Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas eve in France

2692342719_3f114df602 So what do the French eat for Christmas, what is it that the shops are overflowing with and which later comes onto the table. How do they celebrate Christmas in the first place? Apart from chocolate of course, for there's really a lot of chocolate and it's of the best quality too. That's the treat during the holiday season.

Christmas eve is celebrated in France just as in Denmark. The family is gathered and you eat way too much food. The dinner starts late in France, around the same time that most Danes have finished their dinner. Around 8-9 in the evening. The dinner lasts all evening and often you'll not get to the desert before after midnight.

When the dinner is the entertainment of the entire evening, there's of course no time to dance around the Christmas tree as we do in Denmark. And the Christmas carols are only sung at the church for the midnight mass. Which quite a few families still attend, France is a Catholic country.

The food is something special and unique, and very fancy. With several courses of course. The aperitif is usually things like petit four (small stuffed breads baked in the oven), it can be smoked salmon or other like things. With this you''ll of course drink pastis (Pernod etc), whiskey, cognac, pineau, beer, maybe wine or even champagne. Champagne is usually served with some very sweet cakes in France when had as aperitif.

2222619721_4534dd8024For starters there has to be foie gras of course, nothing else is good enough. It's the finest you can serve and the French love it. They serve foie gras with Sauternes wine, which is a very sweet white wine. For the picky ones there'll usually be a fancy paté or smoked salmon. Raw oysters is also a popular thing in France around Christmas. The supermarkets are overflowing with them and they're sold as quickly as they come in. Snails, lobster and other good things are also found on the French Christmas tables.

The main dish is usually turkey. But guinea hen or capon are normal for the smaller families. At the less traditional families you'll find lamb or côte de boeuf (rib steak 3-5 cm thick). At this time the redwine is of course put on the table, and there is plenty of it.

Then we arrive at the cheese. No French dinner is complete without the cheese. And there's a lot of cheese. It's said that France has so many different cheeses, that you can eat a new one every day during the year. The table is loaded with cheese, of course served with tossed lettuce in vinaigrette and baguette. To clean the tongue you see, between enjoying the different cheeses. The red wine is served with the cheese as well, as most of us already know.

76871644_ae18fa8826 And then we arrive at the dessert. It's a special cake, called Bûche de Noel and it looks like a log. This time the champagne will be opened, it's gotten late and most guests are quite tipsy. This is when the Christmas gifts will be exchanged, after a long evening with way too much food and wine.

Merry Christmas from France

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/cyclonebill/, http://flickr.com/photos/copleys/ & http://flickr.com/photos/masatsu/

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Christmans lights in Paris

Paris isn't called the "City of Lights" withotu a reason, and particularly obviously during Christmans. All over the city is found beautiful and impressive decorations which lightens the dark evenings and creates a magic atmosphere which is unique for Paris.

Below is a list of the official Christmas decorations.

3089567512_9fc9af8306 Avenue des Champs-Elysées
Lights all over the aveneue, has to be seen at least once.
75008 PARIS
From: 19-11-2008 until mid January
Métro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile
RER: Charles de Gaulle - Etoile

Place Vendôme, rue de la Paix, rue de Castiglione
Illuminations Perles et diamants
75001 PARIS
From: 20-11-2008 to 05-01-2009
Métro: Opéra
RER: Auber

Forum des Halles
75001 PARIS
From 17-11-2008 to 05-01-2009
Illuminations: Noël en Rose
Métro: Chatelêt les Halles
RER: Chatelêt les Halles

The Christmas lights of the streets are lightened on from the 28th of November until the end of January. More than 125 streets and squares will be decorated and illuminated.

Program for Christmas 2008, listed by arrondissement:
1e and 2e: Rues Montorgueil, Tiquetonne - "Forêt de Lumière"
3e: Rues de Bretagne, des Francs Bourgeois - "Les Couronnes des Bretagne"
4e: Rues Rambuteau, du Temple - "Éclats d’Hiver"
5e: Rue Mouffetard, Place Église Saint Médard, Place de la Contre Escarpe - "Mouff’ Stars"
5e and 6e: Boulevard Saint Germain, Place Saint Germain des Prés - "Brillante est la Nuit"
6e: Rue de Rennes - "Drapé Scintillant"
7e: Rues du Bac, de Grenelle, Malar, Jean Nicot - "Pluie de Corolles"
8e: Avenue Montaigne - "Organdi"
9e: Rue Caumartin - "Christmas Canada"
10e: Rue des Vinaigriers - "Ilot de Lumière"
11e: Rue Oberkampf - "Disques d’Or"
12e: Rue Marsoulan, Viaduc des Arts - "Arcades Étoilées"
13e: Avenue des Gobelins, avenue d’Italie - "Soleil Couchant"
14e: Rues d’Alésia, des Plantes, Daguerre - "Dans les Nuages d’Alésia"
15e: Rues Lecourbe, Cambronne, Village Saint Charles - "Boules d’Étoiles"
16e: Village d’Auteuil - "Ciel d’Or à Auteuil"
17e: Rues de Courcelles, Poncelet - "Les Bijoux de Courcelles"
18e: Place et rue des Abbesses, rues Lepic, A. Bruant, Tholozé, de Maistre, Véron - "20.000 Feux sous Montmartre"
19e: Quartier Jean-Jaurès - "L’Écume Glacée - La Vague Dorée - L’Onde Enflammée"
20e: Rues de Belleville, du Jourdain - "Le Coeur du Village s’Illumine"

More light in Paris: http://www.parisillumineparis.fr/

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/anniemole/

Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas at the great shops

3064729437_2f11f8b619_2 The lights are turned on all over Paris and captures the magic spirit of Christmas in Paris. They beautiful and impressive Christmas decorations are displayed for the joy of both

The two great and world known shops; Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann are particularly impressive. Their entire front is covered by thousands of lights in beautiful patterns and colours. But it's not only the impressive light decorations that's worth seeing. The window decorations are one of a kind and especially the children can spend long time in front of them.

This year the theme in Galaries Lafayette is Alice in Wonderland. See Alice explore Wonderland, the great table with the while rabbit, a forest made out of mushrooms, the evil queen and a field with magic flowers and many other known scenes from the story. On top of this there's a 20 metre tall Christmas tree beautifully decorated with 1800 glass balls and many other things.

Kar Largerfeld has given his expression of the cosmetic dream at Printemps Haussmann. All the windows towards Boulevard Haussmann represents a fantasy world, chick and alight, with holograms and decorations. Karl Largerfeld

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/hotels-paris-rive-gauche/

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas markets in Paris

3088725035_e6bc2d0dee_2 All the great Christmas markets starts to appear when the sweet Christmas time comes closer. There are several in Paris proper, and they're certainly worth a visit, both for the atmosphre, but also for the shopping.

