Saturday, March 29, 2014

What You Need to Know about Paris Apartments

My desk in Paris
I love living in an apartment in Paris!  I am a literary, eclectic Romantic and I have always dreamed of living the life of Simone de Beauvoir or of Mavis Gallant : reading, writing, drinking coffee and wine in the neighbourhood café and smoking Gitanes. ( I don't smoke at all but it was part of the fantasy).

I have enjoyed every apartment and every neighbourhood that I have lived in during the last couple of years but there are many practical considerations involved. In Canada, I live in 92 square metres but in Paris right now,  I am living in 30 square metres. This is a fairly typical size rental and accommodates  2 singles or 2 couples if they are friendly and tidy. I always rent apartments with room for a friend to visit.

My bed
These doors hide my bedroom and give privacy if I have guests. 
In the Paris apartments that I have rented, furniture is minimal because there is the practical consideration of the stairs. I am on the fourth floor of this apartment but we do not count the rez-de -chaussée (ground floor). Janet left early this morning and I am sure that the neighbours were probably awakened to the sounds of clumping and huffing and puffing as we carried the bags down at 7:00 am.
It serves them right because someone had a party last night and every time I woke up I heard music and voices and laughter. This is Paris!

These stairs twist up for 5 floors. The building is very narrow  and there is only  one apartment on each floor.

There are several bars on our street and there is always some reveller noise. I just noticed how similar the two words: reveller and réveiller are. Anyway, there's always someone out there having a good time who wakes you up during the night. If it really bothers you, bring earplugs! It's a vacation so you could sleep in except for the early morning street cleaners and garbage trucks. Contrary to the popular misconception, Paris streets are very clean. You will see the green uniformed men throughout the day and there are green bins every few metres.

some basic cleaning purchases

Depending on your rental situation in Paris, cleaning and laundry are considerations.  My best experience has been with my first apartment booked through Paris Address. The apartment was clean on my arrival with an extra set of fresh sheets available. I just e-mailed when I required fresh linens and they appeared inside my door.  I was studying at the Sorbonne that year so I arranged for regular cleaning (at an extra charge). In retrospect, I should have tried to negotiate cleaning as I did rent for five months. The linens in this apartment are fraying and stained so I bought tea towels, a set of towels for myself, facecloths and M. Propre for wiping surfaces. Today, I will attempt to wash Janet's sheets and towels.

Sometimes the salon is also the laundry room.

Using the European combination washer/dryer is an adventure! The first time that I tried, I thought that I had broken something. It took about 4 hours to finish one load. C'est normale. Always choose rapide cycle and DON'T OVERLOAD! Never force the door open however long it takes because the door has a lock.  I wash most things by hand and use a blanchisserie/pressing if the item of clothing warrants it. They launder, hand press and wrap your clothing in tissue paper for a modest sum in most residential areas. If their sign says LUXE, walk away unless you are wearing haute couture.

I enjoy all of these little quirks of Paris living. Although my earlier fantasies did not include laundry, garbage trucks or cleaning products, it is these quotidian elements that transform me from a tourist to a Paris dweller.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Exploring the Marais and Another Problem

Each time I come to Paris, I am amazed at how it is really made up of many small cities. Each neighbourhood has its own character, its own attractions and its own devotees. This year, I am staying in Le Marais, a Right Bank neighbourhood in the 4th arrondissement. My apartment is 10 steps away from the Place des Vosges, a lovely square surrounded by covered walkways.
I am living just past the iPhone sign which is paying for restoration of the building.

Surrounding the Place des Vosges are many little galleries, some restaurants, a school, and the house of Victor Hugo. As I keep repeating, museums of the City of Paris are free, so Hugo's house can be visited at no charge. I don't like crowds or lineups and have already visited the major museums several times, so I am always looking for a smaller special interest museum.

There are some interesting writings under the arches surrounding the  square.

