Paris Plages, the artificial beaches on the Seine

Stuck in old land-locked Paris during the summer? Worry no more! For Parisians who can’t make it to a beach in August, the beach comes to them. A lot of locals leave the city on holidays around that time, and the tourists flood in. But there’s a treat for those left behind – the city sets up the Paris Plages, artificial beaches along the banks of its famous arterial river, the Seine.

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Discovering the hidden art of Paris – Les Enfants du Monde

After spending quite a lot of time exploring Paris’ most famous and exciting museums and monuments, and an equal amount of time sitting at home eating cereal in my pyjamas, I decided to investigate what other things I could discover. This was Paris after all, and art of some kind could be found around almost any corner!

I found one of my favourite ‘lesser-known’ sights in Paris at Parc Bercy, a quiet park in Paris’ East in the 12th arrondissment. It’s a series of bronze sculptures called Les Enfants du Monde (The children of the world), created by French sculptor Rachid Khimoune in 2001. This multicultural crowd of melted and reworked metal represents 21 different countries, standing peacefully in a long line in the upper terrace of Parc Bercy. Each character comes to life with the very metal of the city streets; the textures, colours and insignia of manhole covers is integrated into each personality.

On a grey and rainy Paris day, I took a raincoat and a camera to see what these sculptures were.

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Learning a new language to enhance the travel experience

For about 6 months I’ve been trying to learn French. If you know me, or read my blog from time to time, you’ll know that my girlfriend Cindy is French, and from the beginning of our time together I’ve always wanted to have a conversation with her in her native language.

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Now I’m not entirely new to learning European languages; my parents were both born in Belgium and for a year and a half during my primary school years, my family moved to Antwerp, at which point I learned to speak fluent Flemish (a dialect of Dutch). In the years that passed, I’d largely forgotten the language, although from time to time I liked to refresh my Flemish a little bit, as my pronunciation was still fine and the language came back to me easily. French, however, was considerably harder! Read more

Painting whilst travelling: my experience

What have I been doing during my time in Paris? Well, sightseeing of course! But during my downtime i’ve found the time to paint; a small slice of life as a poor artist. Please enjoy what I came up with! Right now they’re off the frame, rolled up and hiding in a transport tube!

painting of a buddhist monk hanging bright orange robes
Laotian laundry. Inspired by my time in Luang Prabang, and many other Buddhist temples across Asia. Acrylic on canvas, 16″ x 20″
Old friend
Old friend leaving. The start of a journey, Acrylic on canvas, 15″ x 12″
Reflections
Reflections, acrylic on canvas. Quite small, sorry I dont know the size
Speakerbird
Speakerbird, Acrylic on canvas, 16″ x 20″
The truth
The truth. Acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 20″
Treasure2
Discovery. Acrylic on canvas, 18″ x 20″
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Photographer. Acrylic on canvas, 16″ x 20″. Another small one; sorry can’t remember the size!

When a budget airline ruins a holiday

I needed to leave Europe, fast. My visa was almost up, and I wanted to stay until New Years. What a good excuse to go to London for a while!

Saturday. Cindy and I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in time for our 10am flight to London with EasyJet. Cindy had never been, and was looking forward to long shopping streets and fish and chips. I was looking forward to bumping into Karl Pilkington in a cafe, seeing Jeremy Clarkson hoon past in a Mercedes, or spot David Attenborough admiring a hedgehog. Disappointment came straight away when we looked at the departures board; the plane was delayed indefinately, with an estimated departure of 1pm. At the information counter next to us, an irate French woman spat venom and complained loudly at the employees, and a pair of Chinese tourists behind us scratched their heads in confusion.

Cindy asked an EasyJet employee what was happening, but we couldn’t get a straight answer, nor would they give us a refund unless the flight was 5 hours late, minimum. But, we could change the destination without charge. To ANYWHERE! While we had lunch to pass the time, the plane was further delayed to 2pm. That’s it! A golden ticket to somewhere else – ANYWHERE else! We looked at each other with shining Cheshire Cat grins as we realised we essentially had open tickets to wherever we wanted!

Copenhagen was there! I couldn’t even find Copenhagen on a map, but I suddenly had to go there! But it was already boarding. The Madrid flight was full, and so too was the Venice flight. The London flight was now delayed to 3pm. 5 hours late was getting ridiculous, and the departure time kept getting pushed back, so we took the refund, and went home, disappointed. We looked back one final time, our sad, 10am flight still blinking red, delayed, delayed, delayed.

