Paris holds the key to my heart

It is true what they say… Paris is the city of love!

Paris holds the key to your hear. And all of Paris plays a part. 
Just stroll two by two down what we call “la rue”
And soon all Paris will be singing to you!
Paris holds the key to l’amour! And not even Freud knows the cure.
There’s love in the air! At the Follies Begere!
The French have it down to an art! Paris hold the key to your heart!

I don’t know about you, but when I think about Paris I think about Disney’s Anastasia and the infamous Paris song. It screams romance and love, and everything us hopeless romantic girls wish for. A guy having an inner sing song about loving you and not knowing how to tell you, and I have totally convinced myself that my man was having an inner sing song for 4 days, even though we are far past the point of not knowing how we feel. We know. It’s been nearly 2 years. But dreaming has never hurt a soul!

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Paris was truly an experience, firstly it sang to me because some parts of it reminded me so much of Lisbon, one of my homes. Its buildings were very similar, everything seems to be on a hill, much like Lisbon, and to revolve around the embankment of the river, as a lot of capital cities are. Aside from the fact that it is bigger and spread across a larger perimeter, the little hidden alleyways where people can barely fit let alone cars, really made me feel at home in the Bairro Alto of Lisbon.

I have to say, however, what struck me most about Paris is that for me it truly was the city of love. I had the pleasure of being in this wonderful city with James, who is a seasoned Paris visitor. He organised the entire trip to make sure he catered to my tastes and his, and things we had in common. He had it down to a T! All the main sites plus a few added extras and time for us to wander and get lost as well.

From climbing the Eiffel Tower, to the incredible view from the Sacre Couer, everything about it felt like a dreamland. I have to say, my favourite view was from the top of the Notre Dame, 378 steps to the very top of the right hand tower, counted by James. I only felt it was a better view than that of the tower, because it included the tower in the view. Not seeing it feature in all your photos seems a bit odd.

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I adored the Luxembourg Gardens. We sat and ate sorbets and watched time go by, before walking past the Pantheon and earlier that day having discovered the Palais Garnier, used by the National Opera. James also took me to the Shakespeare Book Shop, a true testament of my arts and theatre background, as well as my literature fanaticism. I was there for almost an hour, jaw dropped looking at limited editions of books I had only dreamt of reading side by side with new books on all possible subject matters.

One of my favourite areas, was walking behind the Sacre Couer and discovering Montmartre. Watching street painters cover canvases in Parisian colours and quirky art galleries with some fantastic innovative modern art. We then walked down the hill to find the Moulin Rouge. We also had the pleasure of seeing artists along the Seine embankment, and enjoy a river cruise which only demonstrated how beautiful and clean this city is kept.

I have to say though, as a lover of all things art and literature, I am so pleased that my man took me to Pere Lachaise cemetery, where we found Oscar Wilde – my FAVOURITE playwright – Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Chopin and many others. Although some sections of the cemetery are really creepy, it felt very romantic to get lost between the tombs of some of the most romanticised names in art history.

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To add to the romance of it all, we were in the ideal little hotel in between the Louvre and the Pompidou, the shortest walk from everything and with 3 tube stations surrounding. Hotel du Cygne was stunning! Our room was at the very top, with a few exposed wooden beams, two windows one of them on the diagonal ceiling roof. Every evening they asked us if we wanted breakfast for the next day, and asked us where we had been. They were all so lovely and we felt like we were in our own little haven.

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In Paris I had the opportunity to fall in love with many things again, with art, theatre music and literature which take up a huge portion of my interest anyway. To revel in all the culture that inhabits the city and coats it in an air of wonderment, where every corner hold something new to discover. To fall deeply in love with getting lost and finding new things. But mostly, I had the opportunity to remind myself why I am in love with James in the first place.

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Having fallen in love with parts of me that are sometimes stifled by the mundane activities of life, James truly ignited something else back in me. I never smiled so much and swear that the week after we came back my face muscles were stuck in the same stupid smiley position for days. I fell in love again with a man who can take me to places he knows I will marvel at, and help me discover things I never knew I would like so much. To a man who knows his partner so well he planned a whole trip without any fear. The city of love! Loving Paris allows you to love yourself and mostly to love your true love too.

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I wish I could show you photos of all the amazing things we saw, and all the places I fell in love with but it is simply impossible! Here is a flavour of my Paris love affair, and my ever growing love for the planner and conductor of this whole city break.

Onto the next adventure!

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A quickie… with the Mona Lisa!

As my French Adventure came to an end, I had to visit the Louvre to sneak a peek at the one and only Mona Lisa! This really is a quick little post to let you think about this… would you consider the Mona Lisa the most expensive and exuberant painting in the world?

