Twelve Hours in Paris


I really don’t need any excuse to visit Paris. It is one of my favourite cities for a myriad of reasons – the river running through its heart, the gruffness of locals, the architecture, the history, the food – I could go on forever and I’ve mentioned it in various posts on the blog before, both here and here.

However, when I saw that I was running low on some French pharmacy supplies and a fantastically low fare cropped up thanks to Eurostar and @London on Instagram I couldn’t miss the opportunity.  I booked for a day trip with hubby in mid-December, catching the 7:01 train from St Pancras and heading back from Gare du Nord at 19:15.

Arriving a little after 10:00 we headed direct to the Metro. I tried to use one of my carnet tickets from a previous visit and it wasn’t accepted by the turnstile. Frustrated, we headed to the ticket machine to purchase more but noticed a man nearby trying to get our attention and say something in French. As a Londoner, I instantly adopted my commuter bitch-face; a cross between “don’t dare talk to me” and “I’m not interested mate, naff off,” thinking he was hassling for attention or money or something. I can’t tell you how utterly mortified I was to hear him say in English that our tickets weren’t working because public transport was free today due to the high levels of pollution in the city! I mean, honestly, I went full Brit and died, dead. Once I realised my mistake I practically chased after him with apologies and mercis, completely red-faced and mortified. Boo hiss to city fumes, yay hurrah to a freebie! London should follow suit and adopt this immediately. 

I’d had breakfast on the train and possibly a light snack before I left the house, but my first stop was my favourite breakfast/brunch place Holybelly. We queued (you always queue here) but not for long and got straight to ordering the Savoury Stack with a cup of London Fog to wash it all down. 

Pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. WORTH IT.

Despite knowing I’d have to lug my purchases around all day, the next stop was City Pharma, the best pharmacy in all of Paris. You get bargains, attitude, advice, squished and poor from all the things purchased in one two-storey shop. I won’t remind myself of the small fortune I spent there but let’s just say I went way over budget, like WAY, but ensured I bought enough to tide me over to mid-May so it was totally worth it. *eyebrow* 

Purchases included favourites like Nuxe hand cream, lip balm and perfume; a huge bottle of Bioderma body cream and hand lotions; cans and mini cans of Caudalie grape water spritz; blotting paper, Vichy Aqualia day cream and a few small gifty things for family for Christmas. I think that was mainly it!

Walking back in the warm sunshine along the Boulevard Saint-Germain we took our time, popping into a cute vintage/retro shop that had me having many a flashback to my childhood and stroking the soft antique furs on coats and stoles. I have a personal rule to never wear anything I wouldn’t eat – cows/sheep/pigs/rabbit are fine as it were, but fox/bear/mink aren’t.

I saw signs for Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge – the museum of the Middle Ages, a place I’ve walked past so many times and always wanted to go in. In the spirit of adventure we walked around the block to the entrance, through security (this is now sadly implemented in most public buildings) and into a darling little courtyard. 


Walking inside I’m left wondering why I’ve never been here before – the space transforms into a tardis of antiquities and the most beautiful light. I’m annoyed I didn’t take more photos. Rooms were so varied with lofty ceilings all in stone downstairs to cosy darkened wood galleries upstairs. 

The chapel

My other reason for visiting was to see the exquisite tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. I’d read about these beautiful C16 wool and silk hangings in history books before and love the romance of them being lost and then found in a castle. There are six in total, much larger than I had expected, filling the room from floor to ceiling. They depict the five senses with the sixth, À mon seul désir unconfirmed but thought to be a comment on how humans are the only species with unique desires. 

Ornate wooden carvings on benches

À mon seul désir

By this time my tummy was grumbling for a very late lunch and I almost sprinted to my other must-stop for food, Cafe St Regis. I’ve spoken about the lovely vibe in this place before; I’ve even eaten here alone and felt perfectly comfortable just people watching and resting, whilst filling my belly with delicious food and a Sweet Home Alabama
Needing to walk off our feast and with a few hours of crisp sunny weather left, we ambled along the banks of the Seine like the tourists we were!

Notre Dame

Conciergerie

The dome of the Pantheon visible in the setting sun


I never tire of going through the courtyards of the Louvre. Take away the throng of the crowds, imagine the courtiers who have waked across these cobblestones. I wish I had glasses to view the past. 

With twilight came the time for us to make our way back to Gare du Nord for the train home, via the boulangerie to stock up on baguettes, tartes and macarons for dinner. Only 14.5km walked too which meant my legs and feet weren’t in bits by the end of the day.  A perfect Parisian trip!

Watching the sun setting over the Tuileries.

Curiosity Killed… Scotland Road Trip

I like to run away. Not to cities with a bag full of my earthly possessions but to the places where people aren’t. Give me swaying trees, give me vast skies, give me shores with water softly lapping or white waves crashing. Give me nature. It’s in nature that I feel reconnected. The problems of the world melt away. There is nothing more humbling as a human to stand in front of a mountain or the sea and feel like you are merely a minuscule collection of cells in the grand scheme of things.  I feel like a being with no further purpose than to just breathe and be.

After a tough few months, my husband and I wanted to escape to the Highlands of Scotland and get away for a week. We didn’t have a large budget and weren’t looking for anything fancy, especially as we would be spending most nights in a different place.

You can’t beat a map, especially when there’s no GPS!

We drafted a rough plan of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. In an ideal world, one with plenty of spare cash, I would have preferred to either catch a flight or train up (the notion of a sleeper train has a much more romantic connotation in my mind) and hire a car there saving a day of driving, but in reality it’s so much more expensive so that idea was nixed.

Plotting our route, we decided on having a rest stop half way-ish to Scotland and half way-ish back plus a stop off to see friends near Edinburgh. I had wanted to visit Glencoe and drive along the A82 ever since seeing Skyfall so a stop near Fort William seemed appropriate. As our budget was more lemonade than Moët, we booked Travelodges and Premier Inns with a Secret Escape deal for a little break from the basic.

I warn you that my pictures don’t do the scenery the justice they deserve. You need to visit these places and view with your own eyes.

Day One: London to Kendal

Early Sunday morning, waving goodbye to my precious Atti-cat and having ensured he had enough hot water bottles to keep him snug, we drove out of London. We stopped somewhere on the M40 for second breakfast (at the same time as a coach load of Watford fans headed up to Liverpool for a match, cue the queues) and for hubby (who would be driving the whole trip because I can’t drive) a break from the godawful singing he would experience for the next six days.


We stopped off in Morecambe Bay because I thought we might find a delightful fish and chip shop by the sands. Maybe we took a wrong turn because it seemed so quiet and isolated, with barely anything open. Of course it wasn’t the season but I thought at least on a sunny Sunday there’d be a few more options! Never mind, it provided a good time to get out and stretch the legs and take a few pictures. I would have gone out further on to the sands but I had just watched programme on the danger of quicksand in the area and really didn’t fancy having to be rescued from an isolated beach.


