Paris

Paris, 2oo7

Despite having been there more times than I can count since my first visit at just 5 months old, I’ve somehow never written anything on here about one of my favourite cities in the world – Paris. In fact, I realised I’ve barely written about France at all. Considering that all my family lives there, I used to live there, and it’s the country where I’ve spent the most time and done the most travelling, I’m not sure how this is. But I’ll make a start on it with my most recent visit, which was mostly Paris with a brief but lovely trip to my family hometown of Metz for my cousin’s wedding.

This was also the first time in probably around 15 years that all of my family went on holiday together. Although we were heading to Lorraine, the easiest way to get there is to fly to Paris then take the TGV across the country. It had been a few years since I’d spent any real time in Paris so me, my mum and my brother Mike had decided to stay there for a week after the wedding. Stepping off the plane into the late summer warmth and sunshine, I felt like I was home again.

Before we caught the train we had a couple of hours to kill; not a difficult thing to do in Paris! Our first port of call was dinner, and as my dad is from the East of France he had been dying on a proper, traditional choucroute. For those not familiar, it is a mound of fermented cabbage with about an entire pig worth of meat on top of it. Personally, it’s not for me. But my dad and Mike were very happy and the rest of us enjoyed a delicious meal and of course some very nice French wine (the first of many on this trip!).


Choucroute and my much more sensible choice

After dinner we still had a bit of time, so the girls (me, my mum, and Jess) went for a walk and ended up by the Canal St Martin, one of my favourite places in Paris. Just wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere of the city made me realise how much I had missed this place, and even just being there for a couple of hours I already didn’t want to leave. Eventually we had to of course, and the long day of travelling continued. By the time we arrived at the hotel in Metz we were all exhausted and had a wedding to look forward to the next day, so it was an early night all around.

Canal St Martin
Shops along the Canal St Martin

The next day was a blur of family and wedding things, which I won’t go into detail of. It was an amazing day though, an absolutely gorgeous wedding, and so lovely to catch up with the family. I would have loved to spend more time in Metz and around Lorraine, but on Sunday we caught the train back to Paris. My dad, Chris, and Jess then headed to the airport and back home, while the rest of us got to stay in the city. Summer seemed to have arrived late in France as well as in the UK, so it was another lovely evening. Once we located the AirB&B we were staying in, we went for a quick walk around the neighbourhood and for a drink before dinner.

For dinner we went to Le Chartier, an old favourite that does cheap traditional food served in a gorgeous old dining hall and is equally popular with locals as with tourists. The service is pretty hit and miss, and unfortunately that night it was definitely a miss. But the food was good and I was finally able to have some French cider, something which is notoriously difficult to track down in a country where beer and wine are most common. As we were staying relatively close by, we took a walk up to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur after dinner to watch a truly amazing sunset.

Sacre Coeur

Montmartre

Montmartre Sunset

I spent Monday largely by myself, indulging in a bit of “Flâneuserie” and browsing the shops. I did however have to pay a visit to the recently opened Parisian branch of my favourite ice cream shop from Australia, N2, which was just as amazing as I remembered.

Continuing with the theme of good food and over indulgence, the next morning I made us all walk across town to the best bakery in Paris for breakfast. Du Pain et Des Idées, just off the Canal, has won numerous prizes for its traditionally baked breads, pastries, and all sorts of other delicacies, so naturally I had to check it out. By the time we got there it was late morning, the queue was out the door and they had almost sold out. But we managed to get some croissants, pains au chocolat, and escargots, which we enjoyed with some lovely coffee while sitting by the Canal in the sunshine. Bliss.


Heaven in the form of baked goods, most notably a pistachio & chocolate escargot

The rest of the day was spent exploring Paris and actually visiting some places that I had never been to before, the Palais Royal and Sainte Chapelle. After a LOT of walking (again – when in Paris…) we picked up some dinner supplies and had a picnic on the Champ de Mars, because although I’ve seen it countless times I still find the Eiffel Tower pretty special. It was one of those moments where the second you stop walking and sit down you realise just how tired you are and how much your feet hurt, and it took all of our collective energy to get back to the flat – although this time we did take a Metro!

Palais Royal
Le Palais Royal

Sainte Chapelle
Ste Chapelle

On Wednesday we took the train out to Versailles. Again, it’s somewhere I’ve visited numerous times in the past, but it had been a while and it’s not really somewhere you can overdo as there’s so much to see. It was an absolutely scorching day, perfect for wandering the 800 or so hectares of gardens. I had never been to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon and estate, so we decided to head down to see her own private “little” garden, complete with it’s own farm.


A bit of posing

Versailles
The gardens of Versailles

Versailles
Marie Antoinette’s estate

On Wednesday night, the weather finally did the usual French thing after a long hot spell and there was an epic, all-night rain and thunder storm. This was supposed to ease off the next day but unfortunately the rain continued. We spent most of the day shopping in an attempt to keep dry, after initially getting soaked the second we stepped foot outside. Of course we were fuelled by another delicious breakfast from Du Pain et Des Idées – this time I opted for a summer fruits and cream cheese escargot, which if possible was even better than the first. It was another day of miles and miles of walking, but in my opinion that is the only way to do Paris.

