Wake me up in September

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For me September is the best month to be in Paris. I’ve called it home for more 15 years now, but each September, there is just a different energy in the city. Every August, like the rest of the people in the city, I escape. I escape the heat, I escape the crowds, I escape my life. Generally speaking this means going home to the UK or taking myself off on some kind of a luxury holiday. This year, I didn’t have quite so much money. Economic problems? Maybe. But I decided to just go home. I’ve just returned to this wonderful place and I wanted to write about the feeling and also highlight how the energy of the place changes so dramatically in such a short space of time.

 

For many years, I have harboured the theory that cities are people. Well, they are similar to people. They have a history which is based on their experience. They also have an attitude and view of the world. They have a personality. I don’t know if that viewpoint will be groundbreaking or something so generic that you’ve heard it a thousand times, but nevertheless its what I think.

 

Although old, with lots of interesting stories to tell, Paris still has a lot of energy and walks with a spring in its step. August is like having a giant nap that goes on for virtually the entire month. This is why I like September so much. It’s like an awakening. The city is alive again. Alive with culture. There is so much to do in Paris in September and that’s what I wanted to write about.

 

It doesn’t matter what your interests are, in September, you can always find something that will interest you. Let’s start with one of the main cultural events in September ( in fact, one of the main cultural events of the year) Paris Design Week. Personally speaking it’s not always to my taste. A lot of the stuff, I think, belongs in a furniture store because it doesn’t seem that creative and some of the art pieces go way over my head. I often find myself at some piece of conceptual art and thinking I have no idea what I’m looking at but I know it’s not interesting. But all that said, I often do find the wow factor and I am lucky enough to have some seriously artistic and creative friends who love this stuff and help explain it me ( note – if you live in Paris for longer than 5 years you will inevitably end up with some seriously artistic friends. It’s one of life’s guarantees like death or taxes).

 

The sheer diversity of what is on offer is enough to inspire just about anyone, whether you understand what you are looking at or not. And its the energy that I really like. The Paris Design Week, for me is more about seeing friends and catching up with them after 5, 6 or 7 weeks apart. Catching up with them and finding out how their summer went and what they enjoyed and talking about our plans for the next couple of weeks. All of these conversations taking place while standing around, drinking a nice glass of wine and looking at some pretty abstract art and pretending to understand it. It’s simply fantastic and it’s free.

 

The Design Week is just one event in September that helps the city come back to life. There’s a whole host of culture that starts to come alive again. The opera house is one such example. Based on what I said above, it might shock you to learn to that I am actually a fan. I confess, most of the time I don’t have any idea what’s going on and even in some of the more modern opera houses, I don’t even read the subtitles that appears on the side of the stage, to help you understand the story. What I like is the glitz and glam of it all. The design, the fashion, the costumes, that sort of the thing. And of course, the music. Some of the best, more recognisable music comes from some opera classics.

 

September is a great month, because its the rebirth of the cultural season for opera houses. Some opera houses finish their summer season in June or July and close for the month of August. While other, more enterprising houses decide to showcase classical music concerts or well known opera classics performed by opera singers in training. The latter really doesn’t appeal to me, as it seems like a some houses are just interested in getting some quick money and it can often look quite cheap. I recall visiting Vienna recently in August, where men dressed as Mozart were encouraging people to buy tickets for a concert in the opera house. Not a bad evening for a tourist, of course not. But the shows definitely wouldn’t be the same standard that you would expect a leading opera house to produce. For me, I think it sort of makes the whole thing a bit cheap. Some art forms, should be higher than simply appealing to tourists. You might be reading this and agreeing or thinking to yourself, that I’m a snob.

 

Anyway, September is when the standard returns and not only do these great opera houses reopen but they also publish their programme for the entire winter season. I often book the good shows at Christmas in advance and try and get the best deal. But of course, if you are a tourist to Paris, that option probably goes out the window. But don’t panic, many of the opera houses offer last minute tickets at 6pm on the day of the show. The tickets can sometimes cost as little as 10 euros but in my experience on average they tend to cost around 20 euros. It’s also worth noting that if you go midweek and figure out that the performance isn’t likely to sell out, then just buy the cheapest ticket available and switch seats after the first intermission. Don’t worry, it’s not dishonest. Some of the ushers even encourage you to do it. Why not? The seat is just doing to waste otherwise. Last year I paid 35 euros and sat in a seat for 175 euros. I felt great. The people beside me weren’t too happy, which, I suppose it understandable.

