Monday, 20 December 2010

Last weekend in Paris before England?

I'm meant to be getting the Eurostar home on Wednesday. I really hope I can. Most of the trains are cancelled and there's massive queues and delays on the ones that are running. So fingers crossed. As great as the family are here, I'd quite like to spend Christmas with mine.

This weekend was the first time that K+R have gone on holiday without the children. So Kaki and Papou and I have been left to look after the children. Luckily it's been surprisingly ok and not too difficult. The children haven't been too sad and they return tomorrow (all being well with the snow!) In fact it's been quite fun. We've done baking and playing and walking. They've even made a little diary to show to K+R of all the things they've done while they've been away. Plus there's obviously Christmas in a fe days which helps distract them. Yesterday we built a snowman in the garden - the mummy - and then her 3 children. The girls had great fun rolling the big balls of snow and finding things in the garden to make their faces with. The snow is great for the children and it does look so beautiful here with all the lovely houses and the forest. Today we went sledging by the stade which Mila in particular thoroughly enjoyed. She was in her element rolling about in the snow, pushing me over, trying to get Saskia more enthusiastic. Saskia is in fact pretty lazy and doesn't like getting dirty or in anyway the slightest bit uncomfortable. She complained of having a sore foot as we were walking home so went in the sledge to be pulled home whereas Mila said 'I've got a sore foot too but it's ok, we'll be home soon!' When she's nice, she's great. Like the rhyme -
There once was a girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.
C'est très intéressant pour regarder les différence entre les deux soeurs. It's also so interesting to see how the grandparents interact and discipline the girls. I've learnt a lot from the few months I've been here and if, IF, I decide to have children I will be so glad that I was an au pair first to help me know the way I want to bring my children up.

I've been speaking only French with the grandparents which has been great for my confidence and for improvement obviously. I've found I can generally get my point across and can hold a conversation. I'm sure it's littered with mistakes but I've got to keep trying 'ey.

Wish me luck for the return voyage!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


So my last weekend free to enjoy in Paris before I go home for Christmas (next weekend the parents are going on holiday the grandparents and I are looking after the girls) and what a success. Romain's graduation ceremony on Friday evening meant that I had to babysit the girls. But they came back, with various members of the family to celebrate so I got to join in a little bit. And wow they know how to do things properly here. We celebrated with Champagne, Caviar and Vodka. But the best of the best. K was given the caviar and vodka as a present by some clients and we looked it up and the little 250g of cavair costs €600. Crikes. I didn't think I'd like it, I know I love fish, but fish eggs seem like a totally different kettle of fish (!) Anyway, I was wrong. It was delicious. Really good.

Oh and the caviar is resting in some snow from th garden to keep it cool. Oh so practical.

Even the vodka didn't make me gag. The difference between Petrossian (the brand) and the 50p shots they used to serve at the Jailhouse was incredible. I'm developing expensive tastes. I also attempted to make some orange and cinnamon biscuits from my sister's blog 
but mine unfortunately didn't turn out as beautiful as hers.

On Saturday I had lunch with the family friends my mum and I stayed with when we arrived. And we spoke mostly in French! Well I tried to, a lot of it wasn't correct but I managed to get my point across most of the time. By the end I resorted to English though, it's tiring speaking another language especially when you're not very good at it. After lunch they took me to the Musée Marmotten for the rival Monet exhibition which houses the painting which gave its name to the Impressionist Movement Impression soleil levant.

This little thumbnail doesn't do it justice. It's so beautiful and the lighting effect of it is brilliant. The lighting is what Monet became known for - he focuses on the light of an image, creating an impression, and atmosphere. The way the paintings were displayed obviously emphasised this aspect of his work and they did it so well. There were 136 pieces of Monet's artwork at the Musée and the rival exhibition at the Grand Palais has over 200. Can you believe that one person could have produced so much art in one lifetime!

In the evening I joined Lydia and her 2 friends who had come to visit for dinner at a restaurant in Montmatre called Le Progress. It's a really nice bar/restaurant with a good atmosphere. Very cosy and a good menu. We spent about 3 hours there, getting more and more vocal and debating the finer points of feminism. One of Lydia's friends is a staunch feminist and was so interesting to talk to, myself having never been particularly interested in feminism. I finished the night feeling more intelligent and wisened (is that a word?) by all the articulate comments flying around. By the time we'd finished debating the metro had closed so we couldn't move onto a club and instead found a bar round the corner. Which was dire. The sleaziest men and terrible music where the DJ thought it would be a good idea to just stop a song every now and then, but not for dramatic effect, like to make everybody sing along, as he did it in songs with no words. Just because he was crap. I can't remember the name of it otherwise I'd tell you to warn you never to go.

The next day we went for lunch/breakfast at Le Comptoir General on the Canal Saint Martin. It was a really nice cafe where you could a breakfast for 7 euros and go back and back to top up your plate full of yummy bread, and drinks. I think it is an eco-friendly place, it certainly had that atmosphere. Very rare for Paris. It felt more like being back in Bristol. So I loved it. In the back room, there was a small brocante where Emily managed to find 2 amazing pairs of really good quality shoes for 5 euros.

