The Unofficial Flower of Paris

August 31st, 2015

eraniums houseboatWe’ve seen them on boats. We’ve seen them on the façades of chic hotels. We’ve seen double-decker arrangements of window boxes. Why is the geranium so popular in Paris? For one thing, as Anne Wilkinson points out in The Passion for Pelargoniums, it is “easy to grow, easily available, and stands up to a considerable amount of neglect.”



It also seems to tolerate city air and dust. And in Paris it apparently overwinters: here are some dried-out specimens at Christmastime, but they will probably bounce back in the spring. Today, geraniums/pelargoniums are considered rather unremarkable plants, what Wilkinson calls “municipalized” because they are often found in city parks and in front of public buildings. They are so common in Paris window boxes that they barely register unless you look for them. But there was a time when they were considered the last word in horticultural fashion.

Pelargoniums are a native of southern Africa, and the first ones were brought to Europe by travellers in the latter part of the 17th century. They proved easy to hybridize and horticulturalists produced hundreds of versions.


The Central Park of Paris?

August 22nd, 2015

park georges valbon6km to the north-east of Paris, the Parc Georges-Valbon is so big that it spreads across the territories of five suburban towns. With the future Grand Paris aiming to redynamise the region, it is perhaps not surprising that such a facility should become one of the new focal points, and plans are afoot to transform it into the Central Park of Paris – much to the chagrin of local residents.

I decided to take a closer look at this immense haven of fields, lakes, forests and prairies – although even finding an access point already proved to be quite a challenge!

“Our ambition,” declared French star architect Roland Castro, “is to create a kind of parc Monceau for the people but forty times larger, and to give Parisians a reason to cross the périphérique motorway.” Castro, a veteran of transformation projects in the Paris suburbs, was describing his “30-year dream” which aims to mold the existing park into a key feature of the new Grand Paris.


Learning French by Mastering Your Coffee Order

August 20th, 2015

eiffel tower foam

Ordering a coffee in France and more specifically in Paris can be seen as a difficult task. Even if you were to take the time to search out the answer on Google, you would see endless results on the proper way to get that perfect caffeinated treat (seriously, give it a try). If you enter a Parisian coffee house hoping to order a coffee, do you ask for un café au lait? Un café crème? Or simply café? The subtle differences between these terms will result in three different beverages, and the answer can’t be found in your French language textbook. While most French language courses begin and end in the classroom, this simple example can be used to argue that the most effective method of learning French is through total language immersion. More specifically, by interacting with locals that know it best.

education first logoRather than taking a guided museum tour, take a trip to Montmartre corner and learn French in Paris by conversing with local street artists, they won’t bite! Or consider skipping your trip to Disney Paris and getting your creative juices flowing by visiting Montparnasse on the Left Bank. Once seen as a bohemian refuge for artists such as Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, the Left Bank or “Rive Gauge” offers plenty of opportunity to practice French in an authentic setting. While one cannot deny the advantages of learning French under the guidance of trained professional, it is also important to use these skills in an outside setting, and what better setting than the City of Lights?

Learn French in France with EF and maybe, just maybe, you’ll figure out how to order coffee like a true Parisian. Education First takes pride in finding the perfect balance between intensive teacher-lead classroom learning and the use of cultural excursions in order to help students learn French and become fluent as quickly and efficiently as possible. The EF Paris language school is located in the lively area of les Grands Boulevards, and its historic surroundings are a stark contrast from the modern facilities found inside. With extracurricular activities such as trips to the aforementioned Montmartre corner, and an introduction to the game of petanque, EF understands that not all learning happens inside of the classroom.

Avoiding Paris Tourist Scams

August 18th, 2015

ssLike any large city, Paris has its fair share of scammers, pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Visitors don’t need to be paranoid, but being aware of the most common tactics used by thieves will help you be prepared in case they decide to target you.
Safety Scouts Advice is a series of animated videos created by former Paris policeman Christophe Gadenne to help visitors to Paris and other big European cities avoid becoming victims. During his five years of working with the Paris Police, he met countless distraught, traumatized tourists from around the world who had their vacations ruined by thieves and scammers, so he decided to do something about it.

There are 39 videos currently in the series (with new ones posted regularly), searchable by city or country (Paris, Italy, Spain, Berlin, and Lisbon) or by topics such as:

– The 10 worst pickpocket tricks revealed

– The 5 ATM scams to avoid while traveling

– The 5 worst taxi scams revealed

– Fake apartment rental

– Preventing female assault

– Drink spiking

– Loitering hotel thief

– Unsolicited ticket helper

– Train distraction thief

– Fake petition pickpocket

– Flat tire scam


Korean Cocktail Adventures!

August 12th, 2015

The Quixotic Project team (Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste, Glass) is once again ahead of the curve with their latest opening: Hero, Korean Restaurant and Bar. Rather than rest on their laurels, this group has brought something fresh and unique to the scene with each new opening, earning them a fiercely loyal legion of foodie and drinkie fans.

Hero isn’t a hole in the wall with big bowls of bibimbap (not that I’m opposed to places like that.) It’s three stories of cool and playful design. The street level is a tiny bar with 8 or so seats where people squeeze in for drinks and munchies. Upstairs is more restaurant-style seating with wooden stools, tables and booths. In the center is a freestanding hand-washing sink, and once you order the fried chicken you’ll understand why this is a brilliant addition.

hero 2In the lower level is where chef Haan Palcu-Chang turns out plates of sticky, sweet, spicy, crunchy and effin’ good fried chicken. We tried the gochujang version, which displayed a respectable level of heat (although I could have handled more.) And, while I was expecting something closed and steamed for the pork buns, what I got was an open, meaty, most excellent saucy pork slider (a format which allows for more meat than a stuffed bun!). The “3 snacks” was a 5 Euros tasty trio of fried sweet potato, a peanut dish and a salad.

