Bank on it

Hello from the other side… of summer that is (and apologies for the long absence!). I sincerely hope you all survived the season intact, picking up happy holiday memories, a light bronzing, and minimal bodily singeing or sense of humour failure. Safely into the cosy months of autumn and the temperature is still relatively buoyant, but rapidly falling and taking the evening sun with it.

Those keen on grasping a last couple of sessions of waterside supping/dining whilst the warmth holds will do well to head to the Canal Saint-Martin, spanning the 10th and 11th arrondissements, as a quaint alternative to a Seine-side apéro. You’ll be waving goodbye to the thrilling show that is the river police zipping along in their patrol dingy looking for the bad guys, or sporadic fishing spectacles (not from me for a while, catfish you’re safe for the moment), but that’s a small price to pay for on-the-canal-bank relaxation.

Its southern tip connects to the Seine via the Pont d’Arsenal at Bastille and it extends 4.6 km north east, finishing up at its junction with the Canal de l’Ourcq at Jaurès. There’s banks a-plenty for strolling along, though half of the canal is actually hidden underground, covered up in the mid-19th century in favour of creating wide boulevards and public spaces up top. Those intent on embracing the flâneur spirit would do well to join it at the point between Jacques Bonsergent and Goncourt when it pokes its watery nose into the fresh air again.

Those keen to get closer to the water (swimming is a big no-no, I’ll explain later) can hop on a canal cruise and pootle along its length at leisure, with a bonus foray into the Bassin de Vilette and under the Crimée bridge further north, complete with soothing commentary. Those with a claustrophobic disposition might not be so ‘delighted’ by the subterranean section, but if you can stomach the underground prelude, a trip through four double locks and two swing bridges (and not to mention under numerous bridges) can only be experienced via gently floating boat travel, though it’s always fun to spectate from the banks too, if only to see the motorists either side turn increasingly redder as their road rotates away from them.

Originally conceived by Napoleon in 1802 to provide fresh water and a transport link to the Parisians of yore, its construction was funded by a new tax on wine. Despite its vital purpose of avoiding diseases like dysentry and cholera, the concept of turning wine into water must have played games with the French psyche back then, and not being finished until 1825, that’s a whole lotta liquid sacrifice. These days wine takes a starring role as the drink of choice for relaxing on the banks, equally on the terraces of the charming bars and cafés lining the waterway on either side (including the famous Hôtel du Nord at 102 Quai de Jemmapes, just near the canal’s ground-level bend).

Other highlights along the route include Paris’ very own ‘muscle beach’ with iron pumpers galore flexing their pecs on the municipal gym equipment near Rue Louis Blanc at the top end, plus the nearby firehouse further up near Jaurès where the pompiers partake in similar between shouts. But one of the most charming aspects of the canal is its dredging and emptying every 10-15 years (last completed in 2016) where its contents are revealed in what’s akin to an enormous aquatic archaeological dig, its fishy residents being located elsewhere beforehand of course.

Obligatory shopping trolleys, pushchairs, vélibs (shockingly plentiful), mopeds, suitcases and road signs aside, some of the more unusual sludgy discoveries have included a couple of safes, washing machines, ancient gold coins, two WWI shells, and a lone gun (dead bodies are no doubt quietly left off the list). Amongst the other 40-odd tonnes of rubbish found in the polluted soup during the last dredging (see, swimming a terrible idea) were thousands of cans and wine bottles tossed in by careless bacchanalians. There are simply not that many clumsy people in the world. Enjoy your apèro but don’t let your empty wine bottle be the spaghetti in Canal Saint-Martin’s minestrone. Please.

For canal cruise information click here.

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All good in the wood

Sunny day, everything’s A-ok… Well now that June’s thunderstorms and lightning (very, very frightening) have long since disappeared, yes Big Bird, you may have a point. Though try swinging round mine for rise and shine one day and see how you like the daily chorus of randy pigeons, upstairs elephantine neighbours and a team of builders who enjoy knocking down walls at 8am (and how many damn walls can a small Parisian apartment have?!). No, not very A-ok.