Romain's parents are now here to stay for the next few weeks and it is always a delight having them here, they're so kind and really patient with me and my French. They really help me too so in the next week or so I should have plenty more opportunities to speak French before I come for the holidays and lose it all.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pierce Brosnan

So here's a picture for those who wanted to see the French crumble (Alice). Très joli, non?

But really this is just to let you know what happened with Pierce. Kirsten got a phone call on Tuesday night from Romain's parents saying that they had accidentally spoiled the surprise. Romain had been talking to his dad on the phone when in the background his mum said 'Oo has Graham arrived yet?' They tried to cover it up but he still realised. But strangely he didn't put the two and two together and think 'Oh this is Kirsten's surprise'. Yesterday morning he still thought he was going to be meeting Pierce Brosnan for lunch. He even chose his best tie and told his work colleagues. Some friends were even thinking of coming along for the meal! So he was a little surprised, although not disappointed, I should say, to see Kirsten's dad instead. He came home that evening and said 'My wife is a liar!' Haha, Kirsten's not going to let him live that for a long long long time. Although actually she was pretty convincing especially the night before, I can kind of understand why he believed it. We had a lovely evening last night having a long diner with Kirsten's dad, lots of lovely food and wine. Oh and champagne. We always have champagne. I'm definitely learning to actually enjoy wine these days.

The snow is beautiful here. It snowed all day yesterday, I'd say it was a good 20cm thick. Saskia and I built a good snowman yesterday. Mila refused. Strange child. Another example of her weird ways of rebelling against me I think. Also had a horrendous big French test this morning. Although I've realised that as I'm just not disciplined enough to really work hard, I'll just accept that I'm just going to learn slowly, but have a good time while I'm at it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

New Discoveries

I finally had a proper weekend in Paris for the first time in about a month. Due to one thing or another I haven't seen any of my friends or done much exciting Paris based things for a while so I finally 'got back on it' this weekend. Although nothing too wild, I'm still just me after all.
Friday night Lydia and I checked out a new bar in Belleville called 'Le Buzz Bar' which was a real success. It had a really nice atmosphere, full of normal young people who weren't pretentious or too chic, and they have free live music downstairs and we saw a hip-hop jazz band who were pretty good. The crowd loved them and were singing along to every song. Frances and her friend came and joined us for the last bit and we all agreed to meet up for brunch on Sunday.

On Saturday I attempted to do christmas shopping but not with much success. I have no idea where to look for presents in Paris, there's too much choice! And everything is trop cher. So if any Parisians know where to get some good presents please let me know.

Sunday was the day of brunch, although it turned out to just be lunch by the time I got there. We were meant to go to a socialist brunch bar near Gare de L'Est but it turned out the socialist deal wasn't on this one time so we found another lovely cafe on the Canal St Martin. I've never been to that area before and it was so nice. It was really tranquil (probably partly to do with the fact it was Sunday im sure) and lots of people and families going for runs and walks and general lovely lazy day things. We had a long lunch debating hot topics like the student protests happening in England, and the worth of our own degrees (there were 2 language students, 2 historians and an art historian amongst us) and our thoughts on living in a foreign country. C'était très sympa. Also worthy of note - in France crumble (as in the pudding) is very fashionable and Lydia ordered one which was the most beautifully presented crumble I have ever seen. Not just dolloped on a plate like you get in England. Plus they used pineapple. Have you ever known pineapple in a crumble before? These Frenchies!
The girls then left to go to Capoeira leaving me and Lydia free to browse the Champs Elysses Christmas Market, which I was actually a bit disappointed by. It had the same stalls over and over, tons of food, lots of hats and gloves stalls and weirdly, lots of stalls selling russian dolls. Not a batch on Bath Christmas Markets with all its variety and nice craft stalls. But the Champs Elysses lit up at night with all its christmas lights is very pretty.

And finally just a little funny story. Kirsten's dad is coming over from New Zealand tomorrow but it's a surprise for Romain. Kirsten had planned to meet up with Romain for lunch tomorrow and surprise him with her dad being there. But she's had to go to extraordinary lengths to get him there because he didn't want to travel all the way into Paris just for lunch. So first she said that her friend from England was coming over, but that didn't convince him so she said that she was bringing someone famous with her. Still sceptical Romain insisted on being told who it was. So, under the on the spot pressure, she said 'Pierce Brosnan'. Huh? Why Pierce Brosnan? Who knows. But somehow she's managed to convince him and the web of deceit is getting bigger and bigger. Her friend is now going out with him - they went to the same drama school apparently. I've had to send texts from my English phone posed as this lady. And Romain's even been 'googling' Pierce and found out he's married and lives in Malibu, so is therefore having a sordid affair with Kirsten's friend. Plus I'm allowed to go and meet him. So I'll let you know how it all pans out. I can't wait!

