Wine Tasting ‘Ô Chateau’ style

After reading the book Bright Lights Paris, written for people who want to travel to Paris in style and visit all the hidden places only Parisians know about, as well as the top sites, I decided that wine tasting would be a perfect activity to celebrate my sister’s 18th birthday. And not just wine tasting, but wine tasting at the renowned Ô Chateau, with a full page dedicated to the company in the book, plus a special mention from Meghan Markle who also wrote about how much she loved it. Located off a little street not far from the Louvre and right in the centre of Paris in the 1st arrondissement, it offers 2-hour wine tasting sessions in English with a professional wine connaisseur.

Olivier Magny is the guy who set it all up, young and very French however speaks perfect English and was the one to give us the oenology experience around France’s wine regions. You sit around a table in a cosy wine cellar with wine glasses eagerly waiting in front of you, and you start off the tasting by going around the table with an ice-breaker – who you are, where you’re from and what you’re doing in Paris. Slightly off-putting for those who don’t like to speak aloud in front of a group, but Olivier is very easy-going and put everyone at ease. Also by the end of the tasting and 5 small glasses of wine later you’re all chatting and laughing anyway.

People asked me if it was a “proper” wine-tasting, as in did we swill the wine in our mouths and spit it out after. Honestly, Olivier says that’s up to you, you can either just take a sip or two of each, or you can enjoy the whole glass. Now the Ford family doesn’t let good wine go to waste, so it was obvious what we chose to do. We selected the tasting that introduced us to wines made in different regions around France, and it was a very detailed and very well presented, easy to follow and just really interesting. I learnt things about wine I never knew before – about how they make it, label it, the different types such as bio and sparkling wines, all according to the different French regions. 

If you’re stuck on things to do in Paris, or have done all the museums and main sites and just fancy something a little different, I would certainly recommend Ô Chateau Wine tasting. Magny has also written several books in both English and French all about Parisian and French culture – my Mum got me his signed book for Christmas WTF: What the French? which I’m currently reading now and learning a lot more about how the French live! 

A 2 hr wine-tasting session at Ô Chateau is €55 for adults and €49 for students. Ô Chateau, 68 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001

Insider’s Guide to Paris

I’m coming to the end of my time here in Paris, so I thought I’d put together a post about some of the things I’ve loved most about the city, and the things I think you should all try out!

The Lido

Among all the things France is famous for, cabarets are definitely up there. I was lucky enough to go to the Lido on the Champs Elysées with the office, considered one of the most prestigious cabarets in Paris (no, the Moulin Rouge is no longer considered no.1 …). Having never previously been to see a cabaret, I didn’t really know what to expect, maybe a raunchy strip tease with a cancan at the end. But after this experience I would 100% recommend it to anyone visiting Paris who fancies treating themselves to a night of music, luxury and bling. While lapping up the champagne and foie gras (perks of the office), I watched an approx. 2-hour show that consisted of dancers, acrobats, mimes, singers, ice skaters … The nudity was also kept classy and the show was cleverly choreographed. 

Tuileries and Rue de Rivoli

When I think of the Tuileries gardens, I instantly have the memory of sitting by the fountain in one of those green chairs on an early-September day, when it was still warm enough to sunbathe. I’d either go with friends while we were on a walk to somewhere else, or by myself where I could sit peacefully and read my book under the sun. Tuileries sits between the river Seine and the Rue de Rivoli.



Rue de Rivoli is a long road that stretches from the Ave. des Champs Elysées, past the Louvre, all the way to the Marais, connecting central west and east Paris together. On it is Galignani‘s, a quaint and traditional book shop that sells anything from French classics to the history of Tsarist Russia (it also has an English section which is useful for non-French readers). After a browse, I would recommend Angelina’s for brunch, where you can have a light brekkie of croissants or pastries, or something savoury like an eggs benedict or club sandwich. If you even just fancy a hot drink which is still just as filling, the famous chocolat chaud Angelina (extortionately priced at €8.20, but so worth it).



SEASON

Season has to be one of the nicest brunch cafe-restaurants at which I have had the pleasure of stuffing my face. However, because it is so popular and “très chic” for non-Parisians, it means there is usually an hour waiting time and only tourists who have heard of the place are its customers. I had a huge stack of fluffy pancakes with maple syrup, walnuts and bacon, plus an amazing hot chocolate served in a huge artsy mug (I wanted to buy one I liked it so much, however I don’t think they were selling). 


