Paris – more newbie tips…. for me and you

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Well,  as our trip edges ever closer, the Internet continues to provide brilliant guides, tips, etc on how best to engage with The City of Light.

For your edification and mine, here are some that I suspect will be very useful from Eurocheapo:

Paris- 8 travel myths debunked- Bryan Pirolli again provides some great information here.

Visiting the Louvre - it will be my first time visiting the Louvre this trip and I think these tips will be very useful.

A cheapo day in the Marais - this is on my list for this trip (Mr Pirolli again), and Theadora Brack has information dotted throughout various posts on her unique blog. If you like great writing and evocative photography, check it out here.

Visiting the Eiffel Tower - our last visit was stymied by a broken lift, long queues and a booking for a Seine cruise so we had to abandon our plan to go up the Tower.  This visit I intend to get there!

Well, a girl can’t go to Paris and not do a bit of shopping, even if it is window shopping…  so, check out Paris on consignment - I thought it was an interesting take on shopping in Paris and Lizzie Porter provides useful tips here: Paris : best fashion boutiques

I have found some really interesting material on the travel pages of newspapers and here a few that have taken my fancy:

Paris : best cheap restaurants

Secret Paris

Raymond Blanc’s Paris

Paris City break guide

I can’t write about Paris without mentioning the fantastic resources available on Rick Steves’ revamped website.

Travel to Paris vicariously with Rick in this clip for instance. Enjoy!

 

French Immersion …

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As I continue my reading on Paris and France in general, I keep stumbling on more great posts like this: How to Spend Three Days in Paris by Bryan Pirolli , hosted on the excellent Eurocheapo daily blog. The latest one to take my fancy is this: Fifty ways to save time and money in Paris. It has some great hints and I must remember to revisit it before we arrive. David Leibovitz continues to provide more gems via his Facebook site – I thoroughly enjoyed this :  How to be a Parisian – 11 ways to fake it, and this too: 10 things France does better than anywhere else (both via CNN).

Total immersion? – well, what do I mean by that since I am not actually there yet? It means I am completely enveloping myself in things French in my spare time, reading, watching movies, continuing my French lessons, doing French homework (which I really enjoy), and using Duolingo, to reinforce my basic French skills.

Because we are going to Versailles, I recently bought Antonia Fraser’s book Marie Antoinette : the Journey and have been thoroughly enjoying it as I knew very little about the titular character. The book piqued my interest in Marie Antoinette, so I watched Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette and absolutely loved it. Coincidentally, I discovered the movie is based on Fraser’s book. While I admit I am not a big fan of Kirsten Dunst, I think she is perfectly cast in this movie, playing the title character. It appears that many do not like Coppola’s take on Marie Antoinette, but I have come to admire her portrayal, isolated and alone as the young woman was in the French court. Not only does the character appeal, also but also the fabulous settings (it was filmed entirely on location in France), and the stunning costumes. The dresses are beautiful and shoes are exquisite, with Manolo Blahnik having designed many of them – you can see some of them here. The scenes at Versailles and Le Petit Trianon are enticing and I am looking forward seeing it in May. To find out more about the film I recommend these reviews which resonate with my own response to it – Palace Coup by David Edelstein ‘, and In Defence of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette by Amanda Dobbins.

As for my French lessons and homework, I am loving working with my tutor Marie,  and I feel I am progressing well. Marie now speaks to me in French for much of each lesson and I have found, thankfully, that I am able to understand her. We do practical role plays, reserving restaurant tables, ordering food and wine, asking directions, trying on clothes – you name it , we are covering it. This week, Marie provided me with a really useful link, which will ensure we know how to order our coffee correctly – a pretty important skill since we love a good coffee!

All my homework is based around Marie’s home town of Toulouse, which I feel I am beginning to know, so here’s hoping we can stop off for a break in Toulouse as we drive further South. This week I am learning how to give and receive directions – I have selected Grand Hotel de L’Opera Hotel as my imaginary starting point  (for purposes of my homework), as I head towards Marche Victor Hugo. Having learned the route and directions, I would really like to do it now! Talking to Marie has made Toulouse come alive for me, plus, after re-reading Peta Mathias’ book ‘French Toast‘ I would love to see what she describes as ” stylish and beautiful Toulouse” which is “another one of the luminous pink cities, bathed in the Mediterranean light.” Watch this space ….

My well read copy of French Toast, by Peta Mathias.

My well read copy of French Toast, by Peta Mathias.

French lessons….. in Titirangi!

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Bonjour mes amis!

