Saturday, 22 June 2013

Memories of the Métro

Paris Métro - World Wandering Kiwi
Spring may have come and gone, and although the granite sky hanging heavily outside gives no hint that we are at the start of our Summer, I decide to do a last minute clear-out; an overdue Spring clean.

I am at work, which is admittedly some hinderance to my desire to sort and refresh, but it is a quiet day with little else to do so I pull my bag out from under the desk. I fish out my wallet and start pulling items from it, laying them out on the desk in front of me. I find bank cards, loyalty cards, coupons, and receipts. I also find my old library card, railcard, and a multitude of pieces of paper with shopping lists and notes scribbled on them. I honestly have no idea where this huge collection of rubbish comes from, or why it seems to be magnatised to my wallet of all places.

When I finally think I have removed everything and thrown away the junk I do not wish to keep, I give the wallet a final shake to dislodge the dust lurking in the pockets and folds. Something else falls onto the desk in front of me; a small rectangular card, which is  no longer than my thumb, with a black strip lengthways across the back. I turn it over and see the familiar markings; 'Optile', 'RATP', 'SNCF', 'Ticket'. It is an old métro ticket, much smaller than their orange and green British counterparts, and much more easily lost.

I hold it up between my thumb and forefinger and look it over, searching for some indication as to what journey it represented but I do not understand all the symbols printed on it. I think back to January when Emily and I took our Honeymoon in Paris. We travelled several times by Métro, no doubt our awestruck expressions were the tattooes of 'les Anglais'. Trains running on-time? Unheard of! Space enough to stand at the very least? Outrageous! It costs less than a two course lunch? I simply don't believe you!

We made the unconcious decision to walk as much as we could while we were there (between the monuments, in these back-stage areas, most cities have a tendancy to all look alike, but every inch of Paris could only be Paris), but sometimes we were just too exhausted or the trip was just too long. That is when we would hop on the métro.

The ticket I now hold in my hand, did it take us from Pigalle to Jaurès, on the day we decided to rent vélibs and cycle down Canal Saint-Martin and Boulevard Richard-Lenoir to the Place de la Bastille? The sky was grey also on that day, but a lighter shade, as if reflecting the soft pastel colours of the pavements and  buildings, and the faintly green water of the canal. The vélibs had been a failure as we struggled to find any that were rideable after the morning rush took the best. We stopped for crêpes to treat ourselves and sat on a bench on Quai de Valmy as we thought of all the wonderful possibilities that were still available to us in Paris that day.

Or perhaps it was the day we took the métro all the way to Porte de Vanves to attend a brocante market before walking north to Montparnasse and scaling the imposing Tour Montparnasse? It had been foggy and grey once again, and we could only make out the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. 

We had lunch in Saint-Germain and later stopped for coffee at the tranquil Place Dauphine on the Île de la Cité, before walking back to our hotel in the 9th arrondissement via the Louvre. We walked into the evening and watched the city change as it does once the lights come on and the night revellers fill the streets.

Perhaps the ticket it is a momento of our trip to the Palace of Versaille where we sat in the cold and marvelled at the extreme grandeur of the palace as we ate our picnic beside the Bassin de la Pyramide? As the train sped through Paris that morning we kept an eye out for the Statue de la Liberté - Réplique when we passed the Île aux Cygnes and we listened as a busker played a lively melody on an accordian to the morning travellers.

I cannot remember which, if any of these occasions are linked to the ticket I have now, but I momentarily lose myself in these fond memories. The card no longer than my thumb helps me recall vividly the tastes, sounds, and sights of every trip we made on the métro and the wonderful places we found each time. The heavy sky outside the window has lifted a few shades with my mood. I see that I have a text from Emily, 'We should make a day trip to France soon," she proposes. I smile and agree.

I place the ticket  back in my wallet with my cards and start up the computer in front of me. I want to share this experience with everyone.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Chapter Nine: A New Adventure!

Thanks to everyone for welcoming us back to the blogosphere since our return last week. It's good to be back!

Now, we mentioned that a lot had changed at Vive Trianon HQ since we last spoke and we thought it deserved a decent catch-up, but we'll try to keep it short.