Tourists flocked to this section of the museum to see this ONE painting that takes up an entire wall and can be barely larger than an A2 sheet of paper. It is also, in my opinion, though beautiful and humbling as it is to see, it is quite dark and grubby. The Mona Lisa angered me somewhat, for it got SO much attention and people were flashing their cameras, definitely not considering how much that could damage the painting, and yet it sits there with its dreary smile and oil slowly melting and deforming. (For those who didn’t know that that happens to oil paintings!)

I actually didn’t even reach the Mona Lisa close enough to take a photo and I really didn’t want to. The whole experience for me was ruined by groups of screaming teenagers who don’t give a flying monkey about art plastering their iphones as close as possible to the painting, stretching their arms far over the limit to get a better image than the person next to them. The painting demands respect, and so I looked and paid my respects to Mona, who in the 1500s was an innovative painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, who broke many artistic barriers. And as respect to Da Vinci, who painted some of the most illustrious works of art in the whole of history, I have kept Mona well and truly as a memory to myself and enjoyed the rest of the pieces of work which were 30 times bigger than Mona displayed in the same room.

I did however take a photo of the Venus de Milo, because ancient history duh! Greek sculptures for me a huge a phenomenon, they all look more or less the same as do ruins – as my uncle and boyfriend would say – but they are a true testament to the survival of the ancient greek culture through the times, as their histories influence and continue to demonstrate that the world was built around them! Plus all these things from those times keep re-surfacing, as if these cultures can never truly be erased. Standing the true test of time!

Please visit the Louvre, it would take your 4 months to see it all… that is a fact I learnt on a river tour of the Seine, but the sections I saw truly encouraged me to want to visit again!

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Eat my way through France

Living in England you would think the first place I would choose to go is France, that does not seem the case! I have driven through France before, but never actually stayed there, and this year I was very lucky, I actually got to visit different parts of France twice.

As you might know from other posts, or reading my blog in general, I think a big part about travelling and immersing yourself in different cultures is to consume and savour the finest foods of each place you visit, in this case the fantastic flavours of France. So here are some of my favourite and top picks of places and meals.

NOTE: anything highlight red is a link to either the website of the restaurant, location of a particular place or recipes if they are food names.

Cannes

Le Cirque

11144496_10207125828882855_728927083864361216_nThe BEST Croque Monsieur in the world! Everyone will tell you, it is just a toasted sandwich. Okay, yes, yes it is, BUT this is the the best toasted sandwich I have ever had. First of all, it differed from the traditional one, as the restaurant chose to use thinly cut, beef carpaccio style beef instead of ham. And it was the best decision they have EVER made! Let me tell you a little something about this little place, it was my favourite one in Cannes. The food was affordable, the environment was beautiful, street performers singing in a square behind us, the service was impeccable and the menu was small but the selection was still enough to cover all palettes and cravings. The options were more than enough and this little corner cafe/restaurant will be a true success. I definitely recommend it and would love to return there. Plus the food my friends had looked just as delectable.

Croque Monsieur at Le Cirque
Croque Monsieur at Le Cirque

St Tropez

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Steak Tartare at Le Bailli

Brasserie Le Bailli

The Steak Tartare of a lifetime. I tried steak tartare for the first time when I was 18 going on 19 in Switzerland, it quickly became one of those dishes I would always try to eat when in a French restaurant. Let me tell you, I have eaten many a steak tartare, and in the Paris section of this blog you will read that my man tried one for the first time, but this one was the holy grail of STEAK TARTARE!

We all had some amazing food here, and the service was incredible! We also quickly quenched our desires for crepes! I would recommend this, and the scenery is stunning just out of the restaurants you see all the street artists painting the picturesque St Tropez and the yachts, all the yachts. The most glamorous cars passing by and going through the tiniest roads. It is a definite must.

Paris

Paris was my absolute dreamy nightmare of a food situation! Like all girls, my biggest wish in life is to eat what ever I want without growing a spare tyre in my waist. Never going to happen, so whenever I go abroad I simply forget that this is the case and focus on trying out every food I can in a short space of time. However, top tip to not pig out while travelling is to keep your body very well hydrated! I consume around 4 litres of water a day without a problem, and yes I pee a lot, but you get over that.

Bistrot de Victoires

Let’s talk about the manliest salad you have ever seen!

My man and I are huge foodies, and we actually googled the best place to get a Salade Landaise and here it was! It is by far the meatiest salad I have ever seen, I can legitimately say it is a plate of duck cooked in a variety of different ways, and a bit of lettuce in there to make it look prettier. TripAdvisor said this is the best restaurant for this recipe in the whole of Paris, and I cannot confirm nor deny this as we did not try it anywhere else, but I can say it was incredibly delicious! The meat was cooked to the perfect point, not bloody but still pink, the seasoning was lovely. It was just great.