Onwards we went through some absolutely gorgeous scenery in to the Lake District with the roads looking more like something from New England in Fall than the North West of England. We drove on the twisty road that ran along the eastern edge of Lake Windermere. Every little sneak peek through the trees made me want to see it in all its glory.


Where Morecambe was isolated, Windermere was packed. People everywhere, spilling over the pavements into the road, crammed into tea shops and jammed in car parks. I couldn’t bear it. The very reason for our road trip was to escape the rat race and the masses. We U-turned back to an isolated car park a mile or so before the town and ate our snacks in the car before heading down to the edge of the water.

I dipped my fingers in (a ritual I continued throughout the trip, mainly to see how cold it was – was it swimmable?! – but also to leave an epithelial marker of mine in the water and a little Windermere on me.

We continued up to Kendal, checked in to our glamorous Premier Inn room for the night and took a little wander. You would think that in Kendal, you would find shops selling plenty of Kendal Mint Cake. Any that did had closed for the day or weren’t displaying any wares. I needed warming up so had a Russian Earl Grey tea and a toasted tea cake at Brew Brothers.

Night came and brought a freezing wind, we briskly walked to dinner and on our way back I noticed how the streets were so utterly deserted. As a city girl this is still something that surprises me. Even more odd is that I find it so disconcerting at night in small towns and yet it’s what I long for during the day in the city!

Day Two: Kendal to Fort William

This was part of the road trip that I was most looking forward to. The drive out of the lakes and in to the Peak District was beautiful. Low stone walls dotted the landscape like grey rollercoaster tracks undulating over green hills. The skies were clear and sheep were our only companions until we reached the motorway.

The roads were pretty clear until we reached Glasgow and Monday morning rush hour. Thankfully we circumnavigated it and saw the signs for the road of dreams… The A82.

Our first stop on this route was the cute village of Luss a.k.a. the easiest place to stop at Loch Lomond, simply follow the diversion. Second breakfast time meant another hot pot of tea and a delicious coffee and walnut cake from the cafe plus a fuss from the resident dog and then an excuse to walk it off along the shore of the lake.

I hadn’t realised I would fall in love with the Lochs as much as I did; Lomond was the start of a beautiful love affair. Sure, the clear blue skies and crisp sunshine that we were blessed with made things better, but it was such a pretty place. I learnt that Lomond is huge – the largest in surface area in Great Britain. I couldn’t believe the clarity of the water either, I imagined returning in the summer with my wetsuit and it still being as cold!

Sated, we continued. I kept grinning in awe and wonder at the beauty of the views, telling hubby not to look and keep his eyes on the road which is one of the greatest benefits of being a passenger and not a driver! The sun glinted off the water and the steep rocky sides of the hills enclosed us in its warmth. I abused the word ‘wow’ (as well as a few swear words) but it no longer seemed to be able to convey just how awesome the view was.

The landscape shifted to a broader view. Expansive hills became mountains with snow-capped peaks. We followed Bond’s route to Skyfall and entered Glencoe.

Objects in the rear view mirror may appear less awesome than they are

Hills beyond hills, beyond hills, beyond hills.

There’s a track that you can take to get to where Bond parks the car near a stream and really pretend you’re 007. I believe it’s marked Glen Etive Ski Centre. I didn’t drive down it because a) going down lonely tracks not knowing what the condition of the road is like gives me the wiggins and b) it’s something saved for next time.

Glen Etive panorama

 

I’m the dark smudge on the left.

We pulled over in a large-ish car park space and got out. A path led in to the Glen and something took over my legs. Perhaps they were just so grateful for moving and not sat in a car, but I just kept walking. I could’ve walked miles easily if it weren’t for hubby yelling at me to come back. I felt bewitched, entranced and completely captivated by this land. Begrudgingly, I turned back.

We arrived in Fort William, found our hotel for the next two nights – a snazzy Travelodge at the top of town – dropped off our bags and headed back out again. As we still had plenty of time until sunset we decided to head over to Glenfinnan which was only 15 miles away.

Gorgeous sunlight illuminating the loch below and setting the autumnal colours alight

Harry Potter fans may recognise this viaduct although it’s missing the Hogwarts Express

The monument is just by the lochside with the viaduct a little way behind. The Loch Shiel waters were completely still with barely a ripple against the shore. I looked along the banks, hoping to see an otter or seal or something, but nothing appeared. I dipped my fingers in, confirmed the temperature and looked at the monument. It marks the place from whence Bonnie Prince Charlie  or Prince Charles Stuart launched his standard and is memorial to those clansmen who died for the Jacobite cause. It was beautifully serene when we visited, barely any one around. Bliss!

The Glenfinnan Monument

We headed back to Fort William with the dying light in time to see Ben Nevis illuminated by the setting sun and to find dinner. We ended up eating on the pier above Loch Linnhe at Crannog Seafood Restaurant and thought the food delicious and fresh if a little London-y price-wise. There’s really not much else to do in Fort William, the high street was dead so we turned in for the night.

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The view of Loch Linnhe from the pier

Day Three: Fort William (Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye)

Unlike the previous few days we weren’t as lucky with the weather and woke up to dark grey skies threatening freezing cold rain. I believe the term is Dreich and it’s a brilliant word, say it, dreeugh.  It wouldn’t stop us and our plans to head to Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye.

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Eilean Donan Castle

The castle appears all of a sudden, round a corner of stone on one of the second most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on – the A87 – framed by distant hills and the convergence of three lochs – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. It was featured in Highlander (one of my favourite films) and The World Is Not Enough. It’s well worth a stop off; the vista of it within the lochs is stunning and the house is lovely enough but I thought the most wonderful thing was the kitchen scene re-enactment, one of the best I’ve seen with loads of details – spot the cat in the pantry! 

More tea and scones consumed (it must have been brunch time) we set off towards Skye. I was really sad that we wouldn’t be able to get to the Old Man of Storr or the Quiraing because the weather was starting to really close in. We did manage to get along to a viewpoint before the distant mountains disappeared completely and stopped off for a delicious fish and chip lunch by the water’s edge, eating in the car as the rain lashed down. Our failure to get to see Skye properly has definitely made my desire to visit again go up a notch!

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All we could see of Skye!

