Posts Tagged ‘Hotel de Ville’

A Weekend in Paris

Monday, September 17th, 2012

This past weekend it seemed as if Paris was having one final attempt at making the most of summer and sunshine and there were lots of events and activities happening around the city. My weekend was full of action which is always enjoyable particularly if it means I get to wander through Paris in the sunshine. Here was my weekend:

Saturday Morning
I have decided I should train for my 16km Paris to Versailles run that Becky and I will be undertaking at the end of the month. So Saturday morning I put on my Garmin GPS watch and headed out into the Parisian madness. I left early as there is no point in running through Paris when there are people around. Both tourists and Parisians are incapable of not being in the way and you may as well walk slowly behind them because you’re not going to get anywhere. I wanted to do at least 16km but wasn’t sure how I would go as I was running on my own and I usually get bored or just give up. I managed to surprise myself, running across the city and reaching the Eiffel Tower in under 7km. I then ran back home along the river, took a slight detour towards the canal and arrived back home having completed 17km.

Running through Paris

That red line is me!

It was fantastic! The key to running long distances is having something to look at. My run took me past the Opera House, the Ritz Hotel, through the Tuileries (twice), along the Seine, to the Eiffel Tower and then back past the Louvre, Notre Dame and finally the canal. I couldn’t get bored, I was too distracted thinking, “Ooh look I’m running past where Louis XIV lived!” That and “Move out of the way you slow tourists/Parisians who are taking up the entire footpath.”

I managed to do the 16km in around one hour and 30 minutes which was very pleasing considering I though I’d stop half way. GO ME.

Saturday Afternoon
I had read about a music event called TechnoParade last year but never went, so this year I roped my friend Marcello into coming with me. It is a electronic music festival that is open to the public and that had DJs standing on top of large semi-trailers and driving through the streets of Paris. These large trucks are then surrounded by hundreds of drunk, half-naked teenagers. I hadn’t thought about that aspect. When we arrived, I instantly felt OLD and as if I had been transported back to Perth and was at an electronic music festival. At least this time I hadn’t paid $150 for a ticket and there was lots of space to stand back from the crowd.

Technoparade

Technoparade

It was an interesting thing to see and there were approximately seven trucks playing different styles of music. They were driving very slowly so you could easily walk up and down the street, listening to the various sets. But I don’t think I will go again – it was very messy, the music wasn’t that great and it is hard to dance while walking! I did spend the entire time thinking, “This would NEVER happen in Perth.” Free music, driving down the streets of Paris, alcohol everywhere, drunk teenagers and people climbing on cars/bus stops/fences/walls/trees/lamp posts. Crazy.

Saturday Night
I thought I would be having a quiet night as all of my friends were either away or busy. I went and sat in the garden of the Récollets and was soon joined by various other residents and the night turned into a late one. The Récollets had been taken over by the Mairie de 10eme (the local council) and there had been activities, art shows, and music performances all weekend. The garden was full of people eating and drinking and at about 11pm a band started playing. It was fantastic music, I have no idea what it was though. There was a group of men playing brass instruments in a very upbeat “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” kind of way and then 10 or so girls with fantastic voices and gorgeous smiles singing along. It was exciting, vibrant and made you want to dance – so that’s what we did. You could certainly pick the foreigners from the Parisians – the dancing Australian/American/Italian weirdos and the straight-faced, sullen French refusing to even tap their feet (although the more alcohol-influenced Parisians were dancing too.) It was a great night.

Sunday Morning
My Saturday night did stretch into Sunday morning but I still managed to get up early enough to ride down to the Hôtel de Ville and be one of the first in line to go inside. This weekend was Les Journées du Patrimoine – two days where all of the old, beautiful buildings that are usually closed to the public are open. There are hundreds of buildings across the city that are used as government departments, hospitals, museums, or are privately owned, and on these two days you can enter and see what they are like on the inside. It is a fantastic idea and last year my brother, Ben, and I managed to be at the right place at the right time and went into the Senate. This year I had decided I would go to the Hôtel de Ville – one of the most prominent and most beautiful buildings in Paris that is now the main town hall.

Hotel de ville

Hôtel de Ville de Paris

While you followed a set route to go through the building, you are allowed to explore quite extensively and there are lots of people around to provide you with information about the building. The Hôtel de Ville was even bigger than I imagined and was beautifully decorated with plenty of gold and wonderful floorboards. The floor is always my favourite part of these old buildings – I love the way it creaks.

Hotel de Ville

Fancy.

You could enter the Mayor’s office – a lovely room with a great view but a really UGLY desk that looked like it was from IKEA. If I were the Mayor, I’d ask for a new one. The Mayor wasn’t there which was a shame. I would have liked to ask him if I could stay in France for longer.

Paris Mayor's office

Salute the Mayor!