 

September in Paris is also the month that plays host to a variety of different cultural festivals. The music festivals are my favourite because they are so dynamic and generally free. The cultural festivals in Paris are great because if they are not free, then they are generally really cheap because the local government is helping the artist’s out ( financially speaking) and making the event more accessible to everyone. In fact ( just a little injection of trivia), World Music Day, or Make Music Day, as it is sometimes referred to, started in Paris as a music festival and quickly spread all over the world. That event takes place annually on the 21st of June. But this month also has a lot to offer.

 

The I’le de la France music festival takes place over the entire month of September and this year will feature about 30 different concerts from names that you know, names that you will know and names that you wish you knew before now. Each year there is a theme and pieces of music are selected and sometimes even created on the basis of that theme. Unlike a lot of other events, these concerts are not simply just based in Paris but in the surrounding areas. So by taking part, its also a chance to see some beautiful, historic castles, learn some history, escape the city and see some beautiful landscapes. This year makes the 40th anniversary of the festival, so get your tickets early and figure out what you would like to see. Last year saw over 20,000 people at all the concert and maybe even more this year.

 

I could go on all day about the joys of September. No disrespect to anyone with children but the streets and parks are definitely quieter than August, thanks to the schools reopening. This coupled with a steady decline of tourists makes me really feel like I have got my city back to myself. Then of course, there’s the landscape and the natural element of being around Paris in September. If you’ve never been to Paris before, then one thing that’s important to learn is that it is an incredibly seasonal city. Each of the four seasons, has a distinctive smell, look and style. This is one of many reasons why it is considered as the most iconic fashion capital of the world. September marks the bridge between summer and winter and there is absolutely nothing like seeing the first leaves turn brown and slowly dwindle from the trees. Frank Sinatra once famously sang a song entitled “I love Paris”. In it, he talks about all the different seasons. For me, I love Paris in the fall.

 

As this is a tourist blog, it is also worth noting that many hotels and apartment rental companies significantly reduce their prices in the month of September because Summer is technically finished. Ok, in terms of weather and climate, that is not strictly true but it is in terms of tourism, August is really the final month and the later in September you decided to book, the better your options will be for finding luxury hotel rooms or even luxury apartments at a really affordable prices. Which gives your more money to spend on the many amazing cultural offerings the month of September has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying A Slice of Paris

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The ultimate investment for anyone in their lives is definitely their home. I’ve worked in banking for years and it is commonly thought (not just by us industry professionals) that a mortgage is possibly the most complex and stressful undertaking you will ever experience. For some people, it seems like problem, after problem, after problem. You play a waiting game. You have to act super fast to get the place you want at the price that want. You are so dependent on other people and other factors. The banks, will they give you money? When is the person ready to sell and ready to move? How much is it worth and can I get the price just a bit? What’s the market like and why? Oh the questions, there are so many questions and they are not easy to answer. For many, many years it was my job to provide an answer to all those questions. But don’t worry, this post is not about economics or market value rates.

 

For the very lucky few people, once you have a home, you start looking for a holiday home. It’s a pretty luxurious investment and one which requires a lot of time. A holiday home is not for everyone with money however. For me, I decided to invest in one and I knew I wanted one in a city. Property values in major cities across Europe, almost never go down in value. Quite the opposite actually, they tend to go up and up and up. Many of my friends and colleagues in the industry have decided to invest in property in Spain or Portugal along the beautiful beaches in the various resorts dotted around each country’s coastline. I decided against such a decision. Nice places, yes, this is true. But what will those houses be worth in 20 years. No idea. And as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t worth the risk.

 

I decided to invest in a city that I always love to visit and I could actually see myself spending a large amount of time there when I retire. The trick with buying a second home is balancing between the investment and the actually place. It’s not all about money, of course it’s not. That’s not a good way to look at anything. But I knew I had to be clever with my choice and so should you. I choose Paris. The largest city on the continent of Europe, this ever evolving city is anything but boring. It’s dynamic, cultural, artistic, fun. It is everything you want in a city. It was an easy choice.