We also had here braised duck with potatoes and a salad, which was equally as delicious. Again, I cannot fault the meat at all in this restaurant, it really was superb.

To make the whole affair even better, is the fact that the restaurant, even though located fairly close to a main road, was very quiet, the staff were extremely professional, but friendly and casual too and it was cheap as chips! It is so worth visiting it.

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Aux Trois Maillets

Steak Tartare is one of those french meals you either love or hate. The idea of eating raw meat scares a lot of people, just as much as sushi does with raw fish. However, I am a bit carnivorous sometimes, and beef is one of the healthiest meats to eat rare. The pinker the better, not bloody though, and steak tartare offers a PERFECT balance for those who love an alternative for your typical steak and chips.

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I was very proud of my man when he braved the raw meat and enjoyed his steak! Which I tried a bit of and it was absolutely delectable. Now I know that I have done two links to two different recipes of steak tartare, however, when I tried them I can guarantee mine did not look quite so pretty. I am awful and cutting vegetables finely, so here is an article on why you should NEVER cook steak tartare at home, don’t be lazy if you’re going to do it it takes some skill!

He also tried SNAILS! Now snails are a typical dish in Portugal but they cook them differently in France and they were lovely. Cooked with butter, garlic and pesto goodness, they tasted magnificent in all their chewiness. Would definitely advise everyone to try snails one day, it may not be your cup of tea but it is an experience.

I had some chicken with some fantastic creamy mushroom sauce, but nothing too extravagant, highlight was truly James’ steak. I would say though that the service in this restaurant left A LOT to wish for. I understand that it is nice to have a chilled out environment but waiting for 45 minutes for a waiter to blink in your direction is inexcusable. From the moment we asked for the bill to when it arrived was at least 20 minutes, and let me not even discuss the fact that the waitress wasted a perfectly good pint by pouring almost half the bottle on the table rather than the glass… and did not replace it. As good as the food was, I would not visit this restaurant again.

Bar Brasserie Chou Chou

20150831_203609In the final evening, we went for a bit of romance. We were all dressed up and got drawn to a restaurant that had a pianist and double bassist playing live music. Let me tell you this, the music was not a gimmick, no sir! Here we had the best French bread of the whole trip, and finally as a huge meat lover, I sank my teeth into the juiciest, lushest, most tender and perfectly cooked rump steak EVER! Even James was surprised at how well this rump steak was cooked, it was truly the most beautiful shade of pink and melt in your mouth texture.

With the same sauce and sides, my man had some duck, which was just as good! Truly an incredible restaurant, with great service, great ambience and not expensive at all. In the middle of a street filled with other restaurants but I still felt like I was somewhere special. The staff are all dressed in matching clothes, but are still friendly and jokey with customers and so pleasant. The music was just the cherry on top of a perfectly baked and iced cake.

It takes some Balls! 

Risotto, quinoa salad, beef and chicken balls at Balls, Paris
Risotto, quinoa salad, beef and chicken balls at Balls, Paris

On our final day in Paris, my darling took me to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery where the likes of Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf and Chopin have been buried amongst many others! Now if you have not been here, you will know that this is very far east and outside of the central Paris perimeter. So we decided to go for a little gastronomical adventure and James found a little slice of odd heaven in the form of a Balls Restaurant. EVERYTHING on this menu is served as balls in bowls.

It was FANTASTIC! It was such a hipster kind of place, very cheap, the risotto was to die for! The staff were very friendly and it made me feel like the coolest kid in the world to be there.

The Creme Brulee factor

To add a bit of credibility to my food research I decided to add a common factor to all my restaurant visits, THE CREME BRULEE FACTOR!

This was never a thing but it certainly is now. Creme Brulee to me is dictated by the perfectly crisp but not burnt, sweet sugar on top, with the gelatinous but soft melt in your mouth texture of the milk cream underneath.

So here are my three Creme Brulees:

1 was delectable, a bit too liquid in texture, but the balance of the crisp caramelised sugar and the softness of the flavour of the cream was perfect. I am .almost certain it had a bit of rum and vanilla too which made it truly irresistible.

2 was far too burnt but the texture underneath was SPOT ON I could not fault the texture. Yet something flavour wise was not quite there.

3 perfect balance of all things, texture, sugar was caramelised nicely until it got to the middle and it was definitely burnt. Nice creamy flavour, but something was missing…

Needless to say true love was love at first spoonful! Truly divine after such a fantastic meal, every other creme brulee paled in comparison! The Bistrot de Victoires is – coincidentally – victorious as the number 1 Creme Brulee in my creme brulee factor.