Here's a list over the greatest markets in Paris for 2008

L'arche de Noël à la Défense
The largest Christmas market in Paris with 10.000 square metres and 250 stalls, which offers everything from local art work to regional tastes.
Date: 26/11 - 28/12
Time: 11:00-20:00 Sunday to Friday, 9:30 - 20:00 Saturday
Location: Esplanade at La Défense
Metro: line 1 - Esplanade de La Défense
RER A: Grande Arche de La Défense

Marché de Noël et village du Père Noël PLACE SAINT SULPICE
Date: 10/12 - 24/12
All days: 10:00 - 20:00
PLACE SAINT SULPICE
1, place Saint-Sulpice 75006 PARIS
Métro: Saint Sulpice
RER: Saint Michel - Notre Dame

Le Village du Père Noël (Santa's village) at la place Saint-Germain des Prés
Date: 05/12 - 31/12
All days: 10:00 - 20:00
PLACE SAINT GERMAIN DES PRES
75006 PARIS
Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés

Marché de Noël Champs-Elysées
The market spreads from the round about at Champs-Elysées (by the Triumph Arch) to place de la Concorde at the other end.
Date: 20/11 - 04/01
Avenue des Champs-Elysées
75008 PARIS
Métro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile
RER: Charles de Gaulle Etoile

Marché de Noël Place des Abbesses
Date: 28/11 - 30/12
1, place des Abbesses
75018 PARIS
Métro: Abbesses

Marché de Noël à la Maison de l’Alsace
Date: 29/11 - 28/12
All days: 11:00 - 20:00
Maison de l’Alsace
39, avenue des Champs Elysées 75008 PARIS
Métro: Franklin-D Roosevelt
RER: Charles de Gaulle - Etoile

Marché de Noël à la Gare de l'Est
Date: 29/11 - 13/12
08:00 - 20:00 Monday to Saturday, 09:00 - 19:00 Sunday
GARE DE L'EST
Parvis Gare de l'Est
75010 PARIS
Métro: Gare de l'Est
RER: Gare du Nord

Marché de noël PLACE DE LA NATION
Date: 01/12 - 24/12
All days: 10:00 - 20:00
75011 PARIS
Métro: Nation
RER: Nation

Marché de Noël à la Tour Montparnasse
Date: 28/11 - 29/12
All days: 10:30 - 19:30
The many colourful stalls offers many products, especially handcrafts and food from the region. It's a good place to find that special Christmas gift and enjoy the hot warm spiced wine.
Place Raoul Dautry - 33 avenue du Maine
75015 Paris
Métro: Montparnasse bienvenue

Marché de Noël à Disney Village
Date: 12/12 - 06/01
Monday to Friday: 15:00 - 21:30, Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 - 21:30
DISNEY VILLAGE
77777 MARNE LA VALLEE
RER : Marne la Vallée - Chessy

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/anniemole/

Monday, 17 November 2008

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a very charming village in southern France. It's located in the Camargue region which hosts the famous marsh of the same name, and lies down to the azure water of the Mediterranean with its long white sand beaches.

The legends tell that the three Maria's who saw Jesus' empty tomb after the resurrection sailed from Alexandria in Egypt and stranded where the town lies today. This is one reason why the town is an important pilgrimage for the Christians. The town is also very important for the gypsies who gathers every year to celebrate Saint Sarah. Saint Sarah was perhaps the daughter of Marie Magdalena, or perhaps the dark-skinned servant of the three Maria's. The town is antique and sources relate that the place has been habited since the fourth century. The Romans were in the area and that's marked the region and neighbouring towns significantly. In the ninth century the Vikings spent a winter in Camargue with raids on the area.

The streets re narrow and the houses whitewashed, which brings the charm all the way. It is a beautiful place and the marsh around is famous for its horses, black bulls and flamingos. There's an unique atmosphere where cultures and traditions meet and unfolds. You'll find camping and horse renting outside the town, along with other activities in the marsh and on the sea. On horseback, which of course is the famous Camargue horses, you can explore the marsh or have beautfiul sunset rides along the beach.

There are festivals and religious events several times a year. Bull fighting, horse displays, bull fighting from horseback, herding of bulls and horses through the streets of the town, races, the yearly gypsy festival and lots more. There's always something to experience in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Official homepage: http://www.saintesmaries.com/

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/vandevivere/

Friday, 14 November 2008

Le Mont Saint Michel


Four hours drive west of Paris you'll find one of the most special places in France. Le Mont St. Michel is a small island located on the coast of Normandy full of history, soul and experiences. The first Christian building was built here for more than a thousand years ago, which over the years have been expanded. The monastery covers the top of the island, while a small middleage village takes up the rest of the space.

The island is surrounded by water at high tide, which is rather impressive in that region, and you can only access the place by a kilometre long damn. Even large parts of the parking lot is covered by water. The island is landfast at low tide, and you can walk there without getting your feet wet, if you dare enter the labyrinth of quicksand and seabed.

Once you've crossed the damn and stand before the city walls you'll be transported back in time. They're tall and thick and you can only enter the town by walking through the old gate. This was certainly a place the enemies couldn't easily conquer, especially since the damn wasn't built back then.

Inside the walls you'll find a thriving bustle. There's a lot of tourists during the season, so it's highly recommended to visit outside of the school holidays and religious festivals. The place is a pilgrimage for many Christians. May and the beginning of June (with the exception of pentcote) is a good time to visit, and the same is true for September and October, where the schools have started again and the French are done with their holidays. The weather is still good these times of the year.

The streets are narrow and paved with cobblestone. There are plenty of shops which all sell medieval and tourist products. They're clearly taking advantage of the impressive history the place has. A narrow long street winds its way up the hill and when you arrive at the top of it, you'll be met by a large gate which leads into the monastery itself.

It is like stepping into another world. The place is huge and full fo soul and historical scents. It is an impressive building. At the top you'll find a small garden, where there's a magnificent view over the bay. These days plexiglass covers the opening to protect the visitors and avoid people falling hundreds of feet into their death. Back then it was open and apparently the opening was used for the few who wished to meet God. Standing at the edge will certainly give you a thrill.

There's so much to tell about le Mont St. Michel that it's impossible to cover just a tiny bit of it all. If you think Notre Dame is impressive, then prepare to lose your breath completely. The little island in Normandy is so much more and one of the places in Europe that you must visit before life is over.

Official homepage:
http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/acces_gb.htm

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/jackversloot/ & http://flickr.com/photos/84019257@N00/

Monday, 10 November 2008

Pont du Gard

In southern France you'll find plenty of evidence of the Roman influence and presence. A more beautiful one of those is Pont du Gard. It is a large aqueduct which led the water supply over the river Gard, and is part of a 50 km long pipe transporting water from Fontaines d'Eure to Nîmes. The nature and area is very beautiful and it's certainly a place worth visiting when you're in the region.

I was there on a beautiful day in June back in 2001. Just to lie on a rock at the riverbed and gaze into the air to see how the building rises over you is impressive. You can't help but wonder how the Romans could build such beautiful things which still stands strong two-thousand years later.

The aqueduct is 49 metres tall and 275 metres long at its greatest span. The river runs through a small canyon here and the sides are quite steep. You'll have to catch your breath again after climbing to the top of the aqueduct. The view is magnificent and if you have a bit of fear of heights, you'll feel the thrill. On the bottom level is a road which leads you over the river 22 metres up in the air.

The road has been used since the middle ages and in the eigthteenth century the bridge and road was expanded to stabilize the building. The place was a tourist attraction already back then. Pont du Gard was added to UNESCO's woldheritage list in 1985. Members of the maison guild in France still has to visit the aqueduct to this day as part of their education.

Official hompage: http://www.lepontdugard.com/

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt/

Friday, 7 November 2008

Hyang-Ly - Korean barbeque

There are many opportunities to try exciting food when you visit Paris. The French cousine is an obvious choice, but you shouldn't cheat yourself for trying food from other parts of the world. There are many good ethnic restaurants in Paris and one of them is Hyang-Ly.

Hyang-Ly is an Korean restaurant with a Japanese touch. The specialities are bibmbap and Korean barbeque. Bibimbap is a dish where the ingredients have been put into a very hot cast iron pot. The food is sizzling when served and it's up to you to stir it all and ensure it's all heated and cooked as you like it. As you can expect from the Asian kitchen, there's a lot of green in the dish, much of the stuff which I have no idea of what is. Normally bibimbap is served with a strong chilli sauce, so watch your tongue.

Korean barbecue can certainly be recommended. It tastes wonderful. A grill is placed in the middle of the table, which is turned on and a plate placed over the flames. Several bowls with different ingredients are arranged on the table and then a big plate with very tender meat. The idea is that you fry your meat on the grill and sample from the bowls.

The price is manageable and good compared to the quality, especially when you choose one of the menus, where you'll get a starter with cabbage salad, soup, barbecue and a mini bibimbap. The price for that is under 15€ per person. Add to that a bottle of wine and a cup of coffee for desert and you've gotten yourself a good dinner for two for under 60€.