Morning Tea Time
It was time for coffee so thankfully around the corner was one of my favourite coffee shops – Caféotheque. Unfortunately I decided I needed cake and made the mistake of ordering a chocolate cupcake. It was described as ‘chocolate’ but it was in fact chocolate and orange, a combination that I dislike profusely. Plus it was dry… but the coffee was delicious.

Caféotheque coffee

Mmm… coffee.

Next…
I then wandered along the river as I had heard there would be a market near Notre Dame. On the way, I had to wait for a group of very slow cyclists to pass – there was apparently a bike ‘event’ (I want to say race but they definitely weren’t racing) and I had been watching these cyclists ride past the window of the café for at least 30 minutes. Most of them were plump and over the age of 55, wearing lycra and taking the whole thing very seriously. There were designated people in yellow vests stopping the traffic, which is problematic in Paris as any hold up in the movement of traffic results in a fusillade of car horns. As I tried to cross the road I had to wait for a hundred or so cyclists to pass. At one point a taxi attempted to drive through the pack and a man on a bike with a yellow jacket started blowing a whistle, yelling at the driver and placing himself and his bike in front of a moving car. He was NOT happy. Neither was the taxi driver. Neither was the person who had hailed the taxi. Neither were the people in the traffic jam. Neither were the bike riders. I was THRILLED to be watching this incredulous action – it was absolutely hilarious!

Eventually the bike riders disappeared and things returned to normal and I went to the market, sampled some foie gras but didn’t buy anything. The same market had been there the year before, selling exactly the same products. Clearly nothing changes in Paris either.

Before Lunch
I decided to see if any of the buildings on Ile de la Cité were open and discovered a small queue of people outside the Conciergerie. This was where people were held before being trialled and/or executed and it is now open to the public as a historical monument and an exhibition space. It was open for free and the queue didn’t seem very long so I went inside. I managed to get into the first main space – a large medieval dungeon-like space with an impressive arched ceiling – before I realised that there wasn’t a queue outside because the REAL queue was inside the building. People had clearly been waiting for hours to go and explore the rest of the building and while it would have been nice to see, outside the sun was shining and it was a glorious day. Why spend it inside a dungeon? So off I went.

Conciergerie

Nice arches.

Crêpes
I met up with my friends, Sonia and Guibril, near Montparnasse at 4pm for goûter – the French version of afternoon tea. I love any country that has afternoon tea and really don’t understand those that don’t. Anyway, Montparnasse is known for having Breton-style crêperies and we sat and had delicious sweet crêpes (mine had chocolate and banana) and cider. We sat chatting for a few hours and before we knew it time had passed and our stomaches were grumbling thanks to the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. So it was round two – this time savoury galettes for dinner. Yum.

Home Time
One of my favourite things to do in Paris is to hire a Velib (the city bikes) and ride from the Montparnasse area, straight through the middle of Paris to my house. It is essentially one long, straight road and the first half of it is on a slight downwards slope. This means you can zoom through Paris with wind in your hair and not a care in the world (except, of course, the traffic on the road but at 9pm on a Sunday night there were hardly any cars.) It is such a thrill, particularly as you reach the Seine and ride over the river and see all of the lights reflecting and dancing on the water. Such a beautiful city.

So that was my weekend. Full of adventure, I learnt lots, I spoke plenty of French and I made new friends. Sometimes my life is awesome.

Understanding Paris

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last week I furthered my understanding of Paris by attending two events – an exhibition by illustrator and comic designer, Jean-Jacques Sempé, and a lecture about American artists in Paris in the time period between the two World Wars. Both provided an interesting insight into the development of Paris during the 20th century.

Sempé

The Sempé exhibition was held at the Hôtel de Ville and I had to elbow my way through the mass of people who had turned out to see it. Despite having been open for numerous weeks, there was still a huge interest in the works of the French illustrator. Sempé is known for his comic character, Petit Nicolas, and his representations of France as he provides a comical yet truthful view of la vie en France. The exhibition had a huge selection of his work and it clearly demonstrated the processes and time Sempé puts into his drawings before he is able to publish. It is sometimes relieving to see that it takes time and effort to get work published and that I have to put my head down and get some work done if I want to get anywhere with my writing.

Sempé

So French.

American Expats in Paris

My American friend, Greg, had a spare ticket to attend a lecture on the American expatriate artists and writers who arrived in Paris in the early 20th century. The talk was run by the Harvard Club of Paris and it wasn’t until the day of the lecture that I realised I was going to be hanging out with Harvard graduates. I put on my “I’m intelligent” shoes.

