Saturday, 6 September 2008
In the 4th Arrondissement, just around the corner from the Pompidou Centre is a joint called Dans Le Noir. Dinner here is really just that. The dining room is pitch black, and guests are asked to surrender anything that could generate light- watches, cell phones and so on- at the door way. You can literally see nothing. While this might be disconcerting to begin with for you, it has absolutely no bearing on the staff, who are all blind. They will guide you to your table (and anywhere else you may need to go during your meal) bring you your food and help you experience their world for the duration of your meal. The idea of Dans Le Noir is both to help sighted people understand the day to day existence of a blind person, and to heighten (or at least alter) the diner’s perception of the food they are eating. Without sight, the food becomes more fragrant, more powerfully spiced; more present. The diners often believe the meals are made up of far more complex ingredients than they actually are, simply because they focus on the act of tasting so carefully. Dans Le Noir is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for Brunch; cheekily, Tuesday night is singles night- a true blind date!
If you are more interested in audible rather than visual (or lack thereof) stimulation, try
Bel Canto, also in the 4th Arrondissement. Here, dinner is as dramatic as an opera- complete with opera singing waiters. Dressed to the nines, the waiters will perform their standard duties, and suddenly burst into eccentric, elegant song. Not so much service with a smile as service with a serenade, Bel Canto is an absolute must, particularly if you are a fan of Italian food. Importantly, Bel Canto’s staff are all students from Parisian music schools, so you don’t need to worry about being forced to endure metro-quality performances! The restaurant is open every night from 8pm.
If you have children with you who are less than charmed with the idea of dinner ‘en famille,’ a good idea is to take them to La Maison Nicolas Flamel. Found in the 3rd Arrondissement, the building is the oldest in Paris, and belonged to the famous alchemist. A real person, the kids will be interested because Nicolas features in none less than Harry Potter as the inventor of the Philosopher’s Stone. It is always fun to find the links between history and story, and there is no doubt that Nicolas did TRY to create such a product…..his success is perhaps less certain. The food is very traditional French food at a reasonable price, particularly at lunch time, when you can get a ‘formule du midi’ for 18.50euros.
So whether you are after heightened taste-sensation, dinner and a show or a little bit of magic, dining in Paris can adapt to your needs. But don’t stop here, the left bank has some real gems to offer also, which I will explore and divulge at a later date….
Dans Le Noir- 51 Rue Quincampoix, 75004.
Tel. 01 42 77 98 04
Bel Canto- 72 Quai de L’Hotel de Ville, 75004.
Tel. 01 42 78 30 18
Maison Nicolas Flamel- 51, rue de Montmorency 75003.
Tel. 01 42 71 77 78
Having somewhere relaxing, comfortable and central is essential to optimising your time, and maintaining your sanity while dashing around the City of Lights. For people who are past their backpacking years, there are two main choices; staying in a hotel, or renting an apartment . Which you choose can have a huge influence upon your stay.
Staying in a hotel seems, all things considered, the easy option. You can be sure of the quality, especially if staying in a well known chain; you know that your bed will be made each day, and that the room will stay clean. There is always going to be breakfast ready when you want it, and the front desk will (hopefully) be able to answer any questions you may have about the city. If you are only planning on staying a few days, and plan to spend all your time (including every meal) out and about, I think hotels are the way to go.
For a longer visit, however, hotels can be a bit, well, sterile. The fact that you are just a small cog in a big machine becomes all too obvious, and when you are spending some serious time in one place, it is nice to be able to feel more at home. Staying in an apartment is perfect in this situation. You can take time out, stay in for an evening, and, most importantly, have more than one room to call your own! It is certainly very nice to snuggle down on a sofa with a glass of yummy French wine and a platter of cheese after a day at the Louvre, rather than having to put on your glad rags and head out to once again choose from (and decode) a foreign menu!
Price-wise, it really depends what sort of hotel or apartment you would be after. If you are a party of 4, it is almost guaranteed that a (nice) apartment will be a site cheaper than a hotel- when I first moved to Paris on the skin of my teeth my three friends and I actually discovered renting an apartment was even cheaper than a youth hostel! Apartments also cut costs in a number of ways- cooking, laundry, entertainment. Obviously, there is a far higher degree of ‘do it yourself’ when staying in a home, but that is what makes it so much more homely, right?
Service is certainly something hotels pride themselves on, and they really are great at it. Having teams of people at your disposition to suggest activities or spots to visit can really help you, if you aren’t sure where to start. The only downside I have experienced in that area is that the teams of people mean that you are never assisted by the same person twice. If you want something specially catered (a private art tour perhaps, or a cooking course, wine tasting?) things become a lot more complicated. Most apartment rental companies are equipped with a one-man concierge service, who can sort things out for you from beginning to end. The personal touch, cheesy as it may sound, goes a long way.
