the smallest kitchen in paris

My approach to learning the French language was slightly alternative to most; I didn’t take French at school, in fact, my school didn’t even offer French until I was 16. I studied Japanese at university then decided, in a rather spontaneous decision, to move to France instead of heading to Japan as originally planned.

Armed with a My-First-French-Words book, I set off on a whirlwind attempt at conquering this difficult little language. It turned out that my greatest tool would actually be a cookbook.

IMG_3721

La pétite cuisine à Paris by Rachel Khoo was first published in 2012 and details the recipes Rachel finds closest to her heart from her time in Paris. Like me, Rachel moved to France with basically no knowledge of the French language, unlike me, she has become hugely successful. Her love of food, cooking and entertaining is prevalent in this book, and that is what I love about it, it’s not pretentious, like French cuisine can easily become, the food is uncomplicated and gives a modern spin on many French classics without being too ‘modern’.

When I was given this book (as part of the French-est Christmas present ever) I was under the impression that Rachel had written the book in French, or translated it herself from the English version, but I am not quite sure I can confirm this as a true fact. But at the time I liked if for that very reason; it made me believe that it wasn’t impossible to master the language, even though so many irregular verbs should be illegal; if she could do it, and write a book to prove it, then so could I!

The language the book uses is relatively basic – the majority of it is recipes; they all follow a similar structure and repeat many of the same verbs and nouns. Reading it and cooking from it was an excellent way of improving my reading ability, practicing verb conjugation in a practical and delicious way while learning verbs and nouns that would eventually come in very handy! Faire fondu, préchauffer, and la recette are all phrases that anyone who has to cook anything in French needs to know.

Summer 4 022

As well as teaching me how to say whisk in French and the words for a bunch of vegetables, it also provided me with a crash course on the French classics. We have all heard of coq-au-vin and macarons, but my favourite new encounter was her mini tartiflettes – a sinfully delicious Savoyard take on potato bake, filled with smoky lardons and gooey melted cheese; relatively unheard of anywhere else and one of France’s best kept secrets!

Advertisements

a summer stroll in the gardens of versailles

Le Chateau de Versailles; a symbol long associated with the opulence of Imperial France turned symbol of French tourism, also known as the place Kimye stayed before they got hitched. But tourism more importantly; so many tourists, all the time.

I am no rookie to tourist attractions; I have done the Disneyland thing, I have walked under the Eiffel Tower and seen both the Tower of London and the Sagrada Família yet I was still blown away by the sheer numbers that flocked Versailles. We went in mid-April, it was not school holidays and there was no guarantee that the weather was going to behave, yet we joined the multinational queue snaking its way around the outer courtyard two hours before we walked through the inner gates.

10440261_10152188716726305_8281445844158001883_n

This brings me to my first piece of advice: Book online and turn up early. I think it is safe to say that the chances of you missing the lines altogether are slim-to-none, as soon as you step off the train and into the tidal throng moving towards the palace gates, any minute saved will be a minute cherished.

Always the optimist, I used this spare time to explore another of my passions; people watching. You will be amazed at some of the odd behaviour you will witness in public if you pay a bit of attention. My favourites were a trio of ladies whose delicate skin could not handle the midmorning sun any longer; so they has wrapped scarves around their heads instead of simply applying a layer of sunscreen.

12381_10152188717366305_710270329743779703_n

The palace gardens are all you could imagine, and then a little bit more. Elegantly shaped trees and orderly hedges, a scattering of life-sized sculptures centred around on ornate fountain; meticulous order can come with a hefty maintenance fee – both in monetary terms and labour, it is barely imaginable how people worked day in and day out to uphold these gardens’ prestige. At 800 hectares and 210,000 flowers planted annually, imagine that bill!