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In order from left to right… the WINNING Creme Brulee, Bistrot de Victoires, followed by Aux de trois Maillets in the middle and Brasserie Chou Chou in the far right. 

Do it at home!

I LOVE cooking and trying new recipes, so as you can see, I have added a few links on each recipe name to some of the best recipes I have tried when re-creating these dishes! Please try them and let me know how you got on. I hope you have had a chance to eat some fantastic foods in your travels.

Now tell me, my fellow bloggers and readers, travellers and foodies, is there actually anything more satisfying than putting all your hopes on a meal that you purchase in some restaurant abroad, and having it come back and be exactly what you wanted if not more? France was just THAT! My visits to all these different places in France left me well and truly tummy happy. I cannot say that any of the food I ate was bad, at all! I have my favourites of course, and meals that blew me away, but overall, everything about the food in the whole time that we were there was phenomenal. And the ICE CREAMS oh the ice creams. Now that I am back to my daily routine, my thighs are burning with exercise rather than walking miles to find some bookshop or cafe that serves everything in balls, but they are also not being fed to the same standard. It is always good to cleanse the palette after such a gastronomical experience, but I have to say, I was VERY GOOD! I did not explore the land of french cheeses, as a promise to myself to control my cheesy urges. On that note, I am already looking forward to my next foreign food adventure, bring on December!

What I Cannes and Cannes not do!

There is nothing, activity wise, that I love more than TRAVELLING!

There is something truly wonderful about wandering, lost but completely aware that you have found some intrinsic part of yourself in the process. Luckily, this is something that I can share with my friends, family and loved one. And even better, I can actually afford to do so, which in itself is a miracle. So let me tell you about my latest, however relaxed, adventure!

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Cannes, Cannes, Cannes!

Where can I start? Walking the streets of Cannes I felt like the movie star I am just destined to become one day. To think I walked the pavements that some of the most influential cinema personalities have stepped was incredible. Not to mention the utter luxury! I might have done Cannes in a budget, but I still felt like a Queen!

The croisette is lined with the most expensive and luxurious brands for those who have some dollar to spend shopping there, guards that look like they are about to die of wearing a suit out in 40 degrees to protect the latest Hermes hand bag, and the most fabulous cars, that you’re scared of even staring at them. Except I have no shame, I stared from behind the safety of my dark sun glasses.

It is heavenly. Thinking about Cannes makes me just want to relax again. Aside from all the luxury, it’s the beauty of the soft warm sand in between your toes, the perfectly heated 26 degree Mediterranean sea, sunshine highlighting your skin’s beauty… It is the holiday of dreams. Especially with my friends! So let me share some of our highlights of the trip, and some of the things, quite frankly, we should have thought about.

Cannes on a budget

It works, in theory. Getting to Cannes itself is inexpensive. We flew with easyjet and in an hour and a half we were in bliss, and for peak time August, with luggage included, it really did not cost much. However, I have to say, you pay for what you get in terms of housing.

Let’s not get into a massive rant about how our accommodation got massively messed up because of a certain company – maybe on another post! *idea lightbulb* – however, we were slightly victim of false advertising. Here are my issues with La Floriana:

  1. We were told we had a two bedroom apartment for four people – it was a STUDIO with a double sofa bed and two blow up singles, and our feet were against the kitchen cupboards and fridge – no joke.
  2. We were told we had the linen included – we got there and had to pay a further 40 euros each.
  3. No mention on the website of lack of air con – I am dead serious! We were four in a bedroom, with no air conditioning or even fans, sleeping with the bedroom window open.
  4. Andre, the swimming pool supervisor.

To make things bright the apartment was actually considerably closer to the beach than we imagined, as it was advertised at 2.7 miles. We had an amazing swimming pool, and to be fair we are very good friends we just sucked it up and ate our dinners in the balcony, while being mosquitoes’ dinners for a week. Dare I say though, for the sake of sacrificing so many basic needs such as pure fresh air and ventilation, I would advise you all to be very mindful if looking for a lower priced accommodation in Cannes. It is a destination holiday, it will be costly, and if you just suck up your pride and dish out another 40 euros per person – which is what we each paid for a TOWEL! – then you will be in far better facilities.

Surviving in Cannes on a budget however, IS SO POSSIBLE! You just need to be patient and search. All the restaurants in the croisette and the sea front are out of bounds for you. We treated ourselves once! Because a cheese and ham sandwich at 20 euros and above is outrageous! So stay in the streets just behind the front buildings of the croisette. You will find some very quirky very cool cafes, and eat very well for very cheaply.

