Autumn leaves… or does it?

Living in France, we do get used to erring on the side of tardiness when it comes to appointments and suchlike (though it does allow time to squeeze in a bonus apéro as an alternative to watch tapping if you’re waiting on a friend on a café terrasse somewhere, silver lining and all that). But the weather? Never have I before seen the summer be quite so fashionably late as it was this year, finally gracing us with his* presence in mid-October just as we’d begrudgingly stuffed our summer garb into the back of the wardrobe and liberated the winter woollens.

Though it may point to worrying variations ahead in our global climate, we did as we all do when the sun appears in an unexpected encore, and without a care for the world weather crisis, re-donned our flip-flops and raced to the nearest patch of grass in the hope of achieving a hallowed autumn tan. But which parcel of green in particular? is always the burning question on fairer days, though one I didn’t have to ask as I was passing Parc Monceau last week on my way to scope out a location for a future blog post (this isn’t just thrown together at the last minute you know…).

Nestled at the very top of the 17th and the very bottom of the 8th arrondissement, you’d be hard pressed to find much else in the immediate area to do, and I must admit I only found myself here on the way to somewhere else, and popped in to use that rarest of facilities – free toilets – housed in the entrance’s imposing rotunda. But having not visited it for a while, I couldn’t resist a turn around the lawns, and dutifully washed my hands and started on my loop.

Now this time of the year most of the green grass in Paris is ‘turned off’ and put into rest mode so it can regenerate into a lush carpet ready for next year’s picnic season, so rolling around on Monceau’s gently undulating slopes just wasn’t an option. But you know, parks simply weren’t design just for collective lounging on warm sunny days, and this one more than most demands you stroll around its confines, trying to spot the myriad features installed for the pleasure of the visiting public, that honestly put the humble picnic quite to shame. So many there are, the city should really think of inventing some kind of Monceau bingo.

Originally completed in 1779, it was the idea of Phillipe d’Orléans, cousin of King Louis XVI and close friend of future English king George IV. Not surprisingly given his close ties to the neighbours across the channel, Phillipe was a lover of all things English, and wanted to fill his public park with architectural follies, or reconstructions of historical and world buildings, typical of English gardens at the time (before Vegas went crazy with the idea a few centuries later). So look hard enough and you’ll find an Egyptian pyramid, a Roman colonnade, a Chinese fort and a Dutch windmill nestled in the landscape, not to mention statues of French luminaries like Maupassant and Chopin, added later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The level of art was so impressive, even Monet popped down a few times a century after the park’s inception, producing five paintings of it in total.

These days, quiet artistic reflection has given way to almost frenzied athletic activity, though feel free to take a moment to reflect on the property prices of the buildings overlooking the park’s 8.2 acres (clue: win-big-in-Vegas prices). If you’re a visitor here today, chances are jogging is on the agenda, and during daylight hours there is a constant stream of lycra-clad pavement pounders doing the rounds, not to mention the grunt of a thousand sit-ups and lunges echoing through the air. So eager is the fitness spirit here, I spied a guys selling protein powder at the entrance. No kidding. Those with younger models looking to shed excess energy, a carousel and tandem swings will effortlessly get the job done.

Maybe jogging isn’t your thing, though admittedly a better choice than the chosen active pursuit of 1797 – the world’s first silk parachute jump that landed in the history books right in the park’s grounds. Perhaps a turn or two doesn’t look too bad in comparison, though we’ll let the weather decide our level of exertion for now. Where did I put that umbrella?

Click here for more info on times and location.

* summer is masculine in French as are the rest of the seasons, try and work that logic out…

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Take me down to the ball game

They say you can’t have it all, and you know what? They’d be annoyingly right. Paris has provided for me with so many wonderful things, from the cultural to the culinary, but all the warm delicious croissants in the world can’t make up for the fact that France is a country with no interest whatsoever in the one subject closest to my heart; cricket.