Kusmi Tea & LØV

Tea is a big deal in Paris. Obviously, the Brits are always associated with the traditional Earl Grey and English Breakfast, however Paris has grabbed the concept of tea and run away with it entirely. Kusmi Tea is actually a Russian brand, but is a huge hit here in the city. I’ve seen teas I didn’t even know existed, like black tea infused with chocolate and orange, and green tea infused with lemon and popcorn. It’s colourful shop full of tins of tea stacked to the ceiling has you in awe when you arrive. LØV is also a tea brand, now owned by Kusmi Tea. What I love about LØV (ha) is that it’s all organic, and also a bit cheaper than Kusmi Tea, although not by a huge amount. My favourite teas: Ginger and lemon green tea and Blue Detox by Kusmi Tea and LØV green mint tea. 


The Arc de Triomphe


This experience was what I considered one of those special moments you don’t expect to be that special, but really is. Free access to EU citizens under 25 (to the Brits – hurry up and do it quickly before you have to pay!) my boyfriend and I climbed up the Arc de Triomphe one evening (100s of stairs, just warning you) and the view was really amazing. I would say even better than the view from the Eiffel Tower, because from the Arc you can actually see the Eiffel Tower. A 360 view of Paris and the roads leading off the roundabout, including a stunning view of the lit-up Champs Elsyées. It was also very quiet, maybe five of us altogether at the top. If you are up it at the beginning of the hour after 6pm, you’ll also see the Eiffel Tower sparkle!

I will be adding more to this post, plus there are more posts coming soon, such as my experience wine tasting for my sister’s birthday plus a post about my time working for the Paris Tourist Office! Stay tuned.

Eating out à la française

It’s safe to say the last couple of weekends I have been stuffing my face with whatever delicious French feasts I could get my hands on, largely due to the fact I wasn’t paying (thanks Mum). I’ve put together the best places I went to and what food I ate there as these seem to be the best brasseries I have come across since living in little old Pari.

Le Molière 12 Rue de Buci, 75006

A main dish, a dessert and a glass of wine for €16, this petite brasserie in the Odéon area is sat right in the heart of the bustling Rue de Buci, where the street is lined with restaurant terraces. I stumbled across it one weekend with my friends and I liked it so much I took my family the weekend after!



La Focacceria 12 Rue Dupetit-Thouars, 75003

Not really French, but a thin cheesy pizza topped with parma ham and free focaccia with olive oil on the side helped cure the hangover we had that day. A chic little ristorante in the Marais and it’s on a really quiet street so it’s also nice to just sit outside when it’s warm and enjoy a cold drink.



Le Petit Cler 29 Rue Cler, 75007

A pretty little brasserie that serves amazing food. Very chic and tucked away from the busy streets just across the Seine, we booked a table of six and sat out on the terrace under the heaters above our heads. Reasonably priced, and the fillet of duck we all ordered was cooked to perfection. The staff were also so lovely and welcoming.



Café du Rendez-Vous 2 Avenue du Général Leclerc, 75014

Located in the foodie part of Montparnasse, we didn’t fancy a full sit-down meal, so between six we shared a charcuterie board and bread with olive oil and vinegar, plus wine of course. Again, the waiter was very hospitable (typical high-quality French hôtellerie) and the food was great.

How to outfox the Parisian pickpockets

So Paris has a big pickpocket problem. And to those of you who heard about my stressful yet amusing experience of having my bag swiped from my seat at a restaurant in Granada earlier this year, you’ll know that I am always on high alert for pickpocketing. Now I suppose this isn’t really about ‘outfoxing’ a pickpocket, but definitely some pointers as to how to identify them and other types of cons and crooks. Some may be obvious, others are not, and I honestly had no idea when I first came here of the extent some people go to just to steal your cash. I’ll start off with the obvious tips:

