Paris

Preconceived ideas…..

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20130415-100534.jpgI have always been a lover of a good cup of tea – not the sort of tea from a tea bag, that is just a drink (and I do lots of that!) – a proper cup of leaf tea – earl grey or Darjeeling! Equally I have always thought of tea as a very British thing, something that we do more than any other country of the World.

However, a recent visit to Paris suggests that the French drink lots of proper tea – this tea shop was frankly amazing. The selection of teas was huge and they have shops all over France (this one was in the Carousel next to the entrance to the Louvre).

I would love to think that we have educated the French in the ways of tea – sadly I don’t think this is the case though!

Interesting how wrong our preconceived ideas can be….

Europe’s most romantic city?

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20130410-193251.jpgThis week I have been in Paris with my family – including two teenagers – so not at all romantic, but great fun. Paris is often sold as the most romantic destination in Europe, whether this is true or not remains to be seen (depending on a couple only trip in the future), but certainly there are signs that it may well be!

I am aware that the idea of locking a padlock onto a bridge to show your love for someone is not a new one – and I have no idea where it started (I have certainly seen it in various parts of the world). However the locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché which lies very close to Notre-Dame are the most I have seen yet – and perhaps prove the French claim that theirs is the most romantic city?

More French flair

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20130409-201238.jpgI am a fan of the French (really! – despite what I said yesterday) and the way they do things – they have a certain flair and also appear to get things done! I realise this is not a generally held view in the UK, we love to bash the French – I really don’t understand why……

A classic example of the flair that the French have can be seen in the design of the metro station at Arts et Métiers which has its roof finished in a ‘copper style’ – it feels like something out of a Jules Verne book or Captain Nemo’s Nautilus (perhaps that is the idea), whatever the reason for the effect it has a real impact when you first see it and just adds to your day.

You’ve got to love the French………

How not to manage one of the worlds busiest museums….

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Ok, so I admit I am not averse to complaining – in my opinion no one should be, it is the only way things improve. So when there is a total lack of information or perceived management of a situation it annoys me…..

The situation I refer to relates to the closure of the Louvre in Paris on Wednesday 10th April – now the French are very proud of the museum (quite rightly) as it is one of the largest and most visited in the World. This would therefore assume a good level of management. So when we arrived as a family and found barriers up, security staff guarding the doors and very small messages saying the museum was closed – but giving no reason why and no idea when it would reopen – we were naturally somewhat annoyed.

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But what really didn’t help was the total lack of real information, it took us at least 45 minutes to discover the reason the Louvre was closed – a strike by staff due to pickpockets – and also that there was no chance of it opening at all on that day. This last point was not clear from the note at the entrance (and the ‘help line’ mentioned on the message was never answered – on strike too?)

Who did I find out from? A security guard – no one else was around from the museum staff.

But what really annoyed me? The fact that the message on the website (which only appeared many hours after the strike started) was so incongruous. One might almost say it was deliberately vague – perhaps they didn’t want visitors to know that the staff strike and that pickpockets are a big problem? I would hardly call a strike in France ‘exceptional circumstances’!

Come on – this is Paris, France – the home of strikes and now it appears Europe’s capital of pickpockets!

So in trying to ‘keep it quiet’ it appears to me that the Louvre’s ‘management’ may well have scored a huge own goal – typically French?

A Parisian discovery…

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20130409-195703.jpgI am in Paris for a few days, a city that I like to think I have a reasonable feel for, but today proved that you can always discover something new, even in a city you think you know…

New York is well known for its HighLine or ‘park in the sky’ – I am looking forward to seeing it in the summer when we are there as a family as I have heard so many positive things about it. However, today I discovered Paris’s own HighLine – la promenade plantee. This is a similar thing – a former railway line and viaduct in a city environment that has been formed into an amazing linear park. In addition the arches below have also been refurbished and created into workshops and retail space for artists and artisans. This in fact was the original High Line, built sixteen years before the New York model, and apparently it served as inspiration to it’s American counterpart.

The promenade stretches for almost 5 kilometers across the 12th arrondissement following the path of the retired ligne de Vincennes railway track from Bastille to the boulevard Périphérique. It is highly popular with runners as well as for ‘promenading’ and was quite busy mid morning when we were walking it. It is also beautifully planted and in places you would be hard pushed to believe that you weren’t in a larger garden rather than on a city viaduct!

20130409-195454.jpgIt is great to see regeneration on this scale in a city – the walkway itself is great, but the conversion of the arches below is simply stunning and provides fantastic space for new businesses. Sadly I can’t see this level of planning commitment or general vision in the UK – somehow I feel the use of bulldozers would have been more likely?

This would work if cyclists could follow the rules….

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So we have all seen them when we are in our cars – cyclists who decide that they are allowed to cross junctions on red or generally flout the laws of the Highway Code. As a car driver it is annoying, particularly as there are certain cyclists who seem to make it their ‘reason for living’ to annoy drivers! My wife has a particular hatred of these cyclists – they give good law-abiding cyclists a bad name.

Now I would be the first to accept that cycling is dangerous in cities, and that drivers should give cyclists due consideration, but it is a ‘two way street’ and they need to play by the rules as well – that’s how it works on the road.

even our PM jumps red lights!

