Laugh Lots, Travel Often

The rise of the chain store across Europe is a trend I dislike immensely. Once upon a time, European cities were full of small local stores, reflecting the unique characteristics of the country and region, even the neighbourhood, in which they were situated. But they are becoming increasingly homogenous, an endless repetition of the same stores across and within cities. Wherever you are, you’re never far from a Zara or an H&M, allowing you to dress yourself in exactly the same way as every other fashion-conscious EU citizen.

Along with the cross-European chains, there is also an alarming rise in across-country chains, particularly when it comes to food. And nowhere is this trend more visible than when buying lunch in London. I have a lot of choice when I walk out of my office, as long as it’s a chain I’m after… Pret, Eat, Itsu, Pod. Actually, I don’t even…

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Border protection

I returned to France from England last night. The immigration guy gave me a cursory glace, flicked through the pages of my passport until he found a spare page and, click-click, the beloved sound of the stamp sealed my re-entry. Along for the ride, I had a plastic Sainsbury’s bag containing fresh berries, yoghurt, plentiful quantities of cheese and biscuits. Not an eyebrow was raised over the entry of either me or my foodstuffs into the country.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived home to find a letter from customs telling me they had halted my bridesmaid’s dress for Maz’s upcoming wedding at the border! Argh!!! The dress was sent with the best of intentions… to ensure that it actually fits and give me a chance to have it altered if needed. Why it attracted this unwanted attention I will never know, but given that we only have a short turnaround time between now and my departure for Thailand, this hold up was not what was needed. Grrr.

The arrival of summer?

The weather has been unseasonably bad here in Paris… and when Friday evening hit, it seemed like the weekend was running according to the recent schedule. Anyone would have thought that we had fast forwarded the summer and skipped straight to October! It was chilly!!! Fortunately there was some on-stage action at FNAC Live to create a festive mood. The Hôtel de Ville wasn’t bad as a backdrop, either!

On Saturday the almost-miracle hit… the sun came out!!! What better way to celebrate than dim sum in the sun?

Unfortunately they weren’t as good as they look so won’t be recommending the restaurant. A bike ride, some time out in the lovely Parc Monceau and a spot of shopping along the upmarket Rue de Courcelles rounded out the afternoon…

As we were on our way to Mr R’s housewarming party, the Froggy and I may have become distracted by a cool little shoe shop (perilously close to our place). There are unconfirmed rumours that we both walked away with some hot new shoes…

When we eventually made it to the party, a lovely time was had by all. R was the perfect host, even singing Russian ballads whilst self-accompanying on the guitar! I met some lovely new Parisians and had to put up with a decent amount of ego-stroking relating to how good my French is. It’s a tough life sometimes! Hehe.

A moment of gratitude

A blog post? Really??? Yes, really people. After a lengthy period of writer’s block, I am back. Certainly bigger (after a prolonged Parisian winter), and hopefully better than ever.

Tonight I had dinner with my new Aussie friend, the lovely R. She took me to a great Thai restaurant (that does yummy larb!) called Lao Siam on Rue de Belleville, conveniently located about a 10 minute walk from my house. I am yet to decide whether having Paris’ second Chinatown almost on my doorstep is a blessing or a curse!

One thing I know is definitely a blessing is living across the road from the beautiful Parc des Buttes Chaumont. On our way back home, we stumbled across this rather impressive sunset…

I completely succumbed to one of those amazing moments where I felt so incredibly lucky to be alive and to be able to appreciate such a magnificent gift from Mother Nature. And the joy of whipping out my camera and capturing the moment, knowing that I could then share it with others, for me just added to the magic.

Another tick on the bucket list

When I heard that yesterday afternoon’s gentlemen’s singles final at Roland Garros (also know as the French Open) was unfinished due to rain, my ears pricked up… surely an opportunity to get along to the final at a reduced price? Or at least an opportunity to try!

A quick visit to the French Open site soon revealed that Viagogo was the official trading site for unwanted tickets. There were plenty around, but with a hefty 22,50€ of agent’s fees, I opted for an impromptu trip to the arena and a hopeful rendez-vous with a scalper…

The hour’s trip passed quickly and I managed to focus on thoughts other than the lingering question… should I have just coughed up & paid for one of the tickets that was available online? As I joined the sea of people flooding out of the station, doubt started to hit…  I really wasn’t expecting so many people would be available at short notice on a Monday!

At the first sign of a scalper, I decided to go for it.

“Oui, je cherche un billet.” (“I’m looking for a ticket.”)

“It’s two hundred euros.”

“Non, ce n’est pas possible.” (“No, that’s not possible.”)

“Vous parlez français ? ” (“You speak French?”)