 

Day Four: Fort William to Inverness

Like the rest of the world, we woke up to the news a reality TV show mogul had won the US election and were feeling a teensy bit despondent. The best way to get over this was a trip to a whisky (no as it’s Scotch) distillery, via a castle and Loch Ness. En route we passed a spot that I won’t ever forget, mostly because I moaned about not being able to stop and take a picture of it! Loch Oich is just after you cross a bridge and part of the Caledonian Canal, linking the lochs of the Great Glen; Loch Lochy (no lie, that’s its name) and Loch Ness. Due to the stunning time of year it looked more like New England and the autumn leaves were all the shades of fire. If you go past in  November, make sure you stop!

The ruins of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

I’d seen Urquhart Castle featured on Poppy D’s vlog from a trip just a week or so before ours and made a mental note to visit. I’d recommend visiting earlier in the day when the site is quiet and if you’re very lucky, you get a free guided tour all to yourself. Plus if you’re English Heritage members you can get in for half price, or if you’re a member for more than a year, it’s free.

It’s a beautiful and tranquil place with more than 1000 years of history. I always wish I had glasses that could glimpse the past – it would have been huge in its un-ruined state. We learnt loads from Keith, our lovely guide and really enjoyed the ambience of the place. Loch Ness is deep, huge and cold (I checked!) and I didn’t see Nessie but there’s something about the water that makes you think that you have seen something just slip under the water.

Loch Ness Panorama

Taking the scenic route again, we headed to the Glen Ord distillery at Muir of Ord, run by Diageo. This distillery produces a Scotch single malt whisky called The Singleton of Glen Ord for the Asian market. Again, going out of season meant it was quiet and only one other couple joined us on the tour. Our lovely guide (and I’m gutted because I’ve completely forgotten her name) was extremely knowledgable and took us through the whole process from malting to tasting. You can’t take any photos around the distillery processes mainly because of the risk of fire especially in the warehouse where the angel’s share smells delicious enough to get tipsy on the air alone!

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After a few samplers I was a barrel of laughs.

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I finished my drinks and hubby’s too (he was driving)


The end of the tour brought the tastings and let’s just say I giggled my way through six small glasses of whisky on a Tuesday lunchtime. We tried the 12 year old, (a great everyday whisky) a 15 year old (a bit sharper, not my favourite) and an 18 year old whisky which was immediately purchased and is reserved as my special whisky.

I floated back to the car and as we still had sunlight, boisterously demanded we progress onwards and explored a little more of the Black Isle, so named for the dark quality of the soil. Our route took us to a little fishing town on the peninsula called Cromarty which has the Cromarty Firth on one side and the Moray Firth on the other. The town was deserted again but wonderfully so; rather than feeling abandoned it felt like everyone was tucked up at home, evidenced by the peat fires we could smell in the wind. We popped in to a gallery and the pottery shop next door, purchased a few cards then returned to the beach to watch the sunset.

That’s the body language of an excited seal spotter!

The dark smudge in the lower left hand side is a seal!

The incredibly pretty harbour at Cromarty

You can see the platforms in the distance

I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally see a seal in the distance. It frolicked about in the water for a good while, almost following our path along the coast. A lady in the bakery said we might be able to see dolphins from Fortrose so we drove over. Suffice to say we saw zero dolphins but it felt great to be on an adventure!

We returned to Inverness extremely happy and tired (and I was post tipsy) ready for dinner and bed for the next day.

Day Five: Inverness to Aberdeen

For some reason I was in a really weird mood. I’m used to my mood swings but this felt different… like loss. It took me a while to realise it was because I was back in a city and away from the mountains and lochs. To appease me we detoured into Aviemore, a place I hadn’t visited since a school trip when I was 14. I had a wonderful flashback of walking past a parade listening to Just a Girl on my Walkman (yes, I’m that old) and pretending I was cool.

Heading back towards the coast on the A95 we found another scenic road which happened to be the Malt Whisky Trail running alongside the River Spey. The valleys housed the distinctive pagodas of distilleries, some less than a mile from each other.

A beautiful castle gatehouse

The colour of the water!

We lazily cruised onwards towards Elgin, stopping off at the Johnstons Wool and Cashmere shop for some Christmas presents and then followed the coastal road and the North Sea wondering if we could spot another seal or even an otter or dolphin.

Bolts of cloth at Johnstons in Elgin

View from a ruined house at Portsoy


Skirting along the Buchan coast meant we could pull in to fishing towns that caught our eye. I was delighted to spot a brown tourist sign for a 17th Century old harbour at Portsoy and we pulled up. The harbour was sweet enough but I rather liked the ruined wall with window view of the sea. Imagine doing your washing up from that spot!

The seaside made me feel a little better but knowing we were heading back to a busy city made the blues come back. I’d have to come up with a different plan for the journey on to Livingston tomorrow to avoid the evil mood.

Light was staring to fade again and I didn’t want to get to our hotel too late, especially as we had decided to splash out a little on an amazing Secret Escapes deal that included a bottle of wine on arrival, 3 course dinner and breakfast plus a gorgeously plush room that made a change from budget business travel. The Mercure Ardoe hotel just outside the city was lovely, huge and luxurious. A shame we couldn’t experience it more or take advantage of the spa offers but we slept amazingly well and the last time on the trip that we wouldn’t hear traffic and other city noises.

 

Day Six: Aberdeen to Livingston

 

The sun was shining and the weather was milder than ever as we set off south via the west.

Friends had recommended the A93 road that runs through all the B’s – Ballater, Braemar and Balmoral. This would take us south via the Cairngorms and some stunning scenery. I instantly felt my mood lift and my smile return as we headed higher in to the snow dusted hills.

Trees covered in lichen

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Yes, that’s me running in delight through virgin snow!

I had thought to perhaps stop off at Queenie’s Scottish residence at Balmoral but sadly it was closed. Instead we followed the road just to the side of it (half expecting a security officer to launch themselves at the car with an assault rifle commanding us to stop at any moment) and arrived at Royal Lochnagar, a charming distillery with a famous royal neighbour. It was wonderful to see snow on the ground (cue me running into an untouched patch) and the smell of malt in the crisp, cold air.

This tour was a lovely contrast to the larger site at Muir of Ord. Again, no photos allowed but I really enjoyed being to understand the processes and the difference between the two. Of course I enjoyed another tasting to warm me up and we set off again, stopping off at locations to take pictures of the beautiful Dee river and grabbing a bite to eat at t a s t e in Braemar.

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As we climbed higher we started to see even more snow…

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Glenshee looking pretty

I felt like a giddy kipper surrounded by clouds and mountains and snow. Our route took us through Glenshee and the ski centre. I have this strange love of piste bashers and was so happy to see them parked up, ready for a dumping of snow and grooming the pistes for the season ahead.

Delighted by the day’s adventures we wendled our way down towards Edinburgh and past the cities to our motorway hotel. Luckily, two sets of dear friends lived only about ten minutes away from each so we quickly stopped off at one for a quick hug before heading over for dinner with the others and their gorgeous young kids.