But in my opinion, the best thing about staying in an apartment is the location. If renting someone’s home, you will be in an area of Paris which is not directly on the tourist map. Being a small city nothing is very far away, but staying in a quartier with its own special ambiance gives you a more real, valid and thrilling impression of the French capital.
So when the choice to visit Paris has been made, take some serious time to consider what you would like to get out of your stay- how many people are coming? Are you all going to want to do the same things? Will you want to eat out every night? Where in the city would you like to be? Hotels are certainly reliable, but apartments allow you an opportunity to live like a Parisian, even if only for a week.
A top area is undoubtedly the Marais in the III Arrondissement, particularly Rue Francs Bourgeois. On this charming narrow street which epitomises Parisian architecture, you can find a nice mix of clothing stores, gift stores, jewellery stores, make up stores, shoe stores and then some! American Retro, near the Rue des Archives end of the road is aimed at the younger generation, but upstairs they have some simple but elegant casual pieces. Further down the road is my favourite, Les Petites, a French label that has something for everyone, and uses breath taking fabrics and colours. Be sure to look in both shops (they are next door to each other) as they do stock different things. On the corner of Rue du Temple and Rue Francs Bourgeois there is a Paul & Joe sister and man which, although not French, is certainly worth a look.
If you are after gifts, there is a Muji on this street too (again, 2 shops next door to each other with different stock) and if you haven't been into one of these before, you must go, just to be wowed by the simple yet useful designs. The beanbags, as strange as this may sound, are a whole new world
Makeup shops, mainly big chains, abound towards the end of Francs Bourgeois; Mac, Body Shop and Occitane are all within a stones throw of one another.
If you find yourself on the left bank of the Seine, around Saint Germain, it becomes clear pretty quickly that you are in shopping heaven. Though sometimes rather expensive, the shops here are irresistible, and there are certainly some more affordable things on offer. On Boulevard Saint Germain, there is a Shu Uemura makeup store; the staff are very helpful so go in, it's not as scary as it looks! If you turn down Boulevard Raspail, you will come across a series of lovely shoe shops, my favourite being Jonak, a chain store with gorgeous stock. The designs are simple yet wonderful, and the prices are so reasonable that you can buy two pairs of shoes without feeling guilty!
If you head west from here, you can stroll up Rue Grenelle, a veritable treasure trove. The street features two designers from the famous Antwerp 6, making it more like visiting art galleries than commercial centres, so absolutely worth a peak. Sonya Rykiel's shoes are out of this world, but the most fascinating store has to be Martin Margiela. A small white awning is all that mark the entrance to the shop, so keep your eyes peeled. Inside the white continues, right down to the staff who all don white lab coats. The clothes, while not necessarily something you would wear every day, are beautifully designed and made. The men’s section is particularly impressive.
Rue Saint Honore, a big long street which runs parallel to Rue de Rivoli, is an absolute must. There is everything you could imagine, and some. The pick of the bunch is the Colette store, on the corner of Rue du 29 Juillet. This shop, which sells clothes upstairs, coffee and lunch downstairs and everything else on the main floor is like stepping into a magazine. Don't miss out on the spray on makeup, or the mix-to-taste perfume counters!
If you are after smaller things, like gifts and jewellery, a great spot is the Passage du Grand Cerf, just down from Rue Montorgueil in the II Arrondissement. This passage, which is all glamorous art deco, is at its most stunning in winter time when it is decorated with fairy lights and a red carpet- don't forget the camera! Each little shop in the passage has something unique to offer, so take your time wandering around.
The list could really go on and on, Paris shopping is truly limitless! These are certainly some good places to get you started though, and if you are a real shop-a-holic, you can always get a personal guide to cater to your every need!
Friday, 22 August 2008
When I first arrived in
The longer I have spent in
Food, and the process of shopping for it perhaps illustrates this point best. Arriving in
As it has been for centuries in
The situation can be daunting, but I implore you, fear not! 99% of the time, ask for help and you will receive it; tell them what wine you are going to drink, what sort of cooking you are going to do, or who you are cooking for, and you will receive sound advice. It is wise to head to the shops at a quiet time (not just as the working day ends); this way you avoid a long queue of impatient Frenchmen listening to your every word.
A good place to shop for food is Rue Montorgueil, in the 2nd Arrondissement. There is everything you could ask for here, and some. The street is pedestrian, and also non-French speaker friendly, although this comes with a price; it is certainly not the cheapest place in
North-east of Montorgueil, on Rue Saint Denis, the prices are considerably cheaper, but the area considerably rougher. For something in between, head to Rue Rambuteau (east of Beaubourg). This spot has the added advantage of turning into Rue Francs Bourgeois, one of the best clothes shopping streets of
But for the best ‘rural
So instead of seeing it as a chore, take an afternoon to do your shopping- wander around slowly and really think about the processes behind the final product you are buying; it makes dinner that night all the more satisfying!