Practical information:
Hyang-Ly
3, rue de Hanovre
75002 Paris
Metro: Opera line 3, 7 and 8
RER: Auber Haussmann St-Lazare, RER A and E, place de l'Opera exit.

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/bethanyking/

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Eurostar

You can travel from Paris to London in less than three hours with the Eurostar, a wonderful opportunity for spending a couple of days in London with shopping and musicals. Or if you're already in London, then come and experience the City of Lights. London and Paris are practically neighbours now.

The price for adults starts at 77€ for a round-trip, and if you're lucky to be under 26 years old, you can get the tickets even cheaper, from 60€. Eurostar offers packages with train, hotel and car included. There are often campaigns and discounts for the travellers, so if you want to go, you better keep an eye on the site and see what's available for you. More information can be found at: http://www.eurostar.com/

The ride is fast and it's much easier than taking the plane. Check-in at Gare du Nord in Paris is about half an hour, which includes passport control. So don't forget your passport. You'll arrive in the middle of London, ready to explore the city. The train is fast, especially compared to the old IC3 trains in Denmark. It's a comfortable and relaxing journey.

The train departs from Gare du Nord in Paris proper, which is easily accessible with metro and RER. Gare du Nord is a hub and several TGV lines depart from here. In London the train now arrives at St. Pancras International which is next to Kings Cross and located in the northern part of central London.

Foto: http://flickr.com/photos/iainb/

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Restaurant streets

There's always a lot of restaurants and bars you can visit, if you find yourself hungry while exploring Paris. Just south of Notre Dame, on the other side of the river, is Place Saint-Michel, which is a popular meeting point in Paris' Latin Quarter. From here you can't avoid noticing the narrow streets filled with restaurants of all kinds.

Saint-Michel is known for its many restaurants and they're located side by side in the streets. There are many Greek restaurants, but you can also find typical French, Italian, Asian, Moroccan and much more. Due to the strong competition between the restaurants you can easily find yourself a cheap lunch or dinner. The menus typically starts at 15€.

When you walk down the streets you'll be met by waiters standing in the doors trying to get you to come inside. They call the offers of the day to you in English, breaks plates on the doorsteps and do what it takes to get your attention. The women will experience a lot of flirting. It can be a rather entertaining experience and certainly specail. The restaurants are generally cozy and nice, and the value of the food is reasonable for the price.

One remarkable thing to notice is that it is one of Paris' oldest neighbourhoods, which is easily seen on the buildings and the interior. If you're lucky enough to visit the private apartments and courtyards, you'll be met by narrow winding stairs, thick loft beams, old dark wood and uneven leaning walls. It's like stepping back in time. Saint Michel has charm and history, though if you come to experience that, then arrive in the morning before the restaurants open. Around lunch and evening the place is packed with people.

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/http2007/

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fall in Paris

Eiffel_tower There's always a lot to do and see when you visit Paris. The sights and restaurants are open all year round. In the list below is a small selection of activities and exhibitions during fall.

2CV Expo Show - The 2CV turned 60 this yer and that must of course be celebrated. Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie has a special exhibition about the car which lasts until November 30th 2008
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie
30, avenue Corentin Cariou - 75019 Paris
Métro line 7, station Porte de la Villette.
http://www.cite-sciences.fr/

For those into cars, there's the Mondial de l'Automobile from 4th to 19th of Oktober, with more than 500 brands from 30 different countries. A chance to see the childhood dream's cars.
http://www.mondial-automobile.com/
Paris Expo Porte de Versailles
1, place de la Porte de Versailles - 75015 Paris
Métro line 12, station Porte de Versailles

Fnac in Forum des Halles has continuously exhibitions. During the fall there's a display of photography covering the last 100 years, as well as an exhibition with the photograph Nicolas Fussler.
Fnac Forum des Halles
Niveau-3, rue Pierre-Lescot - 75001 Paris
RER A, B and D, as well as metro lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14, station Chatelet - les Halles

Festival d'Automne à Paris is a festival with theatre, dance, music, films and exhibitions with new artists and ideas. This is where you'll find the newest French trends within experimental art.
http://www.festival-automne.com/en/programme-liste.php?festival=4
Takes place all over Paris during the entire fall.

The medieval museum has a special show where Celtic and Scandinavial artistic expressions from the 12th and 13th century meet.
Musee du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hotel de Cluny
6, place Paul Painlevé - 75005 Paris
Métro line 10, station Cluny - La Sorbonne and RER B and C station Saint Michel - Notre Dame

Musee d'Orsay has several exhibitions during the fall. Picasso, pastel works, Manet, impressionism, unrealistic dreams for Paris and much more.
http://www.musee-orsay.fr
Musée d'Orsay
1, rue de la Légion d'Honneur - 75007 Paris
RER C station Musée d'Orsay, metro line 12 station Solférino

If you like opera you'll have the chance to see De Verdi's Rigoletto at the natioal opera, Opera Bastille. The tickets begin at 5 Euro.
Opera Bastille
2bis, place de la Bastille - 75012 Paris
Métro lines 1, 5 and 8, station Bastille.

Fête foraine au Bois de Boulogne is an annual festival which lasts from the 30th of Aughust until the 10th of October for children and parents. There are activites from noon til midnight.
http://www.lafeteaubois.com/
Bois de Boulogne, 75016 Paris, Pelouse de la Muette
Métro line 9, station Rue de la Pompe - RER C, station Avenue Henri Martin

As a last thing on this list is the Eiffel tower which has been decorated in blue lights and stars to show France's leadershop of the EU.

Things are happening all the time in Paris and there's something for any taste. You can find more exhibitions and activities at: http://www.parisinfo.com, where a calender can aid the search. It's recommended to do the search in French since it'll yield more results.

Photo: sapphireblue, Flickr

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Forum des Halles

There are lots of possibilities for shopping in Paris, and for any taste and wallet. A good place to start is the Forum des Halles. It is a large shopping centre where the main part is located under ground level. The centre is placed on top of Europe's largest underground station, Châtelet-Les Halles, which is a major hub. There are five levels with shops, restaurants, bars, a cinema, pool and fitness centre.

With over 180 shops and restaurants there's certainly something for you there, and it's easy to spend hours wandering around in the large complex. You'll find both H&M, Fnac (music, books, electronics), Starbucks, clothes shops, home decoration, sports, shoes, perfumes, a pharmacy, Bodum and anything you can imagine. The only thing lacking is a hardware merchant, which is typical for France. You don't often find shops dedicated solely to kitchen equipment, electronics, cutlery, glasses and so on. In the middle of the centre is an open square. A small oasis of sunshine when you need a break from the shopping.

The cinema is large and they often show VO (version originale) films, so it's possible to see the latest blockbusters with original sound and French subtitles. The theatre is open all day and there is no seat reservation unlike many Danish cinemas. You buy the ticket in the machine outside and walk in where the ticket is checked. Then you'll find your screen, walk in and settle on the best seat you can find. With the popular films it's worth it to come early to be sure you get a good seat.

If you get tired of all the shops and need to sit on a bar and relax, then take one of the many exits and find a café. The area around Forum des Halles is full of restaurants and cafés, and of course shops. It's where you can spend a full day shopping. Should you need a bit of fresh air and green for the eyes, then head to the top of the centre. A beautiful large park with trees and grass is located here.

Practical information:

Opening times 10 am to 8 pm every day except Sundays. Bars and restaurants are open until 10 pm.
Website: http://en.forumdeshalles.com/
Access: RER A, B and D, as well as metro 1, 4, 7, 11, 14, bus lines 21, 29, 38, 47, 58, 67, 69, 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, 81, 85 and 96.
Photo: Nelson Minar, Flickr

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wonderful markets

Foto: Librarian Avenger, flickr

One thing that's outstanding in Paris is the daily markets, which closely resemble the farmers markets known from the US. There are markets all over the city on streets and plazas. The markets have set locations and days where they're open. In the suburb where I live the market is in front of the town hall and is open every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday morning. The market starts during mid morning and is usually closed around 1-2 pm.