First of all, our December 28th wedding went swimmingly and we had the most perfect day. I'm sure we'll be putting up plenty of pictures in another post. Since then, after the honeymoon to Paris of course, Emily has been working hard at a multitude of exams and essays to finish her degree at the University of Southampton. She's done amazingly well at getting all the work done on time (one essay was typed literally over-night the day after arrived back from Paris) and now we just have to wait for Friday 21st June to find out her final result! Fingers crossed!

Our followers on Twitter may have seen our recent tweets about moving house and we can confirm that the rumours are true! Do you remember the plan Emily devised back in Chapter Six about the long term arrangements to relocate? If not, here's a quick recap:

It's a foolproof plan, alright. Anyway, we are extremely pleased to say that as of this moment we have completed Stage One of Operation Relocation and we are living back in Kent, the UK's number one gateway to the continent! Our experience has shown us the impressive amount of French cultural influence this county has benefited from, so there will undoubtedly be a surplus of French lifestyle posts coming your way. And of course, we must not forget that Kent is host to the Eurostar, so our jaunts to France will become far more frequent.

Our recent hiatus from the website has given us the perfect opportunity to really reassess our goals and objectives for the site. We are going to be refocusing the main objectives of the site to cater more to our followers living outside of France who wish to incorporate aspects of French culture into their own lives.  Keep an eye out for our Mission Statement appearing soon on our 'About Us' page.

And finally! The Big News...

We are proud to announce, not just as Vive Trianon, but as George and Emily Baker, that alongside the great adventure we have embarked upon here, we will also be undertaking another bold step in our lives. On the 5th December 2013 we will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first child! We are overjoyed at this news and are so happy to share a little preview of Baby B with you all right now...

Au revoir for now!

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Sleepers Awake - What Have We Missed?


Is it really almost June?

Hang on, we'll put the kettle on; café, thé, pastis?

We turn our back for what feels like five minutes and before we know it, months have disappeared. We've been gone a while, but now we're pulling back the cover sheets from the blog, we're running a nostalgic finger across the dust-covered mantelpiece, and we're going to throw wide open to the world the windows that have stiffened with time. We've neglected it for too long, and now we're back to breathe some life into its pages once again.

It feels good to immerse ourselves in the blogosphere again, and we're excited to find out what's been going on with everyone. We're in for quite a catch-up!

So, where have we been? 

Oh, you know how it is when the in-tray is suddenly stacked so high you worry that it might start interfering with the light fittings. We've been very busy and were worried that the blog would suffer if we carried on trying to squeeze it in after everything else, so rather than publish anything halfhearted, we thought we'd just lock-up shop for a little while until the Summer when we'd have a bit more time on our hands.

We were surprised when we went up to unlock the Twitter room and found that an additional 60 followers had taken up residence there since we stopped tweeting. I guess Twitter is strange like that!

Anyway, we're glad to hear that you're well (you look great by the way! Is that a new perfume you're wearing?) and we're looking forward to catching up with all your news.

In a matter of weeks time we're going to be launching some brand-new content on the blog and giving the old place a bit of TLC and a revamp where it needs it. We're diving back into our long-term relocation plans (we've got some updates on that), and we'll once again be bringing our UK followers the very best of French culture to be found in the UK. We'll keep you updated and please get in touch if there's anything you'd like to see appear on our site!

It's great to be back. This time we'll make sure we keep in touch, yeah?

Au Revoir.

Speak Soon!

Monday, 4 February 2013

February 2013 Property of the Month: 'The-One-To-Be-Tailor-Made'

(or if you just can't wait any longer!)

LISTED AT: €39,500

Did January go quickly or was it just us?

Now that February has begun and we've just about got used to writing the date properly, it feels as though 2013 is well and truly here. With this comes everything that a new year promises; resolutions, aspirations, and plans. However, it's around this time of year we all start to develop a bit of a hangover. Suddenly we start to have vague memories of the end of the previous year, the amount we ate, drank, and most worryingly the amount we managed to spend! It all comes back to us more vivid than it was when it happened and leaves us with a nasty feeling; it's time to make some cutbacks.

Or perhaps you're feeling something different; the thought of staying where you are for another year is starting to weigh heavy on your heart and shoulders. If this is the case then maybe it's time you make the move. Throw caution to the wind and do something that many before you have ventured out to do and many after you will do as well.

It's feelings such as these that inspired us to feature our latest Property of the Month. Last time we featured a Château, now it's something a little different. And we'd like to thank Suzanne Pearce of  Suzanne in France once again for providing us with a property of such great potential.