Day Seven: Livingston to London

We had originally planned to split the journey home with a stay overnight in Darlington but I really wanted to see my kitty and sleep in my own bed, so a crazy early start meant we could do the journey from Livingston to London in seven hours. I’m not going to lie, it was horrendous weather; continuous drizzle, lashings of spray and grey skies do not make for pleasant car journeys.

I learned so much on this trip – that 80’s/90’s songs are the best ones to sing along to, that I really enjoy Scotch whisky, that I love the landscapes in Scotland but especially love the Highlands and Lochs, that we were so incredibly lucky with the weather, that driving 200 miles a day isn’t so far, that I can’t wait to go back very soon.

At last we were home, just 1751 miles later and with a new haul of whiskies to remember Scotland and enjoy, ready to plan our return.

Thank you, dear reader, for getting to the end… it’s been just as arduous trying to write about the trip as I loved it so much. I truly believe that it’s a magical pace and my pictures and words do it very little justice, so please head up there and enjoy!

 

“And I would walk drive 500 nearly two thousand miles…”

Loch Fyne, Royal Lochnagar, Singleton of Glen Ord and Lagavulin.

 

Curiosity Killed in Paris – encore!

I knew I should’ve taken the earlier train – it meant that I missed service on the breakfast menu at the increasingly popular Holybelly cafe and thus missed the savoury stack of pancakes that I’d been craving for a year!! (They were closed for refurbishment last time I visited in September.) And it meant I got in to Paris at lunch time so everyone will be queuing with me.

Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait and my alternative choice of meal, as recommended by one of the lovely girls there, was an experience and a joy. Two poached eggs, with that ridiculously amazing French bread that is crusty to the point of almost cracking teeth but is too temptingly delicious to leave be, plus salad and crispy bacon and the most wonderful baked beans I have ever had in my life. Quaffed down with a London Fog – earl grey tea with vanilla syrup and frothy milk.

Outside Holybelly

 

My delcious food, the pretty floor and Holybelly interior

Parisian metro

It was a seriously grey and miserable day

I’d decided to visit Paris again on a whim, as I knew hubby would be here for work and the tickets for £29 each way were released-instant decision made! I wanted to see if I could visit some of the places I didn’t on my last trip in September and pick up a few more bits from my favourite pharmacy. As the weather was so miserable I decided to spend the majority of the Friday shopping and spend Saturday doing the more touristy stuff.

My belly was full with deliciousness from Holybelly and my course was set: tackle City Pharma first, then try Sephora and Mac for some extra bits. I managed to pick up some clay masks from Argiletz, extra Nuxe goodies like the brilliant Reve de Miel lip balm and the oh-so-yummy smelling Huile Prodigieuse as well as lots of hand cream (I get through it so quickly!) and a mini Beauty Elixir spritz from Caudalie.

By the time I left (€50 lighter) it had started to rain and oh reader, Paris in the rain is not fun. I still needed to find my Mac bits and headed off on a wild goose chase to two separate stores but they had sold out of my exact shade. Oh well. The second store was very close to the Montparnasse tower and I briefly wondered whether I should head up for a touristy visit, but with the skies so overcast and gloomy I decided to save my €15 and promise to head back another time.

I had bought my usual carnet of metro tickets and hopped on a line taking me towards les grandes magasins making note of one of the more unsettling aspects of Paris since the attacks: when entering most shops you were asked to open your coat – to show you weren’t wearing an explosive vest, and bag – to show you didn’t have weapons.

By this point in the day I’d already walked 13km according to my tracker and I was feeling it. I headed to the hotel before the others for a freshen up before a much needed dinner.

Once reunited with hubby and his colleagues, we had a quick turnaround to visit one of my favourite chocolate and sweet shops – A la mere de famille situated just a 10/15 minute walk away from the hotel. I only wish I could give you smell-o-vision dear reader!

Shop exterior

Those floor tiles! Those huge labels!

Like an apothecary for sweet things!

This feast for the senses was founded before the revolution, in 1761 and maintains its old charm beautifully, from the counter filled with chocolates and jars with delectable treats to the beautiful floor tiles. There’s even a kiosk where the cashier sits! I learned that the French for marshmallow is not marshmallow with a French accent – *dies* – thankfully not me, that was hubby making me seriously embarrassed, but guimauves and I asked for one of each flavour of the huge fluffy sweets.

I also picked up a selection of macarons, not the fanciest of selections but delicious all the same. These are the plain almond biscuits without the colouring but with traditional fillings inside such as pine nut, almond, chocolate and salted caramel. My brain translated lack of colourants as basically good for you – if I’m wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Pic taken at hotel before they got squished in my bag/eaten in a breath. Marshmallows amd macarons!!

After a strange nights sleep (apparently I need a small monster of a cat to crush my legs or hear him purring on my chest to feel truly relaxed) it was time to set off and hit the tourist-y places. I was grateful for the early start to be able to get the metro down to the Louvre and be one of the first in to see the Mona Lisa before the crowds made me question life and the use of aggressive elbows.

A wonderful friend *waves to Nikki* sent me a note about the secret entrance to the Louvre. Secret? Well, not quite but I can’t tell you how much it cut down on waiting times. I HATE queuing and crowds and this basically avoided the worst of it. I hadn’t pre-purchased my ticket so I thought my best bet was to head to the underground entrance. Basically, get off at the Palais Royal Louvre stop and head for the Carousel shopping centre. This will bring you to the inverted pyramids. You can also access the Louvre via the Porte Richelieu if you have pre-paid tickets. I can’t say enough for being an early bird getting the worm here either, just a handful of people were waiting with me for the security checkpoint. 

The alternative entrance to the Louvre

 

This meant I could get to the ticket booth, pay my €15 and race to the Richelieu wing to see the lady with the enigmatic smile, without a million people joining me.

No, seriously. Look at all the emptiness I had! It was like a perfect dream scenario for me. I was tempted to dance on the stairs (no one would have seen me) in gleeful joy.  

Not a soul to be seen. Bliss!

  

The imperfect symmetry in this is making me twitchy

Just a handful of people were in this giant room waiting to see the Mona Lisa. I managed to get a moment admiring her by the barriers all by myself.  

The most famous woman in the world and her admirers.

  

After that I decided to explore the quiet museum a little more and make the most of the time I had to kill. I reckoned two hours at the Louvre would be more than enough for my back/legs/brain. I decided to visit the opulent apartments of Napoleon III and enjoy some alone time there. 

Entrance to the apartments

  

Dining room goals.

  

The Grand Salon. Very grand.


Once again I pretty much had the place to myself so did my usual “pretend you live here in the past” thing and let my imagination run wild.