The mood is truly unique at the markets. You'll hear vendors shout their offers to the audience, people chat and have a great time, examine the wares and enjoys the good weather. Scents float through the air and especially the fried chickens on spears will make your stomach growl. You buy them cooked and bring them home in a special bag with juice and potatoes. That's the Sunday lunch. Bad weather doesn't keep the French away from the markets, they're still an important part of the culture.

You can find a market every day in Paris, it's just a matter of knowing where to look for one. Every arrondissement has at least one market. There are over 75 markets in Paris proper, so they're not hard to locate. Every suburb will have at least one regular market and the same is true for any town with self-respect.

The French still shop a lot at the markets, both for groceries, but also clothes, furniture and various stuff. Unlike in Denmark you can trust the vendors at the French markets and find some really good offers. It's certainly not "Hjallerup Marked" (a Danish yearly market known for its horse vendors selling horses under horrible conditions). The weekly markets still compete with the supermarkets and the ordinary shops in France.

Practical information:
Bring cash, it's easier and at many vendors you can't use cards.
List of markets in Paris with dates and times: http://www.paris-france.org/en/Living/markets/markets.ASP

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Place Georges Pompidou

There is always a lot of life on the many squares of Paris when the weather is sunny. People meet and chat, street cafés are full, street vendors and artists fill the picture. People sit outside and enjoy their late lunch, fashionable women prance around while their husbands worry about their wallet and what the wife might come up with next. Young relax and sunbathe, students discuss their texts and the regulars stand by the bar in the brasserie's catching a quick cup of coffee before they pass by the bakery and buy baguettes for dinner.

Paris has its own unique mood, and on the squares in the city you'll always see something happening. It is where people meet before they continue shopping or before going to the museum. Before the museum for modern art, Centre Pompidou is a new one. The area used to be a poor and worn down area. Bulldozers cleaned the neighbourhood in the 70's and the plan was to make it a fashionable district. Instead it became the place for the tourists with plenty of shops and traps.

That doesn't make the neighbourhood less interesting to wander around in, and if you aim towards Opera you'll pass through some very narrow streets and alleys, where you really can feel the true Parisian feel.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Lunch at school

When the kids are at school, they of course need to eat a proper lunch, nothing is good enough for the gourmet and proud French. And I must admit that the menus for the kids look quite tempting. I think we back in Denmark could learn a bit from France on this area. The families of course have to pay for the lunches, but the expense fully depends on the income. So the poorest families are certain that their kids get at least one good and healthy meal every day.

The school system in France is like the Danish in many areas, but there are some marked differences which I've noticed. My daughter just started in "maternelle" which is equivalent to kinder-garden. They start when they're three. The first year is optional and in many schools you can choose between half day and full day school.

The day typically starts around half past nine and ends around four. Wednesday is a school free day. The schools are closed. They got that idea some years ago, that the kids learn better if they have a break in the middle of the week. Last year they went to school on Saturday mornings, but that has changed this year.

There are after-school activities for the children with working parents, and the kids can stay until around 7 pm. This is also where they are on Wednesdays if they're not with family or in daycare. Those families who has a stay-home parent, the children have to go home during lunch break. It's obvious that the break is rather long compared to Danish standards. No more flat warm sandwiches that has to be eaten in 10 minutes here.

So, how does a menu look like? We received a menu the first day of school and it covers 8 weeks of lunches, just up to their first holiday by the end of October, which lasts two weeks! (The Christmas holiday is two weeks, so is the winter holidays and the spring vacation. The summer holidays starts in July and the school in September. I'm all envious.)

There is everything you can imagine on the menu. Coleslaw, fish, beans, salad, cheese, cakes, palm hearts, vegetables and fruit, poultry, roast, chops, ice cream, yoghurt and you name it. One thing I in particular notice is that it's a healthy menu. There are lots of greens and fruit, good milk products, interesting meat dishes, cheeses, salads, rice, potatoes an so on. It is a balanced lunch, so the sweet dessert which the French can't live without, is in its place. The kids have gotten their portion of healthy food prior.

Not bad, I'm getting all hungry, and admittedly, there are things on that menu that I have no idea about. I'm certain my daughter will tell me all about it though.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Odd Bugs

There are many sights in France, historical places, interesting cultural events, good wine and lots of good food. Most who visits the country will experience these things and can pick what they favour for the moment.

Something most people won't notice is the insects. Of course there are flies, bees, wasps, spiders, butterflies and all those insects that we know from home. But when you live here you'll notice how the most strange bugs come to visit.

The first I noticed was the big spiders, and they can become very big compared to Danish eyes. Compared to Australian and American spiders they're small of course, but those I don't know first hand. I've been jumping around calling for aid when seeing the spiders. I'm scared to death of them and as soon as they're larger than a dime I hurry away. The largest I've seen had a body the size of a quarter, made even larger with its legs. Some run quickly over the floor and walls and even jump, while others are more peaceful and slow.

A while ago we had a visit from a big grasshopper. It's on the picture. The length of the body was at least the length of my thumb. It didnt' say much but crawled around on the ceiling for a couple of days before leaving again. Outside you can hear the crickets and grasshoppers sing at night. It is like visiting more southern parts of France and I love the sound of them. You can easily hear that there are several different species in the night.

We also had a strange red insect with white stripes visiting the apartment (see the picture). It just sat on the floor for days and didn't move much. I have no idea what it was. It was as long as the last joint on my thumb. There's also been other insects visiting. In spring a rove beetle crawled over the floor and my daughter and I examined and observed it. Big scary looking thing, almost like a scorpion from the looks of it (not size, but build). It's the first time I've seen a guy like that. Otherwise, as I mentioned, spiders in various sizes and shapes.

There hasn't been many ladybugs this year. But on the other hand we have a lot of a different type of insect which is red and black. The patterns are quite beautiful. They're found everywhere during summer. Another insect I don't know from home.

So next time you visit try and notice the small bugs which are usually ignored. They can be quite the experience too.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hôtel de Ville, impressive cityhall.

If you think the city hall in Copenhagen is big and impressive, then you should take a look at the main city hall in Paris. Little wonderful Denmark can't really compare any longer. The building is almost a small palace, with towers, chimneys and interesting details which are so typical for the renaissance buildings of Paris.

As so many buildings in Paris, Hôtel de Ville also has a lively history. The building were finished in 1628, nearly a century after the first plans were made. It was built as a city hall for Paris and still functions as such. The place was stage for many important historical events, especially during the French revolution.

The city hall was expanded in 1835, where two wings were added to the main building. In 1871 the place was burnt to the ground, only leaving the outer walls. The fire also destroyed most of the public documents from the period around the French revolution.

A couple of years later the rebuilding was started. It lasted almost 20 years. Today the facade stands as it did in the 16th century, while the interior has a style from the 1880's.

It is quite the fascinating history and life the city hall has lead, I wish the building itself could tell the stories. I'm sure that would produce many thick and interesting books for months of reading.

Practical information:
Metro: Line 1 and 11, stop Hôtel de Ville

Monday, 1 September 2008

Zoo on discount

A trip to the zoo can entertain the kids while on holidays in a city. Live animals are fascinating and when some of them can be petted it becomes even better. Who says a city-holiday needs to be boring for the youngsters?

A park named Vincennes is located just outside Paris proper. There is forest and parks, lakes for sailing, a beautiful botanical garden, an old castle which was used as a prison at some time and then the zoo which is ideal for the family expedition with the smallest. There are plenty of benches and tables where you can enjoy the picnic you bring with you, all the meanwhile the giraffes prance around in the background.

The zoo is being restored right now and the price for entry has been reduced to only 5€ per person. Children under four are free. The place is easily found both by car and public transportation. At least, you can't avoid to notice the ... of the place. It looks like a small mountain rising high above the surrounding tree tops. That is the great monkey facility, where the naughty ones normally crawls around all over.

