Lady Liberty

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A recent walk along the Seine, I noticed a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Yes, a replica. That’s what  I thought and that’s what I said to my French friend when she looked at me in a facial expression that was a delicate mix of horror and humor. “This is the original one. The one in your country is a replica”, she replied. Was this something I was suppose to know? I must have missed it in history class.

 

Walking along the Seine, about 30 miss after the Eiffel Tower, away from the centre, you’ll find a smaller “version” of New York’s most iconic statue. I know the story behind the Statue of Liberty. It was given by the French to the U.S as a gift to celebrate American Independence. I think this is common knowledge in the U.S but I didn’t realize that our  American one was the real replica.

 

I did a little bit of internet research and all I can say it God bless the internet, because although the iconic statue was given the U.S in 1886, the one I was looking at was actually a replica. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting and to accidentally stumble upon it, without knowing about it was a real surprise indeed. But it was created after the New York one.

 

The nearest metro station is Javal, and the statue is on a tiny island on the Seine river. You just have to walk across the Pont de Grenelle. It’s pretty cool.

 

But the reason I wanted to write this post was because I actually found the “original” Statue of Liberty and she really is in Paris. It was constructed by Frederic Bartholdi. Before he made the absolutely massive one, he made a smaller one, 6ft in height and also constructed in bronze. My guide book told me I would find it in the Jardin du Luxembourg and beside her is a memorium to the 9/11 attacks in New York. When I went to look for her, she was gone. The plaque is still there but no statue. With no French, I didn’t know how to ask where it was.

 

Luckily, the very next day, while I was checking out the Musee des Arts et Metiers, I found her. Right outside. It was the second time in a few days, I stumbled upon the design. Apparently, there are a few other examples or replicas of the statue scattered across Paris and copies of the design can be found in places as far off as Beijing, Ireland and even our beloved Las Vegas, which pretty much has a copy of everything.

 

So I guess the moral of this story is too not believe everything you are told and see for yourself. Paris will surprise you everytime.

 

 

Bye Bye 2016

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As the end of 2016 is over, it’s been a great year for theatre in the French capital. I decided to write about some of my personal highlights.  I think this blog and lot of others need to talk a bit more about the art form of theatre. Some say, it’s a dying art and I find that when I go outside large cities, I am sometimes forced to agree. But 2016 in Paris was a great year to highlight good theatre in Paris.

I know that this is predominantly a tourist blog and theatre is an art form that doesn’t really translate well. I’ve always been jealous of my musician friends who can transport their art everywhere and I can never do the same with theatre. The first thing that is important to know, is that not all theatre contains words, or sometimes they only contain very few words. So, if you’re put off by the idea of loads of dialogue and you sitting in a chair not being able to understand a word, remember, that may not be the case.

Secondly, Paris has a good English theatre scene. Some amateur projects are still developing but every so often you get major shows that decide to do performances in English. This year the British productions of Oliver Twist and Mary Poppins were added to a growing list of West-End shows here.

But the best news for English theatre fans was the announcement of our own dedicated theatre festival. The festival happened in May for 4 days and was very exciting. The name is Festival International de Theatre Anglais or simply Paris Fringe in English.  A similar atmosphere to what can be found in Edinburgh at the world-famous Fringe Theatre Festival. The events in Paris were also fringe. The benefit of this, is that fringe theatre is more accessible to people as it tends to be considerably cheaper that mainstream (West-End, Broadway) theatre and the venues are also less formal and thus it attracts a younger more diverse audience.

I feel confident that 2017 is going to be an even better year than 2016 (which to date, has seen marvellous breakthroughs in the English theatre scene). The best place to find out about these events is through TimeOut, but it’s important to know that TimeOut normally don’t review or advertise shows that only have a limited run or a limited budget. I find the best way to get in the loop is actually through Couch Surfing. Don’t worry, you won’t have to give your sofa up, if you don’t want to. But it’s got an events page and it’s really good and most of the stuff is in English. Music and comedy are also to be found there. Eventbrite is also a great platform to find out what’s going on. You can use location and language settings to find stuff that’s near you and affordable.

In Praise of…Cinema

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So, this is my third trip to Paris and I’m staying for the entire month of December. My sister lives here and I try and visit as often as I can, but sadly haven’t made any friends of my own. Well, maybe that’s lie, I do try but as my sister would say, “I could make more of an effort”. I never really identified with Paris. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I think it would be absolutely impossible to walk around these streets and think to yourself, this is boring or this is ugly. You would to be a bit of an idiot to think that. But there was always something that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it just didn’t seem to “fit” me. I’m not a massive fan of museums and I know that might make me seem a bit stupid, but it’s the truth and I’m not a huge fan of history either.