  • Don’t leave your phone or wallet on the table at a restaurant. Obvious, yes, but I’ve done it plenty of times and have always been told off by friends. Especially if you’re sitting in one of the many Parisian terrace cafés, people come along and take your phone without you even realising. A common trick is they’ll approach the table and set a map down over your phone, asking you for directions while sliding your phone from under the map into their pocket.
  • Avoid using your phone out and about – I’ve heard of people having their phone snatched while texting in the street or on the metro.
  • Wear a small bag over your shoulder, make sure it is zipped up. Try and keep your bag close to you, if the strap is also very thin, its easy for a pickpocket to just cut it off. My Dad gave me this small pouch big enough to hold my phone, keys and cash, which is sometimes easier if you want to conceal it under your coat and not worry about someone nicking it.
  • Don’t put valuables in open pockets of your coat/jacket – people will just stick their hands in your pockets so fast they’ll be running away with your phone and wallet by the time you’ve turned around.
  • Don’t handle cash out in public – if you’re getting out your wallet or a wad of notes, you’re catching the attention of nearby pickpockets and they’ll target you.
  • Lots of pickpockets work on metros too. On line 1 you’ll hear the typical “Beware of pickpockets” come on the loudspeaker at Franklin Roosevelt and it’s true – hear out for the buzzer which means the doors are about to close in just a few seconds; this is generally the perfect time for a pickpocket to swipe your phone or bag, run off the train, and the doors close before you can even get out of your seat to chase them. Particularly line 9 and the RER B heading north, these lines can be a bit dodgy at night and are notorious for pickpockets so if travelling alone, I would either use the night bus, Uber or taxi.
  • Never get in an unidentified taxi. All Parisian taxis will have the clear ‘Taxi Parisien‘ sign, anyone else who claims to be a taxi driver but hasn’t got this sign on their car is just a super dodgy person. Twice since being here I’ve had someone approach me asking if I need a taxi, one asking me in the street and one while I was hailing a cab he pulled over and claimed he was a taxi (no taxi sign). Now, I’m pretty sure taxi drivers don’t come up to you and ask if you need a taxi, so be careful of that as they may be thieves or worse …

Now on to the less obvious:

  • Some crooks go to the extent of pretending to be a police officer. We all know what happened with Kim Kardashian, two French men dressed up as police officers got into her building and stole all her jewellery etc etc … But it’s true, thieves actually do this. If a ‘police officer’ comes up to you and asks for your identity papers and money, it is 100% a scam. Police officers will never ask you for money, but if you’re still not sure, ask to see their police identity card, which should have POLICE stamped in red across the front, with diagonal blue, white and red stripes in the left corner.
  • Be vigilant at ticket machines. At Charles de Gaulle airport, there are sometimes people wearing fake badges pretending to be airport staff helping people with buying metro train tickets. These people are scammers and will try to take your money, card or wallet as soon as you expose it at the machine. Just to be safe, I would go straight to the information desk to buy travel tickets.
  • Don’t buy the stuff people sell on the streets. Although its all just cheap memorabilia which looks like a good bargain to take back for a friend after your trip, you’re actually giving money to illegal organisations and ‘underground networks’. Also, some bags and purses you see people sell on the street are sometimes things that have been stolen from other tourists.
  • Fake petitions. In many tourist areas in Paris, such as the Opéra area, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue Champs Elysées, young girls and boys may come up to you and ask you to help fund a foundation or charity, asking for your money and signature. While distracting you with signing something, the rest of the group will come and take your valuables from you. I’ve seen myself the ‘gang’ of girls, no older than 17, in the Opéra area, who work for a pickpocketing organisation based in Romania.
  • The three-card/cup trick – a lot of you may have seen this in London, they do it a lot on the bridges in Embankment area. Basically, either with two black cards and a red card, or three cups with a ball, you have to bet money (50 euros minimum) that you will find the red card, or the ball under the cup, and then receive double of what you bet if you get it right. It looks so easy, because there is always someone in the crowd who wins every time, but these people who win are actually working with the dealer. You will lose every time, the game is a scam, so don’t play it, however tempting it looks.

I hope these tips are useful to those coming to stay in Paris, or for you year-abroaders who are planning on living here. Don’t forget, Paris is such a beautiful city, so it’s 100% worth going out and about exploring. However when you do, just be careful and don’t let these cons catch you out!!

Tired of the fog? Try the frogs!

Unfortunately, it was not with my own wit that this phrase was thought up. I read it in an article in the Figaro yesterday (an advert by Place de la Défense, the businessy area of Paris, apparently you’ll see it in a lot of London underground stations). But it caught my eye and I decided to steal it, as it is specifically aimed at us English folk. But it’s true to say, while reading this article about how President Hollande wants to “make the most of” Brexit, I can’t help but think about how many bussiness people from the UK are going to want to move abroad and work now that the pound has dropped to an all-time low (lowest in 168 years, £1 = approx. €1.11).

However, I’m not going to bore you all with a post about the plunging exchange rate and the UK’s unequivocal mistake of leaving the EU. THIS post is about my personal pros and cons of living here in Paris, and if you are tired of the fog, whether you really should try the frogs … (Paris has fog too, one morning lo and behold I couldn’t even see the Eiffel Tower from my bedroom window).

