My Funny Valentine

Having lived away from home for the best part of the past ten years, I very rarely get homesick. Even now, I don’t miss the place, just the people. So when I was feeling a little low after the devastation of my Oreo Disaster, I put in a call to the folks.

Happily, Mama Morrell was more than keen for a visit, and on Thursday evening I returned from work to find her hanging out of her balcony at the hotel just a couple of doors down from my flat. Because it was a “school night”, we popped open a bottle of wine, I cobbled together a chilli con carne and we caught up over a delicious dinner.

Though I had work the next day, she was more than happy to entertain herself in BHV Marais, until the evening when I had planned a cinema trip and some cocktails. Except, of course, because I’m an unlucky idiot, when it came to locking up the office at the end of the day, I realised my keys were on my bedside table. All alone in the office, it meant I had to call in a favour from my mum: she came to pick up my house keys, return to Ranelagh, and then come back to the office. By that time, we were thirty minutes from the cinema, with five minutes to go before the film started. As major Jamie Dornan cinema fans, we couldn’t face missing part of the film, so picked a cafe for some pre-film dinner and happily tucked into duck magret before pitching up to the cinema stuffed full.

On Saturday I finally managed my bank meeting, meaning I’m almost officially a Parisienne. We walked off our pain aux raisins with a stroll up Rue du Passy to Trocadero, where we did in fact see a couple taking advantage of Saint-Valentin with a cringe-inducing proposal photo shoot. We walked along the river, before the rain forced us to shelter among the columns of the Grand Palais…

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The afternoon was spent strolling the Marais, naturally, and we dipped into Breizh Café for quality coffee and a restorative crêpe. We enjoyed an exquisite dinner, some lovingly-crafted cocktails, and fascinating people-watching at Pan, a restaurant I’d previously been to with Soph and her folks just a few weeks ago. Our romantic dinner for two was perfected by our night-time cab ride along Avenue President Kennedy, with an unobstructed view of the glittering Eiffel Tower.

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Today we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hitting the streets again, as we strolled across the Seine to Les Invalides, wandered aimlessly through Saint Germain des Près and peered into private courtyards as the sun broke through the clouds. I took my mother to the peaceful Place Dauphine. I picked my dream house based on the ironwork at the windows and glimpses of decorative plastering on the ceilings.

Our destination for lunch was a recommendation from Sophie – Derrière. This restaurant is decorated like a private home, with large shared tables, an extensive CD collection, a ping-pong table and even a large, made-up bed. The brunch menu includes a starter, main, fresh juice, hot drink and an unlimited selection from the buffet. Sounds fairly conventional, but this place is anything but ordinary.

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We opted for apple, pear and strawberry juice, with a coffee for Mrs Morrell and a spiced chocolat chaud for me. Mains were picked from a range of roast meats, and we tucked into caramelised pork and delicious veal accompanied by a spectacular rainbow of legumes.

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For dessert, though, we really went to town, taking it in turns to sample the offerings at the impressive buffet spread. Tarte tatin, tarte aux poires, upside-down cake, gianduja tart, brownies, pistachio cakes, and fresh fruit. We had happily acknowledged that we were fairly full after our mains, but left after pudding unable to take another bite.

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Before leaving though, we had to take a peek into the smoking area: through a mirrored armoire at the end of a corridor, the doors conceal a vast, study-like room. Furnished with taxidermy and quirky heirlooms mounted on the walls, the room offers smokers a clubby, homely suite in which to enjoy a cigarette: some people were stretched out on the leather sofas, while others took on the challenge of table football.

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All too soon, it was time to head home where we discovered unfortunately that Mama Morrell’s train was not at 8pm, but 18.00, and after a perfect leisurely weekend it was sad to rush out of the house and back into the Metro. I’ve taken the opportunity to relax at home after a weekend of walking all over the city. Unwinding with a tea (Mariage Frères, naturally) and listening to Bruce Springsteen as I write my recent blog posts.

I might dread Monday and the rest of the working week, but I make enough wonderful memories each weekend to keep me going until the next one. Not bad, eh?

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: I’m on Fire – Bruce Springsteen

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Brunches & BFFs

I was pretty relieved Wednesday night was a relaxed night – I had big plans for the weekend: Imy was coming! I picked her up from the airport on Friday evening (yes, I did cry) and we headed straight for La Rosa Negra for a catch up over margaritas and Mexican food. Look at how happy we are! (No margaritas consumed at this point.)

We’d both dressed intending to make it to The W for a cocktail, but by the time we’d finished dinner it was 1am – tea, presents and bed were a much more appealing prospect!