We were leaving on Friday afternoon, but as we had the morning and the weather was still being unpredictable, we went to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where my mum wanted to see their exhibition on Barbie. Initially I wasn’t very interested, but my inner child got the best of me so I went to see it as well and it was actually really great. Eventually though it was time to leave, and it was with a lot of reluctance that I bade Paris goodbye (for now).

Expo Barbie au Musée des Arts Décoratifs
The Barbie expo

Marseille to Metz

I plan on making this a weekly blog but seeing as it’s still a couple of weeks until I next go away, I thought I’d write about some of my travels from earlier this year.

It seems only fitting to start this blog off with a post about France. I first went to France when I was 5 months old and, being half French, I spent a fair amount of time there growing up. All of this time I never really learned any more than the basics of the language, but at school I discovered that I loved learning languages and went on to study French as my degree at university – partly because I love the country, the culture and of course the language itself, but also to get closer to all my family over there.

In May this year I had to go to Metz, where my family is from, and I decided to use the opportunity to see part of the country I hadn’t been to before. Having never visited the South coast and always wanting to go there, combined with cheap Ryanair flights, I decided to start in Marseille and work my way up the East side of the country. To be honest I was a little apprehensive after some of the stories I’d heard about Marseille, and with it being the first time I had stayed in an unknown place on my own; but as soon as I arrived those worries disappeared.

Marseille
Marseille from La Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

After a very bumpy Ryanair flight (my first, but unfortunately probably not my last), getting lost at the airport and finally finding the train station, I made it to Marseille. As it was still quite early in the morning and I was unable to check into my hostel, I decided to explore a little bit. My first stop was the iconic Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Sitting at the top of one of the steepest hills I have ever climbed, the Basilica itself is beautiful but the views it offers over Marseille are even more stunning.

La Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

La Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

Making my way down I headed over to the Vieux Port, Marseille’s harbour, before paying a visit to the Marseille branch of my former favourite café in Grenoble, Pain et cie. After a little pick me up I was able to check into my hostel. I was staying at Hello Marseille, which turned out to be a great little place in a really central location just off the Vieux Port. A bit more exploring that afternoon took me up La Canebiere and over to the Palais Longchamp, which houses Marseille’s musée des beaux-arts and natural history museum, but it is the building and grounds themselves which are one of its main attractions.

Le Palais Longchamp
The gorgeous exterior of the Palais Longchamp

Sunset at Le Vieux Port
Le Vieux Port and La Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde at sunset

Before I came to Marseille, the one thing I had really wanted to do was visit the calanques – little beachy fjords all along the coast between Marseille and the nearby town of Cassis. I had decided to approach them from Cassis in order to visit the Calanque d’en Vau, which I had heard to be one of the most beautiful. So the next morning I set off for Cassis with one of my hostel roommates. The bus journey itself was of course scenic and the small seaside town of Cassis is lovely and picturesque as well. From there we were told it was a two hour hike to the Calanque d’en Vau, which I stupidly thought must be a slight exaggeration, perhaps for slow walkers or people who weren’t particularly fit, but in the end it did take around that time and involved huge climbs and descents the whole way, as well as getting ourselves slightly lost. Needless to say by the time we reached the calanque we were in need of a some rest and relaxation and luckily this was the perfect spot for it. The route also took as past the calanques of Port-Miou and Port-Pin so that was an added bonus and the whole thing was just gorgeous.

Calanque d'En Vau
Well worth the hike

Cassis
Back in Cassis

Unfortunately I only had two days in Marseille, and while I would have loved to stay longer I was up at the crack of dawn the next morning and boarding a train for Aix-les-Bains. Again this was an incredibly scenic and peaceful journey, taking me through my all time favourite part of France, including a little stop in Grenoble where I used to live. From here I met up with my family and spent the night near Traize, a tiny little village on a mountainside in Savoie. It was a nice little rest stop before the long drive to Metz the next day.

Metz is one of my favourite cities and I’m always surprised when people haven’t heard of it. Maybe it’s just because I have a personal connection to the place but I think it is seriously underrated. The next few days were mostly spent with family, as we had all come here from all over the country for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Once the festivities and catching up were over, it was time for us to drive back down South and return to Traize for a few more days.

Most of this time was just spent relaxing on top of mountains and beside the gorgeous Lac du Bourget and the Lac d’Aigubelette, although we did manage to squeeze in visits to Aix-les-Bains and Chambéry as well. On our last day I even managed to get in a spot of paragliding, which I truly cannot imagine a better location for and which was without a doubt the best way to end this trip.

Lac d'Aigubelette
Paragliding over the Lac d’Aigubelette