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June 29, 2006

The quick turnover of friends for an expat

While watching the footy the other day, we were with some other people who were friends of friends etc, and we had the usual conversation of how do you know so and so etc.

However, this had the expat twist of language classes. Going to a language class is usually one of the first places you'll make friends on arriving in a foreign country (unless you speak the lingo of course). It gets in the way of meeting local people of couse, since everyone else there is an expat from somewhere or other.

So, the conversation usually goes something like;

'I met X at french classes when I was doing level 1 - He met the wife of Y when he went on to level 2'
'Oh, Y works with Z who I met at the Alliance Francais classes'

etc etc.

My first french class had twenty people in it from 15 different countries! Apart from struggling with the language, you all have plenty in common - basically you're all in a foreign country, struggling with the culture shock, and feeling like you're on a big holiday. Consequently, you end up making lots of friends...

I'm now starting to reach the opposite end of the spectrum though - I've been here long enough that I haven't been to a class in many years (that doesn't mean I can speak french, just that I gave up the classes!). You begin to see that people are coming and going - most expats are here on limited time contracts, working here for just a few years. Even those who are here due to relationships are tending to strain at the leash, and want to move either home or to another country.

Ideally the best thing would have been to have made more local friends. The french however are difficult to make strong relationships with. Plenty of acquaintances, but it's been hard to find more than that. While that's part of who the french are, it's my own fault really - trying to immerse yourself in a culture is difficult, and something you have to deliberately push yourself to do. Sit back and lapse into english conversations, english bars etc is all too easy...

June 28, 2006

Moving to Paris II

I've found an apartment! Bit of a relief really, as getting everything to happen in synchronisation with everything else was more stressful than it should have been. I was either going to end up paying rent on two apartments for three months, or be homeless for god knows how long.

I'll explain in more detail, but I'll also try to explain how to actually go about getting an apartment in Paris.

My first problem was that my lease contract required 3 months notice to terminate it. This is the usual contract in France, although it does make life difficult. There's usually only a couple of clauses that allow you to get out of the contract quicker, and that's if you've either lost your job or there's someone who wants to move into the apartment.

Those three months makes life difficult because when you see an apartment, it's often either available the next month or is already empty. When a landlord or agent is faced with several people wanting to take it, and one person can take it immediately while the other can't for another three months, you can guess who's going to get it.

So you're left with the dilemma whether to keep looking in case you get a place, or wait out the three months and try and pick on up in the last couple of weeks. The risk is not finding somewhere of course.

There's three ways of finding apartments, and each method depends on how much money you've got, or how much effort you can make.

The cheapest but hardest way is through the newspaper De Particulier � Particulier - this comes out every Thursday, and has thousands of houses and apartments to buy or rent. For the rentals, you're almost exclusively dealing directly with the landlords. This means no agency fee and occasionally cheaper rent (since there's no agency to take a cut). You can also find fantastic bargains from landlords who either don't know the worth of their property, or aren't greedy.

The downside is that the competition from would-be tenants is fierce, compounded with the fact that landlords are paranoid of tenants rights. This means that an apartment is shown on Saturday afternoon say, and several tens of people turn up to see it - lots of impatient queuing, and I have been in a queue where after several hours we heard a call from the top of the stairwell (where the apartment was), that the landlord wasn't showing it to anyone else!

Each person will be clutching their dossier, which contains the following;

Photocopies of ID's
Salary statements
Agreements from friends or parents to be a guarant (person who'll pay your rent if you skip town)
Photocopies of the guarant's IDs
References from former landlords and/or employers

The guarant will probably have to be someone who lives in France too. These aren't rules, and a landlord doesn't always demand all of them. However, they usually do. If you're from abroad, the landlord may insist on *six* months rent in advance! My advice is don't do it - there's no law requiring this, and they don't deserve it. Move on and find a more reasonable landlord.