Thursday, 2 December 2010


I can't stop listening to this, it is so beautiful.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow in the Alps

Last night I got back from a weekend away with the family in Evian (Yes, Evian, live young) where there was the best snow I have ever seen in my life. We took the sleeper train to Annecy on Friday night and got in at about 7am when it was just beginning to start snowing. Oh la la, il faisait froid! We had to wait in the station cafe until the car hire place opened at 9 when we started out on our adventure to Evian. The snow was getting thicker and thicker as we drove and we had to go really slowly. What should have been an hour and a half drive turned into a 5 hour drive. Bof. C'etait pas bon avec les enfants. Well actually, it wasn't that bad. Just that Mila is sometimes a bit difficult with me and this is always accentuated when we're in the car. She just won't talk to me. So I had to patiently put up with her ignoring me, subtly pushing me, and then just being plain rude by the end of it. And then just as we were about to reach the gîte we had to go back to buy some chains for the car because it was too dangerous to go any further. So it was a long long time in the car squished between two children and their car seats.
This was the start of the snow as we reached the lake at Evian:

We had gone to Evian for the 40th birthday of one of Romain's friends and there were 40 of us staying in a chalet in a village just above Evian. It was so beautiful, there was an incredible view out over the lake from the chalet. It was a typical alpine village, all wooden chalets, although it was a little strange because it was totally deserted-it is obviously a village/ski resort and so only busy in peak ski season.

On the Saturday evening we played a game where we all got into teams and had to ask David (the birthday boy) questions about himself and his life then had to mime out his responses and the other teams had to guess what part of his life we were talking about. It was really good fun although some of the mimes were a bit obscure! After dinner we did some celtic dancing which was fun, although it does get boring after the first few dances! Then we watched the birthday boy and his wife do a Tango. It was really beautiful. The actual tango wasn't particularly brilliant but their evident connection was really beautiful to see.

The next day we did lots of playing in the snow (it was so deep, over my knee!) and went down the mountainside through a Narnia-like forest on a sledge. Ha it was so fast! I've never known such good sledging! In the evening we played a version of Mafia (Bristol people you will know how good this game is, Hereford people I will explain it to you some time) called Loup-garrous - werewolf! It was so good, everybody really entered into the spirit of it and I got accused of being the murderer so many times, just because I was being quieter than everyone else!

It was a good weekend, a bit scary with so many French people but a few people in particular made a real effort to make me feel included so it wasn't too bad. We took the train back yesterday. First class no less! And today I have found myself a French penpal to force me to write more in French.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Last weekend was Saskia's third birthday party and to celebrate she had a pirates and princesses party. There were about 8 children and of course all the girls came as princesses and the boys as pirates. Of course. Saskia is what her mum describes as a 'trash queen' which I think has a different meaning in New Zealand to what I think it means, but what I think she means is that Saskia is a bit wild, she doesn't care particularly about looking pretty- she dressed up as princess but insisted on having her face painted as a scary tiger. Mila on the other hand, in some ways is quite a tomboy, but she LOVES princess and she wore the whole get-up for the party, make up and all. It was a good children's party with all the standard games - pass the parcel (although the children didn't seem to quite get this, they all tried to open the present as soon as it was handed to them!) musical bumps and statues and a treasure hunt. It was a joint party and the other girl's parents made this amazing cake! Although apparently to have cakes like this is very Anglo-Saxon, the French don't really go in for that kind of thing.

On Monday I went with Frances to the Jacquemart-Andre Musee. We did try to go to the big Monet exhibition at the Grand Palais but apparently all advance tickets are sold out and there was a 2 hour queue to get in. So we decided not to this time. Although I really want to go at some point, there's over 200 of his works there! As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I'm a big fan of his. The Jacquemart-Andre Musee is the old palace of a 19th century couple who dedicated their time to collecting artworks. It's an amazing building to start with, from the street it looks like a typical Haussman style house but the entrance is tound the back and it's an incredible, luxurious palace. It's beautiful. And all the rooms are beautifully decorated and the amount of artwork for one house is astonishing. Afterwards we had tea in the cafe there. And of course it was typically luxurious and beautifully furnished. Having tea and pastries in one of Paris' finest salon de thé, you know, I've really got it good here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Some new music

I've just got back from a weekend at home which was fabulous but fleeting unfortunately. I arrived back late last night and as I got off the bus I saw that the christmas lights had been put up at Galeries Lafayette. They are incredible. I've not got much to compare them to, coming from Hereford, but they really are amazing.

We went to Annie Mac at Motion on Friday and she played such good music. The only track I can remember is one by Katy B - Katy on a mission. I was told that this song has been around for a while now but this was the first time I've heard it. It's such a good tune! I haven't heard any music like it since being in France and I loved the change. And then today I saw a link to Adele's new song. Wow. I love her. It's such a good bluesy song. I can't wait for her new album. I don't know how to embed a video so here's a link to it:

I have been listening to a French radio station called FIP which plays really good music and a really good mix of genres. So I've discovered a few new bands through that including a band I think are great called Felipecha. Check out their songs 'Un Petit Peu D'air' and 'Matin du Café'. And a Lithuanian singer called Alina Orlova who is a little Kate Bush-y i think. I like the song Menulis and her version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is haunting. She's playing in St Germain en Laye next weekend so if I don't have to babysit, I'll try and go along.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Un joli weekend a la Marais et Versailles

