as the most depressing day of the year. What with freezing temperatures and this week’s inauguration of a quite astounding choice of US president, January isn’t giving us much to smile about.

I’m one of those crazy weirdos though, who actually likes, hell, even revels in this time of year. For me the new year signifies a new start, a chance to take a personal inventory, reflecting on the joys and life lessons from the previous year and to make a list of the hopes and plans for the year to come. Resolutions might be seen as a bit naff these days, but I’m a loyal subscriber (although the UK tradition of embracing a Dry January has happily not, and probably never will enter mine, or the French psyche).

img_3480Now it’s likely that most of those resolutions earnestly made a couple of weeks ago have already fallen by the wayside, and the shiny potential of a new year has already become tarnished for most. But here in France the Bonne Année spirit lasts until the very end of the month when cards and greetings are exchanged right up until the 31st. Personally, I’m still buoyant with the thought of all the adventurous and positive things 2017 could potentially bring.

img_3483With this month all about embracing a new perspective, I decided on a clear but toe-numbingly cold winter’s day to head for the heights and take the chance to reflect on not just what the upcoming 12 months have in store for me, but for the city that for 8 years this year, I have had the pleasure (and yes, sometimes the pain) of calling my home.

Paris can offer plenty of vantage points, though mixing with the hoardes up the Eiffel Tower or Tour Montparnasse hardly encourage zen contemplation. So I headed instead to a lesser-known spot devoid of choking crowds, but offering no less stunning 360° views of Paris’ classically alluring skyline. In the process I also got to put in practice keeping to last year’s mantra of rejecting the desire to ‘have’ rather than ‘be’ or ‘do’, by passing the seven floors of consumer temptation found in famed department store Printemps, and heading straight to the open air terrace right at the top (be not afraid, they do have lifts).

img_3486The view was simply divine, if not a tad clouded by the seemingly now omnipresent fog of pollution that has become such an unwelcome reality in our daily lives. But even this had a place in my pensive reverie, as I pondered whether Paris would embrace the year from a greener perspective, and what changes we’d see in the city in a general sense as 2017 passes. It’s been a painful and disquiet few years for France’s capital, and just as we all wish the best for ourselves as the year progresses, then we wish the best for our concrete surroundings too.

This is a spot I’ll head to throughout the year when in need of a bit of perspective on life (sunny days only naturally), and if I manage to resist a spot of shopping in the process, I’ll end the year a happy woman. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Last Tree Standing 3: Fir the Love of God…

img_3476Bonne Année readers! I hope you’ve been well treated/rested over the festive period, and are ready for another year of Paris Small Capital action. I certainly am. Apologies for the long break, but batteries in both my fingers and laptop keyboard needed extensive recharging, but power bars are now fully restored and there’s a nearly complete blog schedule ready to see us through 2017. I sincerely hope you’ll join me.

Kicking us off this year is the annual launch of #LastTreeStanding, that quite perplexing but utterly addictive game of ‘spot the Christmas tree’. If you’re not sure of the roots of the whole thing, take a peek here at last year’s entry, and all will be revealed.

img_3488Today being January 6th (date of posting at least), means that officially 2017’s tree spotting can begin. For non Anglophones out there, it’s widely accepted that this day, the 12th day of Christmas or Epiphany, marks the Christmas decoration deadline, meaning that you must have vamoosed your tree, life-sized Santa and all other festive trappings by close of play or you risk an entire year’s worth of bad luck. No kidding; when we moved into a new house in March ’94 to find the old owners had left an irritating couple of inches of tinsel in the corner of the lounge room ceiling, my mother flatly refused to remove it until the following Christmas’ end. This is not a date to be casual with, oh no.

In Paris however, despite a rather lukewarm observance of the festive season (no crackers, no paper crowns, no mince pies, no Slade), inhabitants are seemingly very attached to their Christmas trees, finding it hard to set them free until well after the 6th Jan deadline. Sure, they might not be so strict or superstitious as us Anglophones. So that’s January explained. February at a push. But when you start to see sorry brown firs being dumped on the street with alarming regularity in April and May, now that’s just chicken-for-Christmas-dinner weird.

15541874_10154240624729352_2514299915846705292_n

2016’s winner, courtesy of Louise Abbot.

The first year saw us crown the winner a specimen found in Vincennes at the end of August. This year the plot thickens as the winner from Louise Abbot turned out to be an abandoned tree found floundering on, wait for it… December 19th. And that’s really half the fun; putting your sleuth hat on and trying to fathom what on earth possesses someone to get rid of their tree on August 24th, and even more baffling, December 19th.

img_34752016’s winner is going to be hard to beat, and those of us who live (and visit) Paris are going to have the trump card. But last year saw a flood of entries from elsewhere in France and many other countries from around the world. Check out our Facebook page Last Tree Standing (with bonus Twitter coverage at @psmallcapital or #LastTreeStanding) for a rogue’s gallery of withered specimens.

For those willing to participate (and let’s face it, it’s really just a question of opening your eyes as you walk down the street), here are the official rules.

