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 fran├žais 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.