The second way is through estate agents. The agency fee is equal to 4 to 6 weeks rent. This reduces the competition considerably, and you'll often find yourself the only person looking at an apartment. You'll still need that dossier though. However, getting to the apartment viewing stage is a lot tougher. There is a good website called SeLoger, which is a great starting place, but you'll need to be persistant in calling up the agencies - they are often out and will never return a call, no matter how many messages are left. Personally I'd recommend this way, since the route is fairly soul destroying.

The final method is to hire a concierge, who will do all the running around for you. They'll find the apartment, and then arrange the viewing if you need it. Expensive, but if you can afford it I'm sure they're worth the money. The trick to finding a great place to live is having someone on your side who is in the know and has great contacts.


So, my new apartment is on rue St Martin, smack in the middle of town by the Pompidou center. My former estate agent let me off the three months notice, and everything fell into place nicely. Next step is the actual move, which I'm not looking forward to at all! It's a fifth floor apartment, with a lift which is only 3 x 5 foot wide...

June 26, 2006

Six more years to become Junior under-assistant to the PA.

A good friend of ours, Matt, has just left Paris to return to the UK. He loved living here, but found that the french corporate structure was preventing him from moving his career fast enough. Generally advancement was determined by years of service rather than merit, and he was constantly frustrated by being stuck in a position where he knew he could do better. From the US and UK style of working (anglo-saxon as they call it here, as though we were a bunch of vikings or something), it might appear that he didn't put himself forward enough, but that wasn't the case - they actually prevented him from even applying for internal positions, saying that policy dictated minimum experience in certain roles before moving on to others. The policies of this company were quite bizarre, and possibly I shouldn't tar all of french industry with the same brush, but when he stated his intention to leave, they claimed it was company policy *not* to give references.

Back home you did hear of stuffy accounting firms that still called each other by Mr so-and so, as though they were caught in a Dickensian time warp, and it becomes an urban myth type joke. Here it doesn't seem quite so funny, and if I ever return to the world of proper employment, I'd be extremely wary of taking on a job in France without trying to get a rough idea of their office style. Don't forget hand writing analysis is still taken seriously here as part of the job application process, hence the reason cover letters are often required to be handwritten. So far I've not heard of anyone having the bumps on their head felt for a job though. The expectation of having bizarre testing methods does soften the blow of having to put your gormless photo on your CV - perhaps the first culture shock our politically over-corrected senses will feel if you intend to come here to work...

I should be careful not to be too critical - there's been a lot said lately about how french workers produce more than UK workers for less hours. While nobody's arguing the less hours (did they include coffee and cigarette breaks?), the actual numbers could be dodgy.

ps. on checking the spelling on Dickensian, I found out Chas's real name was Charles John Huffam, and his pen-name was Boz! Good job the Boz didn't catch on, otherwise we'd all have Bozian christmas's etc...

pps Good luck Matt, don't forget Gallic shrugs are really annoying back home, so do it as often as possible.

June 23, 2006

France through to knock out rounds

France beats Togo to go through to the knock out rounds of the world cup. That's such a relief - it's probably a bit of an eighties throwback feeling, but it seems right that the western european teams get past the first round. I've nothing against teams like Togo and um, the US, but real world cups have teams like England, Brazil, England, Germany and England battling it out (with England winning of course). So, hooray, France are through to face Spain, who will probably chew them up and spit them out like a snail in a paella (ok, had a few pints while watching the game).

The psychology of the french national teams (whether it's footy or rugby) is completely bizarre though. It's completely the opposite of the rest of the world. If les bleus are touted to be the winners, they perform dismally, yet once everyone has given up on them, they turn out the most dazzling performances ever, putting even the greatest teams to shame.

One game I remember particularly was in the 1999 rugby world cup they hammered the NZ all blacks. It wasn't a lucky victory either, but one of those games where pure style overcame the odds. The national football team seems the same - in games where they haven't a chance, they can pull something miraculous out of the hat, yet when they're on a high (ie after the 1998 world cup), they produce the most damp performances ever.