The talk was presented by a Harvard lecturer, Sue Weaver Schropf, and explored why so many artists and writers from America decided to move to Paris between 1913 and 1930 and what happened when they got here. There were many post-lecture discussions about Midnight in Paris as essentially the lecture covered the same time period, only with a better script and no terrible acting. Essentially, these artists were coming to find a place where they could work with other artists and not be restricted or controlled in the work that they were producing. It was a city of cultural and artistic development where ideas were flowing and it was ok to be different.

It was an interesting talk, although I would have liked it to have gone a bit deeper into modernist theory as I was craving a university level cultural studies class . Obviously time and audience-knowledge didn’t allow for it but the talk was still an interesting overview of that artistic movement.

What I really enjoyed about the evening was the room we were seated in and the Harvard graduates themselves. The room was beautiful – located in a building just off the Champs Élysée, it had a frescoed ceiling, big french windows and a view of the Grand Palais. Spectacular. Almost as spectacular were the egos sitting in the room.

Maybe I am jealous (I’m not), but it does seem that being a Harvard graduate is a very socially and economically important thing. I have only seen this sort of networking on television and I thought that that was where it belonged, but apparently it exists in the real world, too. After the lecture, the woman in charge of the evening thanked the speaker and then proceeded to make the claim that the only other place in the world where people are encouraged to come together and work and discuss and create amazing things is the Harvard campus. I almost laughed.

Then came the drinks and nibbles and the real networking began. I stuck to Greg like glue, not wanting to reveal my true identity incase I would be kicked out onto the street (nice street, though). However, we did begin talking to two men who were both very interested in my ‘escape to Paris’. I think the subject of the evening’s lecture helped as I am in a very teeny-tiny way following the steps of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. I just need to start drinking more absinthe and hanging out with more prostitutes.

Anyway, as a result I have decided I need to read more books from that time period. Another thing to add to my to-do list.

(One of the) Best Days Ever

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Every now and then days come along that are just fantastic. You wake up and everything goes to plan or amazing things occur that make you laugh and jump for joy. Last Friday was one of those days for me, where I let down my hair and let whimsy take over. Thanks, whimsy. You’re a good one.

Here was my day:
7.30am – I met Becky down stairs for our usual morning run, but poor Becky had to pull out by the time we reached the first corner due to extreme knee pain. So I took it upon myself to run for the both of us, heading straight up hill to Parc de Butts Chaumont, and then down to the canal. Usually at this point we head for home, completing a 7km circuit. But I was feeling good, my legs weren’t tired and I had spring in my step. So I ran on joining one of our other routes and heading to a bridge that has “Cabaret Sauvage” written in shiny lights. By the time I got home I would have completed a 10km circuit. A great start to the morning.

9am – Breakfast. Having showered and de-stunk, I sat down and ate my usual banana, muesli and fromage blanc (it’s like yoghurt but better) concoction and continued to read Le Delicatesse. I am determined to read and entire book en français and have been given a short novel that I am slowly making my way through. I haven’t read much in French in the past as it is hard, slow going and generally frustrating as I realise how few words I actually know. But I am doing it! I am learning new phrases, new verb conjugations and actually enjoying the process. Fun times.

Between 9.30am and 12noon – I worked on some ideas that I have for a new book. I started researching my favourite street in Paris, Rue St Denis, as well as prostitution laws in France. Yes, prostitution. Fascinating history – it has shifted from being an acceptable and socially appropriate career to now being illegal. Despite this, it is extremely easy to spot in certain areas of the city.

10.30am – Morning coffee with half a gevulde koek.

12.30pm – Tom and I met Pip and her boyfriend, Manu, for lunch. We went to L’As du Falafel, one of Paris’s most famous and popular falafel restaurants in the heart of the Marais. As per usual, it was extremely delicious and ridiculously hard to eat as these pitas are stuffed full of falafel, lettuce, and grilled eggplant that just go all over your face and hands. So good.

2pm – Manu wanted dessert (I like this guy) so we wandered through the Marais before settling on le Pain Quotidien, a chain boulangerie that makes very good bread and desserts. I had a mini chocolate tart that fit perfectly in my stomach after my large falafel.

Chocolate tart

Yum.

3pm – Time to do something crazy. Pip talked me into going ice skating with her outside the Hôtel de Ville in the centre of Paris. It is a beautiful setting and each year the Mairie sets up an ice rink that people come and zoom around on. I am the world’s worst ice skater. Really I am the world’s worst at any physical activity that requires me to be balanced and moving at the same time. I stuck to the wall on the side and pulled myself along, my legs like two planks who refused to bend and glide, bend and glide. Pip eventually convinced me to go around with her. I didn’t fall over! I think that’s a positive. And there was a fun and supportive atmosphere amongst all of the less-talented skaters. I was sure to speak in my strongest Australian accent so everyone realised that I wasn’t from these European, ice-filled lands. I’m quite certain that Australians were not designed for ice skating.

