Thursday 29 May 2014

Travel Diary: Paris. On the hunt for a certain crafty "je nes sais quois"!

I can't quite believe that it's taken me this long to visit Paris! Sure, I've been there over the past 18 years on several occasions but it's always been transitional and brief.
Because my partner and I visit his family in Northern France we often change trains in Paris yet never really stopped to look around. It's been a case of arriving in one Gare, taking the metro and leaving via the other Gare. But this really had to change as the city above was calling me... I swear I could hear it whispering my name!!!

Paris had been for me up until now a place o fabled rudeness, intense architectural beauty and a few out of date film stills from "An American in Paris".

Not quite sure what I had envisaged in my mind exactly but I guessed that it wasn't all about street dancing, romance, pavement cafés that spill onto the cobbled roads, pretty little markets, patisseries filled with sweet shapely cakes and crisp fresh bread, rude locals and lots of beautifully dressed people. I can happily report that most of those misconceptions were not as far removed from reality as I had suspected they might be. You see...
actually I'm pretty happy it was a lot like that and though I say I wasn't expecting the dancing... well I lie, I kind of was hoping people would brake out in a shimmy... sadly that didn't happen but so much more did!
More chaos, more rudeness, more cafés and more beauty then I had seen on any screen! It's pretty much a love hate relationship but what I hated about Paris probably says more about me then the place itself.
It's a big city and though I am a big city gal I'm far too spoilt in London as the chaos has a rhythm and a purpose that I can deal with. Paris on the other hand has its own beat set at a different tempo. But hey I wasn't there to dance... though I did click my heels around a lamp post after a few glasses of vin rouge!

pretty yummy but was an undercover shot... to see more of this beautiful bakery check out the website- link above!

Beautiful ceiling... swallows are a favourite so this place had me straight away plus the bread is renown for being the best in Paris!

And after hearing so much about the new wave of designer makers moving into the rejuvenated city centre and hearing all about the new "it" neighbourhoods I decide that this time Paris needed a little bit more of my attention then the usual trying to catch a train race through the under belly of Paris in a ridiculous short time frame and in inappropriate footwear. Believe me it isn't easy! BUT on this occasion I had a mission, a plan and some time. And the right shoes.

all it needed was the addition of "Guerrilla"...

OK, you knew these were going to feature heavily on this post didn't you?

Shadow play and pretty hand made shades in "Nanashi"

"Nanashi, Le bento Parisien" gets pretty busy but they have 2 other canteens so probably no need to book but... check out their website for details:

Though I started off with the best intentions of smart time management with the aid of a list of places to visit, a map, wore comfy clothing, comfy shoes and had the expectation that I would get through my Patisserie list in one afternoon. It was a case of thinking to myself "Ha, easy no problemo, this is no where as big as London!"... but it wasn't as easy as that! Well... Is anything ever easy I ask you?
Oh no, of course not, it was far too big (well big enough!) to check out everything on my list -and the patisseries were dotted around Paris, sometimes at opposite ends of the city so no chance!What was I thinking?- plus I really wasn't prepared for the amazing weather so a lot of walking was done instead of the planned indoor pursuits which included using public transport. Who wants to be underground when there's perfect walking weather?

The sun was blazing and the city felt way too vast to accommodate all my whims in only 4 days. But I did find a few unexpected gems from what is reputed to be the best bakery in Paris to the best button shop with the rudest owner, a brilliant haberdashers which was packed to the brim with lovely things and lots of cute independent shops!

Sadly lots of the designer shops I had planned on visiting weren't open during our outings plus they were not too keen on having photos taken of their stock or their premises. But I find that understandable to a degree... and besides they have no idea of my intentions so even though I told them it was for a blog feature mostly smiled but firmly answered with a shrug and a swift "non".

"Montmartre" is also the fabric and haberdashery area...
Marche Saint Pierre... nice fabric shop but though not my favourite it was still impressive.
Tissus Reine was amazing! No pics though but you have to go just to see the scaled down vintage shop dummies with meticulously accurate clothing which showcases their fabrics!

This whole area is filled with fabric shops and haberdashers...

OK so it wasn't entirely possibly to document my craft hunt but I still found lots of great suppliers and fabric shops especially around the Montmartre area.
Plus we found a cracking restaurant (le petit Cambodge), a city centre oasis on the river, lots of beautiful painted typography/signs on shop fronts, the place where all the cool kids hang out, quirky galleries and that most Parisians have French bull dogs. I know... sounds like a joke but apart from one Chihuahua, hand on heart, every other dog was a Frenchie!

Unfortunately as I have mentioned  I found out that most shops -including patisseries!- didn't allow for photography so lots of the images will be of the outside rather then of the interiors which is a shame... but you'll just have to go and see for yourselves!
The initial plan of taking amazing photos to add to our page won't be as expected but regardless it was a very enjoyable craft expedition filled with pretty images that I'll keep in my memory for a long while! Plus I may add a second part with a few photos that my partner took as he is a much better photographer then me.

A cute gallery which just sold paintings of... cats! My kind of place!!!
And here's one!

Bread, love and fantasy!

More type delights!