 

The property market in Paris is a bit unique to that of the rest of France, in the sense that it never goes down in price. If you have reading anything about the French economy thenwhat you know is true. It is not doing very well. Since the global crash of the 2008, it was a city that was hit hard (just like everywhere else, you could say) but it has picked up and recovered significantly but it still not right back in the position in was in the glory days of the early 20th Century. However, property prices in Paris continue to increase. They are not rocketing like before, but they are definitely going up in value. Sadly, this can’t be said for the other parts of France. Even just a couple of miles outside of Paris, its almost a completely different story and many people are in homes they can’t afford. In the case of a holiday home, the lesson is simple. Make sure you have the necessary finance you need and get the professional advice you need, before you make a decision.

 

Ok, so this the part of the blog post with the nice stuff. Where exactly should you live? I think this causes a lot of stress for some buyers but when I was choosing a place, I found this part quite fun. Paris is a remarkably lived in city. Each district is very distinct and different and they all come with their pros and cons. It is not possible to go through every district in the city. That would take a lot more than a blog post. In fact, that would be a novel. Choosing the district is a hard one. Don’t make a rash decision. Is the district safe? Look at the figures. Yes, Paris is romantic and beautiful but there is crime and it would be foolish to overlook this. It’s just the same as every other city. What about the transportation links? The rail network in France is incredible but frequently prone to strikes. Friends of mine, who require a train to get around have sometimes suffered. Make sure you have all the services that you need. And then of course, there’s the tourists. No one wants to feel like a tourist. Even tourists don’t like to feel like tourists. If you are looking at an area to buy, believe me, pick somewhere multicultural (especially if you’re French is not up to scratch, but we’ll talk about that later). In the month of August, virtually every district gets taken over by tourists but there are still pockets they don’t know about. In the winter months, the city is generally quieter but there are still districts that are constantly busy, crowded and served with a loud bang of people speaking English. You don’t want this. Who wants to feel like they are in Disneyland for 12 months of the year?

 

If you have children, then the task of choosing a location becomes even more complex. The state is heavily involved in the education system and private schools are hard to come by. In many cases they are not even necessary as the standard of public education in France is quite high and also unlike the U.S or U.K the general quality of each school is more even. There is not a big difference between them. However, unless your children speak French, you may need to check that the school has the necessary resources for help your child adapt. In most cases, the language barrier will mean that your children will need to attend an international school. A great opportunity both in terms of education and in terms making friends, but not a cheap one. International schools can be quite pricey and their location should be a top priority when choosing your location.

 

In all might sound a bit stressful and believe me it is. It’s good to get an estate agent or property manager on board. Yes, they are expensive and the more you are willing to splash out on a property, the higher their commission will be. But, it’s a necessary expense and if you get a good property manager they can even make it look like fun. They don’t just take the stress out of it, they are essential. The French love paperwork and buying a home, whether a holiday home or a permanent residence requires a lot of hoop jumping and form signing.

 

Why buy in Paris?

 

This is a good question and despite being the capital, you’d be amazed at how much it gets overlooked by people. The downsides are basically it’s location. If you want a holiday home, most people want warm weather and a beach. If we invest, we want to feel like we are really getting a luxury property in a very different world from we live. This is the standard citearia when choosing a place and yes, Paris doesn’t offer a beach and is quite far from the coast. So that’s the downside. But just because it’s far, doesn’t mean that the coast is inaccessible. As I’ve said before, the French rail network is great.

 

But lets look at the positive sides of buying a property in Paris. As a world city of culture or history, the City of Light doesn’t really need an introduction. If you are completely unaware of the amazing range of exhibitions, museums, and general cultural output, then we might be barking up the wrong tree, so to speak. One of the reasons why I choose Paris is because its a global transport hub. Not the most romantic or tasteful of positives to begin with, but for me it was a big factor. You can get direct flights to Paris from just about anywhere in the world. Most of the budget airlines fly into a least 1 of the 3 main airports, so it’s easy to get back and forth from your home to your home in Paris. Also, because of its popularity as a transport hub, the price is very competitive and rarely increases in the summer. The same can not be said of the south of France, where the prices rocket at particular points of the year.

 

There is also a language issue which is not quite as bad as Paris. I know a lot of people who have bought a second home in Paris to use for vacations are faced with this problem. If you don’t speak French, you feel a bit like an outsider. If you speak English, you tend to live in resort centers where everyone speaks English and it’s a weird bubble where everything is almost exactly the same as home. Both of these situations sound very negative to me. I don’t want to be in an English speaking bubble but I also don’t want to struggle and panic everytime I want to buy some cheese. The international flair of Paris has meant I have completely avoided falling into that trap. I get to practice my basic French on my neighbors and also the guys in the wine bar downstairs know me and correct me when I say something wrong. For the moment, that work fine, and it allows me time to get better.