“This King built this. This Queen built this. OK. OK”. My country has Kings and Queens too, but I was never really bothered about what they built. At first, I thought it was my sisters fault. Maybe it was her friends or maybe I was jealous. I certainly wouldn’t have been the first time, I felt a little jealously. But I don’t think it was that.

It is so silly, that if you don’t like something that everyone likes, you think there is something wrong with you. You never think that you are just an individual. Well, I certainly didn’t. How can anyone not love Paris. Now, I could just end the story there and it would be a very negative piece but I wanted this to be a positive one.

A recent trip to the cinema would become the first in a series of events, that would slowly change my mind and help me to see the city in a different light. We saw a movie called Angel.A (If you do a Google search, make sure you don’t put Angela because you will be searching for quite a while). I don’t know if you have heard of it. It’s not a new movie at all. I think it is over 10 years old (2005). It’s all set in Paris but the cinematography is simply stunning. It’s shot all in black and white, from director Luc Besson (he’s the legend behind such iconic movies like the 5th Element)

This cinema trip got me thinking. We left the cinema and walked home. I don’t think it happened that night but I started to look at the city a bit differently and then something really important dawned on me. I was seeing Paris through a completely traditional, generic, iconic tourist lens. As the most visited city on Earth, you can imagine that monuments and streets are filmed a lot. I ‘m not sure if I can put the idea into words effectively but when you visit the city, it is hard to escape the stereotype image. You’ve seen it since you were a child and now you’re actually in the city, it’s hard to get rid of it. Let me see, if I can give you a good example.

Take Woody Allen, the iconic American director. When he makes films in New York, he makes them look completely unique. He shows scenes and parts of the city, that really make you feel like it’s a real place. He clearly identifies with this city and sees it as a native. Now, compare that to his recent movie Midnight in Paris. It was a good movie, right? I enjoyed it, a lot. But the scenes are all shot like a generic postcard. The typical, standard image of Parisian streets and Parisian life that every non-Parisian director shows in their movies. The uniqueness and realness, is gone.

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To put it really simply, I’m happy I’ve discovered movies set in Paris by Parisians because they have helped me to see the city in a different light and it’s a great pastime to see the most photographed city, look dark, gritty, and real. I’m a big movie fan and the risk of sounding like a complete idiot (I suppose I’ve already admitted to not liking museums), I don’t really watch a lot of non-English movies. I just used to like movies as a way to relax and sink into a story and I didn’t want to be forced to read but my opinion is now changing.

For the record, the movie Angel. A, is ok. It’s fun to watch and it’s shot in a very artistic way, but I wouldn’t go running back to see it a second time. But with that in mind, I wanted to write this post about some other movies I’ve since watched which I think showcase Paris in a real and cool way.

Diva.

This is a cool movie but only really known to movie buffs outside of Paris. A love story, mixed with crime and gangsters and of course, art. A great score helps you sink into the gun shooting and car chases around the ring roads of Paris, in the 1980’s. The one image, I remember really well is the fashion. It was so 80’s, it’s kind of comical. Definitely worth a watch. I was fortunate the see a rather strange version of this movie. The “Diva” character refers to an opera singer and a lot of the movie is set in an opera house. I saw it an opera house with a live score with about 50 different musicians. I think the company was called Secret Cinema Paris. A little more expensive than your regular trip to the cinema but if you’re a cinema buff like me, it’s worth it.

 

The Dreamers.

 

It’s in English, so don’t worry no subtitles ( well, I think there is a bit of subtitles). It’s in 1968, a time of cultural revolution and this movie captures the energy of the Parisian streets beautifully. The “Bande de Parte” scene has become risen to semi cult status as the main trio in the movie attempt a world record by running from one side of the Louvre to the other. It’s definitely the most unique way for a movie to highlight the most popular museum in the world. The film celebrates a love of cinema and focuses on a homage to 1960’s Parisian cinema ( which is perhaps why I like so much). The movie was actually made in the 1990’s and it’s not a Parisian director (it’s an Italian one. Shhhhh).

 

La Haine.

