25 June 2015

The Paris Diaries - Day Two

Have you seen day one of our adventures in Paris? If not, take a look now! 


On day two, we headed straight to the district of Montmartre (after I'd polished off my weight in croissants, naturally). 

If you've never visited, you must! It's a beautiful, vibrant area with an amazing history (if notorious cabarets, decapitated martyrs and tortured artists amaze you - if they don't, there's no impressing you). 

Word of advice: do remember your sensible shoes. Montmartre is essentially one rather large hill and full of picturesque cobbled streets. At the base of the hill is a slightly dodgy area, helpfully described to me as 'sleaze with trees'. Chiefly because it's all cabarets and sex shops, lightly showered by areas of green foliage. 

But, if you walk uphill for a couple of minutes, you'll come across a rather different sight. The Sacré Cœur, a huge, beautiful white church, resides at the summit of Montmartre. It's worth taking the couple of hundred steps to reach it (or there's a little cable train if you're feeling lazy) and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Pairs. 

And just behind the Sacré Cœur is the Artists' Quarter, which, given it's been home to the likes of Monet, Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh, is sort of a big deal. Nowadays you'll find a pretty cool market where artists (and they're very good artists) flog their wares and paint masterpieces right in front of you. There's also several artists wandering around who'll insist on sketching you, for a small fee. 

Even if you've never visited Montmartre, you're sure to have seen it in a film at some point. One of my favourite movies, Amélie, is set there - and the Cafe des Deux Moulins, where Amélie works, is a real cafe! Next time I visit, I intend to stop by for what will certainly be an over-priced beverage - but it'll be worth it for the Instagram snaps, right?

And I can't forget to mention the Moulin Rouge!, which you can visit (it's back in the sleaze with trees area, obviously). The building and general atmosphere is very different to how it appeared in the movie. Although, on the plus side, there's no consumptive showgirls wandering about.

Champs-Élysées, The Grand Palais & The Petit Palais

After Montmartre, we headed to the Champs-Élysées. Imagine Oxford Street, but three times as wide and ten times as attractive. It's almost my mothership.

As we strolled along Champs (as I'm going to call it), we spotted a lovely looking Italian restaurant called Le Carpaccio. Our rumbling bellies told us it was lunch o'clock and we wandered in. When the waiter held out my chair and I noticed how much fancy glassware and colour coordinated linen was on the table, I realised it was a little more upmarket than I'd anticipated. But the price was surprisingly reasonable and the food was delicious (although I regretted ordering the carbonara, it's heavenly but so hard to eat in great quantities). 

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but there was a moment when I opened the menu and thought 'oh my God. It's clicked. I can read French perfectly' before realising that it was, in fact, printed in English. D'oh. 

After lunch - and possibly a few more shops browsed - we fancied a spot o' culture. That morning, we'd glimpsed an advert for a modern art exhibition, American Icons, at the Grand Palais, and decided this was our next destination. Whilst modern art isn't my absolute favourite, I loved seeing the Warhol and Lichtenstein works up close! The tiled floors and metal constructions I probably could have skipped. But they did inspire some lively debates between Queenie and I. 

"But what does it mean!?"

Next, we popped across the road to the Petit Palais and caught some more traditional art: sculptures, huge paintings, vases... after two hours my feet were aching and my legs felt a bit like lead, so we headed to one of my favourite places - the pretty cafe tucked away in the museum's courtyard. If you head there yourself, don't forget to take a snap of the macaron pyramid! 

Dinner with Anna

After popping back to our hotel room to lie in a catatonic state of exhaustion for an hour, we grabbed the Metro to meet Queenie's friend for dinner in Bastille. She took us to a classic French restaurant - complete with the red canopy, tables on the pavement outside and delicious plates of food. 

It was lovely to meet Anna, who's lived in Paris for two years. She's now a fluent speaker, so it was great to have someone teach me the distinction between bon and bien and to banter with the waiter when he got a little bit sassy. 

I can't wait until I know enough French to start being sassy. #LifeGoals

After we finished eating, Anna took us on a little walking tour of Paris at it's finest hour. I'll refrain from waxing lyrical about how beautiful the city is at night, as I did that enough in the previous post!