And not for the first time since living here I became very glad to have put so much effort into learning the language. My final negotiation was under 50% of his original price and far less than the Viagogo option. I was a happy lady. With a very dodgy ticket! And so Othmane Saifaoui, who fortunately didn’t have her ID checked as she had “been yesterday” entered Centre Court at Roland Garros.

Support of the two players, Nadal and Djokovic seemed pretty equal amongst the crowd. Being a staunch Federer supporter, I didn’t really have a preference either way, but was pretty quick to get behind Djokovic in the hope of a 5th set!

Coming from a traditionally hard-court playing nation, I couldn’t help but have respect for how these guys played their strengths to the demands of the clay.  The tennis was, as to be expected, of an extremely high calibre. Unfortunately Djokovic was outclassed and Nadal triumphed in 4 sets. 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. To make matters worse for the poor guy, he double-faulted to hand the match to Nadal! That surely must be the worst way to lose any match, let alone the final of a grand slam!

I was impressed by Djokovic’s graciousness in defeat. Nadal obviously seemed pretty chuffed to be taking home his 7th (the new record!) French Open trophy.

All in all, Othmane Saifaoui had a great day out…

And was sad to wave farewell to Roland Garros…

But happy enough to console herself by heading out to a local bar to watch the France v England Euro match and sharing a mean charcuterie and fromage platter with the Froggy and one of his collegues!

A little bit of perspective

I’ve been asking myself how on earth to get this blog thing back on track… life just seems to keep getting in the way! The answer found me this morning in the form of an experience that left me appreciating the mere fact that I get to see the world… and reminded me how much I love to share what I see.

As I was walking home from the métro station, I noticed a man in his late-20s or early-30s standing by the side of the road. He was looking in my general direction, and appeared to be talking to someone behind me. I looked over my shoulder but didn’t see anyone. It wasn’t until I had just passed him that I noticed he was carrying a cane… and realised he was simply talking to anybody who could hear him. He was asking for help to cross the road.

It wasn’t a plea. There was no tone of sympathy-seeking in his voice. This was a simple request for assistance from a man who couldn’t see the oncoming traffic to someone who could. Anyone who could. I answered his request.

It’s funny how changing one aspect of a situation changes everything. As I reached for his arm to guide him, I was struck by the realisation that in normal circumstances I would never take the arm of a strange man. His request placed all of his trust in another unknown human and my response somehow sealed this instant bond of trust between us, a bond that allowed for immediate physical contact.

The experience tested my French… I had never before needed to think of the specific language to describe stepping up and down gutters and footpaths, how to explain that there was an unusual metal object blocking the path, or how to describe how wide the space between the garbage bin and the gutter or the two parked cars was. Turning vision into words in my non-native tongue was certainly a challenge, but an interesting one, and we continued successfully not only across the road, but down the side street, round the corner and along to his destination, the post office.

This man was from Senegal, had lived in France for 14 years and had been blind for 8. He had been born with sight but had lost it. Completely. Whilst in his teens or 20s. Not only had he gone through the traumatic experience of losing his sight, he was able to express what had happened in terms of the famous French expression “c’est la vie”. His world had not been brought to a halt. This was the hand he had been dealt and it was clear that he saw it as being up to him to make the most of it.

It was a humbling experience, and an enriching one. This simple exchange instantly awakened a part of me that sleeps all too often… my gratitude. As I walked away from this admirable man who found the courage to overcome the loss of his sight, every single fibre of my being felt grateful.  Grateful to be able to walk. To talk. To be in Paris. And to be able to see it all.

As I continued my walk home, I found my sense of sight heightened. I noticed the colours, I noticed the textures, I noticed the buildings and the people. I saw and appreciated in a way that I don’t usually see or appreciate. The gratitude settled in as the foundation, and allowed the appreciation to build up on top. It was a whole new way to see the world.

I hope that I will remember this interaction, both in the short term and far into the future. I hope I will remember how different the world can look if we change our perspective just a little, if we take the time to be grateful for what we do have instead of getting trapped in the cycle of seeing mostly what we don’t. And I hope I brought a little bit of brightness into this man’s world today, as some small compensation for the perspective and inspiration he brought into mine.

Bad at buying

Why on earth am I so bad at buying clothes and shoes??? It takes me hours longer to decide than most people… and then the decision I make is almost always a poor one. Example… I need some good lined winter boots to take to Canada. Having never bought winter boots before, I actually decided to buy two different styles to wear a little around the house to see which was the more comfortable. As it turns out, the answer is neither. One is too short and the other too tight. Why did I not notice this in the store???

Any handy hints on how to make better decisions when buying things that actually need to fit and be comfortable would be greatly appreciated…