The weather has taken a turn for the worse here, it's been raining all weekend. Ce n'est pas bon. Luckily that hasn't stopped me and my fellow chums (cue famous five style voice)! Yesterday Anna and I went to Musée D'Orsay as she hasn't been before. I won't bore you with talking about it again, but my opinion remains the same, I love it. Afterwards all we wanted to do was snuggle up with a nice warming cup of tea (or bière pour Anna) so we went to to the Marais to check out some recommended cafes and bars. The first one Le Loir dans la Théière was super. It clearly has a good reputation as the queue to get in was going out of the door. We waited our turn and weren't disappointed. Inside it was decorated with lots of cool posters and some Alice in Wonderland style pictures. It was really cosy and had some of the most amazing cakes I've ever seen. Tea was un petit cher - €4.50 but that seems to be generally what you pay in Paris. Plus it was Lapsaang Souchang. I love Lapsaang Souchang tea. We did feel a little like we were being hurried though so we decided to move on to somewhere a little more chilled and found Cafe Martini a few streets away. Which equally had a really good vibe, it was more a bar than a cafe but was pretty cheap for Paris. A kir was €3.50 and a Double Martini was €4, which by the way, I never realised was so tasty! Then on our way home, we walked past another bar where a French jazz bar was playing. We couldn't resist and went in for another petit blanc and watched the music. It was amazing. They were incredibly talented musicians and the girl singer had a beautiful voice. You could tell they were all the best of friends which made it even better to watch. We stayed until the end of the set then went on our way home back through the cold and the rain.

Today I went with Vanja, a Swiss au pair who lives in my village, and Nathalie to Le Chateau a Versailles. Again another miserable day weather wise so the ideal day to go. If you're under 26 and an EU citizen you get in free to all the State-owned museums which luckily also included Versailles. It really is incredible, so so enormous and ornate. The basic ticket gets you into the State-appartments, so where the king and queen lived and the hall of mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WW1. There was also an exhibition on by Takashi Murakami a Japanese artist, where his sculptures were placed around the chateau. It was really bizarre seeing them in that setting as they are a complete contrast to the sumptuous and traditional decor of the chateau. That was the point I know and in some cases it worked well but other times I just didn't like it, it's not really my time of art but I can appreciate the idea behind it. Seeing the chateau has now inspired to find a book on French history as there's so much interesting history here especially about their revolution. My knowledge about that so far is pretty limited to what I learnt from watching The Scarlet Pimpernell with Richard E. Grant. But that was a long time ago.

I also spend most of the day talking in French, as that's how Vanja an I communicate. I think it must be pretty funny to hear us talk because a lot of it is definitely not correct. But it is very good just to practise so at least I've got someone I can do that with. Til next time!

Monday, 1 November 2010

A French Weekend in Brittany

I've just got back from a fantastic weekend in Brittany where we went to for a family gathering to celebrate Romain's parent's 40th wedding anniversary and his mum's 70th birthday. I was a little bit apprehensive about it, as I didn't want to feel like I was intruding on a lovely family weekend. But his family are so nice, they never made me feel unwanted or unwelcome. They always included me. Although there were times when I was totally lost in what was going on; round the dinner table for example there were lots of conversations going on in very fast French which there was no way I could follow. It was quite cool though because you can learn quite a lot about people just from listening to the way they speak even if you can't understand it. And this is definitely a family who clearly love each other's company and enjoying chatting and debating for hours on end, sitting round the fire with a café or a tisan. I felt a bit like I was watching 'Little Women' or something similar. Totally wonderful.

On Friday Pascal took us for a surprise walk to some land which some friends of hers own. It was absolutely beautiful countryside-forests, lakes shrubbery, flowers and lots and lots of wild mushrooms. So with all the family in tow we went foraging for mushrooms. People obviously don't go there very often as many of the mushrooms had grown so so large. So we went spend a good few hours exploring and finding lots of different types of mushrooms. Apparently you can take any wild mushrooms you find to a pharmacy and they'll tell you whether they're safe to eat or not. There was a bit of scare when we were told we had found some deadly ones and we didn't know who had touched what, what had touched what, what would need to be washed but Romain nonchalantly brushed the concerns aside saying it would be fine and we went home to cook up the good ones to put in our galettes. The tastiest mushrooms ever.

On Saturday we took the children for another surprise trip to have a donkey ride. The children were so funny when they found out what they were going to be doing. One of the cousins kept on and on saying how it was the first time she had ever ridden a donkey and it was just the BEST surprise EVER. Again it was a walk through beautiful countryside but the highlight of this day was listening to the funny things children say. Mila proceeded to give Saskia a sex education lesson whilst on the donkey telling her about the donkey's 'zizi' (penis). 'You know Saskia, the thing that they have hanging from their bottom, like Daddy and Papou (Grandpa)' and all the other males in their family. Haha it was so funny, not least because Kaki's (Grandma) was trying her hardest not to laugh out loud! Then in the car on the way back, another of the cousins started asking me about marriage:
'Are you married?' 'Why not?' 'When are you going to get married?' 'Who are you going to marry?' 'What happens if ony our wedding day the glass in the church breaks?' 'What happens if there's a storm and blows the roof off?' 'What if you have to get married in a car?' and so on and so on. It was a bit like the TV show 'Outnumbered', one ridiculously funny childish thing after another.