This mirror like behaviour seems to be reflected in the french support for the team. Tonight we sat in irish pub on the Grand Boulevards to watch the game. The place was packed with french, who I believed really wanted their team to get through to the next round. Yet as the first half unrolled, the support was little more than disparaging. Only when France had scored a goal did the cheering start. At this point the French were ecstatic, practically peeing themselves at every touch of the ball. So only winners get cheered? In an English game the team is cheered every inch of the way. No matter how badly they're doing, it's c'mon england constantly. Of course if we lose they get ripped to pieces in the post-match dissection, but what do you expect.

I have a gut feeling that the two behaviours are linked - something to do with the french psyche. Given something on a plate, the french will be (or just appear?) disdainful, while hold something back from them, they'll fight like dogs to get it. Strikes, queues, arguments, team sports. It all seems to be in there somewhere.

Oh, and the other difference about the french game tonight - you could barely breathe for smoke. I still feel a bit ill from the stench coming from my shirt, and I didn't even smoke tonight!

June 22, 2006

La Fête de la Musique

So, it was La Fête de la Musique last night - a fact that most people in Paris were aware of (either by making lots of noise, or being unable to sleep because of it!). The weather wasn't perfect, with a little bit of drizzle early on, but on the whole everything went really well.

We did the usual wander aimlessly around, although we pretty much know what to expect from each quartier by now. Around the Place des Vosges there's posh people trying to harmonise, over in the fifth it's the students definitely unharmonising (grunge will never die, it seems...), Chatelet is très tribal etc. The only area I missed was at the Place du Marche St Catherine (great square, long name), where most years there's some cool salsa dancing going on, only I think we got there too early this year, and everyone was just mingling around.

Anyway, I took some piccies with the ol' camera phone (forgot my proper camera, again!). Try to imagine being jostled from every direction with your ears whistling while standing in the shower - should give you an idea what it was like.

fete de la musique
fete de la musique
fete de la musique
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fete de la musique
fete de la musique
fete de la musique

June 21, 2006

Getting ready for the big show

Tonight's La Fête de la Musique! Almost everyone I know is completely fed up with it (or at the very least, disinterested). And to be perfectly honest, it doesn't seem to be as great as the first few times I experienced it. Whether that's due to a downward slump in quality, or whether the novelty is wearing thin, it's hard to say. The idea of it still really excites me, but the last couple of years the bands seemed sparser and less imaginative.

So, for anyone who doesn't know - La Fête de la Musique is always on summer solstice, every year for the last 24 years (this is the 25th anniversary!). The idea is everyone is allowed, or even encouraged to come out onto the street and make sweet music (the musical kind that is). The law banning noise after whatever time it's banned (never figured out quite when - seems to vary with the party), is dropped just for the one night. There will be thousands upon thousands of people out on the streets - back in the UK, new years eve is always a big event with plenty of crowds out, walking, staggering and crawling between pubs, well, FDLM looks like five millenium new years rolled into one. It's also a night to get food poisoning with the merguez hot-dog stands (nothing like US hotdogs, thankfully), and pay zillions of euros for cans of beer.

Tonight it looks like rain though, so we'll see what happens. It's fairly obvious what tomorrow's blog post will be about :-)

June 19, 2006

Desperately seeking someone ruder

I've been reading in quite a few Paris blogs about the rudeness of the French - struggles in the supermarket, battles in banks, fights in the, um, Fauchon. I can't deny that I've had my own experiences of 'c'est pas ma faut', but I saw something yesterday that put some perspective into things.

We were walking along Boulevard Poissonnière in the early evening and as usual it was fairly full of tourists. There's not a lot touristy about the Grand Boulevards, but there is an excess of hotels in the area, so that's the only reason I can think of to explain why there's always so many tourists (musée Grévin? Probably not - more like Hard Rock Cafe). Actually it's amusing to see how many of them put on their best clothes for their first night out in Paris, and then look completely wrong in a, well, let's face it, not so swanky area.