A word of warning, this will probably not make you want to visit the city but it is an awesome film and its very honest. Set in the suburbs of Paris, it presents a very different type of city, far removed from the romance of the Eiffel Tower. This is crime, gritty, gangster greyness but you will feel like you are watching something authentic and not out of a postcard. But unlike famous Parisian movies like Amelie (which interestingly, was much more successful internationally than domestically), you probably won’t want to visit all the places where it was set. But although violent, it also celebrates a love of film. But obviously in a totally different way that The Dreamers.  And rather than focusing on the standard escapist ideas typically associated with Paris, the movie talks about segregation and multiculturalism in a modern European city.

 

 

Les Enfants du Paradis

Iconic and a true masterpiece of cinema, if you’ve already heard of this movie then you can consider yourself a cultured movie lover. It’s long been considered a classic by French and International movie critics. One of the few movies to be made in Paris during the Second World War, the film was released between 1943 and 1945. It’s in black and white, but that only adds to the magic of the movie. I’ve often thought that colour is perceived to add a lot to a story but this romantic love story is a fine example of how minimalism (sometimes) is all you need and if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Expect to see a lot of streets from the 3rd and 11th districts of Paris but do remember to use your imagination, just a little bit. The film is actually set in the 1880’s. But don’t let that worry you too much, the idea here is to see and feel the city in a different light and get a good energy for the place. So, yes, it is unlikely that you will watch this movie and then do a tour of the city and retrace the scenes (it’s not exactly Harry Potter) but take my word for it, you will be surprised when you see just how much you recognise. And you can’t help but not be moved by the movie

 

Weekend

You may have heard of this one. I had to study it in school. Made in 1967, it’s director is the famous Jean Luc Godard. They say in France, when you talk about cinema, there is before Godard and after Godard. So, he’s a pretty important director. This is probably not his most important or celebrated work but it’s definitely my favourite. The movie is basically about people who want to get away from Paris for the weekend. I’ll say no more than that and just tell you to watch it. Needless to say, weekend traffic, with cars filled with people trying to leave Paris is famous, in no small part because of this movie.

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So, there you have 5. I thought about adding number 6 or number 7 but they seemed like strange numbers to finish on and I sense if I went all the way to 10, you might forget some of them. Or the blog post could accidentally turn into the beginning of a novel. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I tried to pick quite a varied range and I think it did that. We’ve got modern, then we have 1990’s and then the 1980’s and the 1960’s followed by the 1940’s. I figured that any of the majorly successfully ones in the last 10 years, you would already know, such as La Vie en Rose and Amelie (as I mentioned above).

I guess the overall conclusion, is that French cinema is amazing and there is so much more to Paris then the beautiful lights lining the Seine or the wonderful view from the Eiffel Tower. We’ve grown up with those images. They are embedded in our brain because that’s how adverts and movie directors choose to shot this city. But there are so many out there that choose to break the mould. Go find them, go watch them and then, best of all, go explore the city.

Xmas French Style

A quick search on Wikipedia, or a couple of glasses of wine with your European friends and you’ll quickly realise that not everyone celebrates Christmas, exactly the same way. This was not new information for me. Like all aspects of culture, of course there has to be variations but I didn’t know quite how much.

Santa Claus is red because of Coca Cola. Yes, this I knew but I was surprised and sad when I found out (a couple of years ago,). Christmas day is actually on the 15th of December in Holland and rather than coming from the North Pole, Santa is Spanish. That’s right, Spanish. He comes to Holland on a boat and gives the good kids oranges and steals the bad kids. I’m happy with our Anglo traditions. It would seem that we took the scarier Dutch version and made a happier, more magical version.

But what about France?

Well, they do a lot of stuff like us in Britain.  Most of their traditions come from Germany and Austria. They put Christmas trees in their houses. Originally they were decorated with apples and pears and other kinds of fruit but from the 1830’s they became nationally popular (I think this was a little bit before Britain, as it was during the reign of Queen Victoria when this happened in the UK).

Virtually every town has a Christmas market with the city of Strasbourg claiming to the have the oldest. Most of the large ones in Paris are open every day of the week. In the smaller towns or the Parisian suburbs, you can expect them to only be open during the weekend.

I suppose the major difference, is the 24th of December. It’s still regarded as a Christmas Eve and the 25th is Christmas Day, but the 24th seems to be more important. The French sit down for a dinner on the evening of the 24th, whereas we tend to have our Christmas feast the next day. This dinner is probably the most important dinner of the year and can sometimes last up to 6 hours long, with some delicious food.

