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

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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.

Halloween is on the way….. Oh la la

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As the city starts to get darker and colder, October seems to be a creepy month. The last day of the month, being Halloween, of course. A city famed for its elegance and beauty, Paris like any other place, hidden in a dark past. For almost 2,000 years, people have been living on the banks of the River Seine. It has seen some great times and some truly horrible times. It has been the home of some truly momentous events and that’s what makes it so interesting. There are many historical tours available in central Paris and a lot of them are free ( well, they advertise as free, but you are expected to give something to the guide, if you enjoyed the tour). But there are only a few specialist tours that pop-up every now and then around the month of October which deal specifically with the dark, nasty, gruesome secrets that you most certainly won’t read about in places like the Louvre. Some operate all year long and those ones, tend to be the best.

 

Ok. So it’s a hard post to write about because I don’t want to actually tell you what you do. That would completely ruin the surprise but I can tell you that it’s educational, scary, shocking and funny. One fact, which I can tell you that I learned is about Napoleon. Our tour guide promised us that we would go to the place where the remains of the French Emperor were. Now, I thought about a grave, or an urn of something. A tomb maybe. A mausoleum perhaps… something a bit like the Taj Mahal. Little did I know that I was going to see some of Napoleon’s remains… Not all of them. His brain is apparently somewhere in Central Europe and even his private parts are in the United States ( a very rich and definitely rather odd American doctor purchased them in a private auction.. .what on Earth someone would want them for, is beyond me). So we only got to see some of this “remains” – we got grossed out and informed. It wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening.

 

The trick about these tours is knowing which companies are the good ones and even with that, knowing who the good guides are in the tour group. Afterall, a bad tour guide can completely ruin the evening. It’s not just about the information. Nowadays, we can get all the information we need online. We choose to do these tours because of the experience and meeting people. The ghost tours more than any other rely on the guide being theatrical. They have to help you to sink into the story and make you feel like you are there. One thing is for sure, when choosing your tour – don’t look at TripAdvisor. Anyone can write that and it’s hard to know if those reviews are real or not. Always try and get a recommendation or visit a tourist office. Or, if you are like me, go the day before and eavesdrop on the first minutes. I do that…. a lot.

 

 

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.

 

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.