In my neighbourhood, besides Hugo's house, are the Musée Cognacq-Jay and the Musée Carnavalet. I have not visited the Cognacq-Jay which is based on the  collection of 18th century art donated by Ernest Cognacq who founded the Samaritaine store, which is unfortunately now closed and awaiting redevelopment.  The Samaritaine was a lovely building in the belle-époque style with an observatory on the top level. The Carnavalet, the oldest of the city museums, is housed in un hôtel particulier(former home of an aristocrat) and depicts the history of the city. I never tire of visiting this gracious museum with its courtyard gardens and rooms that reflect the different periods of Paris history.

Flowers bloom and birds sing in the courtyards. Many are open to visitors.  I think I'll take my book to read.
As in every neighbourhood in Paris, the narrow streets of Le Marais are a delight to the flâneur. I love this word that means a romantic, passionate poetic individual who finds meaning through wandering the streets. 

Pour le parfait flâneur, pour l'observateur passionné, c'est une immense jouissance que d'élire domicile dans le nombre, dans l'ondoyant, dans le mouvement, dans le fugitif et l'infini. Être hors de chez soi, et pourtant se sentir partout chez soi ; voir le monde, être au centre du monde et rester caché au monde, tels sont quelques-uns des moindres plaisirs de ces esprits indépendants, passionnés, impartiaux, que la langue ne peut que maladroitement définir. L'observateur est un prince qui jouit partout de son incognito.  Baudelaire, Le croquis de moeurs

When we arrived almost a week ago, we had the problems of the lost suitcase and the broken camera. Both of these were resolved within a couple of days. Last night, Janet accidentally deleted all of the photos and videos that she had taken on her new camera. She leaves on Saturday morning and is, at this moment, scurrying around Paris in an attempt to replace some of her photos. Fortunately, she has visited me twice before and already has photos of the major attractions.

Gérard Mulot is across the street. I bought Janet a macaron to cheer her up.

A week in Paris passes so quickly! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dimanche dans Le Marais

Saint Eustache

Sunday is a special day in Paris. Few shops are open so Parisiens take to the streets to shop at markets, to get fresh air, to play in the parks and to visit with friends in cafés. Janet and I started the day by attending the Lenten service at Saint Eustache, a very large Gothic church noted for being the home of the largest pipe organ in France. If you look online, you may find a free concert or two at this church.

Healthy food is readily available in Paris.
We arrived early at the church and found to our delight that there was a market happening in the street next to the church. As it is easy to find fresh fruit and vegetables in Paris, Madame will be working on the blood pressure. Les salades composées in restaurants are very large and often contain cheese or charcuterie so homemade salads at the apartment are best for me.

The organ music is exquisite.
The service was a little more formal than that of my home church but I enjoyed the clarity of the French sermon and readings. It was great practise for me to listen.  Wherever I go, I find personal peace when visiting a church. 
Les Halles is going to be fantastic when it is finished.

I marvel at how the Les Halles revitalization is happening. Once the "belly of Paris", replaced by a shopping centre and now turning into another fantastic green space, the project is taking longer and costing more than expected but c'est toujours comme ça à Paris. The results will be worth the wait.

Many of the restaurants do not employ a full kitchen staff on Sunday. The French are protective of their  personal lives and the law in France specifically forbids overwork. Thus, we were "forced" to have a croque-madame for lunch.
What did I say about blood pressure?

Sunday evening was our theatre night in Paris. If you like comedy and have a bit of a ribald sense of humour (warning:some might find the show rude), go to see How to Become Parisian in One Hour. It was hilarious especially since Janet has noted how "un-Canadian" I can become after a short time in Europe. We were in the first row and I got tossed a box of Camembert and invited to dance on stage. Not even in Paris!!!

When we arrived home, I received an e-mail from our land-lady that my suitcase would be delivered sometime before midnight! At 10:30, a strong-looking delivery man rang our buzzer and offered to carry my suitcase up the 5 flights. He didn't even huff and puff a bit. Perhaps after 5 weeks here, I'll be like that too. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Paris in Springtime!

Au Père Tranquille
Janet and I awoke after our horrendous day of travel refreshed and ready to explore Le Marais but first… Oh, no! Janet has no camera and Madame has very few clothes and only two days' worth of blood pressure medication.