In order to feel more competent using my schoolgirl French when we go to France in May, I decided I would take some conversational French lessons. But where to look for a good tutor? I was going to contact Alliance Francaise but as luck would have it, I was flicking through the Titirangi Group Facebook page and what did I find? – a young local French woman (Marie), well qualified to teach, who was seeking pupils – perfect!! Not only that, she comes to my home, which with my busy lifestyle, is very convenient.

My first lesson was three weeks ago, and I admit I felt rather anxious about it. But Marie immediately made me feel at ease and we established a rapport quite quickly. She asked me what I love about France so much, and I really couldn’t explain it – it is simply that I feel comfortable there - that the places, the culture and the people intrigue and attract me. Thinking about it afterwards, I should have said that my first and only French teacher, Linda Gill, who taught me at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School in the 1960′s, had inspired in me, a love of things French. She was a brilliant teacher – passionate, exacting and so knowledgeable, so that I have always remembered her and her lessons with great fondness. I was not surprised to find that she has become a respected author and art critic.

While I do not feel confident, strangely, I do not feel foolish attempting to speak in French,  and I am thoroughly enjoying Marie’s approach. We converse in English and French, and I have been surprised at how much I can understand when Marie is in French mode. I can see that my understanding will improve with only one lesson a week, but two would be ideal. Finances and time prevent me from doing this however.

The lessons are based on practicality – what will be useful to me as I travel through France.  Letters and numbers were our first focus and I really had to put my thinking cap on.  Pronunciation of the French alphabet is quite different, and I realised I had no recollection of how to do this, but it is an important skill. What if we are marooned in little French town, where little English is spoken and we need directions to a certain place?  If I can spell it out, that may be very useful. Marie has a nice little game (like Scrabble) that we can play to improve my skills in this area.

As for telling the time – I discovered I needed a lot of help with this skill, and was at a loss when required to use the twenty-four hour clock method… but I am really benefiting from having to relearn numbers and find myself trying to think in French when noting times in my own daily routines.

Marie has set little tasks for me too, like researching aspects of her hometown Toulouse (which I really want to visit now!) This week,  I am focusing on how to make telephone reservations at a restaurant, and how to decipher the menus! I also have to tell a joke in French – that will be fun- I am hopeless at telling them in English, let alone French, but thankfully, she has provided the script for me.

So there we have it, my first French lessons since the sixties! I have another three months to brush up and I can feel that it is going to be very worthwhile.

A bientot!

 

Titirangi – fringe of heaven? …

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Here I am waxing lyrical about far-flung places like Paris when I live in Auckland, New Zealand, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

As I pottered around in the kitchen this morning, I looked up to see the sun rising – and my world looked pretty sweet! It is very easy to take such things for granted. Today, I reminded myself how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country, such a fantastic city, such a pretty suburb – Titirangi. Some call it the fringe of heaven…. I think they may be right.

Titirangi sunrise

Titirangi sunrise

Note: To find out more about Titirangi, take a look at this impressive publication: Titirangi: Fringe of Heaven, by Marc Bonny. bookTo read more about our vibrant city, see this article in a recent Sunday paper by Chris Chilton.

And speaking of Paris ….

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Paris fascinates me – I have been there only once, for a few days in 2007, when we stopped off on our way to cycle in Provence, and it captivated me – utterly and completely. Since that first visit, I have longed to return and finally my dream will come true in May. I have been consumed over the last few years with reading about Paris – fiction, non-fiction, newspaper and magazine articles, Facebook sites and blogs. It occurred to me that there will be others who feel the same as me, so I thought I would share some recent finds that might be useful for first time visitors, and those with unfinished business like me. Some of my finds contain useful snippets of information and others are more in-depth, so I keep a travel journal beside me when I read, recording useful information as I go. Others are books I simply read for pleasure, absorbing as much of a feel for Paris as I can. Finally, there are those things I come across by serendipity…

