The Last Three Weeks

I’m writing this ensconced in a booth at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast. Two days home from Paris and I’m already craving baguettes, croissants and all things unhealthy.

I’ve just come from my US Visa interview (approved – I will be flying out to the States this weekend after all) which was scheduled for the ungodly hour of 8am on a Monday morning. No-one in their right mind would want to accompany me, so I am consoling myself with baked eggs with salmon and an iced “americano” because I have a sense of humour. I’m also surrounded by people I recognise from the interview waiting room – including the guy who chose to whip out War and Peace then spent more time waving it in people’s faces than actually reading it.

This post is so delayed because the last three weeks of my Parisian dream were a whirlwind – I can hardly remember the ongoings the working week because it was happily interspersed with dinners, drinks, sunsets on the Seine, yoga classes in Marais attic rooms, cinema trips and pilgrimages to the weekly flower market. I also had the girls to come and visit, over a month ago now! In the meantime they have graduated and become (semi-) serious adults.

We started with a Sunday brunch, hosted at mine. I discovered previously untested quiche-making skills, and that 15 people is too many in my little studio. From there, we went on to the Marais, where after a restorative cocktail at Le Mary Celeste we nipped in and out of boutiques and I proudly showed off Paris’s beautiful garden squares.Photo 04-06-2015 19 18 13Monday meant back to work for me, but I met them later to go to the Luxembourg Gardens for a stroll in the warm weather. All a little weary from a long day, Anna then proved her unquestioned claim to being “The Fun Mum Friend” when she whipped out the Lindt 70% dark chocolate with sea salt – my drug of choice.Photo 04-06-2015 19 25 18Photo 04-06-2015 19 22 28We returned via Ladurée, before a picnic dinner in the bohemian AirBnB the girls had found themselves in. Followed by drinks and people-watching at Le Comptoir Général, my all-too short time with the girls did not disappoint.Photo 04-06-2015 18 46 18Photo 08-07-2015 09 52 58Cressida and I also made time to visit the Musée de l’Art Ludique, where the current exhibition is none other than a showcase of Aardman productions: most famous as being responsible for such classics as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Creature Comforts. The exhibition featured original sketches of ‘Shaun le Mouton’, and clay models from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You could say it was A Grand Day Out.

The following weekend, Pip and I finally got the opportunity to try a restaurant that had been on my wish list since before I even moved to Paris. After a (rather heavy but no less brilliant) French film, and a stroll rough the Palais Royal at dusk, we settled into our spot by the window at Ellsworth and enjoyed six courses of true culinary art. Once again, we see the last ones in the restaurant when we finally finished our two desserts.Photo 14-06-2015 10 35 12Photo 14-06-2015 10 29 13Photo 14-06-2015 10 26 12Later that week, Pip and I had another stunning meal; this time of foie gras, chilled asparagus soup, squid risotto and veal. We dined a stone’s throw from Les Invalides at Bistrot Belhara, a tiny restaurant so intimate it feels vaguely like you are sitting in the proprietor’s front room.

All too soon, my final weekend in Paris was upon me.After a disastrous trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, I promised myself that I would really take advantage my final couple of weeks in Paris and not spend it indoors unless I was eating, sleeping, or in a museum. Fortunately, the heatwave enabled me to do that with relative ease.

Saturday morning was spent sunning myself in Parc Monceau, before heading to Les Invalides to beat the heat in the Musée de l’Armée, an enormous exhibition space stocked with ancient weapons, suits of armour, military uniforms and one rather dodgy taxidermy of one of Napoleon’s Arabian horses. I imagine he was beautiful in real life, but two hundred years later, his glass eyes had a rather uneven look and his once-palomino coat now looked an undignified dusty grey. I also paid my respects to the Emperor himself, whose tomb occupies the spectacular space under the recognisable golden dome of the Invalides. Buried in six coffins of six different materials, each more elaborate than the last, it is no surprise people suggest he suffered from an inferiority complex.Photo 10-07-2015 12 26 00Photo 10-07-2015 12 06 17The museum was fascinating too – with ornate jousting armour, mother-of-pearl inlaid pistols, and even a recreation of Napoleon’s camp on his ill-fated Russian campaign with his original briefcases and – my favourite detail – his hat.Photo 10-07-2015 12 20 45I cooled off at Café Coutume with an iced chai latte before wandering to Le Bon Marché to brave the seasonal sales. Despite my best attempts, I walked away empty handed after I was informed by my mum via Snapchat that I was not allowed to spend triple figures on silk and lace pyjamas. The beautiful bright weather even at seven in the evening meant I couldn’t resist walking home, but not before resting my feet in the Tuileries as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Cliché? Moi?Photo 10-07-2015 11 44 33Then, on a baking hot dry Sunday, my last in Paris, I decided on a whim that I would go and visit the Chateau de Chantilly, most famous for its spectacular grand stables. It was a beautiful day, and after reading and picnicking at the temple of Venus, I returned to the stables where two of the chateau’s famous riders gave a demonstration with two stunning and very obedient stallions.Photo 08-07-2015 10 01 52Photo 10-07-2015 10 25 03Photo 10-07-2015 10 43 46Photo 10-07-2015 11 07 18Finally, after a peach ice cream and one last wander around the moat, I returned to Paris in the early evening, sleepy and “sun-kissed”.