Drink rose wine. Lots of it, because everything else that is good, is ridiculously overpriced.

And walk! Cannes is so tiny, you can walk everywhere.

Now onto what we invested our money on!

Aqualand, Frejus

Do not do it!

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My friends and I are great lovers of water parks. We will go to one every time we go abroad together. It’s a thing, a day of complete madness and fun, and we get home and pass out. Aqualand was tiring, and we did get home and pass out, but only because it took us an hour to find it. Another hour to walk back to the train station, to get on a train for another hour and walk back to the apartment for 45 minutes.

So, granted, not everything bad about it was the location, but it is absolutely the smallest aquapark I have been to in a while. It has far too many people for its capacity, and I don’t think we ever got to repeat rides. I also swear I only found one set of toilets in the whole park. We made the most of it though, as it was Felts’ first time in a water park, and had an absolute blast, but I would not advise you to do it.

There are other water parks around the area, so try one of those. It is a bit too expensive for what it is, but you can have a blast, if you just forget about the pain you went through to get there in the first place.

St Tropez

There isn’t much I can say about St Tropez other than go! St Tropez embodied everything I imagined the French Riviera to be. Stunning, colourful, traditional, classy, warm, romantic and surrounded by grandeur. It was absolutely my most favourite day out.

From Cannes to St Tropez you can get a boat or a train. We took a boat which cost us 48 euros to return. It was brilliant. Plus I do enjoy a good boat ride.

It was the sort of place where I can imagine wearing a long wispy skirt, flowers on my hair, earthy ethereal clothing, light breezy, holding hands with the love of my life and getting lost in the middle of the coble stoned tight alleyways, secret kisses, and midnight swims.

See for yourself.

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The Cannes Cinema Tour

It’s an experience. Not always for good things. Sharon Stone must have spent a lot of time in Cannes, because I cannot imagine why else she would be mentioned so many times! It isn’t the fact that is costs 10 euros, it is the fact that you pay 10 euros to basically be driven around Cannes in an hour – you can walk it in an hour – with elevator classical music playing in a set of headphones, and information that only extends between 1997 and 2004. However, it does give you the chance to bask in this mesmerising view of Cannes. Let me leave you with this photo.

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Maybe not the tour, but how about comparing hand-prints? As everyone knows, Cannes is famous for its Film Festival, and some of the most influential and famous Hollywood stars have walked those same streets I did – though I doubt they went to Aqualand and on the cinema tour, you never know! So this was one of my favourite things that we found, accidentally!

All around the Palais de Festival is a trail of hand prints and autographs you can follow. From the likes of Sylvester Stalone and Cameron Diaz, to legends such as Liza Minelli and Julie Andrews, to absolute class acts like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep! Hands everywhere! It was amazing. Follow this trail if you ever visit Cannes.

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Fireworks on a Friday night

Second only to the London 2012 Olympics fireworks, Cannes’ pyrotechnics show on a Friday night is absolutely mesmerising. Thousands flock to the beach, and all 3.5 km of its stretch is covered in bodies. People with blankets, picnics and bottles of wine; people who are eating at seaside restaurants. The whole croisette shuts down, no traffic to or from it, so that the masses of people, both habitants and tourists of Cannes can pave the streets with sheer delight at the spectacle that will unfold.

Even at sea people are brimming to see the night sky light up. Yachts lined up about 100/150 metres into see, with their lights one, all across the 3.5km bay, with exclusive seating to watch the whole show unfold. The lights alone of those enormous cruise liners and yachts was enough of a show, but not even their preparation was enough to anticipate the phenomenal performance that was provided by award winning team of English pyrotechnics – isn’t England just awesome!

It was magnificent. It even got a bit emotional for me, with great music accompanying it.

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Cannes was actually magical. If you ignore some minor incidents and tragedies along the way. It was filled with film history and wonder, which only us movie heads can truly appreciate. It was cultural but a melting pot, it was French and yet so inclusive. Its location is perfect, it allowed us to visit one of the most charming places I have set foot on. At night it brimmed with life and passion, lights everywhere, the scent of street food travelling down the streets to mix in with seafood from all the beach restaurants. Even if you are not rich in Cannes, you become a lot wealthier with knowledge and a true desire for life. Cannes was for me the most relaxed and yet the most inspired I have felt in a long time. Possibly the company helped too, as girl friends can always put things into perspective for you; but Cannes itself was enough to revive some things in me that were beginning to get lost. I would go again and encourage you to go too.

Onto my next adventure.

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Disclaimer: All photos used in this article are under Copywright of Diana Lava