  • Appearing recently in a local Sunday paper, is this article written by expat New Zealander Margot Burton. She provides hints on what to do and see in Paris.
  •  Some great suggestions appear in one of my favourite blogs, Eurocheapo – Paris here we come : 14 reasons to go in 2014. Bryan Pirolli’s blog posts on this site are always excellent and his personal blog is worth a visit too – it is well-written and informative – check out his Parisian favourites, for instance. Also see the Paris essentials list on Eurocheapo.
  • Theadora Brack’s recent post on visiting Clignancourt (a huge Parisian flea market know as Les Puces) is a great read.  I have seen Parisian flea markets referred to often in all my reading, so I feel I need to see one for myself. Theadora’s blog is informative, eloquent, quirky and fun, with some great photography. View it for information on shopping, museums, monuments and much more. You can find more about Les Puces here.
  • Timeout Paris is another great site and even better there are free apps available.
  • Tripomatic trip planner – if you are staying four days like us, have a look at this suggested itinerary or plan your own.
  • The Paris Pass, while it is a commercial site, has useful suggestions on what to do in Paris, depending on how many days you have to spend there.
  • Check out some video material recently made available on Rick Steves’ new-look website – these are episodes from his TV programmes – Paris: Regal and Intimate and Paris: Embracing Life and Art. Bearing in mind these programmes are made for the American market, they are informative, and provide tips which may appeal to many English-speaking travellers.
  • Search “Paris” on the Conde Nast Traveler website- there is a wealth of stuff to explore there.
  • Explore some Facebook pages featuring Paris – there are numerous ones to choose from so you should find one or two  to suit your interests. I like David Lebovitz - he is informative, provides good links and features food! His blog also features many tips for visitors to Paris.
  • Books featuring Paris - I particularly enjoy those written by expats as their thoughts and experience resonate, and offer an insight into the Parisian way of life from a non-Parisian point of view. Some of my favourites include: Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, by John Baxter, and chapters on Paris in Peta Mathias’ French Toast, and Vicki Archer’s My French Life. Currently, I am reading Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris – it is a mission as it weaves centuries of Parisian history with fiction, and it is daunting because of its length, but nonetheless, it is gripping and I will persevere.

The above are just a few examples of some really useful information you can find if you have access to the Internet and/or a good bookshop or library. I can while away hours reading material I find, and frequently do. But soon I hope to while away an hour or two here again – in Les Tuileries…..

Destination Paris – and beyond…

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With Christmas well and truly over, we recently had the luxury of spending a few days at home with our Kiwi travelling companions, Roger and Frances. On their previous visit from LA in August, we sat down over a good old Kiwi-style lunch ( Annabel Langbein’s bacon and egg pie and Jo Seagar’s lemonade scones), and set about trying to create our itinerary - four weeks on the road in France, beginning with another cool ride on the Eurostar to Paris, where will start the trip with a much-anticipated four day stay.

However, deciding where to go after Paris was the challenge - should we scoot across to Honfleur, St Malo, or Mont-St Michel (after visiting Monet’s Gardens at Giverny), or should we head straight on down to the Loire?  From the Loire, should we continue on down to the Dordogne or across to Burgundy? Perhaps we could go from the Loire to Languedoc and then down to Provence and the Riviera? So much to see, so little time … but this is where both contacts and research are worth their weight in gold. When our friends returned to Los Angeles in August, the itinerary was still up in the air, and we all vowed to put together some ideas on how the trip should play out.

In the ensuing months I sought advice from Michelle at Eurovillas and Tours, with whom we booked the Tuscan villa in beautiful Radicondoli (in 2012). She is an absolute mine of information providing ideas on where to begin, where to stop, where not stop, and offering advice which helped to shape an itinerary which flows…simple things, like keeping one night stop-overs to a minimum and pointing out the value of taking a Eurolease car rather than a rental (this is a great idea by the way, and one we embraced, and latterly have booked).

After just one email outlining our possible routes, Michelle had provided informative brochures describing tried and true places – endorsed in the main from her personal experience. I discovered beautiful little Provencal towns, I had never heard of -   Eygalieres, and Callas for example, which offer the most beautiful accommodation for a relaxing week in the June sun. I was able to forward all the information and accommodation brochures to LA for approval and before we knew it, everything was booked!

By the time Roger and Frances returned to visit a couple of weeks ago, our itinerary just needed some fine tuning – where should we stay in London for instance, what London show we should see, and on what days should we do the celebrated tourists sites once in Paris etc? ( Versailles for instance is closed on Mondays).

Our final itinerary is based, for the most part, on the first half of a 3 weeks road trip outlined by Rick Steves and Steve Smith in France 2012, and we will be staying in accommodation recommended by Eurovillas, all of which we have found to be very well reviewed on Trip Advisor.  To ensure we would have current information,  I pre-ordered the 2014 edition of Rick Steves’ book, and as luck would have it, I received it on Friday, just in time to share it this morning with Roger and Frances. They are on their way back to LA, but we managed a final trip review over a leisurely morning tea on the deck, this time with delicious Ministry of Food cheese scones and Annabel Langbein’s divine Choconut slice.  Not only that, Roger bought us a gift – a stunning photographic publication called Destination Paris.. just to whet our appetites even more – in fact, I am about to dip into now….