The place has many species of monkeys and that is probably the greatest attraction. Otherwise there are deer from Africa and Asia, lamas, the hippopotamus come in two sizes, penguins, birds, zebras and also a couple kangaroos. The giraffe and water buffalo herds are rather big and there was a bunch of cute baby giraffes last we visited. There's also a small train for the kids which for little money gives a 10 minutes trip around the zoo.

The place was built in 1934. The size is manageble, 15 hectars with more than 500 inhabitants. The zoo can be explored in a couple of hours, which makes the place an ideal destination for the smallest. The forest, the castle and the botanical garden nearby easily makes the entire area a fullday attraction.

Practical information:
Open: 9-18 during summer, 9-17 during winter.
Metro line: 8, stop Porte Dorée.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Lunch in the park

After spending ages standing in line to Notre Dame and thereafter spending hours exploring everything there is to see in the cathedral, you can use a moment or ten of relaxation.

One idea can be to buy one of the delicious lunch menus in a bakery (boullangerie). You can often find an offer with sandwich (half a baguette with filling, ham & cheese, smoked salmon or egg and salad), a drink (a juice, half a litre of water or a coke) and a desert (a small berry pie, a piece of chocolate cake or flan). The price is often no more than 5-8 Euro, which is the lunch budget for many office employed. It is common that the companies give "Ticket Restaurant" to their employees as a benefit along with their pay. They can be used in restaurants, at the bakery and in some grocery shops.

When the lunch is secured, then go to the side of the great cathedral and find the park located to the right of the main entrance. The park is located between Notre Dame and the Seine. It's a nice park, which extends all the way to the tip of Ile de la Cité. There are playgrounds for the kids, tall shadowcasting trees, benches and wonderful green grass.

It is a nice spot in the middle of Paris where you can relax for a while and enjoy the bright sun and warm summer weather, while you're free of the noise and smog from the cars. You'll notice that many local go to the parks when the weather is warm and have a little lunch picnic before they return to work.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Notre Dame de Paris

Thick books has been written about Notre Dame and there's a lot of history connected with the building. Notra Dame is perhaps one of the most well known buildings in the world, and that is not without reason.

It is an impressive construction. The architecture is unique in the world and many has used it as inspiration. From the outside you can enjoy all the fascinating and amazing details. Saints and kings, prophets and religious figures, devils and gargoyles. The details are overwhelming and even if you don't feel like lining up to come inside, it's worth a visit just to see it from the outside.

Once you've entered you should remember that it is a cathedral and place of worship. Since it's a catholic church, you'll find a lot of small altars and niches with saints and often find people in pray before an icon with lit candles. In several places you'll find small boxes where you can buy candles, which you then can light and place before the saint of your choice. Jesus and Virgin Mary are the two most visited, but you'll find that other more local saints will have candles lit before them as well.

A good piece of advice is to show respect for the worshippers. Cover shoulders and legs, don't wear shorts and short skirts. Many French women still wear a scarf and long skirts when attending mass on Sundays. Speak softly and walk calmly and quietly while absorbing all the impressions. There's a unique mood in the building, which is destroyed somewhat by the many tourists.

Practical information:
There are masses several times a day every single day, though most on Sundays. More information can be found at the official website: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/
Notre Dame is open all days from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm, though until 7:15 pm on Sundays and holidays.
Since it's a functioning place of worship access is free.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Seine

The Seine invites for long walks and charming evenings. There's always lief around the river in Paris. Not only can you see the old buildings and riverboats, but also easily find a tour-boat or a boat-restaurant and spend your entire evening by the river. It is an open invitation to romance and summer evenings.

The river separates Paris into two parts; Rive Droite and Rive Gauche. On both sides of the river are paths where you can walk along the river. Sometimes they are all the way down by the water's edge, at others high up on the embankment. The old trails where the horses pulled the riverboats back in the day are still present. Here you can find some wonderfull and peaceful spots, where you can enjoy your lunch or relax a bit in the sun.

A walk along the Seine will certainly provide a bunch of good experiences. There are promenades, long rows of stalls where books and other things are sold and several bridges of all styles and ages. On the river is a constant flow of boats. Especially the courier boats from the various ministries can be interesting to observe. There's also talk about creating a new metro-line as a riverboat instead of a train. Compared with the traffic in Paris, the Seine is a study in peace and calm.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Romance and street musicians - Pont Saint-Louis

You owe yourself to walk from Ile de la Cité to Ile Saint-Louis if you're into romantic strolls and real Parisian mood. The two ilands are connected with the bridge Pont Saint-Louis and what it's lacking of historical touch (the current bridge was completed in 1970) is plenty made up with charm and soul.

The current bridge is the 7th to connect the two islands since 1630 and there's a wonderful view over the Seine and Paris when you stand on it. Since the bridge is closed for traffic it's inviting for romantic strolls and walking arm in arm. Both tourists and locals use this little gem of peace and romance in the middle of Paris.

That the cars are absent is an open invitation for street musicians and other street performers. You can always find at least one who plays music or performs when you cross the bridge. Take the time to enjoy the special mood which is only found in Paris by the Seine. It's certainly worth it.

I clearly remember the first romantic dinner I had in Paris at a charming little restaurant on Ile Saint-Louis. Afterwards we walked closely arm in arm towards the metro and crossed the bridge. It was a cool autumn evening and yet an older man sat there and played the accordian. The music was perfect for the evening and the romance, and it touched me so much that I got tears in my eyes. See, that's the real paris, don't cheat yourself from it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Ile de la Cité

Ile de la Cité is one of two natural islands in the Seine in Paris. The place has great historical importance for the city and has been settled since before Christ. There was a Roman fortress on the island and it has held a significant role throughout the history of the area. The Romans has defeated the Huns, Viking attacks has been pushed back and the eastern part has always been location for religious worship. The island is in the middle of Paris and it was here the city was located during the middle-ages.

The island hosts many sights. It's easy to spend several hours slowly walking around and embrace the special feel of Paris. With a bit of fantasy it's easy to be transported back in time. Here you can find the Notre Dame cathedral which is renowned all over the world for it's architecture and the story about the hunchback. The place has been the seat of religious worship for more than 2000 years. Another middle-age bulding is Louis IXs Sainte-Chapelle from 1245 with an extraordinary interior. The Conciergerie prison, where Marie-Antoinette awaited her beheading, is part of Palais de la Cité which is also found on the island.

The oldest bridge in Paris, Pont Neuf connects the island with the rest of Paris. When the bridge was built it only touched the top if Ile de la Cité. Now there's a beautiful park, Parc Vert Gallant down to the river, where a natural sandbar formed after the bridge was built. The island is also home for the flower and birdt market, Prefecture de police de Paris, Palais de Justice, Hôtel Dieu (a hospital) and many other interesting things.

Practical information:
Metro line 4, stop Cité
RER B & C, stop St-Michel - Notre-Dame

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Flower and bird market

The flower and bird market in Paris is a different experience seen with Danish eyes, though so typical for the French and especially for Paris. Here are buildings for a permanent market, and each day between 8 and 19:30 can you find pots and plants suiting any taste. The bird market is open on Sundays and then you can find many rare and special birds, as well as cages, fodder and everything you might need.

When you walk around Paris you can't avoid to see how serious the Parisians take their balconies and the plants and flowers on them. Often you'll find every windowsill and every balcony filled with flowers in bright colours, adding life and charm to the city. If you look a bit further up, you'll notice that many roofs have been made into what seems like small parks. What they lack of gardens on ground level they have compensated for by using balconies, roofs and windowsills. So there's a lot of sale in flowers and pots, for the French males love to play gardeners.

They don't only come to the market to buy flowers and birds, but also to speak to the many vendors who provide good advice about gardening. Potted outdoors flowers is a passion in Paris and at this market you can find experts who're more than willing to share their knowledge with anyone interested.