This property, which is thought to have originally been two cottages with attached barns, is in Orne, Normandie. It is an absolute steal if you're looking for something of a renovation project with plenty of outdoor space, possibly with the view to keeping animals, as there is additional land that may be added to the already sizeable lot, subject to negotiation. It is accessible via a quiet 'no-through-road'.

It's renovation projects like these that are really close to our hearts as they are the embodiment of our philosophy; stop waiting for that perfect moment and just go and make something happen. Sometimes the best time to do something is that moment just before you are ready to do it, the adrenaline will carry you through. Houses like these are a blank canvas for you to make something that no one else has, something that is truly yours because you have made it just so and put your signature on it for years to come.

The owner that this house wants is the person who can look at the pictures above and see limitless possibilities. Hell, you show these photos to the right person and they'll already start picking out the paint colours. They won't see the work to be done, they'll see the finished product and will stop at nothing short of achieving it.

This charming out-building is believed to be an old stone bakery.

Projects like these are very much for the brave-hearted and the strong-willed. Of course they're not easy, but when you're set on something hard work just comes naturally. And this property isn't a complete new start, there is already mains water and electricity on site. Some people we have spoken to have moved in to a place with less than even that!

So if the look of this property is setting off your imagination, then check out Suzanne's website where you'll find more information, pictures, and loads more properties that may catch your fancy.

And if you fancy reading some more on other people who have undertaken serious feats of bravery when it comes to renovating new homes in France, we recommend taking a look at Stephanie Dagg's blog and reading her e-book 'Heads Above Water'. You could also try 'Tout Sweet', by Karen Wheeler.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The romance of 35mm film... Or not.

35mm film -
We recently found a disposable camera intended for our wedding, a little too late. So, in the honeymoon suitcase it went, along with romantic notions of snapping the sights of Paris with real film.

And we did. When we remembered, anyway. I loved the mystery of taking a photo and not being able to see the finished product for another month or so. We couldn't crop, filter or delete the photo once it was taken. If we'd got the wrong angle, there was no going back. The satisfying winding of the cog and the pressing of the shutter release was the final act each time. 

So, this is the reality:

It was odd not having control over the printing of our own photos. We sent the camera away and I was quietly terrified that my precious Paris-mystery would get lost in the post. A few weeks later, and the photos were pushed through our letterbox. What anticipation I felt as I tore the package open, bringing back memories from my childhood, that familiar grown-up feeling having taken your own photographs. Hmm. The first 5 or 6 photos were dominated by a grey-pink coloured blur. This seemed to be a theme as I flicked through the set of photos, and several were so terrible that they hadn't even been developed! 

This is not to say we've been completely put off the old-fashioned style of photography. A handful of our photos turned out pretty good, and are as unique as we could hope for. Done properly, I think it could be really great. And let's face it; you can never take a bad photo of Paris.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Les Misérables (2012)

So this is a little daunting. I'm not quite sure how to write a post worthy-enough of such a huge blockbuster.

Having never read Victor Hugo's seminal work, nor seen the West End show of Les Misérables, we felt a little guilty about going straight to see the movie (we're determined to work our way through the 1472 page novel this year). All we knew was that it was set during the time of the French uprisings. In fact, the Revolution occurred during 1789-1799, whereas this story actually covers the events of the student's June Rebellion of 1832. For those of you who don't know it, Les Misérables tells the journey of two main characters; former prisoner Jean Valjean who escapes probation, and leads a 17 year chase for Inspector Javert, in attempt to redeem himself.

What is probably the most surprising feature of this movie is that it's a film of the stage show, not the novel. This means we have to listen to the likes of Russell Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen singing every single word. Which on the face of it sounds a little 'Mamma Mia' (I can still hear the voice of Pierce Brosnan ringing in my ears), but actually, you kind of get used to the style and Cohen and Crowe do remarkably well. The men clearly steal the show; I would go as far to say that this was Hugh Jackman's and Russell Crowe's best roles yet. Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried play smaller parts and just don't have quite the same vocal strength. But we should all be on the look-out for rising star, Samantha Barks who actually played Eponine on stage too.