The final day was the day of the big party and more of the family had come to visit for the day. We had an incredible lunch started with oysters. I tried oysters for the first time a few weeks ago and I've got to say they were disgusting. But since being in France Romain insists I keep on trying the things I don't like as tastes change. For example every few nights he makes me try a little bit of red wine. Now I certainly prefer it now but I think that has something to do with the far superior quality they drink here rather than whatever was the cheapest at university. Anyway I'm not going to change my mind on oysters for a little while. For the main course we had a Moroccan tagine which was incredible and then some of the best puddings I've had in a long time - Charlotte Marron (chestnut cream sponge cake) and walnut tart and meringues and macaroons. Heaven. The children put on a little show for us - a dance and some actions to some French nursery rhymes - trop mignon. They all dressed up in regal outfits and marched and danced around with various musical instruments. This was the hardest day for me in terms of feeling totally out of my depth but it was nice to see such a lovely family occasion.

All in all it was a really fab weekend but I'm happy to be back in L'Etang and get back to Paris life. I really need to crack on with the French. Romain told me his dad learnt Spanish in 3 months. Oh blimey, I've got a long way to go.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A Christmassy feel

For me this weekend was the first weekend where I've begun to feel all cosy and wintery which inevitably makes me think of Christmas. On Saturday Lydia and I went to the Centre Pompidou which has the largest modern art gallery inside. I'm not much of an art appreciator as I think I said in an early post but I really didn't get most of the things that were in here. The section we saw seemed to be feminist artwork where some complained about how women could only get into an art gallery if they were a naked subject for a piece, but then a lot of these feminist artists use naked women themselves. And then there was a weird film where some men chopped off the head of a chicken and then a naked woman stood against a wall holding the flailing headless chicken upside down. Hmm, bizarre. After that we had a decadent afternoon tea in a cafe opposite with hot chocolate which was so thick you ate it with a spoon. I had orange and cinnamon flavour with an amaretto ice cream. One of the best things I've ever tasted. This was the start of the Christmassy feeling as a huge storm was developing overhead too and hoards of pigeons were swooping around the Centre. It was very exciting.

In the evening we went to a club called Djoon which was playing Motown music. It was cool, it was really busy and it was so much fun to have a dance as I haven't been out in so so long. It ended up being a late one though- we didn't get back to Lydia's room until about 6. Oh la la.

After a late start the next day and being treated to croissants in bed, Lydia and I eventually made it out for a wander around the Grands Boulevards and Passages. They're such pretty old shopping arcades. The first one we went into was the more upmarket side of it with lots of expensive clothes shops and book shops and the like. The next ones we found were a bit more higgledy piggledy, there was one shop which seemed to be selling old toys and bits and bobs from decades ago but which weren't manufactured anyway. Weird. We then stopped for for a lovely cup of tea and a biscuit in a lovely French patisserie. Oo j'adore les gateaux français.

Imagine if this was the steps up to your apartment. Ah je souhaite.

This was the gallery vivienne, super joli and tres chic.

It's now the half term holidays so I've got a week of looking after the girls. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A mixture of events

Last weekend was quite a quiet one for me. I had a relaxing saturday and then in the evening went out for Sushi with some other au pairs. My first sushi experience and I've got to say I liked it. I remember it alway being a massive deal that it was RAW fish. But in fact it's quite normal for people to eat raw fish anyway, even in the western world. Alors, je l'aime. We then had a little walk to la Tour Eiffel to see it all lit up and sparkling but we didn't end up staying long as it was FREEZING and we were being harassed by a group of youths.

Sunday was a lovely crisp autumn day and I went out for my first bike ride down the Seine along a path where many of the Impressionist painters did their paintings. It was a beautiful ride and there were lots of people, families and other cyclists and runners out. Having not been on a bike for a while it made me remember how much I love cycling. The problem is I get too nervous cycling on roads, especially when I forget to cycle on the right and go round roundabouts the wrong way... I'm trying to see if there's a cycle club nearby. At least it would be harder to make serious road errors if I've got other people to follow.

Only a short post today, like I said it was a quiet weekend. Until next time.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

An Indian Summer

I don't know what's going on back in the Uk, but over here it has been beautiful weather for the past few days and is set to continue for the rest of the week. Fingers crossed. So my weekend has been a thoroughly excellent one as I've been able to make the most of the warm weather. Yesterday morning, we had a nice lie in after watching 'The Single Man' the night before (with Colin Firth. It was excellent, a really beautiful and interesting film) and woke up to a proper French breakfast with plenty of croissants. I then went with the family to a local farm, Ferme de Gally. It's quite a small farm, but has some goats, cows, horses, pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs and a donkey. The goats are some of the most beautiful goats I've ever seen. Really glossy and beautifully coloured, as well as being extremely friendly and docile.