10381992_10152188717411305_4457946509250604089_n

The palace and surrounding gardens are separated from Le Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trainon (more on them later) by extensive woodlands, miniature trains run between the two, but I much preferred walking; the wind rustling through the trees as you wander past an extravagantly sized man-made pond evokes an incredible feeling, I enjoyed imagining all of the whispered secrets shared between ladies-in-waiting along the pond’s edge and the scandalous, romantic escapades those trees would have seen!

untitled

Anyone who has seen Marie Antoinette will recognise Le Petit TrIanon as the Queen’s haven and place of solitude. By any normal standard, this little cluster of buildings is as majestic as they come; detailed carving in a stone of pale pink, filled with soft silks and luxurious furnishings on the inside. However, in comparison to the palace, it seems almost, dare I said it, quaint. We meandered around the delicate flowerbeds and gazebos, and soaked up the tranquillity of the nature well into the afternoon, and could have probably sat there, basking in the sun, for a lot longer.

10336662_10152188719186305_5387388196859852301_n

Growing up in a rural setting, I didn’t really feel the need to visit the Hameau de la reine; the queen’s farm but did so more on a whim. Extensive restoration of late has attempted to bring the farm back up the Marie Antoinette’s standard and enliven it as a working farm – much to the delight of the more sheltered (mainly American) tourists. We witnessed one gentleman go to rather extreme lengths to snap a photo of a duck. I am quite sure we would have waded into the pond if it had come to that!

After an exhausting day filled with wonder, walking and tourists, I returned to our hotel to collapse into bed before rewatching Marie Antoinette for good measure. I invite you to do the same!

PS I know this isn't actually her..
PS I know this isn’t actually her..

magic everywhere!

Like most 90’s kids, Disney was a huge influence on my childhood. But unlike most 90’s kids who let go of their Disney obsession once they hit double digits, I did not. My excuse is that I am the oldest of four, and was therefore dragged along to each and every Disney flick well into my teens. While many thirteen year olds would be so embarrassed to be seen watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with their five year old sister, I loved it, it was usually me dragging her along to watch it.

1939427_10152045858346305_2139969693_n

Ever since my first movie theatre experience; The Lion King, at age three, nothing has made me happier than dancing around the lounge to The Circle of Life, or the soundtracks of any film from Pocahontas to Frozen, and I don’t think anything ever will.

My love of Disney extends so far that my final university presentation was on Disneyland Tokyo – “You can choose whatever topic you like,” has never been interpreted so literally. As you can imagine, the top of my priority list when I first arrived in France was to head to Disneyland Paris, and find a way that I could move into the Disney castle and stay there forever.

While I still haven’t managed to sort out the finer details of buying the theme park and moving in, Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth.

487454_10152045861656305_648476327_n

I feel like this post really should be in celebration of something happening at Disneyland at the moment, it’s not. But then if it was to be subtly advertising something, then Disneyland should be sponsoring me, it’s not. A month and a half after my last trip, this post is merely brought on by a little reminiscing, looking back at all of my photos while wearing my Mickey ears part of me wishes I was back there, then another part of me remembers that it’s the middle of summer and peak season and the lines are long at the best of times.

The best time of year to go to any theme park is the off season, but Paris is Paris; there is no real off season for the tourism capital of the world. Summer time is always going to be the worst; school’s out for summer, all of Europe is on vacation in August and the heat can be stifling. If possible, avoid it during the mid-year school breaks to avoid the throngs of children and their less than enthusiastic parents– we went in the beginning of April so we only had other tourists to compete with.

The sheer size and energy of the place is hard to imagine if you have yet to witness it – 19km2 with over 15million visitors a year. Fortunately for me, I was accompanied by a Disneyland veteran and another friend who works there – to guide me around when the joy of the adventure overcame me. It was also really nice to have some experienced Disneylanders with inside knowledge – which rides to prioritise, which ones were worth the wait and which ones to avoid after eating too much candyfloss!

The Tower of Terror, while true to its name, offers an incredible view over the entire park from 200feet in the air. This sounds great in theory, but as the saying goes; ‘What goes up, must come down’, and this ride doesn’t make it easy – a free falling drop bound to make you lose your stomach! For a smoother, yet just as exhilarating experience, try the Space Mountain or Armageddon rollercoasters. Space Mountain was my absolute favourite – I went on it three times in a row!