Destination Paris

Note: Rick Steves’ website has recently been revamped and is even more informative now than previously. Take a look the all-new site here with the fantastic addition of “Watch, Read, Listen” where you can view free, full-length TV shows, on demand. It is a fantastic resource!

Titirangi’s Pipeline walk – it’s a gem!

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We have lived in Titirangi for many years – we moved to our first home here when we were in our late twenties and we are now in our early sixties. We are in our third Titirangi house now, and while we have often considered moving closer into town, the house prices are prohibitive, and we love living here too much to let it go. Continue reading

The Christmas feast dilemma …

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How on earth do you decide what will appear on your Christmas lunch or dinner table with such a plethora of fantastic recipes to choose from – and from so many sources, including the Internet.  A week or so before Christmas, I thought I had settled on a final menu but then some Facebook posts threw me….

I am a big Nadia Lim fan, and prior to the big day, her posts made me change my mind several times about what I would prepare. Regarding dessert for  instance,  I had pretty much decided on trying her Lemon Curd and Blueberry Pavlova, just for something a bit different, – less ‘Christmassy’ but no doubt divine. Then a few days later she posted Dark Chocolate and Cherry Cheesecake (gluten-free) which looked like Christmas and sounded luscious as well. Then, on flicking through Annabel Langbein’s Summer Annual, I discovered a layered meringue dessert, and in a recent Australian Women’s Weekly I came across a Pavlova Christmas tree. I love pavlova, but my girls are not keen, so I put aside the last two recipes and resorted to a favourite – Annabel’s Strawberry Cloud Cake - it is so easy and so impressive! And because it looked pretty I made Nadia’s cheesecake as well – it was easy, decadent and delicious!

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Traditionally I bake a ham using Jo Seagar’s apricot and maple syrup glaze, but I discovered in the Annabel annual, a similar glaze but with the addition of rum – so I combined the two and it worked well! I love concentrating on the desserts for Christmas,  because they are a more creative project – once the ham is prepared I can leave it to my husband to take charge of that in the BBQ, along with the other meats  – this year it was Bill Granger’s Herb-Crusted Lamb Racks, and some chicken sausages for the little ones.

I left it up to my elder daughter to bring yummy pre-lunch nibbles and wine, and my younger daughter brought a divine Prawn and avocado Salad, based on Bill Granger’s Prawn Cocktail recipe, and a very nice champagne. So ultimately, with the help of the Internet, magazines, and recipes books we had a wonderfully varied and delicious Christmas lunch from which I am still recovering!

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PS – the grandchildren were not forgotten – they got a wee gingerbread house to demolish – with a hammer…

The Ostro-phile…..

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Well, I finally made it to Ostro, the new brasserie in the Seafarers building in the vibrant Britomart complex.  Venturing out in the worst possible weather for an early summer evening meal was worth it, as Ostro definitely came up trumps.  It was a brilliant dining experience, despite the inclement weather – some thoughts follow:

The entry: My friend and I took the stairs rather than the lift up to the third floor entrance, ushered in through a cafe by a large but friendly security guard. With our umbrellas dripping from the heavy rain, we reached the landing, and encountered the weathered but somehow welcoming face of old seafarer, Tommy Doyle. What perfect placement of a fantastic photograph.

The Space – it is huge – almost breath-taking when you see it for the first time, and pretty amazing in every respect – with the City Terrace Bar on the Tyler street side which offers a great range of food, an amazing long bar in the centre space, and the brasserie itself facing the harbour. Lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, if offers a stunning view – on our visit, we watched through the rain-splattered glass, as a car freighter disgorged cars onto the wharf in a fascinating and well-orchestrated routine. The tables on the balcony outside were unoccupied due to the dreadful weather, but I can imagine they will be highly sought-after during the summer, for cruisy lunches and evening meals.

The ambience: buzzing, vibrant – definitely a great vibe. It was simply humming – packed with animated diners and those enjoying after-work and pre-dinner drinks. As we ate, we almost felt part of huge party, yet we were able to converse without shouting and could hear each other around a table of seven quite easily. Our table was very near the kitchen and we noted how calm it seemed, despite the huge number of dishes which they must have turned out during the time we were dining.

The service: The dapper Maitre’D lead us to our table and left us in the care of the attentive but unobtrusive wait staff, who made sure we had what we needed throughout the meal. Our water was continually topped up, the tables cleared quickly and efficiently between courses, and the dishes were very well explained when delivered to us.  I liked the variety of uniforms too – with an understated nautical feel to them, they are simple but apt.