Santa Claus comes on the same day as the UK and smaller children put out their Christmas stocking but older children and adults tend to open their presents on the 24th of December at midnight.

Mass is still an important part of Christmas in France. Although, fewer and fewer people are religious, the Christmas holidays do tend to draw in the crowds, particularly for the carol singing. Whether you are religious or not, if you are celebrating Christmas in France this year, you should check out your local church.

Finally, the food. It is pretty similar to what we eat. Turkey is a popular option although, I like to also cook Goose on some alternating years. Foie gras, an expensive type of liver pate is also popular and don’t forget to try Buche de Noel.

Culture for the Winter

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One of the main events this winter is the Festival d’Automne 2016. I decided to also write a blog entry about this festival as there is just too much to say about it. This is one of my favourite Parisian festivals and one that appeals to locals. So, if you are a tourist to the city, checking this festival out if a great way to get off the beaten track and see some ground-breaking art with other Parisians.

Literally translated into English, it means the Autumn Festival. It has been going strong since 1972. In that year, it was created by Michael Guy. Not a local of Paris, Guy lived in Paris until his death in 1990 and has made a massive impact on the cultural scene in Paris. The event combines over 40 events every year and runs from September to December. Quite a long time, right? So, if you are only visiting for a short time, you will probably have an opportunity to see something.

While the event has been increasing in popularity, it has successfully managed to avoid the perils of commercialism and overexposure and continues to promote breakthrough artists. In terms of events, most of them tend to be more on the experimental side of things, so if you feel that you probably don’t have an artistic flair, do your research online and find an event that suits you otherwise you could risk showing up to an event, that you simply don’t get. That sounds like a fun me but I can see why that wouldn’t be for everyone.

So apart from experimental, how else would we describe the events at Festival d’Automne? Well, it’s a mix of visual arts, performance, dance, theatre and even music. The music aspect is generally mixed with another type of art such as visual. This year this is a record breaking 47 venues across Paris and even in the suburbs and surrounding towns. That’s something that is important to note – not all the events are in central Paris and not all events are accessible via metro. So, if you see an event that you like, remember it might be quite far away. But probably worth it.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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Stars are born and stars die every die of the year, but I wanted to share with you the story about one star, that was born in November. You may not know the name of this star and that’s ok. I don’t expect you to. But you will know quite a lot when you finish reading this. On the 24th of November in 1864 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born. Known locally as simply Toulouse, his fully name of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, is a bit too wordy to regularly use.

 

This man was not born in Paris; he did not die in Paris and he is not buried in Paris. So why then is he important to Paris? Good question and the truth is, he is so important to Paris. Toulouse was a painter and a great lover of art. His sketches and drawings now currently hang on the walls of some of the most famous and celebrated museums in the world. From New York to Sydney to London, he is there. But often overlooked and that’s why I wanted to talk about him. His involvement and love of Paris, has shaped what we think about the city and many of the cities iconic buildings, were the subjects of his work.

 

Toulouse belonged the artistic group called Post-Modern. The most famous painter (from the same region) around this time was perhaps Cezanne, who I am sure you have heard of. Reading about this personal life, he is the embodiment of a rags to riches story and although he never rose to the fame and wealthy of some of his counterparts in the same industry, Toulouse did enjoy success, but perhaps a bit too much. His lifestyle is also that of a typical story. Consumed with the pursuit of pleasure and dying a tragic and untimely manner he is the iconic idea of a Parisian artist and for me that is one of the reasons why I find him so appealing.

 

Of course, the most important thing about him, is the subjects and point of his painting. Beautiful and technically perfect, just by looking at them, they scream Paris and offer us a great opportunity into the life of the city at that time. In a similar fashion that Oscar Wilde embodies the excess and humour of the Victorian age through theatre, Toulouse does the same, through painting. He may be an unknown to you or perhaps you have heard of him, but one thing is very certain. In his death, he has become one of the most successful and considered to be one of the best. Recently one of his painting sold in New York for a record breaking 22 million dollars.

 

So, have a look out for this Parisian icon that next time you find yourself in an art museum or better yet, just Google his work now. You will very quickly understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Parlez-vous what now…..!