 

You are never bored in Paris. There is a very famous expression “when one is bored of London, one is bored of life. For their is in London all that life can afford”, I think this expression is perfectly accurate, if you just changed the word London for Paris. The city is fact paced, dynamic and loud. But once you spend longer than a week here, it is so easy to get off the tourist track. There are some amazing parks on the outskirts of Paris, where you can read a book and escape completely. You would never know you are in a city.

 

I think I could write a book on my experience buying a place in Paris and then maybe another book on how happy I am with my decision. But maybe the second one wouldn’t sell as many copies. Conclusion is simple, don’t judge a book by its cover and make sure you have all the facts, do the research and get professional help.

 

The Magic of The Museum

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Queuing up at a book shop last week waiting for the latest Harry Potter book, kind of made me feel a bit like I had been transported back in time to 15 years ago, when I was doing exactly the same thing. Only this time, I’m queuing up with my two children. Throughout the years and the 8 different movies that have been released, millions of toys and video games, they too have picked up the Pottermania. It seems like it was just a rapid explosion that would fade away after some time, but after last week, that idea may be wrong. If you don’t know what I’m talking about; the is a new Harry Potter book. It’s not exactly a novel like the other ones and it’s not written by the same writer, it’s actually a play and is currently on stage in London and New York. The book was reawaken my kids love of all things magic.

 

So how does that fit into Paris? Good question. Well, if you are looking for child friendly museums and things to do, this recent resurgence of Pottermania might warrant a visit to the incredible Magic Museum. It’s only a 5 minute walk from the Louvre and honestly, your children will probably find it more interesting. Mine did. It’s very inexpensive but I can’t directly say how much exactly it cost because I don’t remember. It think it was about 4 pounds. You can spend 1 to 2 hours in there and while it is super interesting, it has the delicate balance of being engaging but also educational. You learn quite a lot about history, society and physics by looking at the different magic tricks, how they work, how they are performed, who started it, etc etc. Less about wizards and witches and bit more about real people, with over 100 items on display, you won’t be bored.

 

What’s also great about it, is that its’ not a very busy museum. Paris has more museums that any other city in Europe ( that includes cities which are much larger in size, like Moscow or London) and yet people only really tend to go to the same ones over and over again. Once you’ve seen 1 museum you’ve seen them all, right. No! Wrong! If only just to escape the crazy crowds of tourists in August, try to do some research and go to some museums you’ve never heard of. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. You can find out more about this museum and many other museums that you may never have heard of by visiting websites such as The Parisian or Time Out. They can even tell you if there are some interesting temporary exhibitions happening.  download (1)

Paris in August – Busy and Deserted

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During the month of August, something very strange happens around Paris. It’s not unique to the city but it is strange nonetheless. It happens every year like clockwork. It starts and finishes at almost the same time every year. It’s been happening for quite a while yet despite this fact, each year, people pretend like it is the first time this has ever happened. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? No!

 

Ok, so if you are visiting the city during the month of August, you might notice something a bit unusual . It’s not the weather and its not an event. It’s about the local people. It seems like there are virtually no local people in Paris at all. The city gets completely taken over by people like you and people like me…. Tourists. That horrible, horrible word that no tourist wants to hear and certainly doesn’t want to admit they are. But I personally don’t mind the term. If it’s used in a nice way of course.

 

The mass exodus of people, is not something unique to Paris. Most major cities in Europe experience the same thing especially large capitals like Madrid and Rome. All the locals of these cities flee and escape to the beach. But it seems that with each passing year, the concept and understanding of why this happens seems to change. Parisians don’t leave Paris because there are too many tourists in August. It’s quite the other way around. Parisians have been doing this long before the massive tourism boom of the 1990s and 21st Century. Any Parisian will tell you this. There is a very famous iconic Parisian movie called Last Weekend, directed by Jean Luck Gordard (if you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s amazing and still to this day, it’s very chic). In this movie, there is a famous scene of a traffic jam which seems to go on and on and on. The scene is a single shot and is over 7 minutes long and highlights the type of jams experienced by Parisians during the 1960s, as everyone tried to go to the south for their summer holidays.