Many moons ago I had read the brilliant La Reine Margot by Alexander Dumas which takes place in Paris and the Louvre around the reign of Charles IX and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. It is funny and gory and makes Game of Thrones look like Little House(s) on the Prairie. I imagined Marguerite running down this staircase chased by a crazed Catherine de Medici. 

Who have these steps greeted in times gone by?

  
Satisfied with my foray back in time I wandered around the rest of the museum.   

Very creepy, even in daylight!

  

The entrance to the Egyptian exhibits.

  

Claude Leveque’s UV light installation “The greatest show on earth part 2”

 
I thought this was a great use for the medieval moat and enjoyed walking around. I realised that some people were looking at me funny but put it down to a natural paranoia. Then I looked down at my top and realised why… 

my brightly coloured top was now neon and i was glowing in the dark!!


 My next stop was only a short walk away from the Louvre, at the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked through a cold and bleak Jardin des Tuileries admiring the many runners and strollers braving the freezing temperatures. 
 

I loved the concrete entrance to the oval rooms

 
 I had pre-booked a ticket using the handy fnac website to visit the large, permanent water lilies exhibition by Monet in the oval rooms, specially built for his large paintings.    

Gorgeous spaces, a shame about the people!

They were beautiful spaces, I just wish it had been a little quieter so I could’ve had a longer sit down on the central benches and admired the work. One of the rooms was filled with art students sketching away and other tourists taking so many selfies to the point of making me want to rip the cameras out of their hands. I genuinely don’t understand why they think a picture of them duck-facing in front of exquisite work, by one of the most talented artists in the world, is a thing. *mini rant over*

detail of the waterlilies

 
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the museum for more paintings by artists such as Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and more.  

The Eiffel Tower hides its head in the cloud

  

My next stop took me south/left of the river to the stunning Pantheon, sat on top of a hill in the fifth arrondissement. This huge building has been a church, science display and mausoleum in its many incarnations. 

Foucault’s Pendulum tells the time

It also houses the mesmerising Foucault pendulum a simple contraption that demonstrates that the Earth rotates. A brass-coated lead ball swings from a long wire secured in the ceiling of the dome and the plane of the pendulum’s swing rotates clockwise 11° per hour.   

Make sure to take a trip down to the crypt to visit the tombs of some of the greatest French writers and people in history including my pal Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.  

Voltaire’s tomb

 

My iPhone photography skills do this vast expanse no justice!

 

By this point, around 1-ish,  I was hungry again and being so close to my favourite spot I decided a brisk walk down the hill and across the river to Ile St Louis and the wonderful Cafe St Regis

Interior

    
I’ve written about this gorgeous little place before from my previous trip, but it’s worth saying again. There are many cafes and bistros in Paris but this one holds a special place in my heart for being an oasis of calm. Dining as a woman alone can sometimes feel intimidating or uncomfortable but I was welcomed with a warm smile as if they knew me as a regular visitor – I guess I practically am though!

So delicious!

I didn’t have to be back at Gare du Nord to meet hubby and his colleagues until 4 so I had some time still to kill. I settled in and ordered a hearty meal of Croque Madame which is Croque Monsieur (bread, ham and cheese, all grilled – so basically hammy pizza!) but with an egg. Utterly delicious.

As I felt so comfortable there and I was in the middle of Wet January I decided to order a little cocktail to wash all the food down. I chose a Sweet Home Alabama – Amaretto, Southern Comfort and Stolynichaya vodka. Let’s just say it was potent. *hic* I had to order crepes with Nutella to ensure I wouldn’t be too wobbly on my feet. That’s my excuse for stuffing my face and I’m sticking with it!  

Drinks that have three spirits but taste like fruit juice are dangerous!

  

All the Nutella!!

 

I rolled out of the cafe over an hour and a half later, satisfied and very cheery, pausing to stop and listen to the amazing pianist on the bridge connecting Ile St Louis to Ile de la Cite and briskly avoiding the crowds by Notre Dame. I thought I would kill time by heading to the lovely Cité metro station but I ended up being distracted by the spires of Sainte Chapelle. 

Checking the time I still had an hour until the meeting time and I really didn’t want to hang around Gare du Nord. There was still a bit of a queue for Sainte Chapelle but if you walk up, past the police at the gates, you’ll come to a non-description entrance with a National Monuments board for the Conciergerie. 

The stunning fairytale building that looks like a medieval chateau from the other side of the river – that’s the Conciergerie. It was once part of the Royal Palace complex, together with the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle and served as a prison. 

 This huge space (imagine the parties you could host!) greeted me as I walked down the steps into the lower hall, the Hall of the Men at Arms. I had NO IDEA this vastness existed and I was in it for a mere €8!

It was originally a massive dining hall for the many thousands of staff that serviced the palace complex. 

The gorgeous staircase to the kitchens that sady no longer exist!

 The Conciergerie gained infamy during the Revolution holding prisoners who would then be transported to the guillotines across the city. The most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette and they’ve preserved the chapel created in situ of her cell as well as a mock up of the cell itself. I found the different types of cells really interesting – you could pay for a private suite! – and the roll call of the many names of political prisoners was harrowing. 

A pretty stained glass panel in Marie Antoinette’s chapel

Just visible is a high water mark from a flood in 1910, about 3 metres high!

  
It was finally time to head to GdN and meet up with hubby and his colleagues. Although my time in Paris was pretty short I felt like I had managed to do as much as I possibly could within the time frame and still enjoy myself. I checked my tracker, I’d managed to walk nearly 20kms despite taking the metro nearly everywhere! I was exhausted but happy. I just needed one final item to pick up for the journey home – delicious demi baguettes. A bien tôt Paris!

Gare du Nord to take me back home

 

Curiosity Killed… In Bruges

Part one about my day in Brussels is here. Read it already? Then you may continue…

I didn’t really know much about this pretty little city until I watched the film. Yes, that one with Colin Whatshisface. Delightfully dark tale. I remember thinking what a charming little place, I must visit it! Sadly, I think quite a few other people must’ve watched that film/thought that too as the train to Bruges from Gare du Midi/Zuidstation was packed.  

It takes just over an hour to travel to Bruges from Brussels on the fast train so it’s a great day trip to take. The train stops at Ghent on the way so you could take another detour there. We were lucky, the friendly guy at the ticket office said, as we could take advantage of a special shopping ticket that had started that day (5th December) to Bruges which meant we only paid a total of €22 instead of €50+. Ooh thrifty!

We were waiting for the train to appear on the cold, windy platform when I heard music and cheers further up. Being a curious kitten I walked closer to inspect. A full on dance party complete with crowd was a-happening at the end of the platform with a film crew on the opposite side. I had to be held back so as to go running up and join my musical brethren and instead delighted myself with throwing a few modest shapes where I was. It looked like so much fun – and typical of the utterly crazy, happy-happy joy-joy two faces that Brussels seems to have.
After being turfed out of first class like peasants (just kidding – but we didn’t realise and weren’t going to pay up another €40+ each) and there being no seats left, we ended up on the floor by the doors. At least we both had a view for the journey!