IMG_1695You can stop that frowning in contempt at the screen right this minute. We all have our weird and wonderful passions, and for most of you out there I can confidently bet that includes some kind of sport (though if that means French favourite handball there’s really not much I can do to help you). Coming from a family full of sports-mad females, don’t you girls be thinking I’m tuning you out here, even if you don’t get into the odd game, I imagine you’re partial to the odd drink or two.

In the need to sate my sporting passion, I have done extensive research in the subject of finding a screen showing the action I want in a city where sport is secondary. And as we slide into February, the timing couldn’t be better to share my findings with the start of the rugby Six Nations on 6th, not to mention a full year’s calendar including the Euro 2016 football cup, Rio Olympics and Tour de France approaching soon after.

IMG_3078The good news is that there are plenty of options (though lesser south of the river), with a huge array of anglophone bars showing most sports, most days. The most obvious candidates are the big chain heavyweights Café Oz and O’Sullivans with several locations a piece, but cosier Irish alternative Corcoran’s lets me test my pool skills, and so gets my vote. McBride’s in central Châtelet in also a good bet.

On more independent level, the English crowd will feel particularly at home in The Coq & BulldogThe Bombardier, The Bowler or The Cricketer and the Scots at The Thistle, The Pure Malt, The Highlander or The Auld Alliance. In absence of any Welsh themed drinking holes, our British cousins will just have to pick a side.

IMG_3077For a more North American selection of games, The Great Canadian and The Moose win hands down and you can enjoy the action with a bowl of that chips/cheese/gravy combo they’re crazy about over there. Southern Hemisphere sports fans have fewer options, but South African bar Pomme d’Eve and charming Australian-run Prohibition-themed The Bootleg (with bonus pool table) are some of the best independent places in the city you could hope to find, whatever your nationality.

Beware the anglophone-looking French bar who have no idea what the Ashes are as I discovered to my horror very early on in my search, and don’t be afraid to call and ask just to guarantee they’ll be playing the exact game you’re after. Some will even tape games taking place in the wee small hours so you don’t miss any of the action. And if you steal my stool at the bar, the concept of fair play won’t even come into it…

 

 

The Bike-ly Lads

Kim Tour 4Summer – the season of floaty dresses, floral prints, tailored shorts, and as seems to be the trend in France, er Lycra. And not just any old Lycra; Lycra so tight it’ll show every contour and so bright it’s a good thing it’s also the sunglasses season. You haven’t seen such fashion specimens amongst the July crowds? That’s ‘cos you’re looking in the wrong place. Take your eyes off the human traffic on the pavements and cast your gaze into the road. That slender chap peddling like his life depends on it can only mean one thing – Tour de France fever is here.

For approximately one month of the year, here the bike is king. It’s dusted off and rescued from the garage and the official Lycra kit (with go-faster stripes if you must) is dug out from the depths of the wardrobe, and hard saddle and padded shorts are reunited once again – all in honour of the biggest sporting event in the world (with more viewers worldwide than even the Olympics) the three-week cycling roadshow that is the Tour de France. Or being terribly French about it, simply ‘Le Tour’.

My own understated Tour effort

My own understated Tour effort

And what an impossibly challenging beast it is, both understanding the rules and putting yourself through it. Allow me to help with the former. 3 weeks, 198 riders, 22 teams, 21 stages in 3 countries (this year anyhow, usually it’s only 2), with 4 colours of snazzy shirts for the winners to wear – yellow for the overall winner, green for best sprinter, white for best youngest rider, and white with red polka dots for the best climber. Some of the riders aren’t even there to win, but are merely domestiques or maids, simply there to make sure the lead rider in the team is aptly fed and watered. They’ll even swap bikes with him if he knackers his. How gentlemanly.