The farm is well known for its produce and is apparently the stockist for French 'Masterchef'. Oh la la! There are various workshops available to do and the girls got to do a bread-making class. They enjoyed it but they are the cleanest little girls I have ever met. Saskia had a fit once she started to mix the dough with her hands and it stuck to her hands so she was no longer clean! They are like it at dinner time too, as soon as the slightest bit of food touches their hands it's 'Eleanor, Eleanor, I need a cloth!' Or if a bit of milk gets spilt on their place mat; 'Oh nooooo! Eleanor look!'. Weird huh?

In the evening I met a couple of other girls and we had a late night picnic by the Seine. C'etait tres French, nous avons mangé, le baguette avec fromage et tomates and bien sur, du vin. I didn't even need a coat, that's how warm it was! I stayed the night in Lydia's room but although having been warned that it was very small, I wasn't prepared for quite how small. She lives in a room which is 6m squared. That includes a shower, a sink and a mini kitchen. There is a serious space problem in Paris but I didn't realise until last night quite how serious it is! But I suppose really it's just part of having the authentic 'Paris experience'. Ce n'est pas grave.

Today Lydia and I went to have a wander round Montmatre in the sun and it turned out there was some food and wine festival going on as well as lots of live music and performers. It was a wonderful atmosphere and totally French.

Lots of people joined in to dance to this African band. Proper hips shaking and skirts flailing type stuff. I'm practising and perfecting the moves in my bedroom but just can't compete with these ladies.

This lady was great, singing along to a music box and handing out sweeties to children.

This was one of my favourites. A German couple just started waltzing to a man playing the accordion. C'etait genial!

After the festival we went to Montmatre cemetery and saw a cat sleeping on one of the graves. When we got up closer we saw a tear in its eye and it skulked off to hide behind the headstone once we appeared, but as soon as we left its spot it resumed its position. I think it was the pet of the person and had come to mourn its owner. How sad.

All in all, it was a thoroughly good weekend.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Museums and another brocante

Yesterday I went to the Musee du Moyen Age with Lydia, which is a museum with all sorts of artefacts from the medieval times. The medieval period is not something I've ever been particularly interested in as a historian, but this museum was really fascinating. It is most famous for a series of tapestries called 'The Lady and the Unicorn' which depicts all the 5 senses and then a final one which is titled 'My soul desire' whose meaning remains ambiguous but is commonly thought to be about love and understanding. They're impressive works, not least because they take years and years to make! The rest of the museum has got some great pieces in it, such detailed, ornate works that it's hard to believe they were made so long ago! After the museum, Lydia and I just had time for a quick afternoon cocktail in St Germain de Pres before I had to get back for babysitting!

This one was my favourite tapestry- La Vue (sight)

Today we had a brocante at L'Etang la Ville. Kirsten and Romain had their own stall in the front garden, as we live right by the market place where the brocante takes place and had some friends round so we had a full day of it. Although the brocante wasn't quite so good as the one Bailly, I still managed to get some good pieces from Kirsten and her friend who gave me a heap of stuff. The one thing I did buy was a lovely coat from my new favourite brand Comptoir des Cotonniers for €30 when it was brand new and had cost €165. A bargain I think, and tres chic. And its back to school tomorrow for more French classes. Today I think I cracked how to use the future tense so I am feeling very pleased. A bientot!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Reading for pleasure?

During my month here, one of the things I've enjoyed is the amount of time I have where I am able to read! I never had enough time to read for pleasure when I was at university as whenever I was reading I always felt guilty if it wasn't a history book. Now though, I have a 35 minute train ride into Paris which is the perfect time to do some quality reading.

For those readers out there I thought i would give you some tips on what I've enjoyed recently. I've just finished 'If on a winter's night a traveller' by Italo Calvino. It's the story of a man who is trying to read 'If on a winter's night a traveller' but after realising it is misprinted he tries to find the rest of the book. What follows is his search for the rest of the book but instead he keeps finding new chapters of different books. It therefore is a collection of short stories with one story of the original reader continuing all the way through. I thought it was an interesting idea but also found it a little tiresome because I just wanted one single story but instead had to keep on jumping between new ones.

Before that however I read a brilliant book which I thoroughly recommend to everyone called 'The Secert History' by Donna Tart. It's a brilliant story about a group of American university students who study classics. They are a small very close-knit mysterious group and you are always wondering what's going on beneath the surface. You find out straight away (so don't worry I'm not spoiling anything!) that they kill their friend and from that moment you are gripped! It's superb! Go and read it!