Sat on the carriage floor!

Bruges station is just a ten minute walk away from the medieval centre. Basically, come out, cross the dual carriageway and follow the hordes towards the spires. If you’re looking to avoid anyone English, you can’t. Sorry. Bruges is like a colder version of the Costa del Sol! English everywhere, and mostly in loved up pairs.

Here’s one of my traveller tips – read as mini rant: Leave the heels at home if you want to explore Bruges (or Brussels) properly. Cobbles and heels are not a good combination in any weather. Also, if you’re coming along in winter then wear proper winter clothes. Bring a hat, wear a scarf, use gloves. The icy wind managed to whip my breath away on a few occasions and I was wrapped up waaaarrrmmm, but I saw so many Kim K wannabes in their little capelets and armless camel coloured coats shivering like fools, catching colds to head back to the office on Monday and infecting everyone with their lurgies, stumbling around in their heels like a street style feature was about to pap them. Basically, wear proper clothes and you’ll be fine. We were lucky with the weather and had no rain, just a very, very cold wind!

The Belfort/Belfry in the main square

I thought it was probably best to start at the Belfort first, before the queues became really horrible but even so by the time we arrived there was a 30 minute wait. Only 70 people can be accommodated at a time within the tower itself so it was a case of one-in-one-out. Still, I was happy (ish) to queue (must be the British in me) and paid the €8 each to walk up the 366 steps to the belfry. I was happy, my thighs were not!!

If you’re claustrophobic or can’t manage spiral staircases then this is not the attraction for you. Ditto for any fears about heights or general giddiness. Be prepared to give way to people coming down, don’t be like one group of tourists who thought we were stopping on the stairs for our own amusement and tried to walk past us. They got a very sharp retort in Portuguese when they didn’t expect it! – basically me showing that I have Latin blood, so don’t mess with me. *smiles sweetly*

And this wasn’t even a super steep bit!

I was really happy that we arrived at the top just as the bells started to chime. They were loud but not ear splittingly so, and the view was pretty amazing, especially to see all the way to the coast at Zeebrugge.

Looking North from the Belfort

View down to the Burg

By this point I was absolutely famished and needed my energy replenished with some moules-frites. We stopped off at a cafe and devoured a pot each. Now we could comfortably enjoy the pleasures Bruges had to offer.

Completely focused on my moules!

I thought Brussels was full of chocolate and beer shops but the amount in Bruges takes the speculoos biscuit. Weirdly, the smell of so much chocolate in concentrate put me right off and the crowds around many of these places meant I gave them a wide berth anyways. We did venture in to a place called The Bottle Shop with extremely helpful and knowledgable staff and SO much beer/ale/drink that hubby didn’t know where to start! There’s a Belgian Gouden Carolus whisky single malt aged in Bourbon casks coming home with us to join the growing collection as I’m not a beer fan at all sadly!

Beer, ales and lagers

I love an old apothecary; the ordered rows of bottles and potions appeals to my inner Monica. Like most places on the continent, there’s a pharmacy on every street. I needed a top up of my favourite spritz toner (Caudalie Grape Water) as I was running low. This apotheek was the perfect place to top up!

A sneaky/not so great photo of the apotheek interior


The Christmas crowds were stifling at times but what I liked is that you could turn a corner and be on a quiet little street by yourself, just you and the lovely Flemish buildings with their architecture and details and a pretty spire peeking out.

Walking out from the Burg, towards the canals was this gilded footbridge between two buildings. Bruges definitely warrants a look back over your shoulder to see its hidden details. 

The pretty Burg

The charming basilica has an upper and lower chapel; the lower being a Romanesque style (round arches, pretty in its simplicity) and the upper was remodelled in a Gothic style (arches, gold, slightly garish by comparison). The relic of holy blood is contained in a vial in the upper chapel and you pay – I think it was five euros – for the privilege of walking past it. I didn’t, but you may wish to.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood

I was feeling hungry (again!) and needed a sit down for my very weary feet and something to stave off my cravings. Walking around we found a charming little tea room that would have seemed just as perfect nestled on a quaint village high street in the Cotswolds. For some stupid reason I forgot to note the name or location, but if I find it I will update! The mini cakes were delicious, but I opted for the waffles. SO GOOD.

Chintzy and quaint, but so delicious!

  

Yes, that’s a proper hot chocolate with milk, with more hot chocolate on my banana waffles.


The Burg lit up in the late afternoon

  

Perfect demo of open water drafting technique!

All in all I really enjoyed Bruges/Brugge and I shouldn’t hold the pre-Christmas crowds against it. I definitely want to re-visit in slightly less crowded times and warmer temps – not too warm though as I’d be tempted to take a dip in the canal, plus there’s the whole humidity and wasp/bee quandary I face whenever I venture outside. There was so much we didn’t do, so many museums and sights that we didn’t see. I might even be tempted to get in one of the little boats and tour of the canals. Maybe. *shifty eyes*

We started walking back to the station to catch the train back to Brussels and as if to prove a point of how stunning a place it is, the sun set over the Groenerei / Steenhouwersdijk canal and turned the cloudy skies in to a riot of fire.

Hashtag NO FILTER! So pretty.


Til next time Bruges…

 PS – The train back was rather packed and so this smart fellow, who may have had a few beers and trappist ales beforehand, had a fantastic space saving idea…

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Curiosity Killed… In Brussels 

I’d barely looked up from my iPad, watching a Storyville documentary on an FBI informant whilst on the Eurostar, headphones on loud to drown out the rowdy lot sat ahead of us (they were on shots as the train departed at 8:04 a-fricking-m) and hadn’t realised we’d pulled in to Brussels’ Gare du Midi. It’s an underwhelming welcome to the city, but similar to the industrialised and graffitied entrance to Paris’ Gate du Nord.

The station is a little disorienting. With the increased security due to the Paris attacks, the multiple exits from the Eurostar platforms were blocked. Therefore we may have missed the informative illuminated signs that direct you to the Metro (yeah, right!) but instead found ourselves following a warren of paths to finally see the Metro signs and then see them disappear once we had turned the corner – personal pet peeve: signs that direct you and then disappear – what’s with that?!

We found the Metro hub and bought single journeys for €2.10 each as we knew we’d be walking most of the day instead of taking the metro. They have these odd validator things that eat your ticket, open the door then spit them out again – but don’t forget to wait for your ticket before walking through!! We could take line 3 or 4 (which is like a tram) to De Brouckere and then would have to change for Gare Central – slightly tricky as the signs for lines 1 or 5 disappeared. Again. All was well in the end as we realised we had to exit and re-enter sort of.