12509333_973431352692621_7240197065082279475_n1. Photographic evidence required.
2. No artificial trees. Or conifers.
3. No planted specimens.
6. No repeat claims.
7. Trees must be obviously abandoned, put out for, and accessible by the binmen, though all submissions will be considered and are subjected to jury approval.
8. Honesty prevails. If you want to keep a dead Christmas tree in your apartment until September just so you can win, you need to get out more.

In the photos you can see (aside from the winner), just a few of the specimens I captured today on my travels. Gauntlet thrown. *cuts red ribbon with a pair of blunt clown scissors* Enjoy!

It’s not easy being green…

kim-vege-2…So said some frog or another on a lonely Monday afternoon. Well, whatever his particular woes, he may have had a point, but in the Paris of 2016 under the environmental-leaning lead of mayor Anne Hidalgo, the statement doesn’t really ring true. In fact it is unbelievable easy to be green in France’s modern capital, despite how life in a congested, polluted, concrete-coated sprawl might suggest otherwise.

Long-term readers may have picked up on the point that thanks to a country upbringing, I have chlorophyl rather than the red stuff coursing through my veins. Despite the miniature confines of my precious Granny Flat actively discouraging me from persuing my horticultural passions, I’ve managed over the years to grow in my window boxes everything from mustard leaves to rocket, basil to kale. Yes, kale. I have a family of spider plants who between them have produced over 25 babies. Too long a time between seeing a green tableau of trees and I start to turn into a quivering crazy person.

kim-vege-3So a strange choice to move to the big bad city you might say, but just because the urban address often wins, doesn’t mean any of us need to forgo a frequent inhalation of green air in our daily lives. Despite not having a central blanket of luscious green as cities like London and New York can boast, Paris can offer the bookend parks of Boulogne and Vincennes and plenty of little pockets of lawn and flowers for picnics and plant-gazing.

But cast your eyes away from your smart phone whilst trotting along the pavement (dear God, please), and you might just find something a little bit more guerrilla going on. In numerous tiny pockets around the city, local residents have said a rousing non to allowing useless slabs of ugly wasteland to remain untouched and unused, taking it upon themselves to get planting, turning these urban eyesores into environmentally friendly tableaus, full of flowers and green things, and even fruit and veg.

kim-vege-1Many have to fight the powers-that-be to stay as horticultural spots, coming up against urban developers who would prefer to fill the voids with concrete instead. But thankfully, the Parisian authorities have realised the power of nature, and in summer last year launched a scheme to allow and persuade local residents to cultivate their own patches of vegetation wherever they could find an empty space ripe for planting, whether it be a lonely street corner, a bare patch of wall or the base of a pavement tree.

Willing participants must contact the city of Paris and obtain a permit giving them the right to greenify their chosen spot, and are sent a planting kit complete with earth and seeds ready to burst into colourful life. Your permit will last for three years (though renewal is possible) and there are a team of green-fingered experts on hand if you don’t know your pansies from your begonias.

kim-vege-6And it needn’t only be flowers brightening up the urban landscape; walking past Montparnasse one afternoon, I spotted a fledgling veg patch bringing the grocer, quite literally to the streets. In these times of increasing poverty and food banks, what could be better then a couple of home-grown free tomatoes? If your plant skills encompass only the power to kill anything in a pot, then just walk by and silent appreciate the efforts of others. Just don’t let your pooch pee all over their hard work, ok?

 

By Georges, what a view

kim-pomp-6If you have the fortune of having the soul of a country bumpkin like me, you’ll appreciate how living in the big, bad city can frequently rattle the nerves and get the stress levels reaching for the sky. As a resident of some sizeable urban sprawls in the past (Leeds and Sydney) I always found it reassuringly simple to flee the choked-up centres and head out to nature to relax, breathe and recalibrate, being spoiled by the respective beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches.

kim-pomp-1Paris however, proves a great deal more difficult to escape when the rage levels reach their peak after too long dealing with those abrasive Parisian manners (and for those in the know, that’s being mighty kind….), though the need for liberation burns far more intensely than it ever has before. Luckily, I realised fairly early on that if out wasn’t an option (negotiating Paris’ bland and traffic-strangled suburban outreaches makes the need for breathing space ten times worse), then the only solution was to go up in the quest to put some distance between me and the modern tensions of city life.

In absence of a private hot air balloon or one of those superhero-esque jet pack contraptions, my only option is to rely on Paris’ buildings to hoist me skywards. The most obvious candidate is the grand old dame that is the Eiffel Tower, but relaxation for me doesn’t involve wading into the surrounding tourist treacle and waiting for an hour to get my chance to tackle the climb. The Tour Montparnasse is another good option, though heading south of the river is for me an exercise in frazzled nerves itself.

kim-pomp-5A little bit closer to Granny Flat HQ, and conveniently on my favoured line 4 is the centre Georges Pompidou, that garish tangle of pipes that houses the city’s modern art collection. A hugely divisive structure due to its out-there inside-out design, I’m firmly in the camp that prefers to be inside it regardless of what’s on offer on the walls, since safely housed within it means I don’t have to assault my eyes looking at the damn thing.

