Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The dogs wear pants and the cats wear waistcoats.

After what felt like an interminable journey back from Paris this morning, Nic and I are back in our wee flat. He's currently cuddled up in a blanket watching a DVD and I'm embarking on my obligatory 'here's what we did on our holidays' blog. As ever, if you're easily bored you can feel free to skip this one!

So, we were due to set off early-ish on Tuesday 1st June. It was cold and bloody miserable outside and I felt pretty lucky to be getting away for a while. We had a few boring chores to do in the morning (post office, bank, library etc) and then we were off! We had a slight deviation to our route due to a fatality on the line at Solihull. Even though we were leaving Leamington five hours before our train was due to leave London I did entertain a few thoughts of being so delayed we'd miss our Eurostar. And look, that isn't as mad as it sounds - the last time I encountered this kind of delay it took me five hours to get from London to Leamington. Anyway, it was all grand and we made it to St. Pancras with a ridiculously long time to spare. I busied myself finishing Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant and by trying to keep warm.

We arrived into Paris at 8:30pm and, thanks to detailed directions from our landlady made it to our apartment with no bother at all. We were staying in Montmartre, in a little passageway off Rue Lepic. Our little flat was tiny, but really cosy and comfortable and the location was amazing. Directly opposite the entrance to the passageway was Cafe Des Deux Moulins, and we had everything we could need on the street - an excellent fromagerie (which we visited the last time we were in Paris as well!) a boulangerie, a supermarket, clothes shops, bars, a bookshop specialising in Bandes-Desinees (comics) and a jazz bar called Autour de midi...et minuit ('Round midday...and midnight) After washing the train off us we went out for dinner (to a very good Vietnamese restaurant around the corner) and then on to enjoy the Tuesday boeuf at Autour. The bar is a restaurant at ground level, with a cave au jazz underneath. It was very atmospheric and the perfect first evening in Paris.
The Cave au Jazz at Autour de midi...et minuit
Inside the Cave au Jazz

We spent Wednesday exploring Montmartre, enjoying a picnic made with camembert from Fromagerie Lepic and bread from the boulangerie on Rue des Abbesses. The weather was absolutely glorious so we made the most of it by spending lots of time outside cafes. We visited the Montmartre cemetery and found the grave of Francois Truffaut (Nic left a metro ticket on the little memorial) Emile Zola had been buried in Montmartre also, but his remains were moved to the Pantheon so I didn't bother with trying to find his grave. The cemetery is really beautiful, and surprisingly quiet and peaceful considering its location. We made the first of many visits to the incredible Sacre Coeur, but it was a bit too hot to climb to the dome so I contented myself with the view from the steps. I can't tell you how much I loved being in Montmartre, and it was looking especially beautiful in the bright sunny weather! Nic and I paid a visit to Reine at Place St. Pierre and although I didn't buy any fabric, I felt very inspired. Above many of the stands they have miniature mannequins sporting clothes made from the fabrics beneath. I took a photo with my proper camera, I'll put it up when I've developed the photos later in the week.

After a couple of drinks in Les Deux Moulins we had dinner and headed back over to Autour de Midi. Tuesdays and Wednesday nights are their free nights, and it was a vocal jam led by Francoise Fognini. This was also excellent fun, although after she spied Nic and I singing along to a Gershwin tune we reinforced all stereotypes of the British reserve by refusing to get up and do a number ourselves (although Nic briefly considered a duet of Ebony and Ivory) It's just as well we didn't get up, we'd have cleared the place as the rest of the participants were extremely talented.

We had a bit of a lie-in on Thursday morning before taking the metro to Concorde and wandering up through the Tuileries to the river, and on to the Latin Quarter. It was another scorching day, so we stopped for an ice-cream at Le Petit Cluny before looking at some BDs in the Latin Quarter's many bookshops. We walked up to the Eglise St.Etienne and the Pantheon and stopped at a cafe in Place de la Contrescarpe where Nic bought us both a glass of champagne to enjoy with the view. Sitting here on my sofa in Leamington, looking out at a grey sky it seems like that was merely a beautiful dream, and it was definitely one of the more magical moments of the holiday. We followed that by a wander down Rue Mouffetard and along to the Jardins des Plantes for another ice-cream (it was that kind of day) and walked along the Seine to the Institut du Monde Arabe. We took the lift up to the top and got roasted on the rooftop terrace, but it was totally worth it for the view along the Seine and the peppermint tea from the cafe. I think I'd taken a bit too much sun by this stage so after stopping to buy some bread and cakes from a Boulanger-Patissier we headed back to Montmartre. I had a nap and then we went out for dinner to Le Relais Gascon, on Rue des Abbesses. I can't recommend it highly enough - we both had salads, which come in these enormous bowls (bowls so big they're the size of casserole dishes) and they're topped with thinly sliced potato that has been fried in garlic. It was really delicious, and I would have been in danger of falling asleep if Nic hadn't suggested a walk up to the Sacre Coeur to enjoy the view at night. After this we found some more free jazz, this time at the Cafe Saint Jean on Rue des Abbesses before stopping off at Les Deux Moulins for a last drink before bed.

