Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Parisian Wanderings

Last weekend, for the first time in ages, I was absolutely free. No work, no travelling, no visitors, and nothing in particular that I had to do. It was awesome.

Understanding Frenchman had been travelling for work all week, so I left him catching up on laundry and wandered lazily into town with no particular plans. I had a look in some shops in the area around Bastille but, with the sales starting in just over a week, had no intention of buying anything just yet, then made my way lazily down to the river. On the quais of the Ile Saint Louis and the Ile de la Cité, I was so close to the river I spotted a mother duck gliding lazily along with a brood of fluffy ducklings paddling frantically behind her. Even higher up, the water is so close, you feel as if you could just walk in ...

Ile de la Cité

Pont des Arts from the Pont Neuf

I finished my stroll at the Pont des Arts, where they tried to stop people fixing padlocks to the railings, but clearly it didn't work.
You can see the Eiffel Tower from here!

Love conquers all, even the Paris Mairie.
 And after that, it was just a short stroll through the Tuileries to catch the metro home.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Weekending in Paris

Paris at my Feet: the title says it all. With a pair of good legs, a crash pad in the city centre (thanks, Understanding Frenchman) and a Navigo pass, I should know this city inside out. The reality, though, is that I have a love of the countryside, an addiction to foreign travel and a full time job, all of which means that I spend less time than you might expect exploring and appreciating the city that I (almost) call my home.

But the sun has been out recently, the evenings are long, and I had a visitor who inspired me to spend more time in the city centre. None of these events quite produced a blog post of its own, but here's a little summary of my out-and-abouts in Paris this month.

 1) Dark history and spring flowers. My friend and I went to visit the memorial to the 13 152 Jews who were rounded up at the Vélodrome d'Hiver in 1942 and sent to Auschwitz. The French are really only just beginning to talk about the part that the collaborationist government played in those events, although it was officially acknowledged by Chirac in 1995, but now, with films like La Rafle and Sarah's Keys, the story is becoming better known. The plaque on the site itself, however, located just outside Bir Hakeim metro station, is unobtrusive and goes almost unnoticed by most passers-by. Further away, in a little garden on the Quai de Grenelle, is a sculpture erected "in homage to victims of racist and antisemitic persecutions and of crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the so-called 'Government of the State of France". In the same garden, I took this picture of the Eiffel Tower, which I love, but which is all the more poignant because I know where I was standing at the time.

2) Sunday rollerblading. We didn't quite have the motivation to take part in Rollers et Coquillages, the massive group skate around Paris that takes place every Sunday afternoon when the weather is nice,  so we did a DIY itinerary along the Promenade Plantée (on the bit where it's allowed) to Bastille and up the canal to the Bassin de la Villette. Lots of the roads in Paris are partially closed to traffic on Sundays, so if you're prepared to put up with the odd tricky bit of pavement, it's a good day to go exploring.

3) Apéro on the steps of Montmartre. As you get older, you get fewer invitations to this type of student-y picnic, but few of even the best bars in Paris could offer a view this good, and certainly not for the price of a couple of euros that you spend on a takeaway drink and some saucisson.

4) Discovering new districts: last weekend, some friends and I headed out to the Batignolles district in the 17th, where there are lively bars and drinks at reasonable (for Paris) prices. Definitely worth exploring if you want to go somewhere that feels a bit more real than the city centre.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

So British!

Contrary to the popular myth that is often peddled in the low-class corners of the British media, the French attitude towards the British is not summed up entirely in an arrogant stare and a Gallic shrug.

Not at all. In fact, apart from a persistent inability to understand our national addiction to jelly* (despite being perfectly capable of appreciating much stranger specialities, such as haggis and marmite), in this year of Jubilee and Olympics, the French actually have something of an obsession with all things British going on.

The magazine section of last weekend's Journal du Dimanche was "un numéro so British" and contained two interesting spreads, one reporting on the things that French people living in the UK appreciate chez les Anglais and the other listing things that those stuck on the other side of the channel would like to steal from their neighbours. Here is a selection of the most interesting:

They like:
- the way every negotiation begins with small-talk ("une façon moins brutale de dialoguer")
- vinegar crisps and 24 hour Tesco
- the teachers ("j'y apprends avec plaisir")
- respect for animals
- clean streets
- tolerance and reluctance to judge by appearances.

They want:
- black cabs
- punctuality
- bridesmaids (Pippa Middleton has made her mark here too!)
- tax deducted at source
- public services with simple procedures, quick replies and clear explanations.

I can do without Pippa Middleton, but if I could have packed the last two in my suitcase, I'd definitely have slipped them across on the Eurostar too!

* and the fact that this addiction to jelly is 99% a figment of their imagination - I personally had not eaten it for about 20 years until Tuesday lunchtime when our well-meaning catering staff at work served it up in celebration of Her Majesty's big day, and neither had anyone else I asked. We did, however, have a long debate about the merits or otherwise of sherry trifle.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dans les Vosges

After driving at slow speeds across vast swathes of France's empty regions and stopping off in Nancy for quiche lorraine and a squizz at the Place Stan, we arrived at our destination in the southern Vosges. Despite having lived in Nancy for 3 years, I had never been further into the mountains than I could rollerblade along the voie verte from Remiremont (i.e. a long way on rollerblades but not very far in travel terms!) and I was excited about seeing this famous region that had been on my doorstep for so long but that I had never really discovered.
For the most part, the Vosges look like gentle, rolling hills, especially compared to the glimpses of the Alps that you occasionally catch from the summits, but there are a few steep climbs and dizzying drops that remind you that you are at an altitude of well over 1000 metres on mountains formed by volcanic activity and sculpted by glaciation. We were extremely impressed by the number of cyclists we overtook in the car, pedalling their way up steep and winding roads and never seeming to have to get off and push!

The Vosges straddle the boundary between Lorraine and Alsace and it was entertaining to see how on the map cascade was replaced by Wasserfall on the eastern side of the border.

We also found these old border posts from the time when Alsace was part of  Germany. On most of them, the D for Deutschland had been chipped away, while the F for France remained almost pristine.

It being springtime, everywhere we went was incredibly green, especially as the forest covers the mountains right up to their summits. A weekend in the Vosges really did feel like a breath of fresh air.