If you are planning on visiting
This weekend, I made my third and favourite trip to
My last visit exposed me to a whole new dimension of this fact. On Saturday, I attended the ‘Grands Eaux Nocturne’ and got to experience the gardens, and the Chateau, by night.
The experience is meant to be magical, and with such a setting, how could it not be? But tasteful extras presented at the ‘Grands Eaux Nocturne’ really turned the experience from beautiful to fantastical. The main attraction is, of course, the fountains. Add to the fountains the beautiful music which is played throughout the garden, and the scented bubbles appearing from nowhere, and the feeling that you are experiencing a taste of the long-gone French Royals’ nightly escapades is unavoidable.
What blew me away the most? The famous fountain of
A very close second was the little grotto to the right (when facing the Chateau) where a simple but breathtaking scene was set up. At the centre of the grotto is a lovely statue of the three muses, one reaching her hand skyward. The statue is bathed in green light from a laser, into which mist was being blown, creating a layer of green, marbled cloud at the muses’ outstretched fingertips.
The fireworks finale is also very fun, and closes the evening with a thrill. The explosions take place over the lake, and are set in time to music, as well as fire balls, which shoot from the lawn that runs the entire length of the Promenade Royale. Don’t forget to look back at the chateau during the show, where you will see all the light reflected in the fountains leading up to it, as well as in it’s thousand’s of windows.
The only shame about going to
If you want something a little more unique from your
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Most people who come to
The bus services that run through
The number 38: Runs south from Gare du Nord straight through the centre of
The number 24: Starting at Gare Saint Lazare, this bus stops outside the Musee D’Orsay, then all along the edge of the left bank, allowing you to see all of the river front, until it crosses at Gare d’Australitz, where you can disembark to go to Jardin des Plantes.
The number 73: Running on the opposite side of the river, (Rive Droite) from the Musee D’Orsay straight to the Arc de Triomphe.
it is good to know that in any of the bus stops there is a detailed map of where the buses run and stop, and you can always get off at the next stop if you miss out, they are never far apart! Metro tickets can be used on the bus, and are valid for an hour, so you can transfer.
The second fantastic form of overland transport is, of course Velib. Riding around
Some useful tips; if you get to a Velib stand that is full, do not just ride off in search of another (especially if you are almost at your ½ hour limit). If you enter the code on your Velib rental card, you will get an automatic 15 minute extension, allowing you to find another stand. A map will also appear, telling you the nearest stops and how many free spaces can be found at each.
Make sure, before selecting your bike, that it is in good condition- check the breaks, the tires and the gears. There is an unspoken Velib code in the city- if the seat is facing the wrong way, there is something not quite right with the bike.
It is far less complicated if you have a week Navigo pass for the metro (and buses). You can load your Velib subscription onto it, and then getting a bike is only a matter of swiping it over the purple sensor at the bikes attachment point.
So consider getting out of the metro while you are in
Friday, 15 August 2008
This Sunday it was cold and cloudy in
The exhibition on currently at the Maison Europeene is ‘Annie Leibovitz; A Photographer’s Life’ and is truly breath-taking. The three-story exhibit is packed full of the classic Leibovitz’s, from her time at Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, but also comprises of personal photos of her friends and family. As Leibovitz herself said ‘I don’t have two distinct lives, I have one life, and personal photos have the same importance in it as professional photos.’
While the glamour and beauty of photos of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and The Trumps is certainly fascinating, it is seeing these personal photos which really makes the exhibition exciting and unusual. The photos depict two very difficult and moving events in Leibovitz’s life; the death of her father, and the death of her lover Susan Sontag. Black and white photos of a sick, almost unrecognisable Sontag juxtaposed with glossy, full colour photos of sparkling Nicole Kidman makes Leibovitz’s loss all the more poignant. As a viewer it makes one aware of the generosity and privilege of being able to pass from the ‘famous’ to the ‘private’ realm of Leibovitz’s work.
The Foundation Cartier is honouring the 10 year anniversary of French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini’s death. The artist is perhaps best known in
Even if the exhibit was lacking, which this one certainly is not, the Foundation Cartier is worth a visit just to see the beauty of the building itself. Surrounded by a small wooded area dotted with Cesar’s works, the building feels very far away from the Parisian metropolis. The entire ground floor is glass, allowing you to see straight through the building, drawing attention to the delightful potted tree- an enormous chestnut in a multi-coloured, tiled pot!
Both these exhibits are certainly worth a visit, and as they are small you can easily visit them in an hour or an hour and a half. If not quite as monumental as the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s self portrait, it is certainly nice not to be rushed along, and to spend as long as you would like looking at a work!
Annie Leibovitz- A Photographer’s Life: 18 June -
Maison Europeene de la Photographie 5/7 rue de Fourcy - 75004 Paris
Cesar: 8 June-
Foundation Cartier 261 Bvd Raspail 75014