My last week raced past in a heat haze of 37° sunshine and leaving parties on the banks of the canal, before my final move on Saturday. While it’s lovely to be home, and I have plenty to look forward to, I have left a big part of my heart in the world’s most romantic city, and cannot wait to return in the very near future.

In the meantime, though, Selfridges has opened now and I am spending the afternoon at Wimbledon – Siena out.

Bisous, S. X

Chanson du jour: Great Summer – Vance Joy


When the going gets tough, the tough attempt to make things tolerable.

I would be lying if I said I have hated every minute in Barcelona.

I would also be lying if I said this experience has been the greatest in my life so far.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of a man cutting sheet laminate with a circular saw about twenty feet below my window. At 8.45am. It was horrible – I spend the week waking up early to get to work and when the weekend comes around, my precious sleep has been snatched from me.

Safe to say, this morning, I hate Barcelona.

So, I wanted to follow on from yesterday’s post by writing about how I have made the harder parts of this experience a little more tolerable.

From staff at school, to lecturers at university, to previous YA students, the hype surrounding the Year Abroad (Capitalised, always) comes from all angles. Students who have done them shriek wildly, “OH MY GOD YOU’LL LITERAHLLY HAVE THE BEST YAR EVAR!” and people who have not claim, “like, I’m really f*cking jealous, mate, you get to bunk off uni for a whole yar.” But realistically, they’re pretty smug in the knowledge that they’re returning for another year in the hedonistic education institutions we call our universities.

Being force-fed this information made it doubly difficult to arrive here in Barcelona and spend a week and a half crying spontaneously while walking down the street, getting coffee, and my favourite place, on the Metro. I felt horrible because I felt like I shouldn’t be feeling that way, that I should love every minute and say yes to every opportunity.

But, as I am quickly realising, the Honeymoon Period for Third Year Abroaders is actually closer to myth than reality: I have not spoken to a single person here who has said that they have not had a difficult time settling in. So, I want to share my so-far-secrets that have helped me to get used to living here.

  1. Do NOT waste your time and energy beating yourself up for having English friends, listening to English music, and watching English TV. Having spent two and a half hours on Friday afternoon in a Production Meeting listening to non-stop, complex, boardroom French, I can safely say that everyone needs a language break.
  1. That said, capitalise on your connections and try and make as many friends as possible. While its also a great way to spend your time (rather than stalking the Paradise Disco photos, for example), it also makes it more likely for you to meet people that are happy to speak Spanish/French/Italian/German etc etc. Their housemates, boyfriends, aunts and uncles… The more friends, the more potential foreign contacts. Of course, everyone suggests dating a local is the real way to learn a language. (I’m working on it, don’t worry.)
  1. Spend your time outside. I work in an air-conditioned office for 40-45 hours a week, and all I want to do when I return home is slob on my bed and sleep. While this is all well and good, tiredness often = sadness and loneliness. When these feelings hit, I change out of work clothes, set a timer for 35 minutes, and walk in one direction. When the timer is done, I turn another direction for 20 minutes, then when that timer is done, I work out how to get home. It’s a great way to learn the city (and get lost) but it’s also endorphins = happiness. (Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!)
  1. Try and replace crying with laughter when it gets really ridiculous – I had several moments like that during the stresses of house-hunting. Many people have similar experiences – everyone sees airless box rooms with mildew-y bathrooms, and everyone visits at least one (four, if you’re me) stunning flat they can’t afford. There was the time that did a six-floor walk-up with my 18kg suitcase for the landlord to tell me that the room wasn’t available until January. When I finally moved into my flat, I discovered that one of our two fridges didn’t work, and neither did the washing machine. I was regularly brought to tears by my situation. But – the difference between these experiences being dire and them being proper, formative experiences is attributable to the attitude you approach them with. You can’t be positive all the time, but attempt a brave face when circumstances get stupidly bad. Fake it ’til you make it, you know?
  1. Be kind to yourself. You might be in a foreign city and feeling like you need to take advantage of everything your new home town has to offer, but don’t be ashamed of saying ‘no’, of taking an early night, of preferring to be by yourself sometimes. Personally, after nine hours at work, the last thing I want to do is head out for a drink and attempt to be sociable, and I’m quickly learning that that’s okay: take care of yourself.

S. X