 

The effect of this, has left the city ripe for the picking, so to speak. Before, the month of August meant that the city was abandoned and dead and now, it is one of the most profitable months for the city. Every hotel is full, every major restaurant that has good reviews is full and the museums are full. This bring a lot of economic life to the city. Ok, I know there are down sides. It gets a bit crowded, yes it’s true. It’s a bit more expensive, yes it’s true. It lacks a certain authentic element due to the absences of locals, yes it’s also true. But it not all bad and it seems like every time August comes around, everyone seems to saying the same thing. All the tourists come so the Parisians leave. No no no, my friend. It was quite the opposite.

Plane Problems

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While this blog is normally reserved for activites and events in Paris, I thought I would change the tone a little. It’s still relevant to tourist and tourism, but a bit more serious. If you are traveling to Paris (or indeed anywhere in France), you should know that there is a currently a strike.

 

“Yes, yes, yes but there are always strikes in France” – I can hear you shouting at your computer screen. This is definitely a stereotype that we French have to deal with and we are not why we have this stereotype. I lived in many different European countries and I honestly don’t think our government institutions strike any more or less than some of our neighbors.. But its just one of the labels we have to live with.

 

The strike, I’m talking about is the air traffic controller strike. There is no need to panic, it’s not a bad strike, or even a new one. It’s been going on for a while. I’ve noticed that international media don’t really write a lot about it, because it is really a domestic issue. It’s difficult to write about it without getting into the politics of the dispute. Any attempt to explain exactly what is happening results in somehow taking a side or at least, favoring one side. This blog is definitely not a place for politics (thankfully) but it is related to tourism.

 

My advice is too check with your airline and see what the consequences are. I will be nothing serious and they strikes are only happening in short bursts. It’s not like, they just walked out of their jobs. It’s more of a “go-slow.” But they can be unpredictable. They have strikes 14 times now in since April and it is difficult to see when exactly it will end.

 

Stay up to date with news coverage and advice from your airline. If you are traveled from outside of Europe make sure, you plan for the possibility that you might be delayed just a little bit or you might be held a bit longer in your home airport or stopover destination on your way to Paris or another French city. Once you know and you make provision and you make a plan, it really isn’t;t that big a deal but if it takes you by surprise, it can be annoying. Also, people like to exaggerate the problem – “there no planes… at all flying into Paris, if you go, you could be stuck there”. I heard someone say this in London recently. This isn’t true. Of course planes are landing, it’s one of the busiest cities in the world, in terms of air traffic. If that was true you’d know all about it, trust me.

A beautiful language

 

A few weeks ago, I read a post all about the French language and I thought I would share my experiences with the language. I’ve been an English teacher for over 20 years, so I know exactly how students work. I know the kind of problems they face. I can predict when they’re going to have a problem and how to explain it them very clearly. The English language makes perfect sense to me and even when there are times that it seems like it doesn’t make sense, I can shed some light on it and make it easier to understand. At least, I think I can and I hope that my students think I can. I’ve been doing it a long time, so I imagine that I’m pretty good at it.

 

It might surprise you to learn, that I’m actually monolingual and in fact, most of the English teachers I know are also monolingual. This might seem strange and it is certainly something I would never freely admit to a student – “Hello, I only speak one language, I have no idea what you are going through”. This wouldn’t be a good or helpful introduction and definitely not the right way to make a good impression. But sadly its true. Most of my English teacher friends have been living in the Middle East for years and years and can’t even put a single sentence together.

 

It is not entirely our fault, however. I don’t want you to think, that we are making excuses, but if you work and make all your money and do all your socializing in English, it makes it remarkably difficult to acquire a new one. But recently, I have tried. It is by no means my first attempt. I studied German in school and after 6 years, I could just about manage to ask for the bathroom. I tried learning French, with a very attractive teacher. But the moment I figured out he spoke English, we stopped the classes and started dating…… I moved to Spain for 2 years. I took weekly free lessons which we included in my company for all the international employees. I tried a lot at first, but I saw I wasn’t making progress, I lost motivation. That’s why, I think motivation is so important. Even if, my students make lots of mistakes, I always make them feel like they are progressing so they stay motivated.

 

No, I’ve been in Paris for 4 months and it looks like I’m going to be hear for a while, so I figure I better try and make an effort. It’s kind of similar to English. I mean, it’s not Russian or Chinese, so that’s a big plus. I’ve also attempted it before, so I thought, maybe some of that will come flooding back to me ( even though that wasn’t very much to begin with). I signed up for a school (really similar set-up to the one I work in) and begin weekly morning classes.