So I can see the reasoning behind the recent attempt to get ministers to look into allowing cyclists to go through red lights, as an attempt to cut fatalities and serious injuries. Making the case for the debate supporters have expressed concern at the rising number of cyclists killed on the road and the “disproportionate number” of accidents involving vans and lorries.

There has been a pilot scheme agreed in Paris recently following a campaign by cycling groups to allow cyclists to turn right (the equivalent of turning left in the UK) or go straight on at T-junctions, even when the lights are red.

They are also trying so-called “Trixi mirrors” – fitted to traffic lights to give lorry drivers a better view of cyclists on their left side at road junctions – the reasoning being that large vehicles turning left do have a degree of difficulty in seeing people. Of 16 cyclists killed in London in 2011, 12 involved a goods vehicle – seven of which were construction vehicles.

So yes, I can see the reasoning behind the arguments – but my concern is that if the law changes the cyclists will then have to comply with the law and stop behaving as if they own the road – and I can’t see them changing their spots if I am being honest.

Weight loss and excercise

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a minor blip!

As you may have gathered from my previous blog entries I have been trying (and managing) to lose weight over the last 6 months or so. I am aware that I have become a bit of a ‘bore’ on the subject as the weight has disappeared – but if I am honest I am rather proud of myself for managing it (with lots of help from my family and Wendy in particular).

The recent holiday to Paris was the first ‘real test’ of my resolve and weight management when off the diet. So how did it go?

Well I am amazed to report that although I did put some weight on  – around 4 pounds (and if you saw what I was eating that would come as no surprise!), the real damage was kept off due to the amount of exercise we did! This has highlighted to me more that anything that diets are fine, but one needs to exercise as well!

In Paris we walked our feet off and also climbed a serious number of stairs – 90 up to our apartment plus 1400 on the day we walked up and down the Eiffel tower and 600 the day we went up and down the Arc de Triumphe.

A busy weekend out and about has allowed me to rid myself of most of what I put on in France as well!

There is no doubt that getting out an exercising will become a major part of my regime for the future!

Cool new toy!

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When I go away on holiday I like to take photos, I have to balance taking decent shots with keeping the rest of the family happy at being asked to stop regularly so I can take a picture. Consequently I tend to travel light – these days I use an Olympus E-P1 plus a couple of lenses. This allows everything to fit in a small gadget bag, but is still capable of taking good quality images.

One of my problems however has been taking a tripod – I purchased a light weight on a few years ago that lives in my car and is small enough not to be a problem most of the time. But if like recently we are travelling by train (Eurostar) to Paris then size and weight of luggage is a big issue – and my tripod is one item too far!

I have tried things like Gorilla Pods but don’t really get on with them – although they are undeniably clever, and the mini tripods are just too flimsy in my view. A bean bag is another option, but not one I have used to date.

However, just around the corner from us this holiday was a large (and it turned out the oldest) photographic shop in Paris – I felt I had to inspect it!

It was a truly lovely shop – catering mainly for the more professional end of the market but also keeping ‘high end’ amateur stuff. A quick inspection of the Manfrotto department produced the item in the photo – a brilliant little tripod made from metal and solid as can be – a purchase was made and now my minimal travel kit has a basic camera support – result!

Paris – what a great city!

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Firstly let me admit to being a great fan of the French – I realise this makes me a target for much of the UK population. We seem to have an in-built hatred of the French – I assume it is an historic thing, but I don’t share it. I also believe we can learn a lot from them in the way we manage and plan our cities.

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I am coming to the end of my week staying in the Marais in Paris and have to say it has been very relaxing. I have also at no time felt threatened whilst walking the streets or riding the Metro (apart from one incident – and that had a good side). This does feel a very friendly and safe city.

We have been very lucky with the weather, it has been in the low 20’s all week – not normal Easter weather but very nice!

The feel of the city from a ‘property mans’ perspective is generally positive. They do have more vacant units in the districts, but there are still tower cranes over the skyline in many areas.

Their transport system also works flawlessly – let’s hope London looks and performs as well for the Olympics next year!

The only ‘blip’ was when both my wife and I had our pockets picked at the same time on the Metro. A group of women crushed onto the crowded carriage behind us and had my wife’s purse out of her closed handbag and their hands in my pocket on my wallet before we knew what was happening.

Only the quick intervention of some locals stopped them. And this is the difference to the UK – would anyone help on the tube in London or just turn away so as not to get involved?

We need to get back to some proper values in the UK and quickly!

Lunch on the Eiffel Tower

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I have had over the years a number of ‘things to do before I die’ – not a massive wish list, and to be honest, not a particularly successful one!

Top of this list for years was a flight on Concorde – now unlikely unless there is a similar campaign to the one that got the Vulcan flying again.

Another item on the list involves Paris and the Eiffel Tower. I have always wanted to eat at the Jules Verne restaurant on the tower. It is world renowned and gives the best view of Paris from any restaurant. It is so popular that booking 3 months in advance is required!

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Well this week we are in Paris and have been to the tower and have eaten there – unfortunately not in the Jules Verne but in the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant. Still a great experience as the view is the same, but the cost significantly lower! Walking up and down the 700 stairs (each way) should also have helped burn off any food – (the Jules Verne has it’s own lift).

The set menu for the 5 of us at the Jules Verne would have set me back €800 and that is before any wine and drinks – so probably €1000 is a low estimate for us all!

Unfortunately this one will have to wait to be ticked off my list!