The Day of Judgement and …… Wine…

 

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2016 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Judgement of Paris. This event can sometimes pass Paris by without some local people noticing, which is quite a shame. This year, I attended the event for the 3rd time and was very impressed with the selection, organisation and products on offer.

 

If you know anything about Greek history, then the title might be familiar. But it might also confuse you. The Judgement of Paris originally refers to Paris the character in Ancient Greek mythology and tells the story of who he thought was the most beautiful goddess in the skies. Sadly, the city of Paris didn’t even exist at this time. The event I attended had nothing to do with Greek legends but actually has nothing to do with Paris either. I absolutely love the title of the event. I think it’s clever while also being mysterious. The Judgement of Paris, is a wine competion. And it’s quite a good one.

 

The event was first held in 1976 and has been held every year since in Paris. So why do I say, it has nothing to do with Paris. Well, the wine isn’t French. Is this perhaps the reason why it was so overlooked? Who knows. The event started as a test. Some of the best French wine experts where invited to be blindfolded and try 12 American wines from various wine producing regions of California and three French wines. The experts had to pick their favourite. It was a test of both white and red wines. Many of the experts selected the American ones as being the best.

 

It might sounds like a pretty simple event but 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of when American wine was finally given the acknowledgment that it deserved and was considered to be among the best top quality wine producers in the world. This is a position that it still fights for today. Before the 1970’s it was considered that only wine made in France was good quality or could be considered the best wine in any context. The Judgement of Paris knocked this concept on its head but also represented a shared interest in producing high quality wines in different locations across the world. Prior the 1970’s, American wine was almost exclusively sold in the US and it was very difficult to export it. Not for practical reasons but for marketing and branding reasons. It wasn’t considered very good and no one really wanted it. After the Judgement of Paris, emerging markets for wine producers started to come out of the woodwork. South Africa and Argentina in particular have since established huge fan bases in Europe and in other places.

 

Wine can make you very happy, we all know that. But it can also break down some barriers. It’s interesing to note that this event was started by an English man and his wife who was an American woman. At the time, in 1976, the French press was invited but they didn’t attend. Probably considering it not to be a worthy event. Fortuntatly for everyone, they were wrong.

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.