 

As a teacher, I never had anything to do with the money that students paid. I knew it was a lot but that was all dealt with in the office, not the classroom. Now that I signed up for lesson and saw that the teacher was quite young and not very experienced, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my money. It was truly a remarkable experience to be on the other side of the classroom. She was a Parisian teacher so that was a plus. The major downside was that everyone in the room was a native English speaker. I’ve spent years telling people, don’t go to London to lean English. It’s too international, you will just meet people from your own country or people that speak your language and you won’t learn as quickly as you would, if you went to a smaller English town. But here I was.

 

I was old enough to be everyone’s mother, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I couldn’t believe all the Americans that had come specifically to Paris, in large groups to learn French. “It’s just not going to happen, people”- I wanted to scream from the top of my voice. But I didn’t I just took out my pen and followed the lesson. It was very grammar orientated which is quite different from my classes but I suppose it is important to know the grammar. I’ve just always found it difficult to make it interesting when I teach it.

 

I was impressed that I could follow virtually everything the teacher was saying. Of course, I know she was speaking a lot slower than normal. I do that too when I have a class of beginner students. But like every other attempts, about two weeks ago, I gave up.

 

The classes are not like my classes. And that might sounds arrogant to say, but I know what I don’t like and being almost double the age of everyone else, I felt uncomfortable. Another failed attempt, I thought to myself. All that money, wasted on a fancy school in the middle of the Latin Quarter. I had signed up for one month and I gave it three weeks. And this was the same day that my metro card mysterious stopped working and I had to ask the man why this had happened and if I could have another one. He tried to tell me that my metro card and finished and that I needed to buy a new one. But I knew that wasn’t the case. What could have been a simply exchange of two or three sentences turned into a bit of an argument and a delay on my why home. My confidence was knocked even further.

 

They say, that the French don’t like to speak English but that’s not true . The French and Parisians are lovely people and in my opinion when it comes to language, they have a reputation that I simply don’t think they deserve. No one would ever refuse to speak a language. They can either speak it or they can’t, and it is true that the level of English might shock you a bit. Ok, it’s not as bad as people make out – Paris is an international city and (well known fact) it is the number 1 tourist destination in the world. So, if you’re planning on staying in a hotel and seeing the sights for a couple of days, then everything is fine. From the waiter, to the hotel staff, to the tour guide – everyone will speak English and understand you. But if you stay a little bit longer or if you’re like me and you actually plan to live here, then yes, you need to learn French. The level of English is not as good as say Berlin, Stockholm or Amsterdam. French is a world language and it’s international status is not challenged or under threat based on it’s ability to speak English.

 

SO the moral of the story is that you better start learning. A large part of Parisian daily life will be unavailable to you, if you don’t speak this language. And of course, like every other city on the planet, if you some words in the local language and don’t immediately just launch into English, they will appreciate it.

 

But I digress somewhat on what I wanted to talk about ( a problem that happens in a lot of my classes as well). There is a whole world of people in Paris who want to learn English and if you really want to speak French but you hate classrooms or you’re not willing to pay rocket money for classes then try and find a language exchange. I ‘m not great with online stuff and I just started blogging and writing blog posts in the last couple of years, so if you’re like me, you might not know that such platforms and sites exist. My friend pointed it out to me, when I was just about to lose hope and walk around with a pocket translator.

 

Couchsurfing.com is the best one in Paris in my opinion. I thought this was simply just a free version of Airbnb and I have heard of it before but I never logged on to it, because frankly it was really my thing. I didn’t realize it is also home to thousands of events across the globe. Every day in Paris there are so many different things happening and virtually all of them are free. The energy of couchsurfing is very & “meet and greet” and chilled out, so the people are all really friendly. Ok, I’ve only been to three meetings but I was sold within the first 20 minutes of my first meeting. I’ve only been to the language events but there are other events.

 

Once people found out, I was an English teacher, all the local people wanted to talk to me to improve their English and once they saw that I was helping them a lot, they switched and started teaching my the basics. I honestly can’t praise it enough. And how much does it cost? Nothing, Rein, Nada. And you can drink a nice class of wine and because its in a bar, it’s more relaxed.