It was just a slight shock to see Army guys with ginormous guns on the metro – can you imagine the scene seeing them at Waterloo or something?! I thought I’d be fine seeing armed police or army guys on the streets, “…it’ll be perfectly safe…” I would say – yes but it’s actually quite unnatural and not being used to seeing my bobbies with automatic assault rifles hanging about their person, it’s disconcerting.

Our hotel was a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Metro exit on Rue de Colonies/Kolonienstraat and looked warm and welcoming. We were far too early to check in but could leave our bags as we went off to explore the city. With rumbling tummies we set off downhill towards the Grand Place/Gros Markt.

Grand Place looking towards the museum

The architecture in Brussels is completely different to anything I’ve seen before. I like its simplicity and it recalls all the old-fashioned chocolate box scenes of winter time and Christmas. The Grand Place is particularly pretty though due to the ornate spires of the town hall and the gilded accents on all the buildings within the square. The square had been prepped for Christmas with a beautiful nativity scene – with real sheep! – and a simply decorated Christmas tree. Walking around we spotted the famous swan and espied an open fire within a restaurant serving moules-frites.

It was a delight to warm up by the fire whilst having our meals

There’s some seriously huge mussels underneath that greenery!

Walking in to La Chaloupe d’Or we were warmly welcomed and sat ourselves near the fire. As was befitting our location, we opted for a large pot of moules and frites to share. So good. SO GOOD! A walk was needed afterwards so we decided to explore the rest of the old city, taking in the sights of the Christmas market ensconced around the Bours area. Personally, I feel once you have seen one Christmas market, you’ve seen them all. I didn’t think there was anything particularly special or Brussels specific to this one. There are always the same types of things being sold and I’m glad we didn’t just go for the market. Maybe it’s just me being bah humbug-y! However I do love the smells of roasting chestnuts and cinnamon spices and started to relax and singalong to the Christmas tunes playing over the speakers. Off we strolled to see some more sights within the old town walls, like the Manneken Pis.

The little boy peeing fountain is worth a minute of your time – maybe two if he’s wearing one of his many costumes – but I didn’t think it much of it!

The Manneken Pis is tiny!

The windows at many of the biscuit and chocolate shops were filled with delicious goodies, especially those in Maison Dondoy. This famous biscuit shop specialise in one of my ultimate weaknesses – speculoos biscuits.

Display at Maison Dondoy

I’d recommend a stroll through the Galleries Royales. They’re filled with chocolate shops and cafes as well as cute artisanal stores filled with lace and trinkets.

lots of beautiful leavers lace shops

The baroque pulpit inside the Cathedral

Our hotel was just up the hill and around the corner from the cathedral. For me, it didn’t have the connection with a higher power that I get from places like Sacre-Coeur, St Peter’s or Lincoln, but it was lovely especially with all the nativity scenes from the different communities within Brussels. It’s used for big state occasions like weddings and funerals and the Pope visited too.
Our room at 9 Hotel Centraal was lovely. I rather liked the exposed brick on the wall and the heeeuge mirror opposite. It was slightly weird having no nets to protect our privacy though. Especially with office workers just opposite!

I had sort of forgotten about the bad guys in the news recently until we headed up to our hotel room. Looking out the window I saw a police car with armed police stop a car with three men inside. I could see the driver place his hands on the steering wheel, the front passenger place his on the dashboard and the back passenger on the head rest in front. After a lengthy conversation involving documents and papers being handed back and forth, the police gave the all clear.

Stop! Police!

Here’s where the story would end normally. But these guys were a bit miffed at having been stopped. So they got out of the car and approached the police TO HAVE A GO AT THEM!! Maybe I’m a born follower, or just British, but there is no way in hell I’d approach police with massive guns and give them what for! To be fair though, I’ve never been profiled due to my race, potential religion or skin colour and speak from a position of privilege. I guess I’d be pretty peeved too.

After a very quick cat nap we decided to make the best of the winter sunshine and headed to the Royal Palace and Mont des Arts area for some pictures and then headed in search for more sustenance (hot chocolate and waffles!)

Palace views


The view from the top of Mont des Arts

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The interior at Falstaff

We had passed by Falstaff earlier and thought it looked like a lovely stop off for some sweet treats. The interior is so pretty – art nouveau details in the window arches and glass ceilings and I wish I had a pair of glasses that could look through into the past to see it in its heyday. The food was fine and generous, but the atmosphere in such a visually rich place was a bit of a let down. It lacked the warmth and friendliness of my beloved Chaloupe and we left quickly after scoffing our waffles.

A little more strolling and shopping around (killed a few hours more and I started to relax into the Brussels vibe…and just like that, it would go weird. It’s the strangest little place and I think it likes being that way! In London, you might see a person begging with a dog beside them. In Brussels, you see them with bunnies. Yes, rabbits. Complete with hay and sticks of celery and carrots. One of the men got moved along by a huge contingent of army guys and just let his bunny wander in to the road and hide under the army truck. Much to my distress. Hubby dragged me away before I had a full on flap and made a scene of myself.

By this point, my tummy was calling for attention so we headed back to Grand Place for some dinner and were treated to the town hall lit up beautifully.

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The prettiest town hall in the world!

Sporting full bellies we meandered our way back to the hotel, grateful to rest our weary heads after a l o o o o n g day. I was gutted to not have the energy to join the loud party in the bar next to the hotel, it sounded fun, but I needed my rest for the next day and the trip to Bruges!

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The Cathedral at night.

Coming up in part two – In Bruges.

yellowpinkblue 

Before the mist clears from my mind, let me share a few quick thoughts about the beautiful and brilliantly simple installation by Ann Veronica Janssens that I visited. 

Three coloured lights of yellow, pink and blue and mist; such a simple premise but one that was enticing for me and enough people for a 35 minute wait at the Wellcome Collection, on the Euston Road.

It passed in a haze (#sorrynotsorry for the mist puns) though – there are iPads with more on the States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness exhibition that the installation is part of, and mercifully there’s seating that you shuffle along, sparing your aching backs.

Once we stepped inside it was like another world, one filled with pink that turns into yellow that turns into blue. As someone who adorrrres colour it was my idea of heaven! 

pure joy!