Taking in the featured exhibitions and calming the soul with art is an attractive option, but in my humble opinion the modern stuff is frustratingly confusing in its ‘go on, find a profound meaning in my toddler-esque crayon drawing’ style – about as soothing as a rush-hour ride on metro line 13. Give me a Degas dancer any day. Nope, for me I’ll leave the abstract musings on the lower levels to those who can enjoy the contemporary charms. For me, the only way is up

kim-pomp-2Head to the very top and you’ll be greeted with a stunning view of Paris, more authentic and real than the picture perfect versions that you get at the dizzy heights of the Eiffel Tower (plus escalators do all of the hard work getting you to the summit). You can see that on the day I ventured to the viewing area the weather was less than kind, but finding the perfect city tableau isn’t really the point. For me it’s more about gaining a different perspective, popping your head above the grey clouds of the daily grind and realising your place in the world. A bit of drizzle almost helps add to the peaceful grounding of it all.

The real beauty of this bird’s eye view though is the fact that you don’t need to bother with the art gallery aspect at all – entrance to the top viewing floor is a mere 3 euros on its own (though included in the main ticket price too, naturally). Where modern urban stress is concerned, a couple of 10 euro cocktails might offer some solace, or for those with a bit more cash in the bank, an afternoon at the shops. But mindless splurging isn’t my bag, so where relaxation is concerned, it’s the sky, rather than the overdraft, that’s the limit.

Click here for more info.

On the right track

Kim Station 2Hey you! You with the terrible sunburn over there. Have a good holiday? Great! Me? I’ve still got a week in Sardinia to cope with, as my milky English skin can’t cope with the August rays on the beach (it’s a hard life). This month though I have been holidaying in a fashion, kicking about in Paris trying not to complain too much about the city’s face-melting heatwave, and making the most of the deserted streets (for my guide to a super Paris stay-cation, click here). I’d have been in touch, but I couldn’t risk you spilling your cocktail all over my blog, so for both our sakes, I’ve left it until now. But now, here we are, a wee pick-me-up post to cushion the blow of the rentrée let’s call it.

So, modern holidaying often requires being stuffed into a metal tube and catapulted through the skies to somewhere hot and sunny for a couple of weeks. Well, that’s the case for most of us, but the clever French have refined their holiday game to quite another standard. Most vacationers largely avoid the lo-cost cattle-esque aerial option preferring to head to the south of their own glorious country, where the sun shines bright and the need to master tricky foreign phrases dissolves into the sparkling blue sea. Air travel is possible from north to south, but any savvy traveller here knows that the car and plane are for chumps, and that the train is where it’s really at; one of France’s proudest, chest-puffing achievements.

Kim Station 1Being from the UK, my train-travel norm is paying hundreds of pounds to take the most long-winded and illogical route on an always-late train from one depressing station to another, without even the promise of a seat. Jeremy Corbyn has just made it political, for Christ’s sake. France offers quite the opposite thanks to the lightning fast (ok, not quite) TGV and a well-ordered nationalised rail network, meaning it’s possible to get from Paris to Montpellier (747 km or 464 miles) in a shade under 3 1/2 hours. To travel the same distance on a train in the UK (lost for words as to why you would though) would take at least twice as long and cost at least twice the price. Madness.

Kim Station 3Next time I’m on a TGV, I’m going to head to the bar carriage, order a glass of wine and ‘cheers’ the inside wall in appreciation of this seamless efficiency, that after nearly eight years of living here, is easy to take for granted. But this is a blog about Paris rather than train appreciation, (thank God), so I’ll turn my gaze instead towards the city’s major stations that quietly and skilfully assemble and disperse the nation’s passengers from and to all corners of the country, in a display of relaxed and scenic effortlessness.

Out of Paris’ six major station hubs (including stations at Austerlitz, Montparnasse and Saint-Lazare), it’s the big three gares Nord, Est and Lyon that deserve a visit even if you’re not planning on going anywhere. All 19th century constructions (Lyon was the latest, completed in 1900) pay homage to the cities their tracks serve, with the most ornate being Gare du Nord, featuring sculptures along its top edge dedicated to individual towns or cities, including some of the trains’ European destinations. Long regarded as a less than attractive or inviting part of town (and that’s being extremely kind), it’s sad that most passengers try to flee to the nicer parts of Paris without truly taking in the stunning architecture of Europe’s busiest station.

Kim Station 4The charms of Gare de l’Est and Gare du Lyon are often similarly ignored as visitors and commuters alike pass by their beauty thanks to underground train links, but the latter’s imposing clock tower still strikes me quiet as one of the most stunning structures in Paris. If (somehow) the combination of aesthetics and travel isn’t enough to steam your train, then the larger stations are becoming shopping malls in their own rights (but remember, it’s all about doing, not having!), and you can hardly argue with the pull of that trio in destination terms.

So I might not be able to take the train to Sardinia, but I’m sure my journey will be the poorer for it. After all, isn’t how you get there half the fun?