After having spent considerable time in Paris, I am able to handle most situations. We researched comparable cameras and headed to FNAC at Les Halles where Janet found a better camera at a reasonable price.

Our second serious problem is that I require my medication. Pharmacists in France have attained the designations of Doctors of Pharmacy and I was able to have my prescription filled without much ado simply by explaining my situation.

Having resolved two major issues, we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch at Au Père Tranquille, a brasserie near Les Halles. I enjoyed my Salade Titanic (smoked salmon and shrimp with lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes) while Janet lunched on a delicious omelette Auvergnate. 
Une Omelette Auvergnate
Much has changed near Les Halles ( I always have to remind myself that there is no liaison). Last year there was a big hole and this year, gardens and a playground. What a revival of the old market area! We are going back today to attend a service at Saint Eustache where we will get a chance to listen to the organ.

It s impossible to be unhappy in Paris in the springtime! Our apartment is "chouette" and we will definitely be more fit after having to climb up to the 4th floor with our groceries. Janet is well-pleased with her new camera. I will hopefully get my suitcase back or  else I will purchase a few new clothes.

J'adore Paris!
Janet assembled the camera in the restaurant!

Unto Each Day a Little Rain Must Fall

Yesterday was that day! Leaving Edinburgh for Paris via Flybe Airlines was an adventure. Janet and I were up at 5:00 a.m. in preparation for the day. Taxi ordered, breakfast delivered at 6:00 ( actually 6:10 but the man was very nice). I heartily recommend the Royal Overseas League (not fancy, undergoing renovations in the halls but friendly staff and really excellent value.

On arriving at the check-in counter, we are told that we are at the wrong Flybe check-in counter. We roll along to another, 28 lanes away where we encounter a new self check-in system. I don't understand self check-in because it takes 3 employees to help the passenger to use it. When Janet ended up owing 325 pounds for her suitcase, we knew that there was a problem. A bevy of employees rushed to our assistance and I ended up having to reconfigure my bags. We were over by 7 pounds total between us.

On attempting to get a few euros at the airport, my bank card did not work! I knew that I had not reached my daily limit. I am starting to feel a little anxious.  We sat to relax in the boarding lounge when we heard the final call for our flight. They apparently do not call flights in Edinburgh. After our very early arrival, we might have missed our flight which was short, crowded but relatively peaceful.

Flybe arrives in Terminal 2 at Charles DeGaulle but you have to take many escalators and a train to retrieve your baggage. On arriving at Carousel 31, Madame is no longer so patient. We wait, we wait,
we wait…… Janet's bag arrives but…… I make my way to Les Baggages to speak to a very nice French man. I now have a file number!

In my suitcase is my carefully selected travel wardrobe( I chose grey with blue and mauve to flatter my newly greying hair) and my hiking clothes for my later adventures. The best-laid  plans…. Hopefully, the bag will be found as it also contains my extra medication. I have enough for 2 days in my purse so I will try to get 7 days of blood pressure medication from a pharmacy.

I have been working on acceptance and a positive attitude this year. My problems are definitely those
of the privileged and I will certainly survive. We are going to the Marché Robert Lenoir and the Musée Carnavalet today. We also have to go to FNAC because Janet's camera has packed it in!!! She is our photographer and she is lost without it. It never rains but it pours!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Budget Travel in Britain

Yesterday, Janet and I took the National Express Coach from York to Edinburgh. If you travel on Tuesday with a concession card,  it is 15 pounds return anywhere in the National Express system. For 6 hours, our bus meandered past farms with newborn lambs and past fields of daffodils until we reached the hills of Scotland. The coaches are very comfortable with electrical outlets at every seat and toilets on board. We  stopped at a few stations along the way and were able to stretch our legs and to get some fresh air. I am amazed at how many people still smoke in Britain.