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Looking through this blog there has been a lot of good entries which relate to language and the best way to learn French. As you already know, if you are just coming for a few days or a long weekend, a simple phrasebook and “please” and “thank you” should be all you need. But many people are a bit more serious about the language and some even come to Paris specifically to study. I’ve worked as a French teacher and there are some points and useful tips that I wanted to share with you, to try and help you achieve you goals of being a fluent (or at the very least, a good) French speaker.

 

Thinking of study French in Paris?

First, there are positive and negative aspects of this decision. The negative ones may be immediately apparent. As the capital of France, Paris is the most expensive city in the country and one of the most expensive cities in the world. French language schools are no exception. In some cases, that can cost double of other schools located in very rural areas but essentially offering the same service.

Statically, Paris the most visited city in the world in terms of tourism. Many view this as a positive thing because it makes the city more cultural dynamic but it also means that you can English, all over the city centre. Despite what you may have read about Parisians, we do speak English and we don’t mind speaking English but if you’re objective is to learn French as quickly as possible, then remember that it you should try and be in a completely French speaking environment. This can be sometimes hard to find in Paris.

 

But the positive aspects are also quite clear. It’s Paris. Enough said. One of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the world. Another aspect that you may not be aware of, is the pronunciation. If you have already studied French in school or had some experience with a CD or an App, the voiceover was probably from Paris. You will probably learn that of all the French pronunciations in the country, Paris is the one that will come most familiar to you. This is very important if you are a false beginner (second time to start learning a language).

 

What’s the best way to learn?

 

Well, that is not an easy question and many linguists and teachers have written books and dedicated their life to answering that question. Based on my experience, the best way I can answer it, is simply by saying – it depends on the student. We all acquire knowledge in different ways, and we all have memories that work differently as well. I am here to talk about the conventional method of learning in a school.

For many years, it has been the only option that is available to students. Thankfully the internet has the boom of global travel has meant that there are now other options to learning that are slowly moving away from the traditional methods. Although this means les work for people like me, I’m happier because it means that more and more people can learning the language or at least interested in learning it.

Schools can be inflexible and quite expensive in comparison to other methods, but there are some very important benefits that a school can offer. Discipline is the first one that springs to mind. Online study is great because it puts you in control of your timetable but some recent studies show, students can be slower to progress using this method. Schools are also a great place to meet people and interact with French natives and students from around the world. Learning a language is not only about reading new word and memorising complex grammar rules. It’s also about talking and interacting directly with native people and understand and experiencing their culture. A school is a much better place to do this than an App on a phone or on a tablet.

 

When is the best time to go?

Unlike the question above, that’s an easy answer to that. Now. There has never been a better time to come to Paris and study. Winter is brilliant, as it’s quieter and in many cases a lot cheaper. School operate a little bit hotels. We have only a limited number of spaces in each classroom and a limited number of classrooms. When they are full, they are full. If the demand is high, then the price is high. So, just like a hotel or a hostel, when the rooms are full and the demand goes down, so does the price. The colder months also offer some of the best theatre experiences, art projects and exhibitions, so you can immerse yourself in the culture.

 

What are the best school?

When we talk about the best schools it is very important to identify, the needs of the student. These needs vary from student to student. But a non-exhaustive list of these needs would include, location, price, immersion, reputation and resources.

The location of the school is important. Choose it wisely. If you already have a place to stay in Paris or there is a region where you know you want to live, then you can simply search for your school based on your location. If you are serious about learning French in the best way possible, then it might be worth considering, doing it the other way around. Choose the school first and then the area. The less touristy, the area, the better. This means that when you go into the supermarket to buy some food or when you go to the local café to have a coffee you must speak French and English won’t serve you any good.

Price, for many, is perhaps the main determining factor when choosing a school. There is not a very big difference on the prices. The better the reputation, the higher the price. This is also the case for large language schools with a base in many countries. Examples of these schools, include International House and Berlitz. Both have several branches scattered across the city and both are considered to be high quality schools with a global base.

Immersion. So, what exactly does this mean? Well, it can mean two completely different things. Firstly, as we talked about in the location section, you want to make sure you immerse yourself in the language as much as possible. A valuable part of this, is the location of the school, but also the other students. Are all the other students from the U.S or the U.K. If that’s the case, you’re just going to speak in English the moment you leave the class room. On the other hand, having people that you can socialise with and make friends with, will ensure that you have a lot of fun and enjoy the learning experience. Like most things in life, it’s about finding a balance.