 

Another great site is MeetUp. It’s much more dynamic and has all kinds of different events. I tried a language exchange on that site and it was great fun. Based on my own personal experience, I preferred couchsurfing because people also wanted to help me and well as speak English but in the MeetUp crowd, I felt myself talking a lot of English and eventually saying (more than once) “ hey can we try a bit of French for 5 or 10 minutes.. you’re basically getting a free English class here”. Of course, it was all friendly and lovely and I’m definitely going to give it another shot. It’s just my opinion but so far Couchsurfing is winning. So the real point of this post ( and I totally shouldn’t be saying this because I’m an English teacher ) is, forget the expensive classes and do a language exchange. You have nothing to lost because it’s completely free and if you click with someone you might save a lot of money and their local so you get a free tour guide included.

 

Go and search and learn.

Cycle Free and Explore

velib

 

Almost every major city across Europe now has one, but like almost everything else, the movement, apparently started in Paris. Home to so many cultural institutions, artistic innovation and important historic events, Paris has given the world so much. But this post isn’t about what you would expect. I confess, I’m not much of an art lover. Well, I think it’s great but its not exactly why thing. I’m much more of an outdoors person and I was happy to discover the Paris was the first city to spearhead the free bicycle movement.

 

Home to the finish line of the most famous bike race in the world, the city also has a dedicated bike festival every June. According to my sources (Wikipedia and my Parisian friends), Paris was the first city to introduce public bicycles scattered across the city for everyone to use as a mode of transport. And no one could have predicted how popular it would have become.

 

How exactly does it work?

 

Ok, so there are literally hundreds of bike stations across the city. As you would expect, most of them are in the city centre. They are available for 24 hours or even for 7 days, if you plan to stay in the city for longer. If you want even longer you can sign up for a subscription. You can purchase the service online or at any of the bike stations. Instructions are available in English and if you get really stuck or you have a problem with your bike or membership there is even a dedicated English speaking customer service team and an English language website.

 

Oh, how silly of me, to forget. In case it wasn’t obvious the name of this blog post, Velo Libre, is the name of the service, just in case you want to Google it. The first 30 minutes of every journey are completely free, libre (free in French). So if you are planning a short vacation to Paris, this is a great idea. You get all the necessary exercise you need, so there no need to feel guilty about eating all that cheese or drinking all the wine. But remember, don’t drink and cycle, you could hurt not only yourself but others around you.

 

While other cities have followed suit and copied this system, the Parisian version still remains the best one, in my opinion. Barcelona has a great service but its not for tourists, you need to have a tax number to avail of the service. London has a similar service but honestly, despite the cities best efforts, the city centre is not bicycle friendly. I live there and cycling around the centre is great, but Zone 1, just isn’t as a well designed for bikes as Paris. Amsterdam, the great bike city of Europe, its amazing for bikes but everyone already owns one, so there is no really need for a service with this many bicycles. Thank Velo Libre, for helped me burn the calories and seeing the city in a new way.

Eat, Pray, Blog

coffee

 

am one of those lucky people who gets to travel as part of their job. At least twice a month, a meeting, conference, interview, or some problematic situation takes my to some of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities. I have a favorite and it’s Paris. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, there is always something really cool happening there. It helps if you know your way around the city because like everywhere else in the world, if there are a lot of tourists there are a lot of traps. I know, technically speaking I’m not a tourist, I’m there working but still, I don’t know my way around and I’m only there a short time for each visit. Thats why I use the internet to help me.

Blogging and user generated content has really changed my traveling experiences. Now, with just a couple of clicks, I can find good exhibitions that I’m actually interested in by reading the reviews of likeminded people and most importantly where to eat. That’s the reason for my post today. Reading restaurant reviews has helped me to make informed decisions about where to spend my hard earned cash. I sometimes don’t trust people in hotels, especially in big chains because I always suspect they have some agreement with a local restaurant and they simply just ship the guests in, by the bus load. I prefer to rent an apartment because I like to be by myself. It has nothing to do with wanting the use the kitchen. I hate cooking and if I can avoid even making something as simple as a sandwich, I will. I eat out all the time, that’s why reviews are so important for me, because if I’m not a local, I don’t know where to go. And I would never trust a guide book (does anyone trust them anymore). But here’s one thing I noticed and you should notice too, stay away from the big tourist information sites – you know the ones I mean. The sites that have user reviews for hotels, cities, monuments, sites, and restaurants. I think, it fact, I’m pretty sure that I lot of these are fake and are actually the company writing this about themselves. There’s no way of checking, but a lot of the reviews just don’t sounds like real people. If they sing the praises of the restaurant too much, it probably is not a real review. Remember, just because its online doesn’t mean its real.