Our destination was the Royal Overseas League Club on Princes Street in Edinburgh. My strategy has been to find the best budget accommodation available for short stays. If we are spending only 2-3 nights in a city, we will spend most of our daytime hours sightseeing. We require two beds, wifi and a clean bathroom ensuite. The ROSL is a Commonwealth Club that takes paying visitors for very little money. We are each paying about 35$ Canadian a night which includes a full breakfast. I had free-range scrambled eggs with Scottish salmon, fresh fruit, toast and coffee while Janet had a full grill breakfast.

Anyone can visit.
The building is centrally located.

The morning was spent exploring the Royal Mile leading to Holyrood House. So far, we have had no rain and today was so bright that I had to wear sunglasses. After another pub lunch, Janet climbed up to view the city from Salisbury Crag and I stopped at the National Archives but didn't want to pay the 15 pounds to go in. I will be visiting relatives later and I will enjoy hearing their tales.
My ancestors were Vikings. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Early Spring in York

Museum Garden in York
We are enjoying an early spring in England. We travelled by National Express Coach from London to York for very few pounds. Our Canadian dollar is valued at half of the pound so we are finding most purchases expensive. The Senior concession cards have reduced our transportation costs and our
room at The Georgian Bed and Breakfast in York is so tiny that we have to climb over our luggage.

Little has changed in York since I was here 30 years ago. The narrow winding streets are lined with shops, bakeries and pubs. Vehicles are barred from many of the streets and Park and Ride buses are plentiful.  We rode the Hop-on, Hop-off bus to get an overview of the town. Again with the concession card! There are benefits to being of a certain age.

Yesterday, we went to the Yorkminster for a Lenten church service. The double choir (adults and children) was inspiring and the sermon was about Nicodemus and rebirth,  most suitable for a the flowering season.
Camellias in a courtyard near the Minster.
In England, where Mothering Sunday is celebrated in March, the shop windows are decorated with beautiful displays of chocolate and of floral scents. I especially liked these playful river otters.
York is chocolate heaven!

Janet and I have been enjoying a lot of pub meals since we arrived. Today we had pork belly with sage dressing wrapped in a Yorkshire with Bramley applesauce. I am looking forward to Scottish salmon and vegetables when we get to Scotland.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Walking through Literary and Historic London

Samuel Johnson Museum

History and literature are two subjects dear to my heart. Since my girlhood days, I have been transported to different times and places by books. There truly "is no frigate like book" and yesterday was our day to travel to some off-the-beaten track sites.

Personally, I don't care for crowds or queues. As my connection with places is deep and personal, I prefer not to be jostled by throngs of tourists or school groups. In many cases, British national museums and galleries are free. There is an organization London Greeters that provides free local guided walks that can be booked for 2+ people. I did not book from home and found that my chosen area was not available this week but will definitely book ahead next time.

Our first destination was Fleet Street to visit the neighbourhood of Samuel Johnson. We arranged our time in order to have lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub frequented by Johnson, Dickens and even Voltaire. Having visited the pub 30 years ago with Maman, I was confident of finding the location on Fleet Street. Although there has been a pub on the location since 1538 and the current pub was built just after The Great Fire, times have changed on Fleet Street. We went into two shops to enquire and neither of the salespeople had heard of the pub or of Doctor Johnson. Only when I accosted some French tourists in the Twinings tea shop and asked to look at their guidebook was I able to locate the Cheshire Cheese which is down a passageway from Fleet Street and has no windows due to the Window Tax of the 17th century.
The Dictionary

Doctor Johnson's house, located just behind the pub, is a gem of a small museum where it is easy to imagine life in the 17th century. Uncrowded and with an admission charge of 3 pounds, I could spend hours just looking at the collection of books! Dr. J died leaving 30,000 tomes. Imagine all the reading that he did to create his dictionary!

Each definition was based several works of English literature.

One of my favourite television series of the 1970's was The Forsyte Saga based on the novels of John Galsworthy. The saga depicts the movements of an English merchant family from late Victorian times until the Depression. The story, one of 3 generations of uncles, aunts and cousins with their intrigues and romantic rivalries, was acted by some of the most brilliant British character actors of the time.