We were expecting to see some great dramatic views of Paris throughout the film, and while there were plenty, the majority were regrettably, CGI shots. The reason for this is that it turns out that the film was largely shot in British locations. In fact, many of the scenes were filmed just ten minutes away from us in Winchester, early last year, and we managed to miss the whole hype! Also, a lot of the locations were clearly made to look like theatre sets, perhaps most notably, the area of the rebel barricades. I wouldn't say these effects take away from the film, but actually make you feel like you could be sitting in the dress circle of a theatre. I can't decide if that's a good thing or not.

Critics of Les Misérables (2012) have had a lot to say, and opinions are very much divided. The singing might not be quite up to scratch, but we have to admit that it would be a lot less attractive without the Hollywood A-list cast. Russell Crowe in particular has received incredibly heavy criticism, that we believe isn't at all justifiable. For someone who was unsure about the character, he really outdid himself.

The film also succeeds in effortlessly bringing in the previously-uninitiated wider audience, and for this reason, I feel that it does Hugo proud. The story is unexpectedly heartbreaking, and provokes every other feeling in the book. Genius.

Go see it. I dare you not to cry.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Reflets De France (Or: From Carrefour to fridge door)

You've been in France for a week, maybe two. You've been visiting friends, exploring somewhere new, or treading paths familiar to the soles of your feet. You went for a getaway, and get away is what you did. You're exhausted, you're happy, you've been dining on the rich, nourishing atmosphere of a vibrant city, or a serene country landscape. 

Of course, you've also been dining well on the food.

The food that you crave for when you're not there, and when you are, it satisfies you in a way that has been too long forgotten. It's rich and the flavours are intense, food for your stomach and your soul alike. It's the crackle of the crust of the bread, or the silk of a perfectly ripened cheese; the flavours in the soup that are as old as you can remember, but as new to you now as they were that first time.

But then of course, like any great feast or banquet, it comes to an end. You've eaten your fill and now it is time to go. You look around enviously at the other guests of the country, those who don't need to leave as you do. Perhaps you hesitate, you consider just stepping back, just another taste before you go, and then you remember that the world carries on and there are things to be done. So you leave, unsure of when you will return but confident in yourself that you will, because how could you not?

Now you're home, you're across the channel, or further away. You're contented for the moment, but soon the hunger returns. You relive in your head those moments, those tastes, sounds, smells, and memories, and you want more.

You go to your local supermarket and gaze at the items on the shelves, you gravitate towards the tiny markings on the labels: 'Produit de France'. There's so little here, and most of it is lacking. You squeeze the bread but it collapses in self-pity beneath your fingers, the meat lacks the poetry, and the chocolate lacks rhythm. The shelves may as well be empty to you. They don't have what you need, so you eat, and you go hungry.

Over the top, non?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that here at Vive Trianon we're suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms, and if any of the above passage is familiar to you then you know what we mean. Quality French food is sometimes just too hard to come by in the UK. There are, of course, the occasional market stalls selling French cheeses and meats, the odd treat, but it's not often you can come across the every day food items that fill the supermarché shelves. These are the items that we take an empty suitcase for whenever we visit (on our last trip we overfilled a bag so much that a bottle managed to somehow break itself inside, and leak all over the carriage of the Metro - cringe!).

It's not exactly a recent thing (in fact it was introduced almost two years ago) but the online grocery store Ocado, which usually stocks Waitrose food, has now got a deal with the French supermarket chain Carrefour, and is now stocking a selection of authentic French produce including the Reflet De France range. This range was launched by Carrefour in 1997 as an initiative to showcase local produce deriving from French culinary heritage.

They do have an interesting range, and it is a great way to stave off those intense cravings for good French food, but we'll be the first to recognise that it isn't a flawless alternative (for one you need to be in France for French food to truly work). They don't have a complete stock, it's mainly just the highlights, and the prices aren't all that agreeable when you're on a tight budget. 

In all honesty, we've never even considered shopping with Ocado, or Waitrose, before, and we only happened upon this discovery whilst ordering from what seems like the sole French supermarket in England, French Click (does anyone know any others?). However, just as with French Click, Ocado's Reflets De France range may be nice to do every now and then as a bit of a treat, but it's definitely not something that we'd be able to use as our only source of food.

Has anyone used this Ocado service? If so what was your experience and would you recommend it? Also, does anyone else know of any other UK-based French supermarkets, either online or instore?

Au revoir!