The route winds around France with a stage every day (covering 3,360km in total), taking in flat terrain, treacherous cobble-stoned villages, luscious countryside and evil mountains, plus a couple of time trials for extra variation. Anyone worth their sel de guerande as a Frenchman or cycle enthusiast piles onto the side of the road to wave them on, even if this involves waiting for a good few hours to see the peleton (main pack of riders) whizz past in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it two seconds at breakneck speeds.

248398_10150232286151685_3611686_n (2)The capital has traditionally played host to the last stage since 1985 and the weary riders roll into town on the 26th July for the final parade lap where they ride a circuit up and down the Champs-Élysées, by the Louvre, along the Rue de Rivoli and across the Place de la Concorde (don’t worry, they do it nine times, so it’s more than worth it). Seeing an aerial view of the beautiful city on TV or soaking up the atmosphere amongst the crowds is the day my heart bursts most with pride at being able to call Paris home. Usually the race is already decided by the time they arrive as the last week is packed with gruelling mountain stages that really sort the men out from the boys, but occasionally if there’s only seconds between the top two (astounding to think after three weeks’ racing), the race is on.

Kim Tour 2This year there’s almost no chance at all of a French victor (the last was Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault in 1985), but chances are good for the UK (Froome), USA (Van Garderen), Spain (Contador), or Columbia (Quintana). Time to dig out that flag. If it’s not grabbing you so far then at least appreciate the utter insanity of the challenge. These dudes are amongst the fittest – and craziest – in the world. Last year hot favourite Contador fell then rode 15km up a mountain with a broken leg before pulling out. Forget Magic Mike, this is a chance to wonder at physical magnificence atop magic bikes.

If you’re keen to check it out, just remember to take something to stand on – gazing at the backs of strangers does not a sporting event make. Recreating the action on a Vélib strictly discouraged…. For more info and standings check out http://www.letour.fr (English version available).

Balls to it

1919135_10150155245455497_553719_nSince I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve eaten countless baguettes, hoovered my body weight in croissants, said ‘bof’ a lot, and purchased a stripy t-shirt. It’s really only my pétanque skills that need polishing up, and then I’ll be a bona fide Frenchie. Handily though, I don’t need to worry anymore about the stigma of hanging out with old men with round bellies on gravelly terrain with my hat pulled down to hide my face, apparently, that old French leisure sport is the new hipster trend.

132103_491492285981_3602241_oIf you wander down the canal after work these days or cross through one of the city’s beautiful parks (the flat ones, obviously), then the chances are you’ll hear the clinking of boules being thrown, and see the concentration etched on players faces as they survey the scene. What used to be a game popular with the older generation, is now the hipsters’ sport of choice. Rumour has it that even the likes of actress Diane Kruger enjoy an odd round or two.

1915846_10150171484930114_5970098_nThe rules are relatively simple – you can play singles, doubles (3 balls each) or even triples (2 balls each), and the team with the ball closest to the jack or cochonnet wins. The team furthest away from the cochonnet throw until they become the closest and then the other team have their go. The winning team scores a point for the ball closest to the jack and for every ball closer than their opponents. The first team to hit 13 points wins.

Aside from a nice shiny set of boules (see Decathlon or Go Sport), all you need is somewhere to play, and a flat piece of gravel or lawn will do nicely. Some of the nicer spots on paris include Canal de l’Ourc, Jardin de Luxembourg or Jardin de Plantes, though there are plenty of spots to be down by the Seine if you’re confident you won’t end up launching a ball into the water.

1915846_10150171484920114_1564837_nTo celebrate this new and growing trend, the city hosts this saturday day 2 of its pétanque festival Petanque Paradise, being held on the edge of the 12th near the Bois de Vincennes on the Route des Fortifications. They’ll be plenty of players showing off their skills if you fancy seeing how it’s really done, but also DJs, food stalls and workshops to keep you occupied if your talents aren’t up to scratch. Check the official website  for more details. Oh, and don’t forget the pastis.

