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.