So as is my want to do when I’m teetering on the edge of the precipice of insanity, I head out into fields of green to calm my soul and recalibrate my neighbourly tolerance. This time, a mere postage stamp of grass wouldn’t do it, so I directed my adventure shoes to the eastern edge of the city in search of the calming glades of the bois de Vincennes. And please ignore self-professed oracle Wikipedia that claims it is ‘the largest public park in the city’. It is neither a park, nor in the city. It’s so very, very much more.

Just a short tram ride away, and the breath of nature soon began to work its magic as I hit the north western corner near the lac de Saint-Mandé. Nature was also calling in quite a different way, so before beginning my much needed forest bath, I hunted for that elusive beast, a public toilet. Now before I begin extolling her virtues, I’ll just tell you this. Get this ‘step’ out of the way before you head into the forest’s deep embrace – failing to find said facilities (twice round the lake I went) I was saved by a group of Polish workmen who let me use their hole-in-the-ground style portaloo when I asked for directions. You have been warned.

Lack of toilet facilities aside (though plenty of water fountains, work that one out), there’s not much else this massive green space can’t offer. Three times larger than New York’s central park, there’s no way in the world you could get round it all in one visit (I’m not even going to mention its famous chateau – that’s for another post). And for somewhere that tourists to the city hardly register, it gets 11 million visitors a year and could easily offer a week of activities.

Head towards the western side near Porte Dorée and the biggest lake, Lac Daumesnil offers a chance to mess about on the river for €13/14, with bonus lifeguard swans (also an option on the eastern Lac des Minimes). Further to the south east is the hippodrome for more energetic pursuits, though be sure to check the gee-gees are running before you go. For a more cerebral workout the resident zoo, arboretum, farm and botanical gardens (Parc Florale) will teach you about the herbs, birds, bees and trees, though it’s the cycling and walking opportunities that are really at its heart.

With 2,500 acres and 50 miles of paths just crying out for hikers and cyclists alike, it’s easy to meander through the trees and find a spot for quiet contemplation, and plenty of trees to hug if you’re into that sort of thing (don’t knock it ’til you try it). Though given its popularity, there is plenty of traffic in the form of scamping dogs and their owners, serene (and sometimes not so serene) strollers, and plenty, especially at this time of year, of those Tour de France guys making Lycra look as serious as possible. Bizarrely I also spotted plenty of tech-neck afflicted head lolloping smartphone addicts wandering about. Lost, obviously (well you’d certainly hope so).

For five-star centering and calm, away from the forest traffic, head to the buddhist temple or ”Grande Pagode du Bois de Vincennes’ where you’ll find Europe’s largest buddha. Sadly it’s only open during special festivals, but if it’s those you’re really after, the Parc Florale leads the way with the city’s biggest summer jazz and classical music festivals. If all of that isn’t enough to lead you to a state of zen, then I don’t know what will. After the drama of this world cup, you’re certainly going to need it…

Find out more here.

Jacques of all trades

In my various digital meanderings, I recently stumbled upon the word ‘multipotentialite’, a newly coined term to describe someone with a variety of interests in life, an explorer of multiple fields, a person with not merely one single identity. Gone are expectations of a career for life, with change and progression being the modern religion. But whether multitasking is the future or a plague upon all our houses, there’s one building in town that is as ‘multipotentialite’ as they come, putting the rest of us ‘do-it-all’ disciples quite to shame.

When it comes to towers, Paris can hardly claim a world-renowned collection of cloud-touching skyscrapers, though the Eiffel Tower wins a top ranking on the global list, despite the fact that many Parisians aren’t its biggest fans. Its tallest offering, the Tour Montparnasse, is great for checking out the views of the city with the Eiffel Tower actually in it, though it missed the boat entirely in the style stakes (a product of the 70s, so hardly avoidable), some cruelly dubbing it when it first appeared ‘the box that the Eiffel Tower came in’. Ouch.

But cast your eyes centre-ward dear readers, and you’ll find an elaborate tower-like specimen that puts the other two to shame with its colourful history and the ability to multitask like a champ. And guess what? It wasn’t ever intended to be an independent tower at all, and only allowed visitors to start scaling her heights in recent years, a mere five centuries after her creation. Who said it takes forever to get anything done in this town?