Now of course I am encouraging living abroad, hence the name of the blog, so I am not saying don’t move to Paris. But at the same time I aim to be truthful, about the good and the bad of all the places I go to, so here goes:

Pros

  • Paris is obviously a beautiful city, I don’t really need to mention that. The Haussmanian architecture, the gardens, the monuments, the art … it’s never-ending and there is always something to see.
  • It’s always buzzing, so going out at night is just as fun and busy as at daytime (this can also be a con considering my window opens out onto one of the busiest streets off the Champs Elysées …)
  • The metro is very well connected to all parts of Paris – you can get from the heart of Paris, out past the ringroad into zones 3-5 in under an hour just using the metro lines (plus it’s €1.80 for a trip anywhere in zones 1 & 2, it’s not like London where it charges you by distance)
  • A glass of wine can be as little as €4 (that’s the cheapest I’ve found so far, I’ll update if I find cheaper, of course I would recommend just buying a bottle for a fiver)
  • Museums are free if you’re under 25, which is amazing if you’re a student travelling or if you are living here like I am because you can go to all these major museums (Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou) and be able to see all the exhibitions free of charge – just make sure you bring your ID with you.
  • Amazing for shopping … need I say more?
  • Paris prides itself on la gastronomie (gastronomy) and la gourmandise (love of good food) so wherever you go its likely the food you eat will be pretty great.

Cons

  • Pickpockets. I’ve already had the experience of a young girl approach me on the busy Champs Elysées and ask me if she could use my phone “to call her sister that she’d lost”. She looked about my age, and I noticed she had no handbag, a major red flag in the identification of a pickpocket. I politely said my phone was an English phone (true) and that it couldn’t make calls abroad (false), but that she should talk to one of the many police officers strolling nearby or go into a shop and use their phone. Sorry, but if you don’t have a handbag and say the police aren’t helping you, I’m going to automatically assume you’re a pickpocket. However, I’m sorry if you had actually lost your sister.

Hotspots for pickpockets: Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Opéra, however you never really know and they are pretty much everywhere (I’ve even heard of someone having their phone swiped on the metro), so just keep a look out and your stuff close to you. Check out my post on useful things to know about pickpockets in Paris and of all the different things you need to look out for – there are so many ways people can scam you in the streets.

  • Paris is expensive. It may be cheaper than London but it is still pretty pricey. However, there are ways of budgeting and as mentioned before, plenty of places to go for free to get a taste of French culture.
  • Paris is … I wouldn’t say safe, but well-patrolled in tourist areas. It’s like any city, but when you’re out in Paris at night you have to have your wits about you. You can’t just go wondering around by yourself at 2am after a Friday night ‘after-work drinks’. There are some areas which are considered quite dodgy, and I wouldn’t recommend using certain metro lines too late at night.
  • Nightclubs are expensive. Drinks usually start at €10, plus in most places it’s a €20 entry fee. I personally prefer going to bars where there’s a bit of a club scene too (the music is played loudly like a club so people tend to dance more as the night goes on) where drinks are cheaper and you don’t have to pay to get in.

As you can see, the pros outweigh the cons, and the cons really just mean you have to plan and think ahead while on your trip. Hopefully some will find this useful!

A day in the Marais

Famous for its quirkiness and also known as the Jewish Quarter, the Marais has cobblestone pavements and narrow streets lined with boutiques that are filled with tourists at the weekends. Situated in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, its also a great place if you fancy a bit of shopping, or even just to sit in one of the terraces with a coffee and watch the world go by.

Place de Vosges

A really lovely spot in the heart of Paris to take a moment to relax. I went there on a Saturday afternoon when the weather was amazing and warm, so obviously it was quite a lot busier. But considering it is a beautiful little park in the middle of one of the hot spots in Paris, there really weren’t that many people flocking to Place de Vosges.

Amorino

The best ice cream in Paris, on a hot day in the Marais nothing is nicer than going to Amorino for a “glace” and wandering over to sit by the fountain in Place de Vosges. Italian gelato specialists, with flavours from pistachio to dulce de leche and with no artificial flavourings or colours, they’re also famous for creating pretty roses out of the ice cream flavours you choose. (I’ve also been to the shop in Odéon where there are less queues than the one in the Marais).