On Friday we went to Marais-Bastille, which was lovely. By this stage I was really tired, so I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I might have. We visited one of Paris's flea markets, and had our lunch on the Promenade Plantee before having a dander through the back streets of Marais. I think my favourite place was Places Vosges, where we visited La Maison de Victor Hugo. We took the metro back to Abbesses and stopped for a drink at Au Petit Montmartre to listen to a jazz band busking in Place des Abbesses:

Outside Au Petit Montmartre, Place des Abbesses
I look seriously chubby in this photo, but I think it might have been the heat. I really didn't eat that much cheese.

After dinner and another nap we headed out again for more free jazz, this time to Le Houdon, then on to Cafe Le Refuge on Rue Lamarck before finishing the night again at Les Deux Moulins. This was one of the nicest things to do in Paris, just sitting around drinking wine and enjoying the various sights and sounds of Montmartre around us. Most of our days followed this pattern and it was extremely relaxing.

After having been good in Reine, I succumbed to temptation in Dreyfus and bought some fabric - and then I took Nic back with me on Monday and we bought some more:
Printed African cotton from Dreyfus
Printed African cotton - this has a slightly waxy feel to it

Printed cotton from Dreyfus

Printed cotton from Dreyfus

I'm going to use the black and white cotton to make that halterneck dress I wrote about before. I think for the purple fabric I'll try to find a maxi dress pattern and I haven't decided yet what to do with the African cotton, but it was too pretty to leave behind. All of the fabric shops in the garment district of Marche St. Pierre were buzzing which is no surprise, given how expensive clothes seem to be in Paris! Buying the fabric was a good test for my French and the market was a really lovely place to talk to people as well. Saturday was really the only day that I did much in the way of shopping, but it was really nice. As well as the fabric I bought a simple little red cotton sun-dress and an amazing pair of shoes from a second hand and vintage shop called Dialogue on Rue Caulaincourt:

New shoes!
Shoes number 27: Bottle green Oxfords

The photo really doesn't do them justice, but I'll get a better photo for the next Shoeperwoman's Shoe Challenge because I plan to wear them very soon! Dialogue was such a great shop, the lady who runs it was so much fun. She threatened not to sell me the shoes because they were too cute, and spent ages talking to us about how much she loves to get the chance to show off her English. We had another lazy afternoon of sitting in Cafes and pottering about before going back to the Saint Jean and Le Houdon - you can see here that I'd caught a wee bit of sun!

Outside Cafe Saint Jean

Nic outside Cafe Saint Jean on Rue des Abbesses

We also went back to the Sacre Coeur so I could take more photos of it. Seriously, I took loads:

Sacre Coeur at night

Rue Lepic was holding a vide-grenier on Sunday, so we spent some time pottering around that before venturing a bit further afield. Our Lonely Planet guidebook recommended visiting the 'fabulous' Marches aux Puces de St.Ouen so we decided to do that. It's Europe's largest (lingerie section?) flea market and I think if you were in the right form for it, it would be great, but it was stressful to get there and I found St. Ouen to be really chaotic and a bit depressing. After that I was in need of some glamour and some macarons so we took ourselves off to the Champs-Elysees to buy some treats from Laduree. YUM, that's all I need to say there! Following that, I peered in some of the fancy shop windows around the golden triangle and pretended to be Carrie Bradshaw outside Hotel Plaza Athenee:

me at The Plaza Athenee

Eiffel Tower

Then it was time for the Parisian experience we'd avoided last time...going up the Eiffel Tower. The queues weren't too bad, the price was reasonable and it was totally worth it. I won't go on about it too much because it'd be a cliche, I suppose, but I am so happy we went up there. It was a clear and breezy day so the views were spectacular and it was lots of fun. I was absolutely wrecked afterwards and pretty much went into a coma after I'd had my dinner - sleeping from 8pm until around 10 the following morning!

Yesterday we stayed in Montmartre to try to get the most out of it before coming home. We mainly just pottered around and did a bit of shopping - we bought some wine and cheese and champagne to bring back with us, and I bought myself a vintage dress:

Vintage dress

It doesn't look that much on the hanger but it is really nice on. I love the bold and over the top rainbow colours, and the fact that it has pockets! Also, the band of green is the same colour as my new shoes but of course the colour scheme means this might be one for a Ruby Shoesday as well. We went back to Le Relais Gascon for another one of those enormous salads before going back to Saint Jean to hear the amazing jazz manouche band that were playing. In both places Nic and I got chatting to some lovely people, and so neither of us felt too sad to be having the last night of our holiday. We ended the night again as Les Deux Moulins and went off to bed very happy and pretty tipsy to boot.

Getting home was fine, but a bit depressing so instead I'm going to leave you with a few more photos from the trip. You can see some more on my flickr photostream as well:

Passage Lepic
Passage Lepic

I got to touch the Louboutins...wasn't brave enough to try them on and face having to leave them behind! These were in a vintage shop in Montmartre.

Me and the Seine

My legs were unbelievably tired by this stage

Nic in preparation for holiday at Leamington station
Nic getting ready to hear some jazz in Leamington railway station