Having slept in until midday, food was obviously a priority. I knew exactly where I wanted to take Imy, somewhere I’d walked past regularly on my way to the gym (ironically) – Brunch & Cake.

Look at this:

That’s banana, Nutella and fruit compote on pancakes in the foreground, then wonderfully soft eggs Benedict on turkey and a waffle. Sounds so wrong, tastes so right. I promise I’ll take everyone who comes to visit.

We spent the afternoon strolling round El Gotico, peering into hidden courtyards and finding bargains in the boutiques. Safe to say, I’m not the greatest tour guide: with the winding streets and identical balconies, I got lost pretty quickly, and we ended up walking along the same street probably three or four times. Sorry, Imy! Luckily it’s pretty scenic, and we managed to find an incredible interiors store. It took every effort to walk out without buying anything.

After dinner at home, we headed out to meet the Durham gang again, but only stayed long enough to watch the boys to a Tabasco-laced shot, and watch American tourists drink themselves into a stupor at Le Cyrano. Cyrano is a bar where you pay a flat rate for a drink and then are given the bottle to serve yourself. Sounds great, is great.

The problem in Barcelona is that everything is shut on a Sunday, so I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, Imy and I are design nerds (her especially) so we made our way to the Mies Van der Rohe Pavillion, up on Montjuïc hill. It was so peaceful – we both walked away wanting to live in it.

Having walked back into the city and up La Rambla, stopping occassionally to look at interesting buildings or exciting food stores, we made our way up into L’Eixample, to an exciting destination.

That’s right, we went to Brunch & Cake’s sister restaurant, Cup & Cake, for the biggest donuts I’ve ever seen and frosty iced lattes.

All too soon, it was time for me to return Imy to the airport. It had been such a lovely, relaxed weekend, but I promise that the next time someone comes to visit me I will actually have an idea of what to do in the city…

S. X

HOW TUNA MADE ME CRY, & OTHER STORIES

It’s been nearly a week since leaving the happy confines of Bromley (Kent Greater London) for the humid climes of Barcelona.

When I’m not sweating it out on the Metro, in elevators, or in a park eating lunch, I’m sweating it out in the office, in shops, even in bed. I’ve resisted Snapchatting since my arrival because my hair can’t handle the weather either. It’s no wonder everyone in the office dresses casually: I turned up at the office on my first day in a skirt, shirt, tights and blazer. After climbing four flights of stairs, I was about ready to expire. Turns out the elevator does work, after all.

Getting out here was equally hassle-full (I’m tired, okay) – I had been intending to stay with my boss, William, at his place for a couple of days until I sorted a flat. At 9pm the evening before I was due to fly, I realised I had zero clue of where he lived or how to get there. Of course, that set me off – I was moving to a strange city, with a language barrier, effectively homeless. Fortunately, Liz was able to put me up for a night in her spare room, and seeing a friendly face upon arrival was just so, so welcome. After a long day at work, and three disastrous apartment visits, I was about ready to collapse, crying, when I realised I didn’t actually have a place to stay that night. I rang my boss, my voice catching, and to my relief he had set up the spare room especially for me. When I rang the doorbell the smell of home cooking was painfully nostalgic. He opened the door, said “I hope you like tuna” and that was that. Tears.

I survived a week of work, writing a new hotel review every day. Sadly, this does not mean I am currently working as an international jet-setter with an unlimited budget: instead of lounging on beaches in Zanzibar, like I say I am, I’m stuck on a swivel chair in an air-conditioned office, taking inspiration from Google Images. I’m 90% sure the women I work with think I’m a little slow though unfortunately: because I’m working in English, I’m thinking in English most of the time, which means that when someone speaks to me in quick-fire French I’m often lost for words until my brain finally catches up and I can respond. Of course by that time, they’ve already repeated the question in English, completely undermining my efforts.

That said, I’ve actually been able to use my French quite a lot in my househunting efforts. I pitched up at one house and was asked if I was French, because apparently I speak Spanish with a French accent. Not to brag, or anything. Fortunately, I think I’ve finally found a place to live – a flat of 10 (!) girls, just two blocks’ walk from work, dangerously close to Zara Home and Jo Malone. Plus my room is absolutely enormous. Big enough to house a double bed and a single bed, so start booking your tickets out here, kids.

I experienced my first Spanish night out last night. It’s fiesta season in BCN and boy do these people know how to party. Dinner isn’t normally until 9.30 or later, and it’s not unusual to find yourself turning the key in the door as sky starts to pale. I enjoyed a meal of tapas with a Durham crowd before heading to Espit Chupitos, a bar boasting a menu of over 200 shots. Our favourite was ‘Boy Scout’, where we were offered a marshmallow on a stick to toast over our flaming shot. If you make it out here, I might make you do a ‘Monica Lewinsky’. I’m not telling you what you have to do: use your imagination.