Afficher l'image d'origine Image by topsy.fr

L’As de Fallafel

This place is closed on a Saturday, but if you’re planning on going at lunchtime on a Sunday, give yourself at least half an hour waiting time. The queues of people craving the falafel from here go all the way down the street. So delicious, now I know why people call it the best falafel in Paris. 

The metro station is St Paul. If you wonder towards the Hotel de Ville area and cross the Seine, you’ll find the Notre Dame Cathedral and lots of cafes, restaurants and bars (now heading into the Latin Quarter territory). This is an absolute must on the Paris To-Do list!

Insider’s Guide to Alaska

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This summer 2016 I was cruisin’ the chilly Alaskan seas with the family, and yep, it was incredible. I feel like people don’t really think to go to Alaska and don’t consider it their first choice of holiday destination, but it really is such a beautiful place and so worth it. The salty smell of the sea and fishing boats when you walk ashore, the rustic towns and the Crab Shack – a major highlight of my trip. Here are a few unforgettable experiences I had when I was living it up in Alaska …

Glacier Sea Plane Tour in Juneau

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The feeling of taking off into the air from water is like no other. I was nervous to begin with as they were taking our weights in order to distribute it equally for each side of the plane, thinking “Ohhhh god we’re going to drop out of the sky …” But once in the air you forget you’re in a tiny plane, and just keep taking pictures of the exquisite glaciers below. Floating ice that moves forward from miles and miles back, you can’t really comprehend it.

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Salmon Feast, Forest Walk and Making New Friends at Taku Lodge

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The title sort of explains itself, except the friend we made was a 7ft bear. Yes, roaming out in the wild, where we enjoyed a salmon feast and listened to the history of the lodge and the forests around it, was apparently the dominant male bear of the island. He really didn’t seem phased by all the people trying to take pictures of him, only a few metres away, in fact he just stood up and starting picking the leftover salmon off the barbecue. The scary thing was, the only thing standing between me and the bear was a guy with a long wooden stick. Are you supposed to save me with that?! This day will always be unforgettable for me.

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Tracy’s King Crab Shack, Juneau

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If you like seafood then this place is incredible. Fresh crab cooked on site, served in little baskets with warm bread and garlic butter, and you’re given tools to basically just hack and eat away. You just pick the crab you want, how much and sit and wait for them to call your name out. I love how this restaurant just sits on the pier with a view of the water, the boats and the sea planes taking off.

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Sailing through glaciers

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Sailing through glaciers is a different but just as wonderful experience as flying over them. You actually hear the ice cracking as it’s moving slowly forward into the sea, only a few inches a day. This is Margerie Glacier and goes back 25 miles into the mountains. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you even see huge wedge of ice just fall and crash into the water. It’s something you only get on camera if you happen to be videoing at the time, but it’s incredible just seeing it happen.

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Family Hike in Skagway

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For those of you that know me well, I don’t do sports. So I wasn’t too excited when I heard we were all planning on going on a hike when we reached Skagway. But the more we talked about it the more I got quite psyched up for it. And I’m glad I did, because if we were to do it again I’d be the first one there. Walking (sometimes climbing, sometimes tripping over) through a stunning Alaskan forest, we wandered around a beautiful lake for a couple of hours and took lots of pictures. And we definitely made up for the calories we burnt off in a huge meal afterwards in one of Skagway’s finest.

Royal Butchart and Butterfly Gardens, Victoria, Canada

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Now I’m the kind of person who loves a good stroll around a garden, so this was so nice and relaxing, and a lovely way to spend the day and get some pretty pictures. The Butchart Gardens are completely family-run, and have been passed down through generations. Victoria is just generally a really beautiful city, we also wondered through and did a bit of window shopping before sipping a cold glass of rosé in the sun.

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Whale Watching

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I keep saying I have unforgettable experiences in Alaska but it’s true, and seeing whales in their natural habitat just swimming along side the ship was one of those experiences. You can actually do tours specifically for whale watching where you can go out on a boat and sail to the spot where whales tend to feed, but we were lucky enough to see them just alongside the ship leaving port one day. Whales are like glaciers, if you want to catch them moving, in this case, jumping in the air and splashing into the water on their backs like you see in nature programmes, then you need your camera videoing the entire time you’re outside. I, unfortunately, did not manage to capture this moment when it happened, I believe a couple of my family members did however. But it was extraordinary and something I’ll never forget.

If you love lodges, hikes, stunning landscape, fisherman’s towns and lots of seafood then Alaska really is the place to be.

❤️❤️❤️❤️