Located on the corner of the huge central traffic artery that is the rue de Rivoli, and rue Nicolas Flamel, the 62m tall Tour Saint-Jacques was originally part of the larger church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, completed in 1523. Standing proud as a meeting point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, the church also served as an important meat-ing point (once a punner, always a punner) given its location next to the market quarter of Les Halles, the stomping ground of its wealthy butcher patrons, their deep pockets responsible for its ornate mouldings and decoration.

The French revolution soon put the brakes on nearly 300 years of devoted worship, and the church was torn down in the late 18th century to make use of its stone, though the tower was spared perhaps for its flamboyant Gothic beauty or usefulness as a vantage point. By 1824 it had lost its bells and was being used as an ammunition factory making lead shot (and you can’t get a more dramatic transition than from peace to war) and after being reclaimed by the city of Paris soon after, was declared a historic monument in 1862.

Further beautification occurred in the decades that immediately followed, largely instigated by architect Théodore Ballu, who quite literally placed the tower on a pedestal, to retain its height. Various gargoyles and embellishments were added, plus a statue of Saint Jacques (Saint James the apostle, its patron) placed on top, and a second statue of Blaise Pascal was added to the base to commemorate the period in the 16th century in which the renowned mathematician and physicist used the tower, still then part of the church, as a laboratory to perform experiments on atmospheric pressure. Bringing together the spheres of religion and science? Multitasking gold.

Hosting a meteorological station up until the 1990s, the tower saw in the millennium with little sense of purpose (though with a new title at least, being named as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998), until in 2000 restoration began in earnest, seeing the tower cloaked in sheeting as it underwent a monumental scrub down. Her new modern beauty was unveiled in 2009, and in 2012, she opened her doors to the public, meaning that (in the summer months at least, and by appointment) you can scale the 300 steps to her summit and make yourself dizzy with her 360° views, and fascinatingly chequered past. And you’re probably best off the ground too given the surrounding park’s (well, more a park-lette) reputation as a hangout spot for inner city rats. You have been warned…

Click here for more info.

Making an entrance

Greetings readers from the warm embrace of the Granny Flat, where hot chocolate powder and thermal socks have been solidly dominating proceedings. Thankfully the snow has abated, though the rain ahead is hardly a welcome replacement. Given I’m lucky enough to be working from home these days, I don’t have to venture out too often into the soggy mists, though once in a while stew stocks need replenishing and a spell in the outdoors just can’t be avoided.

Now as much as a bracing stroll is good for the soul, when it comes to self-meandering around a chilly capital, sometimes it’s just the most sensible idea to get down. Not in the James Brown sense you understand (although that may help to raise the body temp somewhat), but ‘get down’ into the bowels of the city, and let the wonderfully efficient metro (most of the time) scurry you around the place, all warm and toasty like.

Now I’ll wager a vin chaud that like me, those who regularly use the metro normally enter the city’s belly, head down and hurrying, without a thought for the magnificence of the portal marking the opening of this underground world. And like me, you’d be a lot poorer for it, ignoring a whole host of aesthetic pleasures and historical texture that could make your mind, and life, a whole lot richer. So next time those grey steps into the concrete underworld beckon, take a thought for the souls who decided that a fancy-pants ‘metro’ sign would make everyone’s day more the nicer.

As with most things in the capital, the collection of metro signs on display is delightfully mismatched, though each marker is a unique product of its own time period. Modern styles tend to make up their own rules (line 14 has been churning out the best examples since 1998) and the future is likely to include quite the kaleidoscope of varieties. But cast your eyes around the rest of the metro infrastructure pointing out the older lines, and you’ll find three distinct styles emerge.