One week later…

We took Eurostar tickets, the high speed train that skates through the Chunnel in 2 hours or so. No problem. I arrived in London a few days earlier, eagerly awaiting Cindy’s in a few hours…

A scavenger hunt in Paris

I received an urgent radiotelegraph from Alysha in Australia a few weeks ago. A voice crackled over the radio, and immediately I rushed to my desk and placed my cup of tea next to me. It was an old oaken piece of furtniture, with wrought-iron drawer handles and wood deeply etched with the lines from a century of quill work. I placed the metal receiver to my ear and held the microphone…and listened. The crackle became a voice. The message contained a scavenger hunt list of things to find during my stay in Paris. So, I set out to find all the items on the list…

…That didn’t really happen, it was an email. But the list is real. Here goes.

Task 1: Les Invalides

The Hôtel des Invalides is a monument located in central Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower. With it’s high stone walls, manicured Queen-of-hearts garden and resplendant golden dome as it’s unmistakable pinnacle, this huge building looks as though it was built to house a king; however it’s original purpose was to house French war veterans. These days, it serves as a military museum.

French cannons in Invalides, with no shortage of the Fleur de Lis

Find Napoleon’s tomb

Napoleon died in exile in 1821 on the island of St. Helena. In 1840, Napoleon’s body was moved from the island to Paris, where in Invalides, his final resting place, a massive tomb was being constructed. The tomb is open to the public now. The huge casket is the size of a small truck, and looks like a great big wooden footrest covered in melted chocolate. The tomb is in a still, quiet circular room behind the Invalides church, hewn into a circular pit and guarded by stone sentinels, ringed by carved names of great Napoloeonic war victories.

The enormous casket of Napoleon Bonaparte

Find Napolean’s horse Read more

10 curiosities in Paris to try and find

As you know, there is a lot to do in Paris. You’ve probably heard of many of them – great monuments stare at each other from across great boulevards, the museums housed in former castles, eating and drinking great food.

But what about trying to track down the little curiosities?

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People watching in Paris

Fashion

If i’m feeling lazy on a particular Sunday in Australia, when I want bread from the shops but don’t feel like getting dressed, I’m going out anyway. I’ll wear thongs, pyjama pants and my favourite band T-shirt, that ratty one I’ve had since a teenager, with all the holes and stains, but still rocks. I never see people dressed like that in Paris, wearing their beloved worst. Almost all my travel clothes are sporting holes from wear-and-tear in Asia, and my converse, stained orange from Cambodian dust have the soles falling out, but I love those clothes anyway. Besides the homeless guys on the streets, i’ve never seen a Parisian wearing anything from the ‘forgotten’ section of their wardrobe.

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Human fasion, dog fashion.

Even kids from the suburbs, plastered insanely head to toe with Adidas logos and black and white stripes are all designer. Jeff and I invented a game in Amsterdam, as we sipped a beer at a cold roadside bar and watched the crowd walk by; Jogging or dealing. Guess if a person blanketed in Adidas tracksuit gear was a jogger or…well, the name is self explanatory. In the suburbs of Paris, this game is harder than it seems!

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Dog with a jacket. Fashion. Don’t ask about the trolley!

I once saw a lady with one of those shopping bags with the handle and wheels, made of fur.  I like the glasses in vogue here, rounded Harry Potter spectacles, translucent and coloured fluoro red, green, yellow. My favourite, however, is a dog I saw wearing a leather jacket.

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Fashion wizard

On the metro

Rush hour on the Paris metro is a free-for-all. To stand on a platform and watch the flow of commuters fill the platform, empty into the next train, and repeat the process two minutes later is like watching the blood pump through Paris’s great beating heart. People pack like sardines onto the carriages during rush hour, their faces and hands pressed absurdly against the window.

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Sardines, rush hour

Station announcements warn of pickpockets and though I’ve never seen one before, Cindy has told me stories of metro theft. Cindy’s friend Romain once was riding the metro, looked to his watch to check the time, only to catch a thieving kid in the act trying, ninja-like, to undo the strap and make off with the prize. Everyone understood when he explain why he yelled at a kid on the metro.

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Metro musicians

At times, a carriage of passengers reading or talking amongst themselves will be treated (or plagued) to an announcement from another passenger, with a microphone, amplifier and battery crudely duct-taped to a small trolley. These are the unofficial metro musicians, and their instruments vary from slick and polished brass three-pieces, electric violin, frenetic accordion polka, bizarre plastic kazoo/keyboard contraption, even one lady who bravely stood up and sang a capella. Donations if you think they’ve brightened your commute; avoid eye contact if they polluted the silence of your carriage, and you’ve had to put your iPod in to cover another badly sung version of Champs Élysées.