Sunday, 16 May 2010

Parisian Gems

During my degree, I was lucky enough to spend an amazing year living just outside Paris and got to know the city very well. I try to return as often as possible with the aim of feeling like a true parisienne, if only for a few days. Here is a small selection of my favourite Parisian treats.

Canal St Martin

Made famous by the film Amelie, this area is blissful on a warm spring day. The streets are filled with independent boutiques and cafes perfect for people-watching. More neighbourhood haunt than tourist hotspot, the Canal St Martin area provides the perfect antidote to too much sightseeing.
For a real treat, try Le Valmy, a tiny restaurant facing onto the canal. You'll find an intimate yet relaxed atmosphere and delicious and unusual dishes.

The Canal St Martin is in the 10e arrondissement. Take the metro to Gare de l'Est and amble down towards the canal, exploring side streets along the way.
Le Valmy is at 145 Quai de Valmy. Reservations are recommended.

Bateaux Mouches

Definitely the most fun of Parisian tourist traps, the Bateaux Mouches travel up and down the Seine giving passengers a unique view of some of the most famous sights. With close-ups of the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, Notre Dame and the Radio France building, this river tour is not to be missed. What's more, at 10 euros per person, tickets are very affordable.

The Bateaux Mouches leave from Pont de l'Alma, metro Alma-Marceau or Franklin Roosevelt. Visit


Temple of Sybil, Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Paris has some wonderful open, green spaces that are equally as perfect for lazing around in on a warm afternoon as wandering around on a brisk winter day. Two of my favourites are Buttes Chaumont - a huge man-made park that was formerly a 19th century quarry - and Jardin de Luxembourg in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Although both very busy on sunny days, these parks are large enough to find a quiet spot to eat a picnic of baguette, cheese and wine.

Jardin de Luxembourg
The Parc de Buttes Chaumont is in the 19e arrondissement, metro Buttes Chaumont. The Jardin de Luxembourg is in the 6e arrondissement. Take the metro to Saint-Suplice and stop by the church, an architectural delight, before heading over to the park.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

A Different View

This week, guest blogger Guy Thouret of Green Robot Studio talks us through his favourite travel photos, revealing that there can be more to this genre than run-of-the-mill tourist snaps!

Forgotten Corner of NASA

I love this shot because I find it to be a truly bizarre scene. I went for a walk around Stevens Creek Nature Reserve, which neighbours the NASA airfield in Mountain View, California. I looked across and thought, "Oh that looks like a derelict airport building," seeing the tower, the building and a shuttle bus. As I stared longer, my perception changed and this is what I think has been captured in the photo. 

You start to see that the 'building' has porches and is possibly a prop (you can see lean to supports through the window apertures). The bus has actually been crashed into a pile of rubble. As your eye starts to wander around to see what other hidden detail there is you see to the right of the bus is a burned out crushed car, coming closer, the leaned-to planks with similar looking blast (and bullet) holes in them and right at the front a strange six wheeled vehicle on a trailer. Putting all these fragments of detail together makes me imagine what possible scientific, NASA-related scenarios could have played out in this small, forgotten-looking corner of the airfield.

Odd One Out

The only thing that sets this apart from any other picture taken of any of the buildings that make up the skyline of New York was the time of day it was taken. The sun had set and it was almost dark with just a very low light level remaining.

The camera was set to the correct exposure for the lighting on the buildings with the idea that this would emphasise them while still exposing the remaining natural light to make the buildings visible. The result was completely unplanned. I ended up with a beautiful, cool blue tone across all of the buildings apart from the one uninspiring, boxy modern tower that appears black, making it stand out from the other more aesthetically appealing buildings. I guarantee you it is not Photoshopped - this is how the image came from the camera. It goes to show that you can never entirely predict what the end result will be.

For Your Safety...

While walking around Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, I had been joking about the amount of pointless signs there were all over the place instructing to do something 'for your safety'. They were everywhere! I had started snapping them with the idea of making some sort of a collage of pointless signs when I came across this stack of barriers. Already wearing their safety signs in a pre-emptive move that no matter where these barriers are placed they will have been placed by someone who thinks we need protecting.

Question for Guy? Post a comment below or visit Green Robot Studio on Etsy.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Downtown Style

Guest blogger Kate Ferguson takes a stroll through her adopted hometown of Victoria BC, Canada.

There is no denying it…Victoria BC is a summer tourist town. With easy access to the southern tip of Vancouver Island, day-trippers and weekenders from nearby Washington and the Lower Mainland come in droves for the “Ye Olde English” charm, or I guess I should say, how North Americans envision England. The streets are filled with hanging flower baskets, horse drawn carriages- complete with drivers in spats and top hat, and even the occasional red phone box. Even the local rock station has the “Tea Time” picks. There is no getting away from it…..or is there? There is another Victoria that doesn’t get as much publicity; it is slightly off kilter and a little too odd for the tourists. This is my Victoria.