After a long night (and morning) of dancing at Razzmatazz, I spent today wandering the streets of El Barri Gotic. I visited the cathedral, sat in an atmospheric square as the most talented buskers I’ve ever heard performed melancholy love songs, and cheated on L’As du Fallafel with an enormous pita stuffed with my favourite veggie treats. Tonight I’m off for paella at the waterfront and then out for drinks at the W Hotel – nicknamed la vela by the locals – to celebrate Luce’s birthday. I’m not planning on going out. But then I said that last night too…

S. X

DAY 8, 05/07

I was actually fairly happy to be leisurely housebound on Saturday morning by blisters – turns out walking everywhere to get to know a city has its disadvantages. Spent the morning apartment hunting online, which is proving harder than anticipated. A lot of the house-sharing adverts sound like cheesy dating website profiles.

Summoned the energy to leave my apartment, and headed for the Tuileries for a walk and some culture. Some of you might have actually listened to me when I went on my rants about how amazing Henri IV was because he built the Place des Vosges and the Louvre – you can only imagine quite how excited I was to see it again. It didn’t disappoint. I had actually anticipated going into the museum, to check out their sculpture collection and shelter from the rain. Unfortunately it seemed everyone else had the same idea and the queue was 2.5 hours long. Planning to go back on Wednesday after work, I think.

Hopped over the Pont Neuf and slipped into the Place Dauphine – it made me smile to see that no, the statue of Henri is not actually on the central axis of the square. It was a lovely, peaceful hideaway, if lacking the imposing presence of the Place des Vosges. Wandered around the Île de la Cité to Notre Dame, and again, the queue to get in was just intolerably long. It was nice enough walking past, but I plan to get up that tower at some point this year.

I did, however, find the most charming restaurant on Rue Chanoinesse, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole. Gaudy and ridiculous on the inside, the outside has a seriously impressive wisteria snaking up the ancient walls, with stuffed parrots and cockatoos perched on the windowsills… Has to be seen to be believed. Conveniently situated next to an American-style bakery, Bertie’s Cupcakery. Didn’t try a cupcake but definitely one to go back to.

I returned to my favourite area, Le Marais, for some window-shopping and more exploring. I stopped at the Musée Carnavalet, which is (thankfully) much quieter than the Louvre and d’Orsay, to see the “Liberated Paris” exhibition – a selection of photos from the Nazi occupation and Allied liberation. The rest of the Museum is fascinating too – a huge number of artefacts from Roman Paris to paintings documenting the French Revolution to 19th and 20th century artists, including Picasso. The most-fascinating-yet-simultaneously-creepiest item I discovered there was a functional miniature of a guillotine on wheels, made of bone.

I also found the greatest shop I have been to yet in Paris, Merci, on the Boulevard Beaumarchais. It’s a veritable Aladdin’s cave of clothes, books, technology and homewares. Sort of a Parisian Urban Outfitters meets Muji. It set me off dreaming about apartments all the way home, as I stopped at every agence immobilière I came across.

This morning, the rain is incredibly depressing. More of the same, house-hunting, chilling out, and eating Speculoos from the jar. Is this the life?

S.X

DAY 2, 29/06

Fantastic day spent marching around the city, trying to see as many of the tourist sites as possible, and strolling around Le Marais in the early evening.

After a trip to the local farmers’ market in Neuilly, Fiona and I set out for a spot of house-hunting in the 16th. We picked potential buildings, judging them by their window-boxes and elaborate front doors. We walked to the Tour Eiffel (classic), took some photos (classic) and then headed to Les Invalides (classic). While Fiona picked her favourite café (Café de l’Esplanade: sunglasses and attitude obligatory…); I paid my respects to M. l’Empereur.

Got a little lost in Les Invalides but finally found Boulevard Saint-Germain. Headed to Ralph’s at Ralph Lauren for a late lunchtime treat – I would highly recommend, but possibly don’t wear Converse… slightly sniffy maîtresse d’hôtel but very nice staff otherwise. Check out the address book for my other recommendations. Will continue to update it as and when I find new places I like.

Took Fiona across the Pont Neuf and walked along the Seine towards Le Marais, where we spent the afternoon identifying potential husbands and nipping in and out of the boutiques. Finally we made it to the Place des Vosges, where, thanks to Toby Osborne, lecturer extraordinaire, I was able to give Fiona a very thorough explanation of the history and architectural significance of the square. I’m sure she appreciated it…

We now both have our feet up at home: exhausted but very content, and relieved the sun has come out. Excited/nervous for tomorrow, my first day of work!

S. X