Resources is also an important factor. Although it sad to say it but it is true, a lot of school are simply in it for the business and tend to cut costs at almost every angle. You should do your research and read testimonies from previous students in order to understand exactly what the school has to offer. The more multimedia options they have, the better. Digital boards with computers and interactive activities, make learning so much more dynamic that the traditional pen and paper approach. This will ensure that you not only learn faster but that you also enjoy the classes.

 

What’s the next step?

Depending on what time of year you go, you almost never need to book in advance. So, if time allows, you can do the majority of your research in Paris. Some schools will even allow you to go in, walk around and explore and even sit in on a class to see if you like the environment and teaching method. Most of the larger, more international companies don’t permit this but some of the smaller ones do and it’s well worth asking.

The only time when demand seems to rocket, is during the summer months and also at Easter. If you are planning to study French at this time, it may be better to just book in advance. It would be awful, if you travelled all the way there only to be told that they were full.

Any alternatives to school?

Yes. There are alternatives to a school. I know a number of students who decided to hire a French teacher directly, for a one-2-one class. The obvious advantage of this, is that you get more special attention and you can practice, correct your mistakes and particularly your pronunciation much faster than a conventional class. The downside is that it can be considerably more expensive. Some of the most qualified and experience teachers charge up to E30 per hour. But if you shop around and find a teacher that may be simply trying to supplement their income, then it could work out mutually beneficial.

In my experience, this method works well only if you have some basic knowledge and are reasonably confident as a speaker. If you can’t really hold a basic conversation, then a one-2-one class will be too draining. Better to stay with classes.

 

What if I am a total beginner?

That’s no problem at all. Many people that come to the schools are complete beginners. But the advice I always give, if that you should buy a CD or book, or both a try and get the basics down on your own. By basics I’m talking about things like counting to 10, please and thank and of course, learning how to introduce yourself in a very basic fashion. Just having this little bit of knowledge before you attend your first French speaking class will give you a lot of confidence.

 

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you live the language. We Parisians have a reputation for not being friendly and I obviously don’t think that’s very well deserved. But if you try and glue together a few words, we will be very grateful and you will have a much better experience. Particularly at restaurants and if we figure out that you are trying to learn, you might find that whole city has become your school.

 

So, good luck, or bon chance, as we say here.

The Great Winter Read

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If you are planning to stay in Paris for more than a couple of weeks, its a great idea to register at your local library. Firstly, you can rent books to help you learn French ( I often used to rent children’s books as well, to practice my reading skills). They also have newspapers in English and other European languages and most of the good, large ones in the centre also have a wide selection of books in English. It’s a great way to save money. However, if you are not planning to stay around that long, it may not be worth your while. So instead, here is a list of some of the best English language book shops in the city.

 

The Abbey Bookshop – 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie

 

In the age of internet and the ebook, having a bookshop is no easy task. It is made considerably more difficult if you are not selling in the native language of the customers. This place, however has managed to avoid the same fate as many of its business partners and has been in business for over 20 years. It’s an iconic old bookstore run by a Canadian with a dedicated Canadian section. A great place to go if you are right in the centre of Paris.

 

Berkeley Books –  8 rue Casimir-Delavigne

 

This place has a modern feel to it and what it lacks in charm, it makes up in structure. It’s easy to find what your looking for and they also offer an exchange service. So, if you’re a bit of a book worm, you can just keep returning with a book and get a discount on the next one. A great place to go if you looking for a new release.

 

Galignani – 224 rue de Rivoli

 

An institution in Paris, this place has been around for a while. Apparently, it’s the oldest foreign bookshop in Paris, which is quite a claim but interesting. The interior of the building is remarkable and there is a small, cute little reading corner where you can chill and look out the window at the world going by. It’s not the cheapest of the bookshops in Paris but it’s well stocked.  A great place to come, if you want a lot of variety when choosing something to read.

 

These three places are the top picks but they are not the only English language bookshops in Paris – there are quite a few, although as stated above, there are not quite as many as there used to be and they really do need your support. Also, some of the largest French language bookshops often have an international section.

In search of Hip

streetfashion-hipsters-urbancowgirlvancouverwordpress

 

For the last couple of years now, journalists from across the world have trying to define what the word hipster means. In fact, since the origins of the word around 2009, it has slowly come to have quite a negative association with it. I’m not sure why. I’ve always thought of it as being cool and alternative… But maybe I’m alone in that idea. I’m not sure where the word came from or what it means but I know I like the style. Hippy meets vintage. Urban chic meets Granny’s wool sweater – I really like the clothes. Paris didn’t strike me as a cool place to get these things.