 The food: Josh Emmet’s menu is stunning, and perfectly executed by Head Chef Cobus Klopper and his team.  With emphasis on seafood as you might expect , there is variety enough to suit all palates.  We shared platters for our entree, just two dishes but they complemented each other perfectly - Seared Yellowfin Tuna with the delicious Curious Croppers Tomatoes.  I would have been happy with the tomatoes as my main dish they were so delicious! We wisely complemented our entrees with moreish, freshly-baked Ostro Stecca Bread with Seaweed Butter.

Mains choices at our table included Line-caught Tarahiki, with Candied Grapes, Fennel and Toasted Almonds, and Snapper ‘a la Plancha’,  both of which were delicious and beautifully presented. My own choice was Roast Canterbury Lamb Rump, with Farro, Cauliflower, Capers, Raisins and Pedro Ximénez – I can honestly say I have never eaten lamb that virtually melted in my mouth as this did – it was a taste sensation.

Desserts were very different, quite retro even, and very well received by all. The Vanilla Pannacotta was fantastic, especially served with the contrasting berry sorbet,and the pansy on the top was a delightful touch. The Brandy Snaps were delicately thin as they should be, and the Rum Babas were exquisite, as were the Petit Fours. As most of us were driving we didn’t test the comprehensive wine list with gusto, but we did share an excellent bottle of Prosecco and finished the meal with a great coffee.

The verdict: While I admit that I have a connection with Ostro through family, I can honestly say that my blog post would have been identical, had this not been the case. Ostro has been receiving excellent reviews, and I was looking forward to my meal there with great anticipation. I can truly say I was not disappointed, and neither were my companions. It was wonderful venue to celebrate a 50th birthday in style, and we all left feeling that we had enjoyed a meal that was truly special. Ostro, you have me, hook, line and sinker.

PS For an independent and more eloquent review with beautiful photos of the interior and the food, plus information regarding the building design, see The Denizen here and also this link. For great photos and a foodie blog post see My Dining Journey.

Main ingredient? Nadia Lim …. and a dash of Josh Emett, Julie Le Clerc, and Nici Wickes

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I recently blogged about my growing collection of New Zealand cookbooks and I am delighted to confess I have just added another.  As a librarian responsible for the acquisition of New Zealand material, I was lucky enough to have Nadia Lim’s new cookbook pass across my desk, and what a beauty it is. Nadia Lim’s Good Food Cookbook is cram full of healthy, delicious and easy recipes - as soon as I started flicking through it, I knew I would buy it. Having owned it for just a week I had made four recipes from it – all were fast, easy and incredibly delicious, the stand out so far being Steak with Orange Miso Sauce, Sesame Cavolo Nero and Kumara Mash – we savoured every delicious mouthful! The Lamb with Tzatziki and Roast Cauliflower Pearl Couscous was a taste sensation, as was the Spanish Fish Stew and we greedily devoured the Barbecued Lamb and Olive Panzanella.

What has impressed me with Nadia’s recipes (I own her first book too) , is that they are nutritionally well-balanced, with each one accompanied by a simple nutritional breakdown.  Not only that, they were so quick to prepare, rivalling my well-used Jamie’s 15 minute Meals. The book is chock full of mouth-watering recipes, blending all sorts of flavours- Mediterrean, Middle Eastern and Asian, and the sweet fare looks enticing. There are also gluten-free options. All in all it is one of the best homegrown cookbooks I have seen this year.

I must mention too, the magazine I bought recently- the latest NEXT.  I was attracted by the promise of some great recipes for Christmas fare, and also because it  features Josh Emmet on cover. Due to a family connection, I have been watching the development of Josh’s new Auckland project Ostro with interest.  A brassierie with the most stunning view of the harbour, it can be found in the Seafarer’s Building in Britomart and it is receiving excellent reviews, like this one by another homegrown chef, Nici Wickes. (watch this space for a report on my own personal experience dining at Ostro next week).

But I digress … NEXT is consistently a good read, and always has an excellent selection of articles and recipes, the December issue being no exception. I dove straight in and made Julie Le Clerc’s Tomato Bean and Pearl Couscous Salad with Chilli-Herbal Dressing and it was great! (You can check out Julie’s blog here).

The NEXT cover story on Josh Emmet, gives an insight into what makes him tick and mentions his new cookbook Cut which I also saw in the course of my job. It is a beautiful book, with some brilliant photography and recipes for every cut of meat you could imagine, including rabbit and venison. The one that took my eye was my own personal favourite cut – lamb – Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Miso Glaze and Steamed Aubergine sounds delicious… perhaps I should be adding Cut to my collection too…

PS if you haven’t checked out Nici Wickes World Kitchen website take a look – it it is great source for recipes – one of my favourites being One Pan Chicken, Rice and Beans

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