Archive for May, 2009

We managed to wake up early this morning to go to the famous Paris flea markets at Saint Ouen. I have to admit, it wasn’t quite what I expected. Instead of loads of vendors who set up each morning, the stalls at Saint Ouen are all permanent – closed against the weather, self-contained units that can be locked up each night. As a result, there are quite a few very high-end dealers selling antiques down there.

We managed to come home empty-handed, not least because the prices at the flea market reflect its semi-permanent state: there are no bargains to be had here – dealers shop elsewhere and these products are priced for tourists. Oh well, it was still a fun morning out, worth getting up early for.

Flea Markets at St Ouen

Looking down one of the alleys in the flea markets at Saint Ouen

Hanging lanterns and lamps

Hanging lanterns and lamps outside one of the stalls

Ducks in a row

A line of ducks in a row. Cheeky garden gnomes hiding in the background.

Wooden furniture in piles

Wooden furniture, stacked high at one of the stalls in the market

Tapestries and chairs

Tapestries and chairs along a wall in the market

Wicker baskets

Wicker baskets outside a stall

The afternoon was a last chance to enjoy our four-day weekend (well, until next weekend, when we have a three-day weekend. There are some upsides of living in France, and the number of public holidays over the summer months is definitely one of them). So off we headed to the Jardins de Luxembourg to spend a few hours in the afternoon sun, catching up on our reading and watching the old men play petanque in the park.

Tonight is the highlight of the weekend – we’ll finally finish compiling our first French tax return, a mammoth this year with over 30 pages (mostly relating to our bank accounts held outside France – the French are obsessed with the notion that everyone is harbouring their money off-shore and not declaring it. Which, in most cases, is true. I read that, as a nation, the French massively under-declare their tax. It’s something of a national pastime to see how much you can get past the tax inspectors). We’ve just about gotten our heads around it and will post it off tomorrow to avoid the last-minute rush at the end of the month.

Waiting for my blog updates is a little like waiting for a bus – none come for ages, then two come at once. I suspect that’s probably a case of when I have time versus when I don’t, but whatever the reason, there will be two updates today.

We’re into the summer season of public holidays in France. Yesterday was a public holiday, and nearly everyone in the country takes today off to make a four-day weekend. Anne-Laure was left stranded in Paris by Neil (who, due to his UK contract, was forced to work on Thursday and Friday) so we took pity on her and had her over for dinner. It was also a great excuse for me to see my local butcher about a beautiful rack of lamb.

So cold cucumber & mint soup to start, rack of lamb with balsamic reduction, roast potatoes, and long-stemmed broccoli, and a tarte aux fraises for dessert, all washed down with a bottle of Côtes de Provence to mark the beginning of summer. It’s nice to finally have some time off to get back into the kitchen and begin cooking properly again. Picard’s frozen foods are a Godsend when you’re busy during the week, but they’re no substitute for the real deal.

Anyhow, a nearly perfect execution. Nearly. The balsamic reduction was more complicated than I had imagined, so it is understandable that I forgot to add the seared cherry tomatoes I had so carefully selected (even having made a special shopping trip to find tomatoes that were still on the vine so they would look nice on the place). They were meant to be the centre-piece on the place, but luckily the lamb turned out so perfectly that no one noticed. Until Aude asked “what are these tomatoes doing here by the stove? Did you mean to use them?” Never mind, they’ll go nicely with some pasta, shrimp, white wine and basil tonight.

Sadly, Anne Laure had to drag herself into work today – but Aude and I managed to take the “pont” and had the day off. Aude suggested we head down to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant for something to eat – so off we went. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall near Tolbiac, but it’s one of my favourite restaurants in Paris for lunch. Quick, cheap, and the food is great.

Song Huong Restaurant in Paris

Song Huong Restaurant, just around the corner from Tolbiac Metro and one of my favourites. Many thanks to Julien for introducing me to it!

This place is always busy, as is the restaurant next door, which specializes in pho. Both are cheap and cheerful, but I prefer this one as it has a wider variety of food (the other one serves nothing but pho in about 16 different combinations) and I think the quality is a little better. There are typically waits to get into both, but the one next door is always busier after having found its way into Lonely Planet. Neil insists that his Vietnamese place is better – we’ve yet to experience it ourselves (any time you want to invite us, Neil, we’ll be happy to join you!) but for my money, this place is pretty good.

After lunch, I headed up to Concorde to hit WH Smith, the English language bookstore. I rarely buy anything here – the choice is limited and the books are all twice the price, but it’s still a great way to pass an afternoon. And the walk back from the bookstore to the apartment, through the Jardins des Tulieries, is a nice 30-minute stroll, perfect for people-watching.

Photographically-speaking, I’ve been uninspired recently, hardly taking any photos at all. The weather was beautiful and I was convinced I could find something to snap, even if it was just touristy shots of Paris. “Getting back onto my horse” and all that. So here are a few shots of touristy Paris on a perfect spring afternoon. Wish you were here?

Jardins des Tuileries, Paris

Looking down the Jardins des Tuileries

Tour Eiffel from the Jardins des Tuileries

Tour Eiffel from the Jardins des Tuileries

Statue with pigeon, Paris

You know what they say… Some days, you’re the pigeon. Other days, you’re the statue.

