Thursday, 22 December 2011

La Butte aux Cailles

Having a virtual rummage this afternoon through my ridiculously large photo archive, I came across these photos, which I took a couple of months ago on a grey Sunday afternoon in Paris and which I meant to share but then completely forgot about.

With nothing better to do, Understanding Frenchman and I decided that it was time for me to discover a new corner of Paris and, as I have something of a penchant for climbing hills, we took the metro to La Butte aux Cailles in the 13th.

La Butte aux Cailles has a bit of a Montmartresque feel to it, but without the tourists, the bracelet sellers and the Amelie Poulain overkill. It's an arty area which looks a bit scruffy and rough around the edges but, like everywhere in Paris, it's an expensive kind of rough around the edges. (Out of sheer curiosity, I was browsing the Parisian property websites the other night. 180 000 euros for a 17-square metre studio anyone?)If you like altitude, the Butte itself is also a little disappointing - unlike the Butte de Montmartre and the Buttes Chaumont, it has almost no view.

Before I start sounding too negative though, there was one thing about the Butte aux Cailles that I found very cool, and that was the street art that was peeling in an expensively scruffy way off many of the walls. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the photos:

The writing on this one translates as, "With love, time passes by quickly. With time, love passes by less often."

And finally, there was this surrealist optician's sign with shades of The Great Gatsby:

Someone is watching you!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Brussels (but not Sprouts)

When I first lived in France (9 years ago!), waiting for a train to somewhere or other, I used to look up at the departures board in the stations in wonder, amazed at the fact that it was possible to travel across international borders by rail. Coming from the northern part of an island nation, going abroad for me almost automatically implied taking an aeroplane and the idea of speeding across Europe on a train seemed to belong to another era, one where the carriages had compartments and porters loaded one's trunk into the guard's wagon. And in an age when Ryanair and Easyjet have increasingly taken over the skies, international train travel has retained a mystique for me that flying never had.

It's even better if you can go first class, of course. And better still if your first class ticket is free.

This weekend, Understanding Frenchman and I decided to go and visit friends of his in Brussels. We were able to buy tickets with our railcard loyalty points and, as it happened, only first class seats were available. And first class on the Thalys is indeed first class. Uniformed staff welcome you on board. Every seat has free WiFi and a power socket. If you travel at dinner time, you get a meal brought to your seat, along with drinks and a small bar of Belgian chocolate. And so we arrived in Brussels in good spirits and good style.

Every time I'd ever been to Belgium before, it rained. This time, though, the skies were blue and the temperatures bitingly cold. We had lunch in town, then went to see an exhibition of watercolours of the city. There was a Christmas light show on the Grande Place which we caught some of, then we attempted to brave the Christmas market but it was to cold and too crowded, so we decided to go home, stopping off for Nutella waffles on the way. (Belgium is definitely a country it would be easy to get fat in.)

I liked Brussels more this time round than I have before, partly because of the weather, but also because it's a great place to visit at Christmas time. The Belgians have already celebrated Saint Nicholas' Day and there are beautiful decorations everywhere (far more than in Paris, which seems to think itself largely above such friviolities). Definitely worth the trip, and not only if you can go for free!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Sorry Secret of the Champs Elysees

In cash-strapped times, and not long after Paris lost out to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, can it really be a coincidence that what was once the Ville des Lumieres now has Christmas decorations that look like this?