Marché aux fleurs et aux oiseaux de Paris is located at Ile de la Cité on place Louis Lépine and Quai de Corse, not fra from Notre Dame and la Congerigie. It's located centrally next to the metro station Cité. The market has been in this location since 1808 and is easily recognized by it's metal pavalions.

Practical information:
Open all days from 8 am - 7:30 pm
Metro: Cité, line 4.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

La Conciergerie

When you wander along the Seine in Paris you'll pass one impressive building after the other. One that especially is outstanding is "la Conciergerie"; probably most well known as being the prison where Marie-Antoinette was kept prisoner while awaiting beheading. The place is part of a large series of buildings known as "Palais de Justice", where juridictional functions still take place.

The place was originally a Roman-Gallic fortress which over the years was expanded and later became the seat for the kings and their governments. The building is unique and clearly shows traits of it's history. It is a prime example on Gothic architecture. So if you're interested in history and old buildings, then you'll have to drop the place a visit.

There are four interesting locations to visit in "la Conciergerie". The first is the "Salle des gens d'armes", the room of the armed men (where the French word for policeman, "gendarme" comes from). The great hall was built in the 14th century in Gothic style. The arches are 8,5 metres high and gives a strong impression of the greatness of the palace then.

Then there's the kitchens which certainly are much larger than our modern food preparation localities. They cover two floors, where the king had his meals at the upper floor and the bottom floor was assigned to the King's household.

Continue and advance a few centuries into history by visiting the prisons which were used during the revolution. The prisoners lived under miserable conditions, a large change for many compared to their rich and noble backgrounds. In the beginning the most rich would pay fortunes to improve their circumstances, but later under the "Reign of Terror" everybody were treated equal and no more special treatment to anyone.

Finally there's the women's yard, which still looks like it did during the revolution. There is a small garden in the middle of the yard and a fountain in the corner which was used to wash laundry. At the gate the women could speak to the men on the other side.

Practical information:
Website: http://conciergerie.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/
Opening times summer:: 9:30 - 18:00
Price: Free under 18, adults 6,50€, discounts for students and youth.
Metro: Cité
The fun part: Two Gothic halls can be rented for events and large dinners.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Centre Pompidou


You can't avoid noticing a very characteristic buidling between the elder ones when you wander around in the area around Chatelet in Paris. Clearly modern with steel tubes and glass facades, it stands in stark contrast to the surroundings. It is Centre Georges-Pompidou, a famous poly-culturel centre which is the third most visited sight in Paris after the Eiffel tower and the Louvre.

The centre has one of the two most famous collections of modern art in the world with an exhibition from Museum of Modern Art in New York. As if that isn't enough, there's also a cinema, several temporarely exhibitions, one of the best public libraries in Europe, as well as a centre for musical and accustic studies and research. There is also a stage and a dedicated debate fascility. There is also an exhibition for the children with various shows and themes. It is in truth a place dedicated to cultuer.

The building itself is rather interesting. It was designed by the architects Renzo Piano (Italy), the couple Richard and Sue Rogers (England), the structure engineers Edmund Happold (England) and Peter Rice (Ireland). the project won a competition and the result was announced in 1971. It's said that the design turned the architectonic world upside down. The building was completed in 1977 and was opened to the public the same year.

Practical information:
Entry: The museums are free for people under 18 and every first Sunday in the month. The price for adults is 12 euro during high season.
Opening times: All days except Tuesdays from 11 am to 10 pm.
Website: http://www.centrepompidou.fr/
Metro: Rambuteau, Les Halles
RER: Chatelet - Les Halles

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Party in Paris, Bastille day

Are you into partying. What about visiting Paris in the middle of the summer and experience a party that's comparable with New Years eve in Copenhagen or 4th of July in Boston!


There is a grand party over all of France during the evening the 13th of July. There's life and joy on every street and in Paris thousands of people are gathered to celebrate all night. There are big firework shows, events and happenings which certainly are worth experiencing.


14th of July is France's national day. They celebrate the storm of the Bastille in 1789 which marked the beginning of the French revolution. The day is celebrated all over the French speaking world and you can even see parades and events in places such as San Francisco, New York City, Seattle and many other places.


The largest and most famous parade takes place in the morning on the Champs-Élysèes in Paris, where the military displays all their might before the French precident and his guests. The entire army is represented, from the infantry, the foreign legion, students from the military schools, the navy, the police, the firemen and what not. The hangovers from the night before are challenged when the airforce performs their grand displays with noise, smoke and colours. During the later years it has become custom to invite France's allies to participate in the parade.


This year the president of Syria, Basha al-Assad has been invited to view the events with president Sarkozy.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Église Saint-Eustache

In the middle of Paris you'll find the beautiful cathedral Église Saint-Eustache. It is located by the entrance to the old markets of Paris (les Halles) and at the beginning of the famous "rue Montorgueuil". It is yet one of Paris' Gothic gems and was built between 1532 and 1632.

The church is an example of Gothic architecture which had renaissance details added. It's an impressive building. It is 105 metres long and insider the ceiling is 33,45 metres above you. Outside the cathedral displays a beautiful mixture of Gothic and renaissance styles, which a front sober and heavy and a backside filled with classical details and decorations.


Within the cathedral is the largest pipe organ in France, greater than those found in Notre Dame and Saint Sulpice. The organ was originally built by Ducroquet and was later changed by Joseph Bonnet. There are 8000 pibes.

 The cathedral has been quite famous during the years and both Louis XIV, Mozart, Anne of Austria, Turenne and Mirabeau, Marie de Gournay, Madame de Pompadour and many other have used the cathedral or been burried here.

It is certainly worth a visit, especially due to its architecture, it is very impressive. And while you're in the area, you might as well visit the large underground mall beneath; Forum les Halles.




Practical information:

Metro/RER stop: Chatelet / Les Halles

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Noisy le Grand

Noisy le Grand is a suburb to Paris about halfway to Disneyland on the RER A. The suburb is 15 km east of Paris' centre and it takes about 20 min on the RER to get out there. The name means walnut groove and the town has traces back to before the Roman age. The town has over 60.000 residents which makes it a bit larger than Randers, Denmark. Of course, since the entire area is one big suburb, you'll barely notice leaving one town for another.

I Mont d'Est, a newer part of Noisy le Grand, is a large mall called "Centre Commercial des Arcades". Here you'll find a broad selection of shops, a big supermarket, several restaurants and a cinema which quite often also have VO (version originale) movies which means that there are French subtitles instead of dubbing.

This is also where you can find some rather unique architecture. "The Theatre" is drawn by the famous Spanish architect Ricard Bofill i Levi and not far from there in another part of Noisy le Grand, Pavè Neuf, you can find "Les Arènes de Picasso" drawn by Manolo Nuñez-Yanowsky. The area has quite a lot of new buildings with offices and great glass façades. And as something new an international school is being built, which according to plan should be completed in 2012.

In the old part of town you'll find the mayors office which is a very typical French mayors office building. The town centre was renovated four years ago and is now beautiful with fountains, a small park like thing, running water, peace and quiet. There are a few old streets with shops where you still get the feeling of stepping into a small countryside town and not be in the middle of a metropolis. The marketplace is of course next to the city hall, and rather atypically there is no church next to the marketplace. Also here you'll find a lot of new buildings, and another mall with cinema is almost completed.

Noisy le Grand is a good suburb to use as base for the exploration of Paris and surrounding areas. It's easy to access, and the hotels are cheaper than you'll find them in Paris itself. There are good restaurants and shopping. And then there's the Marne river boarding the town, which is always worth a visit and stroll especially in the warm summer evenings.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Chateau-Thierry

Just an hours drive east of Paris through the A4 is the town Château-Thierry. It's located beautifully by the Marne river and is a historic site.
There are traces of civilization all the way back to the iron age, and a secondary Roman settlement was made on the other side of the river thriving on the river crossing. On a hill close to the river is an old fortress ruin settlement which dates all the way back to the 9th century. In the beginning of the 19th century the most of the castle was razed and now only the fortifications and a gate is left. The area is now a wonderful park with a beautiful view over the city and the nearby areas.