The most modern is the mât jaune, or ‘yellow mast’; that nocturnally glowing M nestled in a circular surround. Cropping up from the late 60s, this canary beacon was intended to resemble a radio antenna, and you never know perhaps it is, listening to our every metro manoeuvre grand frère style. In the red corner are a collection of similar designs, declaring either ‘metro’ or ‘metropolitan’ in a rectangle surrounded by ironwork of various artistic expressions. The most prominent of these are the Val d’Osne mast, recognisable by its ornate frieze (see metro Saint Paul) and the art deco Dervaux style (metro Trocadéro for example), whose much simpler form was a result of the move away from decorative embellishment that took hold in the 1930s. Most variations of the red/dark green design sport a globe lamp on top (Lamarck Caulaincourt pictured), attracting eager travellers down into the depths.

But anyone who’s anyone knows that the real king of the metro portal is Hector Guimard, whose botanically-inspired art nouveau entrances are as quintessentially Parisian as a croque monsieur. Plenty are still available to appreciate, though of the original 141 that were constructed in line with the birth of the metro in 1900, only 86 remain. Though Guimard and his style are much revered today, his critical reception in his day wasn’t quite so positive, with Parisians lacking in enthusiasm for the design when it first emerged (do they like anything when it first appears? Eiffel Tower and Pompidou Centre, here’s looking at you). A victim of media vilification, much of his work was demolished as a reaction against him, though happily there are still come cracking examples to make a beeline for.

Five styles were originally created, from simple railings to elaborate glass pavilions, of which sadly only three remain. Those at Châtelet (a reconstruction) and Abbesses (originally located at Hôtel de Ville) are the best known, but by far the most complete and impressive version is situated at metro Porte Dauphine (an absolute must-visit if you’re on your way to the Bois de Boulogne), a glory to behold with its fan shaped awning and floral paneling intact. They certainly don’t make ’em like they used to.

So in these meteorologically uncertain times, when a metro ride is in order, make sure you take a moment to look up, maintaining necessary vigilance for dog poo spotting of course. In return, the metro gods may even give you a seat…

 

Crêpe Expectations

How many French folk does it take to change a lightbulb? Well that question is completely irrelevant on February 2nd as any request for handy help will fall on deaf ears as the whole country will be far too busy eating crêpes.

Kim crepe 1Ah, those delicious golden discs of batter that require such deftness with a frying pan, and untold patience given that most of us only have one with which to manufacture an appropriate stack. Don’t the French eat them between every meal? Aren’t they the warming cold weather vehicle for Nutella in a carbohydrate yin-yang partnership with the fair weather baguette?

Not quite… Crêpes are indeed nestled within the gastronomic heart of France, wafting their goodness via many a batter-toting kiosk, though not something that is considered a daily treat. Once in a while, for sure, but it’s not like the French give a toss even weekly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to hold a party for our circular, pan-dwelling friends. If food is to be championed, then this is the country in which to champion it in.

Kim crepe 3Exactly 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February is when over here we celebrate La Chandeleur(Candlemas for the non-French speakers), when we do just that. It’s the one day of the year where crêpes are held aloft and idolised, though they can’t claim to be the belle of the ball as there’s a hell of a lot of traditional legend and religious symbolism tied up on the same date in the calendar.

Depending on which religion you subscribe to, the 2nd February is the day to celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple, the feast of the purification of the Virgin, or the blessing of the church’s beeswax candles. Non-religious traditions dictate that in France, the UK and the USA the weather on 2nd February predicts the forecast for the rest of the year, in Scotland a big snake will appear from the ground (which promises not to ‘molest’ anyone), and if you’re a sailor, it’s a day to give a jaunt on the ship a miss.

Kim crepe 5In France, the ‘crêpe party’ element (as my friend Arthur likes to call it) means that superstition is expressed through the medium of food, i.e. the lowly pancake. It’s not about using up ingredients in time for Lent which underlies the Anglo tradition of Shrove Tuesday (this year 13th February), but more a celebration of light, and the transition between the last dark days of a cold and sombre winter and the fledgling days of the approaching spring. The crêpe is supposed to reflect the image of the round, golden disc of the sun.

As well as making sure your wrist action is on form to indulge in the obligatory tossing, tradition also states that the first pancake out of the rank needs to be folded up and placed in the wardrobe to encourage a plentiful and abundant harvest for the coming year. It sounds to me like that’s just a recipe for attracting an abundance of the neighbourhood mice, but hey, maybe enticing them from the fields and into the home is the whole point.