 

Ok, OK, I know, it’s the fashion capital of the world. But it’s a particular type of fashion that Paris is famous for. Like Milan, it’s all the high end designer chains that people like me, just can’t afford. I know they say the a good Chanel piece never goes out of style. I think that’s true, but that’s doesn’t mean that every age group can wear one. So where can we go? Well, until last week, I didn’t there were much options available but now I realize I was wrong. I thought that it was more of a London or Berlin thing, but it turns out that Paris has quite a cool underground, vintage clothes section as well. You just, maybe, have to look that bit harder to find it. As year goes by, more and more designers are bringing their designs here. Originally a flea market for furniture and house hold stuff – the market is evolving as the demographic of shoppers changes. It is still very much about bric-a-brak stuff but fashion is growing.

 

For me the best place is a market called St-Ouen. It’s not the only market of it’s kind but for me, it’s the best. It has a great energy to it and has so many different things on offer. It’s on every weekend and it claims to be the biggest flea market in the world (although that’s a claim, I’ve heard a lot of markets make) but that’s the reason it’s great. There are new, and second hand clothes on offer. You will need to spend the day or at least several hours rummaging through the place to get some really deals but they are there. The stalls selling clothes are always the busiest because they attract the tourist. Massive piece of advice – take your money out before you get there. As a marketplace, no one will take card and you can expect to have quite long lines at the cash machine. If you have some who speaks French, that will be all the better…. nothing says tourist like not being able to speak the language.

Weird and Wonderful Museums

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The weather is starting to push us in door. The days are getting a bit colder and a bit shorter. The parks are becoming empty and apart from a few hours in the morning or early afternoon, its not really possible to sit outside for long periods of time without moving. The terraces are starting to be less crowded and people tend to walk a bit faster along the street and they huddle inside their jackets and try to get to where they’re going. With all this migration indoors, I thought this would be a great time to talk about museums.

 

A museum is a great way to spend an afternoon, particularly if its raining. It has the sensation that you are being productive and as you look at the exhibitions or read the description, or just simply look at the art – there is a feeling that you are in the right place at the right time. It’s quite a disputed fact, but it has been said many times before, Paris is the museum capital of the world. Ok, London and New York are pretty good contenders as well. But Paris leads,  in my opinion, not because of the Louvre or D’Orsay but because of the ones that you don’t hear about. Museums are great, but frankly, given the option of seeing the  greatest works of art after waiting in line for several hours and being squeezed into a crowded corridor, I’d rather just go to the movies. But there are hundreds of museums, that you may not about. Some of them are quite specialist, but they don’t have the same crowds as some of the main ones.

 

Of course, this is not a blog post to suggest that the main museums are not worth visiting, far from it. But there is quite enough content about them and not as much about these museums. Of course when writing a blog post like this, it’s hard to choose which ones to right about. There are quite a few of them scattered across the city and with a luxury weekend away there probably wouldn’t be enough time to go and see all of them. Thus it becomes down to personal taste and as I’ve said above, some of these museums are quite specialist. I’ve included the ones that I think are not only the most interesting but  also the ones that highlight the diversity of this artistic city.

 

Vampire Museum.

 

A very fitting choice this time of years, this place does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s basically everything you want to know about vampires, from literature and folklore to popular culture. The museum is run by a vampire specialist and he really knows his stuff. You would expect a museum like this to be maybe in Romania where apparently the folklore began or perhaps in Ireland, where Bram Stoker was inspired to write his classic. But no, it’s here in Paris.

 

It’s not exactly your typical museum. It’s located in a house on a residential street and it takes about 15 mins by subway to get to it from the city centre. It includes some dark stories about Paris and delves ever so slightly into the realm of witchcraft as well. I was impressed by the collection and it is suitable for children, but it is rather informative and a labor of love for the owner. So while it is suitable for children in the sense that they won’t get scared. There is probably not a lot to interest them. Viewing time is by appointment only, so make sure you send an email before you go.

 

 

The Fairground Art Museum.

 

Well yes, as the name suggests, it is just that. As odd as it’s sounds. Spending just a few minutes here, you will feel transported to another place. Well, actually several other places. A friend brought me a couple of months ago and I didn’t even know the name of the place. It was kind of hard to define, until the name.