During the summer there's a living museum and re-enactment which shows how people lived in medieval times. It's a group called Virges Armes which is behind the re-enactment. Crafts, shows, workshops, entertainment for children, education, acting and so on.

To important battles were fought in Château-Thierry; one in 1814 during the Napoleon war and one in 1918 during the first wolrd war. There's now a big American monoment for their fallen soldiers a short distance from the town.

The well known writer Jean de La Fontaine was born in Château-Thierry 8th of July 1621. he is known for his fables about animals which were used as disguise for political messages in a time where normal citizens couldn't say their opinion about nobility too openly.

Another good reason for visiting the town is that it is located in the area that produces Champagne. It is on the "Route touristique du Champagne", which is a sightseeing route passing through the Champagne region and brings you to the best and most interesting champagne producers. Of course you can find wine cellars and tastings in the vineyards.

http://www.virgesarmes.com/
http://www.tourisme-en-champagne.com/

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cider and pineau

If there is one thing we know France for, then it's wine, champagne and cognac. For us who live here there's a few other possibilities and specialities, which we can get to know. My two favourites are pineau and cider.

You can't avoid seeing cider on the menu-card if you go to a crêperie. And if you want to eat crepes as the French does it, then you have to drink cider with it. The dry cider (brut as we know it from the champagne) is surprisingly enough very suitable with both galette (crepes with meat and cheese filling) as well as with crepe sutette (the desert crepes).

French cider is found in two versions normally. Sweet and dry. The strength is between 5% and 8%, so quite stronger than the Swedish cider, but milder than the English. When you buy cider in the supermarkets the prices are quite reasonable. From less than 2€ up til perhaps 6-7€ depending on quality and brand for a 75cl bottle. It's served best cool, but not cold. Give it time to recover on top of the visit to the fridge.

Pineau is a wonderful experience in itself. It's produced in the same area as cognac, and is made from the same grapes. It's a sweet strong wine (17-22%), often with hints of honey or flowers. It is most often served as an aperitif and at a temperature between 8 and 10 degrees in tulip shaped glasses. It's found in a white and rose version.

The legend about Pineau des Charantes tells that a winegrower in 1589 during the harvest happened to pour fresh grape juice onto a barrel where there was already cognac. The barrel was stored away and some years later there was need of the barrel due to a good harvest. The farmer was surprised over the wonderful drink in the barrel, clear and golden like the sun in the Charantes region.

Don't forget to try the local specialities when you're visiting. It's certainly worth it and I'll bring home a couple of bottles when I visit the family back in Denmark, so they can taste the golden drink.

http://www.pineau.fr

Monday, 23 June 2008

Opéra de Paris

Opéra de ParisPalais Garnier is also known as Opéra de Paris. It was officially opened in 1875 and was the national opera until 1989 when Opéra Bastille was built.

The project started in 1861 but wasn't completed before the end of 1874. The construction of the opera had many obstructions and accidents. One of the greatest problems was that the building was being built on top of an underground lake which first had to be emptied. That took 8 months of constant pumping. Other delays were due to the French-Prussian war, which almost completely stalled the project. Finally, January the 15th, 1875 the opera could be opened with a lavish gala performance at the joy of Paris.

Several years later the opera experienced a tragic accident where a contra weight for one of the chandeliers fell and killed a person. All these accidents and events around the opera inspired Gaston Leroux to write his great novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, which later has been made into a film several times as well as a musical.

The opera has room for 2.200 spectators and is 11.000 square metres. The great scene has room for 450 actors and the central chandelier weighs over 6 tons.

It is one of the places in Paris you must visit.Opéra de Paris

Praktical information:
Officiel website: http://www.operadeparis.fr/
RER:
Line A, stop Auber
Line E, stop Haussmann - Saint-Lazare
Metro:
Line 3, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 og 14
Stop: Opéra, Havre-Caumartin, Saint-Augustin and Saint-Lazare

Friday, 20 June 2008

RER - the connection to the suburbs

RERRER (Réseau Express Régional) is the train system which connects the suburbs with Paris. It is fast and very effective. There are 258 stations and 587 km tracks. In Paris proper there are 33 stations and they have direct connection to the metro. Line A has up to 55.000 passengers per hour in each direction, which is the highest in the world outside of Japan.

The system is built on zones as we know it from Denmark. Paris itself is zone 1 and then you'll find the zones in rings around Paris. There are 6 zones. Disneyland is in zone 5 on the line A, while the airport Charles de Gaulle is on line B in zone 6, and the airport Orly is at the other end of line B in zone 3.

Several of the RER stations are also SNCF stations, which is the national railway. They cover the less dense areas and other towns around Paris' suburbs. Normally you just need one ticket no matter which railway you take.

There are machines on all stations, also the metro, where you can buy tickets for the RER. You purchase the tickets directly from station to station and you don't need to think about the number of zones. All credit cards with chip can be used or you can pay with coins. The machines are also in English and other languages, so you don't need to fight the French phrases.

A ticket is valid between the two zones it's bought for and has to be kept until you leave the final destination. All stations in zone1/Paris are just named Paris and you can change directly to the metro without buying a new ticket. You can also get of the train a station or two before your destination and still get through the control machines. The problems only arise if you get of the train too late. Luckily it's easy to get to the other track and catch a train heading back again.

If you have to travel several times between two stations, or in a group, it's always worthwhile to buy a "carnet" holding ten tickets. There's a significant discount.

Practical information:
http://www.ratp.fr/ - Here you'll find travel plans between all stations in Île-de-France, as well as maps, schedules and prices.
http://www.sncf.fr/

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Arche de Triumphe

The triump arch is second only to the Eiffel tower as a landmark of Paris. The building is impressive when you get close to it. Big and massive, filled with figures and ornaments. It is 49,5 metres high, 45 metres wide and 22 metres deep.

It is located at the top of the Champs-Élysées at the Place Charles de Gaulle (also known as Place de l'Étoile). There is a beautiful view over the Champs-Élysées down to Place Concorde and the Louvre from the arch. If you gaze the other way, you will see la Defence and the new triumph arch which was designed by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Sprekelsen.

The arch honours thouse who fought for France, especially for Napoleon and his triumphs, and it has the names of the great battles, generals and other French triumphs during the wards. The battle of Waterloo which Napoleon lost is of course not mentioned. The project was started in 1816, but wasn't finished before 1836 because of the fall of Napoleon and a new French government. The style is inspired by Titus' arch in Rome and is meant to surpass the Roman triumphs. It is a beautiful building and certainly worth a visit.

Under the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier, with an eternal flame in memory of the fallen French soldiers during both world wars. The flame was lit in 1920.

Access to the arch is free, though it costs to enter the building and see the fantastic view over Paris.

Practical information:
Metro/RER stop: Charles de Gaulle - Etoile, line A, 1, 2 og 6

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Alternative sightseeing tour

What is France? What is a typical French when we are to believe all the clichés?

He's running around with a baguette under his arm, a newpaper and wearing a black beret. He of course has a black moustache and could need a shower. And then he of course enjoys a good bottle of wine with his delicious cheese. That's France when you believe all the stereotypes.

There's one thing we've forgotten to mention in this list which is so typical French. A real French man is of course driving around in one of the most famous cars there are, at least if you're to believe the French.

The 2CV.


We can probably not find a more French car, at least not if we're to believe the movies. It's charming and very characteristic as it's bumping over the uneven cobblestones in Paris' streets. Toss a few racing numbers on it and the humour reaches new heights.

The French have done it. They know what sells and aren't afraid to play on people's expectations of what Paris and France is. Paris Sightseeing Tours found the trick and offer tourists to rent an old 2CV with driver dressed in beret and blue jacket for a ride through Paris seeing all the sights.

So, want a sightseeing tour through the city of cities in a real racing 2CV with your own private driver?
Come aboard.