But I digress (in an inverted snobbily way); there was a guy approaching the tourists and the response he was getting was awful. One lady dived away with a look of pure revulsion, another grabbed her bag tightly and ran. I'm sure if there was enough of them, it would have hit the old biddy critical mass, and we'd have had a mob lynching. Fortunately neither of these ladies had any mace.

He approached me, and asked me where the post office was. That was all he wanted to know. We directed him and off he went...

A bit of street wariness against pickpockets is one thing, but this was a sad sight.

June 17, 2006

Tennis, Tennis and more tennis!

I've just been looking at my webstats (again!: Clearly becoming an OCD...), and saw that someone found my blog through the keywords british embassy in france tennis. For this search I come top apparently, which is bizarre since I've never actually blogged about playing tennis at the embassy, and yet play there regularly! The british embassy has the only grass court in Paris, and allegedly top players occasionally turn up there to brush up before Wimbledon - both of those facts have always surprised me, since in a city of 2 million people, how on earth can there be no grass courts (admittedly no-one has a garden to make one though), and also the quality of the court is hardly Wimbledon standard. It is however beautiful to play on, since the garden setting is absolutely wonderful! You do have to watch where the balls go, since they tend to hide in the borders, and I'm not too sure the ambassador would be too keen to see us slashing away at the flowerbeds in search of lost balls.

That could be all over for us now though - my friend who works there, and who books the court for us (our man in Paris), is having his knees removed in some 'I don't want to hear the details' surgery. His season is well and truly over, which is a real shame (for him much more than us).

However, tennis at the jardin du luxembourg is still going nicely - two hours today and we've two hours tomorrow. At this rate we ought to be super-proficient! Somehow we still pale in comparison to most of the french playing alongside us - it looks like they've taken a lot more lessons than us, since their style is just so flowing and natural...

Anyway, back to the webstat thing - apparently it was a combination of me writing an entry about tennis the other day, and a second post on watching football at the embassy that put me top of the search results.

Other searches that find ME are;
two legged dog
things to do on a rainy day

June 14, 2006

Moving apartment

It looks like there's a brief respite in the weather. Perfectly timed I reckon - much longer and it would have been a bit much. My new offices are nice and airy, although yesterday the heat still managed to sap everyone's will to work. Every year it's a dilemma whether to get air conditioning - the heat that stops you sleeping at night usually only lasts a couple of weeks, and that doesn't quite justify the thousands of euros that AC seems to cost. However, it's only June at the moment, and we've got July and August to go, so that seems a bit ominous.

Last night someone found a solution to the heat, and that was to run around the street throwing water balloons at each other. Would have been fantastic if it wasn't for two things - a) I wasn't invited, and b) it was one in the morning.

Sound from the street carries all the way up to my fourth floor flat. It manages to seep easily into the gaping gaps in my windows (gaping gaps?), since I've got picturesque but ancient windows - no double glazing in my century apparently. Normally the street is quiet, since it's not on a main road, but it always seems to be on the sleepless nights that someone decides to deafen his mobile phone, or just plain yell at the walls. A month ago it was a spontaneous football game....

So, I've decided to move apartment. It's not just the noise, more of a strategic downsize because I'm in a huge flat which I don't need and I want more disposable income (I just love disposing my income!).

It's a tough decision to make. Not because of how much I love my apartment or my quartier, but because of the pure hassle of finding a place. The whole process is messy, and not helped by the unhelpful tenant/landlord rules here. Tenants have lots of rights. Landlords also do, but are generally terrified of the tenants rights. Now I've explained about having a dossier packed with all your life details in my 'Moving to Paris' entry, although not to any great detail. Being self employed makes that challenging straight away. But for me the biggest hoop I have to jump through is the three month's notice I have to give to my current agents to inform them that I'm leaving.