 

So basically a collector from the 1970’s started to collect things to help create playgrounds and fairgrounds from various different eras. He also started collecting toys are well. It’s a bit like a child’s toy museum as well and as my friend pointed out, the older you are the more you’ll remember and thus the more you will enjoy it. It’s also worth noting that it’s a great way to avoid the crowds. We went on a Monday afternoon and we were literally the only people there. Don’t expect to spend a too long there as it’s quite small. An hour was a sufficient for us. But also don’t run through it, allow yourself time to feel like you’re in the past. At the time of writing, the museum was open every day of the week.

 

 

Mr. Look’s Chinese House

 

Is a museum or is it a gallery? It’s hard to tell the difference. Originally it was a gallery, house and place of business. The place opened last year and received quite a lot of press attention in the local French media, but it passed by all the tourists. Now all the hype has died down, it is still a great place to visit to beat the crowds although technically it’s not a secret to the French. So what is it?

 

To put it simply, it’s a beautiful, elegant and typical large Chinese mansion…. in the middle of Paris. Mr. Loo was an art dealer and art collector. He loved his homeland of China and thus he built this building to live in, work and showcase the various pieces that he had from the Orient. Sadly after this death in the 1950’s, it closed and remained closed until last year when a number of private investors decided to repair the building and reopen it to the public. A very interesting way to spend an afternoon if you have an interest in art and decor and even if it all gets a bit too French for you. 5 minutes in this building and you will feel not only that you’ve stepped back in time but also that you are in China.

 

Sewer Museum.

 

I can honestly say, this was not top of my list of things to do in Paris and my friend deserves a medal for convincing me to go. I required some convincing. A luxury weekend away to Paris, one thinks about romantic dinners, river cruises and trips up the Eiffel Tower. I don’t like to be that cliche and I like to feel like I’m having a unique and tailored experience but wandering around a sewer in one of biggest cities in the world also wasn’t my idea of a luxury weekend away.

 

Firstly, it’s important to point out that you don’t actually walk through working sewers of Paris. Apart from being absolutely disgusting, that idea just wouldn’t work. There is nothing gross or unclean about this place and in an article about strange, unusual, secret or alternative museums, for me, this absolutely ranks in first place. I haven’t done my research but I’m pretty sure, this is the only sewer museum in the world. The sewers are rather unique in Paris and I found that I learned quite a lot from the tour, which lasts just over an hour. I don’t want to give too much away because all of the surprises are what really made this an exciting experience for me, so I don’t want to ruin that feeling for you. All that’s needed to say is – just go. It definitely isn’t boring.

 

Père Lachaise Cementary

 

It’s not technically a museum, but it’s old and there is a lot to see and a lot to learn – so there is a connection. It’s probably the most famous grave in all of France (definitely in all of Paris). It’s huge and it’s beautiful and this is a perfect time to visit it. With the trees becoming bare, it has a kind of haunting feeling to it and it’s not a place were most tourists go although some do. You won’t be alone here but almost nothing is in English, you can spend as long as you want and it’s completely free. Some of the most famous people in French history are buried here and a few very famous international names from the world of literature and the world of music. Look for a particular rock star’s grave which will probably be littered with bottles of Jim Bean whiskey. This is a funny yet tiresome problem for the people in charge of the graveyard. And, of course, the most famous resident, (in my opinion, anyway) Oscar Wilde. Get your lipstick ready because you’re supposed to kiss the grave with some on your lips.

 

My advice is to explore for yourself and get lost and wander around the names, but if there are particular names you are interested in visiting – you can get a map from a quick online search, or if you have the budget you can hire a guide and they will take you around and show you some famous name and tell you some interesting stories from people you’ve probably never heard of. But whatever way to decide to visit this important place, remember guys…. It’s a graveyard. Not everyone is a celebrity and although it’s nice to take pictures, there are loved ones and family members mourning the loss of some people here… so being quiet and bit respectful is always a good idea.

 

 

There are thousands more option for you to explore and even if these Top 5 of my pics don’t work for you, don’t be discouraged. The main sites are always worth a visit and my advice is– if it’s really famous there is probably a reason why. So, of course, enjoy your river cruise, climb the Eiffel Tower – it’s great. But there is something that’s quite to explain – that feeling, when you feel like you are doing something super cool that no one else is doing. It doesn’t exactly make you feel like a local but it does make you feel like you’ve figured things out a bit better than everyone else. And remember – this city will always surprise you.