Sunbathers on the lawn in front of the Louvre

Sunbathers on the lawn in front of the Louvre. The trick to enjoying the sunny weather in Paris is to find your patch of green grass, stake your claim, and soak up the sun.


Looking into the courtyard at the Louvre


Detail of one of the buildings at the Louvre

Finding solitude at the Louvre, a quiet corner

Paris is an interesting city. Despite throngs of tourists, there is nearly always a quiet place to lose yourself if you look hard enough.

Pont des Arts, Paris

Tourists take over the Pont des Arts, enjoying the good weather.

View of Seine from Pont des Arts, Paris

A view of the Seine from the Pont des Arts. I didn’t notice until after I had taken the shot that someone had drawn a cheeky smiley face on the lamp. Which I think makes it even better.

French car, Parisian parking.

French car, Parisian parking. Not a centimetre to spare!


Life, as always, is busy here and I haven’t gotten around to updating my blog as frequently as I would like. So there are no pictures or entries of my recent trips to Boulder, CO or Pennsylvania, where I met my parents for dinner. Nor are there any pictures of recent outings with friends here in Paris, mostly because (much to the relief of my friends) I have been leaving my camera at home.

We have just returned from a week in Egypt, which seemed like a good excuse for a blog entry. Eight days in El Gouna, outside Hurghada, right on the Red Sea.

I arrived at the airport to discover myself sitting opposite the guy I share an office with – luckily for me, we get along well, because we realized that we were on exactly the same holiday – same flights, same hotel, same everything. Fabrice was travelling with his wife and two young daughters, Mathilde (3) and Tiffane (1). Over the week, Mathilde and I became great friends.

Basically, we had a week of sun-and-sand, although the high winds meant that we spent the days by the pool instead of the beach.

I managed to squeeze in a day of diving while Aude snorkeled. Warm water (23-24C), but the diving was disappointing – there was very little to see. The highlight of the dive was an octopus, although another couple on the boat told us they had seen dolphins two days before. I guess it’s sort of luck-of-the-draw, but for me it wasn’t even close to the diving I did in Asia.

I had to suffer a fair bit of teasing on the dive – having forgotten I was already certified, I had booked myself in to do the full certification course over a couple of days. Sure enough, went back to the hotel room to get my logbook and discovered my certification card – I had forgotten I’d finished it when I was in Mauritius a few years ago. Cue a rather-embarrassed Matt having to walk back to the dive centre and asking for a refund. And cue plenty of ribbing from the dive centre staff.

The other highlight of our trip was a 4×4 trip out into the desert – 30km into the desert to visit a Bedouin village, where we at dinner and watched dancing.

Aude in El Gouna

Aude in El Gouna, heading out on the dive boat

Matt in El Gouna

Matt getting ready for his first dive of the trip

Matt and Mathilde

Matt and Mathilde, his new best friend

Matt in wetsuit

Matt all geared-up and ready to dive

Fabrice in wetsuit

Fabrice, Matt’s office-mate and dive buddy for the day, gets ready for his first dive


Mathidle watches Matt and Fabrice go

Matt and Claire

Matt helps Claire set up her gear

Matt on the dive boat

Matt on the dive boat

Hotel Movenpick, El Gouna

Looking out over the lagoon — this was the view from our balcony

Hotel Movenpick, El Gouna

More lagoon shots

Red Sea beach

Red Sea beach

Kite-surfing on the Red Sea

Kite-surfing on the Red Sea. These guys were absolutely mental — they were regularly being picked up by gusts of wind and pulled 15 feet out of the water


Umbrellas along the beach — unfortunately, too windy most days to spend much time actually on the beach

Pool at Hotel Movenpick, El Gouna

One of the many pools at the hotel

Villa at Hotel Movenpick, El Gouna

Our villa at the hotel — four bedrooms opened onto a common lounge and shared balcony. We even had our own pedalo and kayak, if we were so inclined.

Aude in the desert

Aude in the desert

Aude on Landcruiser

Old-school Toyota Landcruiser. I looked at the odometer and our 4×4 had over 750k kilometres on the clock. They may not be comfortable, but these old Landcruisers are certainly well-built and robust.

Aude and Matt in the desert

Aude and Matt in the desert. Not much to see except a lot of sand.


My new ride. What you can’t see in this picture is the fact that my camel spent basically the entire trip leaving a trail of manure behind him. (Which, after a week of Egyptian food, is pretty much what I did, too)

Aude riding a camel

Aude riding a camel. Trickier than it looks.

Aude, Matt and a camel

Aude, Matt and a camel. You can decide who’s who.

Aude, Matt and a camel

I’m guessing our Egyptian cameraman did not get to see women very often.

Aude with a camel

Aude poses with her new ride.

Bedouin man with camel

Bedouin man


A camel making faces at us.

Egyptian breadmaking

Baking bread over a fire made of dried camel dung. For the flavour, apparently. Mmmm.

Egyptian dancers

The evening’s entertainment in the camp. Not quite American Idol.

Egyptian dancers

Fast-moving dancers!

Matt's OCD packing

OCD? Me? Never. I prefer to think of myself as very organised. I’m a Virgo, after all.