The trouble is if I go and see a flat now, the owner is rarely impressed by having to wait three months before I move in. They usually will pass you over for someone who can move in tomorrow. So, my best option is to give my notice in now, wait a month or so, then find a flat. The risk is, of course, not finding a flat. Cardboard boxes and wine in plastic bottles start to appear on the horizon.

So... here's the point of this post. Has anyone got an apartment to rent? Sounds bizarre since my occupation is apartment rental, but I don't really deal with long term rentals. Preferably a studio I guess...

June 12, 2006

Google Analytics

I was recently invited to try out Google Analytics. Not that I'm anything special, as I'm sure thousands of people are beta testing it at the moment, but I have to say it is the most impressive web stats I've ever seen. It knocks the socks off everything else, even commercial packages. For my fun stuff like this blog (yes, it *is* fun!), I use the freeware bbclone, which you can have a nice nosey around here. It's set to show visitors, not hits, pageviews or robots, so if the numbers seem really tiny to you, perhaps you should check that your logs are really measuring what you think they're measuring (most sites can easily get several hundred bots a day, and none of them really care what you're writing about! Most visitors have several pageviews, and hits, well, just what is the point other than to make a really really big number...).

google analytics

Admittedly, I've not been registered very long with google analytics, and my poor little blog doesn't really have that much traffic - although to everyone who does come here, I love you all! In fact, I especially love the 38.5% of you who are returning visitors! A regular readership! I must be writing something worth reading...

The geo data seems amazingly precise - I'm not saying it's accurate (it probably is), but most packages I've seen only seem to approximate where a person visits from, yet Google analytics provides some very snazzy maps.


I'm not sure whether I should be surprised that the majority of my visitors come from Paris and the surrounding area. I think probably I should be surprised - why would you all want to read my ramblings about Paris when you live here? It was nice to see a few people from Corsica, which is my parents favourite holiday destination. After Paris it looks like Seattle is the next hottest place. Is that because you are complete internet junkies, or because I slate Starbucks all the time?

Anyway, that's just the pretty stuff. The more amazing stats are where you can see how deep each person browses your site, where they enter and exit, visitor loyalty and all sorts of stuff like that. You can even see your site with the stats overlaid, so you can tell which links are the most effective, or most ignored.

Cool stuff. Google on their way to dominating the web world even more. I guess at some point we should in principle dislike them, but most of their stuff is just too good...

June 11, 2006

Weekend Sportif

It's been a sporty weekend these last couple of days.

tennis.jpgWe managed to get two hours of tennis on both Saturday *and* Sunday this time round. The courts aren't always easy to get during the weekend, but this time we were fairly lucky. Especially as Sunday's courts were in the jardin du Luxembourg, which is always great even if a bit public. Our tennis is improving quite nicely at the moment though, so it wasn't too humiliating, although I'm sure nobody is that bothered by our performance. Actually my ground strokes really suck, but my serve is getting better and better. I'm one of those terrible tall big guys who can do nothing but smack a full strength serve - it's pretty much if you can return it, then you'll end up winning the point. Unfortunately everyone I play with is quite used to my serves, and they usually return them (which is why I mostly lost today!). Still, things are going well, my serve sounds more and more like a cricket bat than a tennis racquet, and I'm starting to get control of my forehand and backhand...

tennis shadowAll this tennis was in blistering 30 degrees heat (86 degrees F?), and we were practically sliding around in sunblock. Hard work, but not at all unpleasant (actually it was gorgeous!!). There must be something in my past, but I always get nostalgic about tennis in such conditions - the stark black shadow you cast while holding a tennis racket must remind me of a lot of holidays I guess. I tried to take a photo, but you can't get a really sporty shot while holding the camera!