And of course I've been reading some old favourites; 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit', 'Angelina Ballerina' and 'Winnie the Witch'. Saskia is besotted with Peter Rabbit at the moment and we have been reading it at least once every day! My favourite Beatrix Potter story was always the 'Tailor of Gloucester'. I used to love watching the television series of her stories. However I've now moved back onto the grown-ups books and have just started 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson. I know I'm a bit behind the trend but better late than never 'ey.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

French Only

I've been told off by my sister for not writing in a while. I do apologise folks, it's been a busy week and a half. Most importantly this week I started my French classes. Finally. It's a really good school in central Paris but it's very strict. NO TALKING ENGLISH IN CLASS!! Ever. En français seulement. We started off with the basics, the very very basics. The alphabet, numbers, days of the week etc. It's stuff I already know but it's good to go back over it and perfect pronunciation. And after the first couple of weeks, the professeur said, it will go very quickly. So maybe I'll start writing my posts in French as well to help me improve. Well, we'll see. After the class I was chatting to some of the other au pairs who speak English, but they insisted we talk in French. With so many people enforcing French around me, I suppose I better learn vite vite vite!

Tom came to stay last weekend too and we had a lovely weekend strolling around Paris. We went to the musee du quai Branly which is a slightly odd museum celebrating ethnic or 'primitive' art. An interesting concept but it ended up being rather uniformative and it didn't offer any distinct ideas or facts about all the thousands of tribes in the world where the displays came from. Tom has a favourite restaurant in Paris called Chartier (M. Grand Boulevards) which he insisted we went to - it's a bistro style place where the waiters write down your order in the tablecloth. It is good, basic food and for Paris, very reasonable priced. Worth checking out especially as you don't need to book so can just turn up. We also wandered around the Marais which I've been wanting to do for ages. It's a really pretty area with lots of shops and cafes and places to explore all set in little cobbled streets and beautiful architecture. Patricularly worthy of note is the best falafel shop in town the Jewish quarter; l'aus du falafel.

I've got my next French class tomorrow and on Friday I'm teaching English to a 12 year old girl in the village. Any ideas on methods/games/activities to teach English?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Palaces and Brocantes

This weekend in France it is the Journees Europeennes du Patrimoine where hundreds of buildings all around France are opened up to the public. Yesterday I went to the Palais du Luxembourg which is where the French Senate is. It is a beautiful, grand building located in the Jardin du Luxembourg which I've already spoken about. Tres joli. Not only was it wonderfully decorative and ornate, it also is home to the best library I've seen in a while -a long room with bookshelves going write up to the ceiling with pulley ladders to climb and find the books with. If only the ASS library at Bristol had been so nice!

Unfortunately we weren't able to see the Palais d'Elysses (where the President lives) as the queues for it were horrendous, people said they had to queue for up to 5 hours. Not so keen. So instead, we went for a wander round St Germain des Pres and had some very expensive drinks in a cafe - 5.5 euros for a tea. Ouch. But we had managed to find a 'bargain' the night before in Le Bar Dix, a teeny caven like bar with old posters all on the walls, where you could buy a jug of Sangria for 3 for 10 euros 50.

This morning I went to a Brocante in the nearby village of Bailly with my family. A Brocante is the French equivalent to a car boot sale. Brocante season starts in April/May and continues until September. Every weekend you can go to a different one in a different village and it seems to be a big event for the village. This morning's one at Bailly was a serious affair. There were at least one hundred stalls there selling everything from children's games and books, to kitchenware, furniture and designer clothes. And everything is so cheap, only a few euros. I picked up a gorgeous ring, a scarf, silk pyjamas and a thin summer jacket all which cost between 1 and 2 euros. The girls came back happy too as they were bought their first barbies! Elles etaient tres contentes.

Friday, 10 September 2010

One week on

I've spent my first week in Paris, slowly settling in to my new house and getting to know the family I'm living with. I feel like I have totally landed on my feet. The parents are so so nice and helpful and generous and have made me feel completely welcome. The two girls are equally great and seem to have accepted me into the house as though I'd always been there. Of course there are times when they can be frustrating but generally they are very well behaved and sweet girls. Mila has the most fantastic imagination and while she's running around the house being the brave Princess and protecting her subjects, Saskia and I are snuggling in my bed waiting to be rescued.

Today I met a new friend Anna, another au pair from Bristol who lives quite near by. We had an explore round Montmatre, the district of Paris immortalised in Amelie. It's a beautiful, quaint, cobbled street village like place and while one minute you can be by the Moulin Rouge and all the sex shops of Pigalle, the next you can be wandering through tranquil, dreamlike streets with boulangeries, cafes and trendy shops side by side. One of the first place we saw was the Cafe des Deux Moulins which is were Amelie waitressed in the film, but surprisingly it wasn't too busy, and has still retained some its original 50's charm. We also found some good vintage shops in and amongst the beautiful designer shops. The best shop we found was a 50's style underwear shop where everything was handmade. The most beautiful underwear I have ever seen (follow this link girls, and she even tailor makes corsets for individuals at a mere 350 euros. Something to save up for 'ey?

As we walked further through Montmatre we saw some men performing street 'magic' tricks - guess which black circle has the white spot under it. After watching for a while and getting it right every time Anna decided to bet money on it - 50 euros a time and you could win a further 50 euros if you got it right. Unbelievably we lost this time and then in an attempt to win the 50 euros back, Anna bet again....and lost!! She's trying to see the funny side, after all what's 100 euros in the grand scheme of things....