Having exhausted the four block radius of guidebook-approved sights to see in hours, most visitors are at a loss of how to fill their time. By all means, see some of the sights: the Royal BC Museum is fantastic and totally worth the time it takes to walk through the huge, three floor building. To me, this is the only entry in the guidebooks that you really can’t afford to miss. 

When you are finished with the museum, it is probably best to avoid the touristy stores on lower Government Street, unless you want to buy horrifically stereotypical Canadian souvenirs and like being accosted by people begging for spare change. Instead head up to Lower Johnson Street and Market Square, this is where the other Victoria starts. Multi-coloured buildings line the streets, with locally owned shops specializing in surprisingly un-hippyish hemp clothes, hand made soaps, and interesting gift shops. My favourite store on LoJo is Baggins Shoes, home to all things Chuck Taylor. The knowledgeable staff can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about Converse sneakers and more. 

The next block over is Pandora Ave. Once the street signs turn red, that’s Chinatown. This is another guidebook sight that is worth a look. Once the largest Chinatown in North America, it has now been reduced to a few streets filled with grocery stores and restaurants selling the most interesting looking fruits and vegetables I have ever seen. If after all this walking, you are feeling a little thirsty, stop into The Bubble Tea Place on Fisgard Street, they offer a plethora of flavours. I recommend Chinatown Cherry Blossom or the Summer Soother. Or if you are looking for something more to eat, try the Solstice CafĂ© on Pandora.

Next time from Kate: The Neighbourhoods of Victoria. The further you get from the centre of downtown, the more you get the feel for the real Vic.

Monday, 15 March 2010

London calling

I dislike London. I know it's unpatriotic, I know that London is as much a cosmopolitan centre of culture as, say, New York or Paris, but let's face it: it's just not New York or Paris. However, with the migration of several friends to our revered capital city in recent years, it has become more of a necessity to grudgingly venture south of Birmingham and see what everyone is raving about.

This weekend my husband and I stayed with friends in Leytonstone, a short Tube trip from Euston. Determined not to let my aforementioned prejudices affect husband's first trip, I gritted my teeth and plunged (semi) wholeheartedly into all the touristy goodness that London has to offer.

We started off well, although untraditionally, at the Manolo Blahnik shop in Chelsea - well, if I have to go to London, I may as well get some fabulous shoes out of the trip. Beginning with a 20-minute trek from South Kensington Tube station (aided in large part by Google Maps on husband's new HTC Hero), we left exhilarated if with significantly lighter pockets, smugly carrying a large MB bag around for the rest of the day, to the annoyance of fellow Tube passengers.

Next on the agenda was the London Eye (Tube stop: Waterloo). Superb views, a relaxing and peaceful capsule and glasses of Champagne made us feel distinctly VIP, helped along by our personal host who pointed out landmarks and took our photos. The new 4D mini-film experience was also great fun and would particularly appeal to children.

We let husband select the landmarks he'd like to see close-up and headed over the river to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, passing Westminster Abbey before again employing the help of the Hero to navigate to Buckingham Palace. If you're heading in this direction, make time to wander through St James Park and check out the various statues, stream and noisy ducks!

Continuing with our upper-class theme, we just had time to catch the Tube to Knightsbridge for a dash around Harrods, marvelling at the amazing displays of gourmet food and stopping for a spot of people-watching in the various luxury concessions. For a real taste of the high life, give the tacky Harrods Arcade a miss and head for the teas and coffees - Harrods has some unusual and hard-to-find blends at more down-to-earth prices.

On Sunday we woke early(ish) to head into Trafalgar Square (Tube stop: Charing Cross) where we unwittingly wandered into the St Patrick's Day celebration, with live bands and plentiful Guiness. Continuing up to Covent Garden Market for lunch at the unique and intriguing Cafe Chutney, which serves Indian-inspired snacks and light meals.

After depositing husband on the Tube to Euston to pick up the train home, we headed to Westfield London for a spot of shopping, which had the immediate effect of making you feel like you were in any other shopping centre, anywhere in the world. Devoid of any interesting culture but full of both high-end and high-street names, Westfield is a shopper's dream but is otherwise not worth the long trip out to Shepherd's Bush.

After all this, I ended up with mildly warm and fuzzy feelings about London, which were not completely quashed by my rush-hour Tube trip this morning. There might be some hope for me and London after all.