We walked through the Bastille area, around a park called Place des Vosges, down Le Marais (I regret not visiting this rather lovely area in the daytime), past the Centre Pompidou and onto Notre Dame. 

As we walked through Le Marais, we learnt about the Bobo (Bourgeois-Boheme), which is basically the Parisian version of a hipster. I attempt to explain this in my vlog, but it's very very bad (hey, I'm a writer, not a talker). The general gist is, they're wealthy, left-wing and idealistic, and the inconsistency between their lifestyles and values makes them subject to a spot of ridicule. They like cycling, quirky shops, art galleries... Oh, and gentrifying neighbourhoods. 

We also found an Foto Automat (Queenie was absolutely elated) and got some snaps taken - which I posted above (thanks Queen!). Turns out, you need a PhD in photobooths to get it right the first time - so it took the first snap before we were even ready.

Have you ever visited Paris? Where are your favourite spots?

Bisou bisou,

Nikki x

14 June 2015

The Paris Diaries - Day One

Last Friday, Queenie and I made our way to the Eurostar to spend a few days in la belle Paris. 

I couldn't travel to my favourite city in the world without grabbing my camera (I'm currently trying out the Sony A5000) and documenting everything we did! So, grab yourself a bevvie and some biscuits, because this might take a while.

Tour of Paris

I think the epitome of cinematic perfection is the opening scene of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. It starts with a montage of classic Parisian sights - from the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge, to cobblestone streets and al fresco diners sitting underneath red umbrellas - all set to a rather gorgeous sax-laden overture from Sidney Bechet.

So, if you want the Allen-esque Parisian experience for the duration of this blog post, listen to this rather lovely piece of jazz while you read on. Not a jazz fan? Never mind... 

We started our first morning with a tour of Paris, which I'd seriously recommend if you're a newbie to the city like Queenie. It's a brilliant way to see a lot of Paris quickly. In the space of two hours, we ticked off the Eiffel Tower (cue tourist-y snaps), Arc De Triomphe, Hôtel des Invalides, Grand Palais, the Seine and the Notre-Dame, before driving down the legendary Champs-Élysées.  

It also helps you choose which areas you want to explore later. Although Paris is relatively small, there's plenty to do. But the next thing on our to-do list was slightly outside the city... 


The Palace of Versailles was our next destination. For those of you not familiar, Versailles was home to the French royals for over 100 years (before, y'know, they got deposed and guillotined) and it's just half an hour from the centre of Paris. We didn't actually go inside the palace as the queues were a bit mammoth, but I'd love to go back during a less busy season and pretend to be a royal for a bit. 

Colossal palace aside, the gardens are simply stunning. Their vastness and perfection is unmatched anywhere else. Our three hours there were nowhere near enough to cover the two square miles they possess in what seems to be a never-ending maze of perfectly pruned greenery, intricate sculptures and scenic lakes. Oh, and the hedges play opera. It's all very atmospheric. 

Queenie and I wandered around for an hour or so before settling down in front a particularly beautiful boating lake (the Grand Canal) to eat our lunches. After we'd finished stuffing our faces and people watching, we went on a quest for ice-cream (after spotting a car with parasols that served sorbet - picture evidence below). There's a cute little ice-cream stall through a maze of trees that serves a delicious glace au chocolate, FYI. 

Paris by night

After Versailles, we headed back towards our hotel and looked around Alésia/Montparnasse. We found a little bistro to grab some dinner - which was fine but turned out to be our least impressive meal in Paris - and then headed out to explore the city by night. 

If you thought Paris looked beautiful by day, you're in for a real treat. After dark, the city is transformed - after all, that's how it earned it's title City of Light. Everything is illuminated, from the lovingly-lit landmarks to the twinkling lights of the busy bistros. And the streets are still full of happy couples, families and groups of friends - which leaves you feeling completely safe and at ease. Pretty unusual for a city at night, huh?  

And one thing you must see is this: once it's dark, every hour, on the hour, the Eiffel Tower has a sparkling 10 minute light display. Don't miss it. Trust me. 

By the end of day one, my feet felt pretty tired. and I'm sure you see why! Day two is coming very soon - and look out for my Paris vlog! x
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