Kim crepe 6Let’s assume you’re a sensible, rational being and you’ve opted for crêpe worship above any other 2nd February signification. The only choice now is what to fill your spoils with. Banana and Nutella, classic sugar and lemon, or a sinful mountain of cheese and ham? Today I opted for (in practice for the big day) a savoury oven baked roll up of crêpes (made with beerinstead of milk) filled with veg and a goat’s cheese sauce topped with parmesan, followed by a sweet duo of blueberry and honey, and good ol’ lemon and sugar. Now I can’t move (lucky for you my fingers still can).

This Friday residents of France can follow my stunning example, those in a country where pancakes are fashionably late will have to hop on the spot until it’s your turn later on in the month. Just look into the light whilst you’re at it.

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…

Modern life is rubbish

Lately I’ve been down in the dumps. Or it’s probably more accurate to say just in the dumps, full stop, as most of the time it feels like I am living in an actual rubbish dump. Capital cities tend not to be a country’s cleanest place, and Paris boosts that stereotype as if rubbish will soon be going out of fashion. The Japanese reportedly find the city off-puttingly filthy, and one council minister pointed towards the endless crud on the streets as the major factor in Paris’ failure to secure the 2012 Olympics. With the bid for the 2024 games in full swing, it’s astounding to see that not much has changed.

Personally, sometimes the prospect of wading through a tide of trash is seriously enough to keep me from going outside. If I do manage to pluck up the courage and venture out, I know within just a few metres I’ll be greeted with an abandoned pile of furniture, an old mattress, or a sorry mound of discarded clothes (the photos illustrate a daily reality). It’s not just a few empty crisp packets or plastic bottles that have been carelessly tossed aside left languishing in the gutter, oh no. That’s the least of our problems. I kid you not, pretty much every time I go for a wander I’ll see a dumped toilet or bathroom sink (sometimes even several) left for someone else to deal with, and that’s without even leaving the 18th. And don’t get me started on half-empty tins of paint left for dead, I could gather enough in a couple of months to paint the inside of the Louvre. I really should think of inventing some kind of waste item bingo.

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that you might think, and thankfully it isn’t all doom and gloom. The parts the tourists see tend to be kept relatively litter-free compared to neighbourhood backwaters (hang on a minute, that’s not fair!), and current spending on keeping Paris looking sharp totals €500 million. So far this year more than 34,000 fines have been handed out to offenders of filth, and with green leaner Anne Hidalgo occupying the Paris mayor chair, efforts have been notably stepped up.

For those who have cleanliness in mind, the city offers every possible service available to help residents dispose of their rubbish properly and responsibly. If you’re a visitor and have ever wondered just how this whole waste management thing works in France’s capital (c’mon, who hasn’t?!), here goes. Residential bins come in three colours; green for general waste, yellow for recycling paper, tins and (certain) plastics, and white for glass. Anything too big for the bins can be left on the streets and the council contacted to come and collect it. We tend to not have cars here you see, so getting down to the dump with that old wardrobe is kind of tricky left to our own devices…

Then you have the urban saviours, dressed in yellow and green, wheely bin and broom in hand, sweeping the pavements and shimmying the rubbish into the gutter via a stream of water that comes from the Seine (so it’s not wasted water, don’t fret!), and carries it away to be appropriately disposed of. Then you have a whole host of receptacles placed on street corners and the like ready to swallow your recyclable rubbish and old clothes. When you think about it, there’s no excuse NOT to be clean, save for laziness and general apathy, apparently in abundant supply in my patch anyhow.

Now you may be wondering if there’s a point to all of this ranting. Well, I wish there was a solution I could offer (save for PUT THINGS IN THE BIN!), but really I’d just like to offer an apology on behalf of the city of Paris for those visiting who find a less than immaculate reception. The council is doing its upmost to solve the problem, so don’t be hating on them. I guess my exasperation has just tipped over to prompt me to write this post (and I’ve always endeavoured to try and show you the real Paris as much as possible, good AND bad), and to remind everyone, visitors and residents alike (not that I really need to however) to keep it clean guys, keep it clean. PLEASE.

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

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?