Let’s get physical

CIMG7196When thinking of Paris, it’s likely that any conjured images will revolve around food. Cheese, pastries, baguettes stuffed full of sliced animal, pools of rich cream. In essence, food so laden with calories, it’s a wonder that you can actually walk at all after eating it. So you’d think that keeping fit and getting the better of those evil calories would be a Parisian obsession. But no. Think of a typical inhabitant of the city of light, and I can almost guarantee that there’s no sweat-sodden lycra involved (except for two weeks around Tour de France time of year when anyone who’s anyone coats themselves in the stuff and hops on a racing bike). The French paradox takes care of any weight gain that the local diet seems to threaten, and they all remain unfairly slender.

For those of us who don’t seem to repel calories like the French, and need to put in the hard yards to keep them at bay, the gym is of course an obvious prospect, though you’ll need to commit a fair few of your hard-earned euros to the cause. The thought of going to the gym makes me break out into a sweat (but not the good, kilo-burning kind), so here’s few ideas of how to keep your wallet, rather than your body, fat in this fair city of ours.

Run

Arguably the cheapest sport of all. All you need are a pair of decent trainers (head to Decathlon or Go Sport for a very reasonably-priced selection) and your own personal running track. If you live near one of the city’s many parks, all the better, but Paris’ wide boulevards mean you’ll always have a relatively clear path. The real danger is avoiding the dog poo. But hey, that just helps to improve your coordination at the same time.

Ride

At this time of year there really is no excuse. Paris was voted last year the 13th most cycle-friendly city in the world, and there are bike paths and cycle lanes galore. If you don’t have a bike of your very own, then the city has kindly supplied you with one in the form of the velib. Riding up a hill on one of those weighty beasts is probably the best thigh-toning exercise ever invented. A year’s subscription is 29 euros and the first half and hour is free!

Climb

IMG_1603Paris. City of love. City of light. Hardly – city of stairs if we’re going to be brutally honest. Whether you’re trying to surface from the metro, make it up seven flights of a lift-less building to your apartment or take in the sights of Montmartre, if you’re after leg and bottom sculpting activity, then Paris is your best friend. I worked out the other day (when I wasn’t thinking of vegetables), I probably climb between 300 and 500 stairs a day, without even trying. Sweatband and Rocky soundtrack playing in your head whilst you’re doing it are of course optional.

Play

Petanque in the park might not burn the calories, but in many of the city’s parks, there is municipal, free equipment provided for a variety of sports including basketball, table tennis and weights frames. The early bird, of course, catches the worm (though he probably shouldn’t eat it if he wants to keep his figure).

Walk

Flaneur-ing (that’s the Parisian art of strolling for those not in the know) might not get you out of breath, but do it for long enough and you’ll cover a few kilometres without even realising it. In a city as small and as beautiful as Paris, there really is no excuse for not pounding the pavements and bathing in all of its glory. What, you actually like the smell of the metro?? For some real green indulgence, head to the two book-end woods on the edges of Paris (Boulogne and Vincennes) and explore, or follow the Seine as far as your legs will carry you right out into the leafy suburbs.

Swim

Gyms, yoga classes and other assorted specialised exercise/sport classes can easily swallow cash, glamorous as they are. But don’t overlook the old school option and head to one of Paris’ 38 municipal swimming pools. A 3-month pass (for as many visits as you like) costs 37 euros for an adult. The only downside is that you’ll be forced to wear one of those blood-vessel-flattening rubber swimming caps. No pain, no gain, right?

Join

We’re all on a health kick these days, aren’t we? So let’s hook up and get all sweaty together whilst secretly comparing our non-existent abs. I’m not a member of a sports team myself (so you’ll never see mine), but I know of a few friends and acquaintances that have joined various sports team in the city whether through their work or through the ex-pat community. Keep your eyes to the ground and it’s highly likely you’ll find something out there.

So there you have it. With summer fast approaching and the rain finally leaving us alone, there’s no excuse not to don the gym shorts and hit the road. Enjoy!