If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, try the Alice in Wonderland teacups, or It’s a Small World; a lovely, smooth and cheerful boat ride full of thousands of singing puppets.

When you’re young, the idea of Disneyland seems like a dream come true, for most of the children I encountered, that dream was a little too much to handle – the physical and emotional exhaustion of posing with Mickey and Minnie, queuing for the carousel and they itchiness of an overpriced Cinderella dress can be totally overwhelming! So leave the kids at home and let your inner child run free!

1920064_10152000771195913_900762205_n

Speaking of your inner child, this is Disneyland; it’s fun! No-one likes a Serious Sally, so enjoy yourself; buy a set of Mickey ears or a wizard hat and look the part. Don’t be afraid to sing along to the music during the parade, they happen twice daily so there is no excuse for missing it! We even made it a rule amongst ourselves to run, skip and dance on our way to each ride, just for a little bit of added fun (for us, not so much for the people we nearly collided with).

1975259_10151999748665913_1517320585_n

Multiday passes are available and there are seven onsite resorts should you not be able to do it all in one day. But if you can’t prolong your trip, no one will judge you for falling asleep on the train home!

Paris, je t’aime!

Last week I realised that I had been in Lyon for almost three months, making it the longest time I had been in one city for nearly a year. So, I decided to go to Paris for a weekend. It was a weekend of trials and triumphs, but overall it was quite triumphant. Trial one; it is two hours by train from Lyon to Paris, but I chose to go by covoiturage because it is cheaper. Covoiturage is basically like safe hitch-hiking,  it’s all done via a website (blahblahcar.com) where you put your to and from destinations and the date you want to travel and up pops a list of all the people who are driving there on that day and how much they are charging for gas money. Like I said, two hours by train, this does not however translate into two hours by car. I leave Lyon at 2pm and six hours later I arrive in Paris, after being stuck in a car with no heaters, a driver who refused to listen to his SatNav’s instructions and a woman who ate a twig as a snack (I am not even kidding).

Trial number two; I bought my metro ticket to get from my drop-off point to the hostel, I scan it through the machine and it doesn’t work, it reads invalid and I have no idea why. By this stage I am a little stressed out (being stuck in traffic does that to me) but to my luck, this is where the triumphs begin. As I am standing there a little frazzled a girl asks if I want to just come through with her on her ticket, super kind even though it is illegal, so I thank her but decline and buy another. Just as arrive at the platform the metro is leaving but the driver sees me and stops so that I can get on. Everyone says that Parisians are kind of rude, but that was two lovely ones in a row, maybe I was just lucky.

My luck continued the next day; the weather was amazing! (By that I mean it wasn’t raining) Which meant that I could spend the day wandering around Le Pere Lachaise cemetery without getting drenched. Pere Lachaise is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, and as morbid as it might sound, it is also a huge tourist attraction. The cemetery’s attractions include the graves of people like Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison to name a few. It also houses a number of World War Two memorials which, because we were there on Armistice Day, were covered in beautiful flowers and wreaths, making the whole experience somewhat moving and surreal.

SAM_1548

SAM_1570SAM_1571

After an incredible day sightseeing, we accomplished number two on my list of must-do’s for the trip; escargot! Snails lathered in garlic butter; a French classic! In my opinion, cover anything in garlic butter and it is going to be delicious but I was really impressed by this. The texture is quite chewy, a little like overcooked mushrooms and the flavour is quite earthy, a bit like dirt, but in a good way.

1461137_10151760162906088_2044520246_nSAM_1543SAM_1540

Next it was off home to rest my feet; a little blistered from my new boots. They say to never break in new shoes while in Paris but for some reason I felt like I was above this rule. I wasn’t. Sad face.