One of the Galsworthy books was called In Chancery and today I visited the London of barristers and solicitors. The dark-suited men with brief cases and the shiny plaques on the buildings evoke another era.
The judicial area of London

On our way to the Millennium Bridge, we visited St. Martin's of Ludgate, site of one of the original gates of London. There has been a Christian church on the site since 1174 AD and beneath the church are parts of the original Roman wall. St. Martin of Tours is the patron saint of travellers and the church was built just inside of the Lud Gate of London.

We continued to the Thames, crossed the Millennium Bridge, crossed back over the Blackfriars Bridge and continued on shank's mare home. The ladies are certainly tired after another lovely London day!
Blackfriar's Bridge

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Walk on the Wilder Side

Camden locks
Where in London can you eat food from all over the world, rent a kayak, get a tattoo or piercing and visit London's most popular outdoor market? It's worth walking along the Tottenham Court Road through some of London's interesting multicultural neighbourhoods browsing the windows of  Thai grocery stores, lots of Halal offerings and a Bengali worker's club to Camden High Street. For me, this is the fascinating part of London! Memorials and museums are part of any visit but it is truly the flavours and sights of each neighbourhood that enchant me.

The Camden Canal and Lock system was built in the 19th century to transport goods to the London docks.  The warehouses and factories, which quickly followed, were mostly empty by the mid-20th century when a group of young people decided that this would be a promising site on which to establish a week-end craft market. Today, 150,000 people a week visit the several markets in the area to eat, shop and be seen.

En route, there are all sorts of interesting shops and restaurants along the Camden High Street. Arriving too early at the Camden Head Pub, our lunch destination, I HAD to browse in Waterstones Bookshop (they lost their apostrophe amid great consternation a few years ago). I had sworn not to buy any books on this trip but was lured to the sales tables by the promise of "buy one, get a second for 50%." I bought W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz and Pat Barker's Toby's Room.

The pub lunch was "restaurant quality" according to my friend, Janet, who has a distinctly epicurean nature. We both had roasted hake with proscuito, parsley mash, and grilled tomatoes. I could eat only half of the portion with the requisite glass of pinot grigio.

Camden Market is a lively spot catering to the young and the venturesome. The colourful 3-dimensional storefronts were amazing to behold.
The Dark Angel (photo for my daughter).
The food stands made us wish that there were more meals in a day!
Jerk chicken
If you do eat too much, you can always walk along the Jubilee Walkway, created in the Jubilee Year and passing many of the historic landmarks of London. We, however, headed back on some streets behind Euston Station where children were returning home from school and where we passed a cross-gender shop, promising to make anyone glamourous regardless of sex or age. Too much for a couple of suburban ladies of a certain age! Travel does indeed make one more worldly.

Leftovers from Ragam topped up with onion bhajia, Bombay potatoes and spicy lamb patties from Sainsbury's (still with apostrophe) for another mouthwatering meal… I will have to return to My Fitness Pal or I will be seriously out of shape for some of my later European adventures.

The canal

Monday, March 10, 2014

When you're tired of London, you're tired of life!

Early Spring in Regent's Park
Here I am in London! Sunday was a sunny, warm day and Janet and I strolled through Regent's Park. There were early ducklings and lots of Londoners sitting on the grass. We are renting a flat in Fitzrovia and can easily walk anywhere in the city.

We have a local pub, the Fitzroy Tavern, frequented in earlier days by George Orwell and Dylan Thomas. There's nothing like a pub pie with a beer to feel like a true Londoner!
Fitzroy Tavern

Today, I visited Bloomsbury and the British Museum where I avoided large groups of school children in among the Antiquities. I love wandering the streets of Bloomsbury, stopping for bookstores and blue historic markers.
I love all the Caldecott award winners for picture books

Books and more books!
Janet walked for 11+ miles and saw the Queen (she really did!)  Tonight we had a very tasty South Indian meal at Ragam. We shared a dinner of dosas, Malabar fish curry, cauliflower and peas, and a number of vegetable side dishes. There was so much that we will have it for dinner tomorrow.

Our flat is surrounded by universities, architectural design firms and dining possibilities. With such gorgeous weather and a well-appointed flat to return to each evening, all is well with the world!