While waiting for the courts to be free we of course lounged around in the sun. The green metal chairs at jardin du Luxembourg are very comfortable, although the sandy floor can be a bit of a suntrap. I noticed that the ducks had the right idea, and they had all taken refuge in the shadow of a statue. I hope you can make it out in this pic (yet again, a camera phone picture, so not too great as usual);

The other sportiness of the weekend was of course the great English football team winning their first game in the world cup. We watched it at the British Embassy, since the beer there is super cheap (thank you British tax payers!). I think I'd prefer a pub really though, but we have plenty of friends there so it's as good as anywhere else. On the way to the Embassy, we could hear a huge amount of chanting going on down some of the metro tunnels. I figured that it was the English fans on their way to whichever pub (my favourite place for this kind of event is the Freedom pub - last world cup you could hear the chanting way down the Champs Elysées).

However, it turned out that they were Toulouse fans on their way to the Stade de France. They were playing Biarritz in a final to decide the winner of their rugby champions (Top 14) league.


They poured onto the same train as us, and were incredibly friendly. It was a bit alarming that they were all jumping up and down together, which made the train bounce probably a bit too much. At one point the driver stopped the train to announce that he wouldn't go any further if everyone didn't calm down a little bit. Bizarrely, the moment the driver started the announcement over the tannoy, everyone *did* stop singing to hear what he was going to say! They then booed a bit, but fortunately we started moving again.


June 8, 2006

Summertime in Paris

[Whoohoo! My 100th post!]

At last! Blue skies and sunburn :-)

It seems to have been ages coming this year, although that could be just selective memory as it always seems to take ages. So now there should be just a couple of weeks before it shoots through the lovely summer stage and into the sweltering, can't sleep for the heat weather. Probably the most booming business in Paris ought to be air conditioning right now, since it barely exists here. Not that it was previously a problem, but the 'too hot' period does seem to get longer each year, and I'm not looking forward to this years...

So, I'm already sunburnt, and the advantages of working for yourself means plenty of opportunities to sneak down to the park and lie around, while all your poor office bound friends swelter away over computer heated desks.

Strangely enough though, it seems to be taking the locals a little while to get into the habit. I went over to parc Butte Chaumont just before lunch time, and there were already plenty of people lounging around. However, they were all quite fully dressed. Shy sunworshippers perhaps. I marked out my spot, stripped of my shirt and illuminated the surrounding area with my glorious whiteness, feeling somewhat self-conscious that I was the only one baring anything, expecting any moment the park police to leap out from some bushes and blow whistles at me.

Slowly as it got into lunch hour the park filled up, but still only a few people were sunbathing. They seemed to be mostly leather-skinned octogenarians (probably younger than they looked though).

Still, I was happy. The only thing I can think of is that it's still a little chilly for the french. The other day while sitting in our favourite cafe at Bastille a guy walked past in a suit and scarf. A scarf!!! There's plenty of people still in wooly jumpers and coats. How do they do it? I'd have sweated away into a salty puddle long ago. Admittedly I'm not good in the heat - I've the British internal heating that allows us to wonder between pubs in the middle of a December night in just a shirt - which is nothing compared to the girls in next to nothing mini skirts etc. Saturday night, midwinter in the UK - nowhere else in the world compares, although I'm sure you're all fairly glad of that.

Anyway, hopefully a few more days and my lobster redness will have faded back to the minor burns level, and I can pop down the park again..

June 6, 2006

Test for Technorati

Technorati Profile

June 5, 2006

Boulangerie pecking order

I've recently moved offices to near Bastille, which is an area I already know very well since most of my friends live in that area. Today I set out to buy a sandwich for lunch, and was hoping to find a nice boulangerie that I hadn't seen before.

The reason I wanted a new one is that the one I already know about has the most bizarre staff, and is usually far from welcoming. However, their sandwiches and cakes are pretty good though (not fantastic, but good), so I do go there now and again.

Unfortunately today I couldn't find another boulangerie (I'll try a different route tomorrow), and ended up there again.