Place du Tertre

And then of course we found our way to the Sacre Coeur which is at the top of the Butte, the highest point in Paris. There are the most fantastic views over Paris from this spot and luckily for us it was a beautiful and sunny day with clear views all over. A must see spot for any visitor to Paris.

Sacre Coeur

So if you do ever find yourself in Montmatre, enjoy it's splendour but be wary of those pesky street men.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Arrival in Paris

So I arrived in Paris last Thursday night and stayed with some family friends for the first two nights. My mum came with me for the first weekend and during the 2 days we spend with the friends, we were given a whistle stop tour of Paris. On the first day we went to the Musee D'Orsay which holds a fantastic collection of Impressionist artwork including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Renoir. Having never been particularly interested in art, I was really surprised to find that I liked a lot of the work in here. The following paintings in particular:

Essai de figure en plein air (vers la gauche) by Claude Monet

Les petits pres au printemps by Alfred Sisley

Our friends live in the 7th arrondissement so we spent our time exploring the area near them, including the Jardin du Luxumbourg. These are beautiful gardens which in nice weather are packed with people sitting everywhere on the green plastic chairs provided - it was a very French scene.

The next day in the morning, my mum and I explored the oldest department store in Europe - Le Bon Marche. It is an upmarket department store, but on nowhere near the same scale as Harrods. It does not have the same extravagance and pretensions as Harrods. It was fun just pottering around and seeing all the beautiful things. Le Bon Marche has a wonderful food court. Everything is beautiful packaged and presented This is something my mum and I noticed, all greengrocers lay out their produce so that it looks so appetising and fresh. I felt like a little child, getting so excited by how amazing everything looked, especially all the bread!

I've been eating very well since being here, of course, the fresh bread is too tempting and all the cheese. But also the desserts and sweets. My sister told us to go to La Duree, a famous macaroon store. Oo they are the mot beautiful macaroons I have ever seen!

I'm going to have to be careful to resist all of these treats.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Children's Games

Let me tell you a little more about what I'll be doing come the 7th September. I'm going to be looking after two girls aged 2 and 4, from a bilingual family - the mother is from New Zealand and the father is from France. Great for me as I get to talk to the girls in English but in general the family talk French so I'll get plenty of opportunities to speak French while the parents will be on hand to help me with the transition from English to French.

My niece recently turned one and for her first birthday party my sister gave out party bags with old-fashioned style gifts in it, my mum got a book of hand shadows, and I got a cats cradle string/game thing. I used to love doing cats cradle when I was younger and I thought this would be a good thing to take with me to show the girls. I've also been practising hand shadows - there's some brilliant ones, things like Mother Hubbard and a jester.

A witch's broom!

These got me thinking about other things I could take to entertain the girls so I've been looking at my favourite childhood books and games. Some of my favourites were the Angelina Ballerina books, which I guess everyone's heard of, and the Katie Morag books. I don't know if these were as popular but my sisters and I loved them. They were about a little Scottish girl who lived on an island in the Hebrides with her aunt and uncle. I think the Katie Morag stories probably is a little bit responsible for my love of Scotland, with it's wild stormy pictures and exciting adventures! You can read all about it here:

Any suggestions about how to keep young children entertained would be gratefully received, although if Team America is anything to go by, all French children do is go around singing 'Freres Jacques' all the time so I won't need to do much else...

Monday, 16 August 2010

The French Suburbs

In less than 3 weeks, I am moving to Paris to be an au pair for the year. I'm going to be living in the western suburbs. I thought I would start a blog to help me record and remember my experiences, so bear with me while I learn the art of 'blogging'.

Having not spoken French since I learned it at GCSE 6 years ago, I am - understandably I think - a little nervous. But I keep being reassured by everyone that I will 'pick it up in no time'. I hope they are right. I can't remember much from my GCSE years, but the two phrases that have stuck with me and I have used to amuse my family ever since are oui c'est vrai - yes that's right, and l'année dernière je suis allé en France avec mes amis - last year I went to France with my friends. Unfortunately I'm not sure how useful I'm going to find these so I better get learning.

Last night, to help me on my way to improving and understanding French, my sister made us watch 'La Haine', a French film about 3 friends - a Jew, an Arab and an African - who live in the French suburbs, the banlieues. It's about the riots and the relationship the banlieues residents have with the police and the terrible corruption there is in the French police. I've been hearing a lot about this film from my French studying friends who are fascinated by the French slang used in it. A couple of examples of the slang which I find amusing are Ta mère elle suce des schtroumpfs which means your mother sucks smurfs, and in another scene an old man emerges from a toilet declaring Ça fait vraiment du bien de chier un coup - that feels good to have a shit! A long departure from the romantic language most people associate with French! I think it will be a long long time before I will be able to understand, let alone speak French like in 'La Haine'.

There is also a great scene where a DJ pumps out a remix of 'Sound of the Police' with 'Je ne regrette rien' across the estate:

For those who have seen 'La Haine', don't worry, the suburbs I'll be in are nothing like the suburbs in 'La Haine'. It's a pretty respectable area, I should be safe.