I will be back soon to try the kimchi mac’n’cheese, which is getting rave reviews. I am also obsessed with the YOLO option for dining à deux: A whole fried chicken + a bottle of Champagne + a bottle of Soju for 100 yoyos. Along side these things, the menu offers a few salad and dessert options with prices ranging from 3 to 14 Euros. It works for both bar snacks or a more substantial meal.


Metro Fares Drop!

August 5th, 2015

above ground metropass navigoIf you have a monthly or annual Navigo pass covering Zones 1-2 (which is for metro/bus/tram and RER rides in Paris and its immediate suburbs), you can use it in any zone through August 16. That includes both Paris airports as well as Versailles and Disneyland; a savings of well over $10 per trip.

Even better, beginning September 1st, the monthly and annual Navigo passes will be zone-free all year long.


Hit the Beach!

July 30th, 2015

Paris-PlageEvery summer since 2002, Paris closes off sections of its quais to traffic and transforms the riverbank along the Seine into “Paris Beach.” Paris Plage started up again a fortnight ago (July 19th) and will run through August 17th.

Paris Plage runs roughly from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, about 2 kilometers east. There is also an official Paris Plage in the 19th arrondissement, at the Bassin de la Villette.

As always, the creators of Paris Plage have imported sand to create actual beaches. I wouldn’t recommend jumping in the water, but it’s good for sunbathing and building sand castles! There are also spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat, listen to music, play beach volleyball or just grab a seat and relax. The Bassin de la Villette is even offering an aquagym and kayaking this year.

My recommendation is to avoid Paris Plage mid-day on the weekends, but it’s a nice little escape at less peak hours.


The Vomiting Man of Paris

July 23rd, 2015

the vomiting man of Paris
Could I track down the location of an unusual Paris façade and unveil the story behind this building’s cover? I enjoy receiving unusual missions, and the one sent by a reader was atypical. sketch vomiting man“Somewhere in the 16e arrondissement is a building with a vomiting man sculpted into the façade,” he wrote. “Please can you tell me where it is and the story behind it?”

Vomiting sculptures didn’t throw up any immediate memories, so I requested a few more details.

“About 15 years ago, following a guidebook, I went on a walking tour that linked up many of the Art Nouveau façades in the 16th arrondissement. The vomiting man was one of the highlights of the tour,” he added.

vomiting man detailWas this god then some kind of comment on a design brief that architect Charles Lemaresquier felt had been too restricting in 1925? Lemaresquier later gave up the profession and became a full-time artist in the South of France. I can’t help seeing the addition of the vomiting Bacchus as the exasperated scribble of a bored artist. Either that or he was as drunk as Dionysis the night before he had to hand in the completed design!

>Get the full story

A Strange Sight

July 19th, 2015


Recently as I approached the Villette ofCanal de l’Ourcq, I saw first one, then another adolescent jump into the canal. Green, and with bits of garbage floating in it, the questionable nature of the water proved no deterrent for energetic teen boys needing to cool off.

I don’t wilt easily in heat, but I was feeling faint and knew it was time to head home. How happy I was to cut through the park and come upon a scene!

The immense installation was an industrial-chic structure adorned all around with plants.

Several people in khaki uniforms were scaling and rappelling (!) from it, and naturally, a small crowd was gathered.

Qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc? I wondered who I could ask what this thing was, but I waited patiently in the sun to learn more.

ourcq2One of the uniformed people was making a show with a separate contraption. Affixed to the contraption were regular party balloons, which it seemed he wanted to launch into space using the strange device. After much ta-do and several turnings of wheels…a cord snapped and instead of being launched, the balloons stayed right where they were.

“That’s never happened before!” he said.

More adjustments were made, and finally he freed the balloons from the machine with a scissors. He held the balloons aloft then let them go. They floated into the sky. The audience applauded.


Bastille Day in Paris

July 13th, 2015

bal des pompiersThere’s much to see and do on and around La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day, July 14th. This is a rundown of just some of the best options, including the dance parties, parade, and fireworks show, as well as some logistical tips on using public transportation, when you can legally drink alcohol on the Champ de Mars, and what shops and museums are open.

Most of these events (except where noted) are free and open to the general public. Be aware that with large crowds come pickpockets! Only carry what you absolutely need and have a bit of cash hidden in your shoe in case you need emergency taxi fare!

BAL DES POMPIERS 13 JUILLETLes Bals des Pompiers aka The Firemen’s Ball:
July 13th & 14th
The traditional Bals des Pompiers take place in fire stations (or casernes), all over France. They are modeled after the guinguettes, informal outdoor festivals with food and live music, a bit like a countryside wedding reception where family members of all ages would spend the afternoon eating, drinking and dancing. The Bals des Pompiers in Paris fire stations are for entertainment and for charity. There’s always a small entrance fee, food and drinks to purchase, and the firemen also sell tombola (raffle) tickets, all proceeds going to charities. By midnight most of the younger children have gone to bed and the party becomes more of a dance club with a DJ, young people (and firemen) dancing well into the wee hours (note that the metro will be open until 2:15am on July 13th and 14th).