Practical information:
There's room for three passangers in the cars and the tours last from half an hour to three hours.
The prices start at 58€ per person with 3 persons in the car.
Homepage: http://www.sightseeing-tours-in-paris.com/paris_2cv_tours.html

Friday, 9 May 2008

Rue Montgallet

Rue Montgallet is worth visiting, at least if you're a bit nerdy and want to see how the competition and free market works when it's hardest. The entire street, and some of the side-streets are filled with computer shops. Most shops have long home-made price lists hanging in the windows. Often they look like the family songs and invitations which the family father made when he got his first colour printer. Large pictures, coloured fonts and a price that jumps into your eyes.

When you enter the shops it becomes even more special. Most shops are owned by Asians and don't ask me if it's Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese or what. Paris is such a wonderful multi-culturel. The Asians certainly makes me think that they can get stuff from back home to a price that beats anything us Europeans can get. You'll see other people in the shops as well, there's a group of them who're nerds, very stereotypical as taken out of a satire comic. It's quiet entertaining and surely an experience that you can't find back in Denmark.

The competition is tough and that's very visible on the prices. We visited the nearby computer-supermarket Surcouf which sells IT equipment when I recently was out looking for a new computer. You can find practically everything there, but the shop has ordinary people as targetgroup and the prices follow. The monitor I wanted cost more than 300€ in the bit shop. On rue Montgallet I found it for 230€ and I could have found it cheaper if I had wanted to go through all the shops looking for a cheaper price.

What really surprised me was how you find the cheapest price. You simply make a detailed list of what you wish to buy and then you walk from shop to shop and show the list and tell them you want an offer. Without raising any questions they start calculating you an offer which you're given on a piece of paper. Perhaps there'll be some special discounts or even something for free, if you're buying many things. This way you walk from shop to shop and collect a huge pile of offers. Be prepared to spend several hours because there are many shops. If you see something that's especially cheap it's worth checking how much they have in stock, because just an hour or two later it might be gone again. When you're tired of wandering, find yourself a café get an espresso and go through the offers and decide where you wish to buy your new computer.

If you're just out to get a few things it's certainly worth visiting the homepages first and see where you can buy it for the cheapest. You can find USB keys, smartcards, ram etc. very cheaply. You can of course also just wander from shop to shop and ask what the price of the day is. The prices changes day to day and the web doesn't always show the latest development.

Practical information:
Web: http://www.rue-montgallet.com/ - you can also find practical information about the shops and places. Not all shops are on the website but it's a good place to start.
Transport:
Metro: Montgallet, line 8. The stop is at one end of the street, so it can't be easier.
Gare de Lyon is only a few blocks away from rue Montgallet so it's rather easy to find and get to.


View Larger Map

Monday, 24 March 2008

Meschers sur Gironde

If you're up for a visit at the Atlantic coast, drinking cognac and pineau, explore historical places and enjoy nature, tides and oysters Meschers is a place worth visiting.

Meschers is a small town on the west coast of France, at the edge of the Cognac district, which makes the town a good base for a vacation. Bordeaux is less than two hours away, and Cognac not even one hours drive away. There are of course also the sea, nature and many historical places. The area was colonized by the Romans and there are old forts, villas and towns in the region which dates back to the Roman empire.

Meschers itself is a charming little town. It's one of the oldest holiday resorts in France and one of the first places that the Parisians went to for holidays back in the 19th century. This was the place where they could relax, get fresh air and sun as prescribed by the doctors of the time.

The town is especially famous for two things; the caves and the fishing.

The caves are found in the steep and high limestone cliffs at the coast. They might have been inhabited for centuries, and especially the last few have been documented. There is now a museum in some of the caves and you can see how people lived back then. Others are still privately owned and there's even a hotel with rooms in the cliff. They were changed from homes to chic cafés and romantic spot for the Parisian tourists.

Another characteristic of Meschers is the fishing, or rather, the oyster hunting. At every low-tide you'll see plenty of locals wandering far into the bay to collect oysters. The fishing huts raised high on poles along the coast is another landmark you can recognize the town on.

Official website: http://www.meschers.com/
Google map

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Seafood

The French love seafood, and that's clearly reflected in their supermarkets. The seafood section is just as large as the meat section or fruit section, and it's a sight for the eyes indeed. The employees do take their time to arrange the seafood in a manner that's appealing for the eyes, sometimes it's all artistic and very creative, such a shark with a fish in its mouth.

These pictures are from Carrefour in Bay2 in Torcy outside of Paris. This Carrefour has a very varied selection of many products, including international ones. You can even find Marmite and parsnips here.

Enjoy!

There are several people attending the fish section, and you can get your fish prepared just as you want it. Prices are per kilo usually.

Yes, it is a stingray that's been partially prepared. I've seen sharks lined up as well, huge tunas and salmon and anything you can imagine.

Oysters are very popular in France and you can find them for any celebration. The shrimps are usually hot water shrimps from the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean, though with luck you can find some from the North-east Atlantic.

The crabs are alive, pretty spooky as they lie there watching you. There are more shellfish available than I even know the names of. You can also find the French lobsters in a tank where they stare at you.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The metro in Paris

Public transportation in Paris and suburbs is excellent. There is always one way or another to reach your destination. The prices are manageble and for most places the departures are often and regular. Within Paris itself it's the metro that covers, while the RER is the train to and from the suburbs. The system is easy and practical, but takes a bit to get used to.

On every metro-station you can find maps over the system. There are 14 different metro-lines where some has their destination outside Paris proper in zone two. All departures are listed according to their destination. Unlike London, where you have to know in what direction you take the train, you in Paris have to know the destination of the line.

To use the metro you need to use the socalled "t+" tickets. They're valid for both metro, bus and RER in Paris. As long as you are within the metro, you can change between lines as you wish. You need to carry the ticket during the entire trip and can't throw it away before you leave the metroe. There are stations where you have to pass the ticket through the machines to get out.

There are different discounts for metro and RER, but the most practical for visitors is to buy a "Carnet de 10 tickets", which is ten tickets with a small discount. One "carnet" costs 11,10€, where a single t+ ticket costs 1,50€. Children from 4 to 9 years are "tarif réduit" which is half price. Children under 4 are free.

As a tourist you can buy a "Paris Visite" ticket, which can be used unlimited during the period it's bought for. It can be bought for zones 1-3 or for zones 1-6, which covers the entire RER/metro system. They're valid from 1 day to 5 days. Prices can be found at the homepage for RATP.

There is one thing you need to keep track of, and that is the strikes. To strike is a people's sport in France, and it's almost always the transport sector which is immobilized. If there's a strike while you're visiting, then prepare for a public transportation which is chaotic, disrupted, and non-functioning. Expect sore feet.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Palais du Louvre

Everybody has heard of the big museum in Paris where there is more art than you can possibly view in a week. There are other good reasons to visit the Louvre if there isn't time or desire for long queues and endless rooms with art.

The Louvre is the oldest art museum in Paris and was officially opened in 1750. The buildings are much older and the original castle is over 800 years old. Over the years the palace has been rebuilt and added to. The palace as we know it today was completed in 1876. The famous glass pyramid was officially opened in 1989.

To walk through the Louvre and see the buildings from the outside is impressive. Sculptures and ornaments covers walls, windows, doors and roofs. There is a lot to explore for the eye and the Louvre is certainly an architectonic masterpiece worth visiting.

Under the museum is a mall and exhibitions. This is where you will find the displays for contemporary art, photography and so on. The shops are expensive and clearly aimed at the tourists, but it's worth exploring the world under the museum. This is where you will find the original fortress walls of the castle, many feet under the surface.

After the visit at the palace it's logic to wander through the Jardin des Tuileries towards the Place de la Concorde which is the beginning of the Champs-Élysées. Louvre is the eastern most part of the Voie Triomphale (Way of Triumph) which goes west and currently ends at the New Arch of Triumph about 8 km away.

Practical info:
Metro: line 1 and 7, Palais Royal Musée du Louvre