 

So what do I use instead? Timeout is great – but make sure you read the reviews by users. Other Parisian based sities with good user reviews include – Paris by mouth and Parisianist. I use them a lot for all things food related. Enjoy, read the reviews and eat, eat ,eat.

 

Je voudrais un Big-mac… Now please!

burger

Warning this blog post may massively offend French people and especially people from Paris. I decided to write a post all about food. I’ve lived in Paris for two years and the food is just wonderful. But I’m not talking about French food. I do think French food is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It’s one of the best cuisines in the world and some dishes are beautifully complex. But there are probably over a million blogs and articles dedicated to the task of telling everyone how wonderful the food in Paris is. But if you are a bit like me, you guys probably will get a bit sick of the change and want some old fashioned American food.

 

First of all, if you feel this way, don’t feel guilty. It happens to the best of us. Just because I get a craving for stuffed potato skins or a pumpkin pie doesn’t mean I hate French food and it doesn’t mean that I’m turning my nose up at it either. It just means, there is a little part of me that misses my home and I wanna have a part of that … on a plate. After you have killed the guilt, you need to embrace the pride. If you say you are craving American food to some Europeans, they will literally expect you to either run into a movie theatre and demand popcorn or attempt to find the nearest McDonalds. We have good food and ok, it’s definitely not as respected worldwide as French or Italian food but we need to have some pride in our food. My country’s cuisine is not exclusively defined by fast food. So with this in mind, I decided to write a blog about my favorite American eatery.

 

The place I like to eat at, is called Breakfast in American (easy name, right). And it’s actually so good, that there’s two of them. I just discovered that recently when I was wandering the streets of Paris and found it. Both are pretty much the same. The one I generally go to is in 17 Rue des Écoles that’s in the 4th district of Paris. A nice area and pretty touristy and international so its possible you will be in the area anyway, either to sightsee or because you’ve rented a luxury apartment or a nice hotel room. Think of this place as a cross between a New York diner and a trendy Brooklyn brunch cafe. There are also many more great places dotted around the city, such as Ralphs in the 6th district or Joe Allen in the first district and many many more. Eat with pride my fellow tourists and never let your cravings make you feel guilty. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to have a peanut butter sandwich and an Oreo milkshake.

Summer Reading

reading

As the peak Summer season draws ever closer, we are all getting prepared for our summer vacations. For some people this will involve months and months at the gym, as they work tirelessly to get into shape and get the beach body they’ve always dreamed of. For other people, it’s about getting all the accessories, the clothes, the glasses, the bags, the right suitcases ( because you really need to separate yourself from everyone else at the baggage collection point). Other types of people, who are better than I am, might even try to learn the local language and pick up some facts or general knowledge about the area. What a great idea, but not something I will be doing. I believe in relaxing during my holiday time. For me the preparation begins and ends with one thing – a good book.

If you have a wander around your local high street now, you’ll find every window display is full of ideas and suggestions for novels and stories you should take with you on your vacation. For me, it is so important to sit back and relax and get into a good story. Every summer, I rent a apartment for a couple of days in central Paris and spend a considerable period of time, reading outside a cafe, while sipping my coffee, or reading in a beautiful local park, or my personal favorite, on the balcony of my apartment in the morning and just after sunset.

I’m a pretty slow reader. A book of about 500 pages can take me well over a week to finish. I know some people, who love reading like me, can literally finish a book in 24 hours or even less if the story is that compelling. So I decided to write this post for all the tourists out there, who spend ages choosing their summer read and then finish it in rapid time and don’t know where to get another one.

Paris actually has a lot of English language bookshops. The vast majority of them can be found in the centre. Ok, it’s true, a lot of the iconic bookshops have disappeared and this is a terrible shame. It seems like a difficult business to try and create an independent book shop exclusively selling books in English in the heart of Paris. But there are still many options available, even if they are slightly on the more commercial side of things. For me, WHS is always nearby. It’s on the same street as the Louvre, so you will definitely be in the area (number 248). It’s also great for English and American newspapers, so you can catch up on the latest news, if you don’t have a T.V in your apartment. Another great option is Shakespeare and Company ( no connection to the man himself) Just across the river in the 6th, this place has a better stock and is less commercial than WHS, so you can spend some time here and get lost in the titles. So much better than ordering online and a great way to spend an afternoon.