 

  

A few tips:

  • Do expect to be completely disoriented by the experience. Imagine being really short-sighted and not wearing your specs, that’s how I can best describe it!
  • You can hear other people around you but might not see them until you nearly bump into them – therefore walk slowly. Take your time to experience the colours. 
  • Make sure you have memory space on your phone/camera to take lots of pictures and videos. Play with the light and the shadows created by people moving. 
  • If you want to take a pause and just sit there absorbing it all and thinking about your own consciousness then do – but don’t sit in the middle of the floor like one particular twerp, unless of course you want squished fingers and someone’s crotch in your face. Move to one of the walls instead. 
  • Walk around more than once and approach the light from opposite ends. The in-between spaces are just as beautiful as the full colour spaces; the green is calming and walking towards the orange is like being in a sunset. Just gorgeous! I made hubby walk around three times with me just to experience it again.

   
 

Shadows in the mist

Happy in the glow!


 

I left feeling elated and planned that if I won the lottery I would buy a house with an extra room just to have a coloured mist like this to go in and recharge myself whenever the world got too much. I could go on and on about this installation but I don’t want to spoil it! 

My only teeny, weeny criticism which isn’t a criticism but just something I would have added to the experience – music or silence. I think silence would have made it brilliantly eerie, music (something like Sigur Ros or a chant or something ethereal) would have made it even more uplifting. 

Really, you have to experience the intensity of the immersion into colour for yourself – that’s the whole point of it after all!!

yellowpinkblue is on at the Wellcome Collection until January 3rd 2016 with further events to follow. Go see it now! 

Maison+Objet

So you may have read about my adventures in Paris, (links here to part one and part deux if you’d like to catch up) and joining hubby who was there for a trade show. 

I was given the opportunity to tag along on the Saturday and headed to the Parc des Expositions de Villepinte, located outside Paris near CDG airport. It’s super easy to get to, just catch a RER train from Gare du Nord.
If you’ve ever been to a trade show you’ll know how big the venues are, but this was something else. Imagine the NEC, then double it, and double it again. Then multiply by EIGHT! There are eight different halls each with their own little theme.

  • Hall 1 – Eclectic
  • Hall 2 – Cosy
  • Hall 3 – Elegant
  • Hall 4 – Elegant
  • Hall 5a – Complements, Fragrances, Craft, Cook & Design
  • Hall 5b – Actuel
  • Hall 6 – Fresh, Fashion, Beloved, Kids
  • Hall 7 – Scenes d’interieur Gallery, Now! Design a Vivre
  • Hall 8 – Maison et Objet – Projets

Hall 6 stretches out before me, as far as the eye can see!

Thankfully some spaces are a little smaller than others, but most are filled with row after row of exhibitor stands. I’m not going to write about each and every hall though as that would leave me with a blog the size of War & Peace! The entire show was so huge and overwhelming at times that I think I ended up show blind; everything started to look the same so it had to be really special to warrant a glance – once you’ve seen five hundred throws/cushions/plates/candles/lights, you’ve seen them all, so I’ll just write about the things that caught my eye.

The view from outside the jardin

The Jardin Floral Flotant (Floating Floral Garden) was a collaboration between Team Lab (a Japanese digitech group, famed for their amazing interactive installations) and M+O. Featuring 2,300 flowers, including some very rare orchids, the flowers are suspended by their roots and lift up as a person approaches. The perfume of the flowers changes throughout the day so the experience is always unique. One or two people are allowed in at a time and you have two minutes to explore, but refrain from touching, the flowers. I saw this as an amazing chance to finally be surrounded by flowers without fear of bees or wasps – a major fear!

   
 

Another feature in Hall 7 was the stunning Precious installation. This was a collection of precious metals and other beautiful items used in interesting and unique ways. 

 

Dandelion seeds threaded onto clear line and displayed by Claire Morgan

  

Glassblowers from around the world created a bulb and then their breath was sealed within

    

I had heard of the Japanese art of Kintsugi before and love the idea that something is made more beautiful for having been broken; isn’t that an amazing philosophy? It was a real honour to see a master at work here. Showzi Tsukamoto repaired broken and cracked bowls with a special gold lacquer.

The master at work

   

In terms of actual suppliers and sellers at M+O that I liked, there were just so many stands there that I can’t list them all but here are a few of my favourites:

Elli Popp – gorgeous fine bone china with animals-I loved the Kingfisher!-and stunning 3D wall papers. Based in London and I found out when we were chatting that she knew my old workplace! 

BEdesign – their deer shelf is a stunning take on the stag head on the wall in metal. Want!

LineART – imagine you’re a megastar and you like taking your bathroom wash station with you on tour, or you like a sink you can pack away and not have to look at. The Cabine is a gorgeous oak cabinet containing a sink and storage. It makes me want a lovely new bathroom to fit it in!

Lenz & Leif – super soft cashmere scarves, throws, cushion and hot water bottle covers in bright colours, including neons and neutrals. So cosy!

Renaissance – embroidered tablecloths in high quality cottons that made me think of my grandparents and times gone by. 

Neó by Rosanna Contadini – cute storage bags and pots in a chunky knit made from lovely squishy neoprene.

Chisel & Mouse – super amazing 3D cityscapes, landmark frontages as well as bespoke commissions. I’d definitely get one of the Mill if we moved.

Haoshi Design Co – they say time flies but with these pretty bird clocks, it actually does! I love the Swallow wall clock with different wing positions acting as the hour markers.

Storytiles – these beautiful tiles make me want to tile all my walls. Available in both modern and old Dutch style, they’re like miniature paintings with whimsical designs of fairy tales and animals. My personal favourite might just be Jumping Fox

Masai Gallery – taxidermy isn’t my forte and I’m not so great with dead things, nor am I a fan of hunting, or killing animals that I wouldn’t eat. The animals used had all died from natural causes in zoos/sanctuaries or there were fibreglass replicas – I’d never realised how huge rhinos are! Plus I got to stroke a very haughty looking polar bear (although a I really wanted to give him a bear hug!)

Silk-ka – flowers are brilliant but they wilt, die and attract bees/wasps which is a no no for me. Enter Silk-Ka with the most amazing silk flowers that I have ever seen. These guys had almost every flower under the sun, with a plethora of colours. If I ever want to decorate my home with the equivalent of an orchard of cherry blossoms, then I’d go here.   

all the flowers, none of the bugs!

  

so pretty!

 

Maison & Objet is overwhelming through size and quantity but there’s tonnes of quality. I would recommend a visit if you need inspiration of any kind, especially if you’re renovating or redecorating your home. Shows are bi-annual, held in February and September with tickets costing about €70. 

My best advice would be to go over a few days; don’t do like I did and attempt it all in one! Take trainers – I didn’t think I’d beat 17km from the day before, but managed to do 22km, 18 of which were in the show! Oh and find the beach jungle cafe. Here’s a few more photos to whet your appetite…

   
  

these tiles were AMAZING! So ornate

  
  

loved the different copper tones on these leaves

  
  

parquet or parked?!

  
  

can’t see the wood for the tree screens!