Ice skating

Jess "Ice Legs" Davies

Anyway, for just five euros to hire the ice skates, it was a fun way to pass the time. The boys stood on the edge and froze. Silly things. And on my various turns around the edge of the rink, I could have acquired at least seven phone numbers from French men watching and saying, “Bonjour, la blonde!” They must be desperate if they’re willing to go for the dorky blonde who keeps saying “WHOA!” and almost falls over.

4pm – From here we separated ways and headed home. I went online and bought a Le Creuset pot for even LESS than I had seen in the shops! It arrives in the mail next week (I hope.)

8pm – We met Pip and Manu again for dinner Le Jardin D’en Face. We wanted to take them to our favourite restaurant before Pip and I head back to Australia. I had spoken on many occasions of the world’s best chocolate cake that can be found at this restaurant and so there were high expectations. Thankfully dinner (and the cake) were delicious PLUS the waitress who has been there for our past few visits mentioned that she recognised us and asked where we were from, what we were doing etc. When I said we were from Perth she became very excited and said she had lived there for eight months. Of course she had. Every French person between the ages of 22 and 30 has. So now we have a friend at our favourite restaurant. Hoorah!!

10.45pm – The night didn’t end there. The old saying, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know (or rather it’s knowing people who know other people), came into fruition with Pip having scored us half price tickets to the Moulin Rouge. Pip works in the pub next to the Moulin, and the dancers come in for drinks so everyone is friends with everyone. This is fantastic when you want to save 50-plus Euros and see half naked girls dancing.

Moulin Rouge

Le Moulin

We were allowed to get in through a secret back entrance with a password, gate keeper and locked doors. Very exclusive. Pip’s friend and Moulin dancer, Alex, met us backstage wearing a face-full of stage make up and very dirty terry-toweling overalls. It was fantastic. All of the dancers were wearing these as they walked past with their heads high, shoulders back, looking ravishing from the neck up, and like trailer-park bumpkins from the shoulders down. I need to get myself one.

We were taken to our table as the show began and another friend of Pip’s was our waiter. Once again, this came in handy as he put an ice bucket on our table with three bottles of champagne. Thank you.

So, the show. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The costumes were fantastic with some great use of colour and they were well designed to cover and reveal the dancers bodies. It wasn’t all boobs – some of the dancers remained covered up for the entire show and only the lead dancers revealed their ‘bits’. The dancers’ bums were more readily on show as most of the outfits involved minimal ‘bottom coverage’. It certainly wasn’t crude, nor was it overly sexy.

The choreography was a bit tired and could do with an upgrade or perhaps return to how it really used to be when the Moulin was in full swing. It seemed very 80s and some of the dancers looked bored to tears. It was the late show and I don’t blame them for being sick of doing the same steps over and over again, but the crowd is expecting some sort of enthusiasm. The girls were definitely better than the boys, with most of the guys looking like their mum was making them do it.

There were a few interesting moments involving snakes and miniature ponies, but really overly I felt the show lacked some sort of spark. Maybe my expectations were too high, but really I’d much prefer to spend that sort of money and go and see a band perform. It was a bit naff. I think the other problem was that the crowd was full of tourists, half of whom didn’t really seem to get into the performance. There wasn’t much excessive clapping and the atmosphere was generally quite flat.

The show finished at 1.30am, our day of Parisian fun over. Tom and I walked home and were finally in bed by 2.30am. It was a long but fantastic day and a great way to say “A bientôt, Paris!” It also made me even more determined to be back here in six weeks’ time for more good times and more good food.

Le Bon Chocolat

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Good news everyone! I have discovered a new hot chocolate to add to my “World’s Best Hot Chocolate” list! This doesn’t happen very often so this is a momentous occasion. Recently I have been going to a café in the Marais district called Le Caféotheque that sells a wide variety of pure, organic coffees. It is a lovely casual environment with couches, a bar and a few tables where people sit and chat for hours.

Today I went there after visiting a free exhibition at the Hotel de Ville about Impressionism in Paris (very enjoyable and once again enlightening with my new found knowledge of Paris’s history.) I had previously sampled their ice coffee which was particularly delicious and this time ordered a hot chocolate because I spotted a very pretty word on the menu – Valrhona. For those innocent people who are unaware of what this word means, it basically translates into “one of the best chocolates in the world. Ever.” And when transformed into a warming drink, it maintains this deliciousness in its molten form.

hot chocolate

Hot chocolate love

It was delicious – rich, creamy and addictive. Perhaps a little sweet but I also put that down to my lack of hot chocolate consumption recently. It was served with a piece of chocolate which I stupidly left until the end and it was actually quite awful – someone had inserted some sort of dried fruit in it. Yuck. But still. Free chocolate. I’m very excited to have discovered a new café to hang out at. I spent an hour or so reading my book and drinking a hot chocolate. What luxury.

Book and hot chocolate

Jealous?