The tall guy who stares at you intensely wasn't there, so it was slightly less of the 'Deliverance' ambience today, but the Madame of the boulangerie was in her usual fine form. She stood rock solid by her cash register, while the staff dashed around taking the orders. They'd then tell her the order and she'd tell you the amount and glare at you. You'd then pay, but have to put the money in a little bowl. Don't ever hand the money like some foolish foriegner since apparently life threatening germs can be caught from grubby coins and notes. She'd then take the money and toss the change into the bowl, which you'd try to scoop up while not getting in the way of the person behind you.

My sandwiches were in a bag just next to her, but I couldn't quite reach them (partly because it felt like taking the favourite squeaky toy from a rottweiler). She stood there and stared at me and I stared back (kind of, my stare was more directed at my sandwiches), and eventually one of the serving girls came over and handed them to me.

Her behaviour isn't all that unusual (for boulangeries) actually. It's not the majority of boulangeries (all the local ones near chez moi are really nice, and they're very happy to see you), but I've come across this in a handful of boulangeries now. Of course it's a culture difference, but not one that's going to sell more bread...

June 3, 2006


I've just got back home after a quick trip back to the UK. The Eurostar managed to arrive on time, and everything went smoothly. It does seem to be only when I go to the station to meet people getting off that it's late...

As I was getting off, some Americans behind me asked what station it was. I said 'Gare du Nord', and they looked puzzled, so I said it again. 'Not Paris?' they replied, looking worried. Then another worried American in front of me also said 'What? Where are we?'. I told them it was Paris, trying not to grin, and they all looked very relieved. I want to tell myself it was my terrible pronounciation of Gare du Nord, which of course is incredibly hard to pronounce, putting 'mille feuille' well in the shade. But I am hard pressed to really believe that, since the American in front had been speaking fluent french a bit earlier. So, it would seem to be a lack of geography knowledge, although possibly the blame also lies with Hollywood, who seem to think that Gare du Paris should exist (along with snowstorms in London).

Here are a couple of other examples (sorry, but Americans do speak rather loudly, it's hard not to overhear. Is it because your country is so big?);

Half an hour after leaving Gare du Nord on the eurostar;
'So this is England?'

On emerging from the channel tunnel;
'Are we in Ireland now?'

and of course, when an American finds out you're English;
'so you're from London then?'

I'm only teasing though. Americans are lovely really :-)

June 2, 2006

City of Twinkling Lights

TwinklingEiffelTower.gifI've been several times on the tourist boats that putter up and down the Seine, although I've only ever tried the Vedettes du Pont Neuf so far. The boats are quite nice, although close up they're not as picturesque as you might imagine - the usual plastic seats looking a bit worn around the edges etc. This is the first thing I've realised about these boats, and that's to go on them when it's dark! Now I'm being a bit mean to the boats because the real reason to take the trip at night is when Paris is at its best and all the lights come on!

Every bridge along the river is lit beautifully (and recently in the olympic colours, although that was a bit premature!). The boats also have high powered flood lights that light the banks of the river. From the boat this is fantastic, from the banks it's a different story - just don't look directly at the boat if you want to see anything else for the next five minutes.

The one thing you should try to do is find a boat that gets to the Eiffel Tower on the hour. From 9pm the tower does its twinkle act, and this is a real high point from the boat! The twinkling only lasts about ten minutes, but usually stops everyone in their tracks. Initially the lights were part of the millennium celebrations, but they were only designed to operate for a year. After being taken down, there was a general popular opinion that they had been a great thing, and 20,000 new permanent lights were installed.

The new lights were turned on for the first time during the fête de la musique of 2003. Possibly it was a mistake, but the lights on the bottom stage didn't come on, and the bottom remained just lit in plain yellow. The tower looked like a bottle of champagne with the glittery part being the foil top! By the way, fête de la musique is on the 21st of June, and is an amazing spectacle. Thousands of people are out on the streets (more than I've ever seen even on new years eve), and everywhere people are playing music.

Finally, here's a little pic from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, all nicely lit up;