The highlight of the trip, aside from it not raining until the afternoon I left, was finding a delicious and adorable little Italian restaurant just under the Eiffel Tower. Gusto Italia is on the corner of Rue de Grenelle and Avenue de la Bourdonnais, right next to the Parc Champ de Mars. It is tiny but the food and service was amazing, we started off with a starter of courgette, carrot and mushrooms cooked simply in a bit of rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper and olive oil, served cold with freshly made bread, still warm from the oven and falling apart as you break it. A glass or two of imported Italian wine went quite nicely with the homemade pizza, lasagne and linguini. I wanted to ask for the recipes of everything, but on second thought that would probably not have been the right move.

SAM_1593  1391756_10151756331901088_636550497_n

A dark chocolate mousse cheesecake for desert was probably a little too much, but irresistible. Obviously, we tipped generously, because that is what you do when everything is impeccable.

SAM_1599

So impeccable in fact, that I may have gone back there the net day for lunch before hoping on my train from Gare de Lyon in Paris to Gare Part Dieu in Lyon. Wrap your head around that little bit of confusion.

SAM_1586

2 days in paris

After a somewhat extended trip halfway around the world, I have finally arrived in France! My original plans were slightly detoured and I ended up having to make a stopover in LA, which was…fun? I did not leave my hotel room at all apart from a trip to McDonald’s (next door) to get a supersized combo. However, I was too scared to get such a monstrosity so I just got a large, which was plenty big enough for me. So yes, my sightseeing in America consisted of McDonald’s and HBO, what a glorious 18 hours!

But on to the happy things; after a second 12 flight in a too small seat, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and was surprised by the level of security at customs. That is, there was none. Just a man telling us that on the other side of the door was France. Wonderful.

Because of my delayed arrival I had to squeeze my five days of sightseeing into two, which was fine apart from having to cut out Disneyland (which was planned to be the highlight of my trip). Like the CDG airport, Paris is kinda massive. Comfortable footwear for sightseeing is highly recommended even if you do plan on taking the metro everywhere. My jam-packed days have left me exhausted, or maybe it’s the jetlag… Well for some reason I have found it almost impossible to stay awake after 8pm since I got here, which means I am yet to experience a proper French dinner.

Jetlag aside, here are some of my initial observations on Parisian life:

  • Drivers here are terrible. I don’t think I have seen more than three cars ever use their indicator and I am shocked that, in a city where it appears that traffic lights and pedestrian crossings are both optional to cars and people, that I have yet to see anyone crash or even a nearly collide. However, be very weary when crossing a street. You might think a car will slow down to avoid hitting you, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
  •  For most people, the easiest, cheapest, fastest and most convenient way of getting around is the metro. I studied a subway map weeks before arriving and to be completely honest with you, it looked more like a colourful spider web or abstract piece of art than anything that I was ever going to find helpful. But once you’ve ridden it a few times it is a lot easier than it first looks and after a while I was able to successfully catch it by myself without getting lost!
  • An obvious difference is the language, when travelling to a new country you obvious have to expect there to be some language barriers. And boy are there ever! I have come to the conclusion that I don’t look like a tourist, instead of me having to blunder my way around with my (still) terrible French, asking the locals for directions et cetera I have had locals coming up to ask me questions. I felt terrible when I couldn’t give the little old lady directions to where ever she was trying to go, or the schoolgirl who asked me.. something… So basically my most commonly used words have been ‘Merci’ and ‘je ne sais pas’, because even when I do kind of understand what someone is asking me I still don’t know what the answer is! I have no idea why the ticket machine isn’t taking your money or how to find the exit. I don’t know anything!!
  •  A final observation is that everything is so old. And I know that sounds so stupid, but coming from such a young country means that I have never seen a building more than 100 years old. We don’t have fancy cool architecture that people here just take for granted, the Paris town hall is older than my country is, there are buildings that were built before we had even been colonized. I went to the Notre Dame yesterday, and I was amazed. Not only was it a surreal, emotional, and spiritual experience, I was also blown away by the fact that it is 850 years old this year. It’s something that I can’t stop thinking about and it will probably still keep amazing me for the rest of my time here.
I have enjoyed my short, sweet stay in this amazing city and cannot wait to head back and continue to tick things off my to-do list!