Taking away the "no photos please" issue I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of designer maker shops, the variety of indie boutiques and just how friendly the new generation of Parisian shopkeepers are.
There are many interesting shops dotted around the city and not isolated to an area though the Republique area does have a higher concentration.
There you'll find an amazing little street were you can visit art galleries, bars, record shops, boutiques and a beautiful square with a selection of eateries. It's not dissimilar to Red Church Street in East London but nicer and less grimy.
Though do you think I can remember the street name?! I can easily find my way back there from the metro station but on a map I can't seem to pin point it! Sorry but I'll add it as soon as I can find it.

Like in London lots of Parisian designer owned businesses are multi functioning which means they aren't just run of the mill boutiques but also trade as bars and cafés.
I guess that trend is one we see in other cities too as it's almost impossible to solely make a living from selling hand made stock or any stock to be honest.

But one of my favourite spaces had to be Milk (mum in her little kitchen)... a café, deli and gift shop entirely kitted out in vintage furniture and crockery. Serving nice, rustic french brunch by the owner who is charming and super friendly Parisian. The stock is varied selling anything from jams, enamel ware to plastic cupie dolls and vintage post cards. The food's not expensive though as it is Paris it's not cheap either... but it's fairly priced and very delicious. But if you're less of a snack-er and fancy a bigger meal then head down to Lucky Luciano's in the Château D'eau area. It's a fantastic pizza place with gorgeous food, good wine and a buzzing atmosphere. You'll probably end up sitting in a communal table with locals like we did and I'm so glad we did as we met some awesome people. It's definitely a "locals" place so expect to exercise your French!

It was quiet but come 1 o'clock is was full of hungry lunch time workers!

Nice selection of savoury and sweet food!

Coffee was strong and sweet and served in vintage cups which were given to drivers who traded points from buying petrol at Mobil Gas stations... they are now very collectable! I quite like them...

Enamel jugs, vintage toys, hand made gifts and all sorts including...

...jams and preserves!

So if you do have a few days you need to take off or fancy a break and possess enough self control - Believe me Paris is very expensive so haberdasheries and fabric shops aren't cheap. Expect to pay a premium though in general all items are top quality so you're not being ripped off as such but prepare to cry a little every time you open your purse!-  then please do visit but go with time, a list of places to check out, some cash, an open heart and an idea of things you want to do. *Note: Eating cakes can be classed as "something to do", non?!

Cake-o-rama in the oldest patisserie in Paris: Stohrer!

I love the ornate ceiling and the chandelier... I gotta say the French are really not ones for understating and I think in this case it's pretty fantastic!

By this point my stealth photo taking was starting to bore me... but you can see more on the website:

La Droguerie... a must! Lots of beads, buttons, yarns, patterns and tons of amazing inspiration! Not the cheapest but you can basically spend the whole day in there just browsing and not even notice. Though my partner did notice and I could see his pained face staring at me from outside as he sat on the church steps glaring at me trying to catch my attention to beg me to leave the shop. I bet he wished he hadn't told me to take my time!

And another cake related photo, this time Patisserie Angelina. It has the best macaroon I have ever tasted and the tea rooms aren't shabby either... next time we're going in for afternoon tea!

A floating nature reserve which includes a glass house which welcome birds and insects. Great little place on the river Seine but I didn't have enough time to visit it properly! Oh well, next time!!!

Lovely and stylish granny... women of all ages check her out, this is how you do it!

And the obligatory shot of the Eiffel tower. 
But it wasn't all about eating or crafting. An unexpected bonus which we did find thanks to a suggestion from some friends was the weekend flea market. 
Situated in the trendy Republique this massive market is packed with lots of great finds including mid century furniture, vintage home wares and Victoriana curios amongst other things including clothing and even a child run fair where nippers sell their unwanted toys, clothing etc. to other little ones.
Though it was bursting with gorgeous things it was expensive(darn, there's that word again!!!). As I've come to notice in Paris there's a lot of "top end" stuff and not much of the tat which is kinda good and bad in equal measures. My top tips for bagging a bargain is to visit anytime apart from Spring and Summer. Go further a field (outside of Paris) too to find better value and visit during the colder wetter weather as this will allow for bartering. As I experienced with the beautiful sunny weather there was no room for that so maybe next time I'll try again closer to winter.
The marché on every weekend in the Republique quarter...

Too many stalls and not enough time... nor money!

it's a great place to find vintage furniture. It's not cheap but you'll find lots of amazing industrial pieces like this cabinet!

All in all I did enjoy my time there... it was a feast for the eyes. Too many beautiful things to see and too many cakes to drool over. Ha, I can promise you that I didn't even try as many as I had thought I would have. Which kind of leaves me sad but my hips and belly are not.

However a massive bug bear was the over use of English. I was surprised that many indie shops had their names in English and even resorted to the use of puns which I'm sure was lost on most French people.
I can't remember what it was but it made me chuckle at first, then it left a shallow feeling of sadness in my heart. I love languages and I hate the fact that they are being swallowed up and replaced by catchy English tag lines. It's a homogenisation I'm not really comfortable with but it seems inevitable. And you can see that happening in the trendy bars and shops too... there's a certain universal look which implies "modernity" and "cool" but all it really does is make everything look the same where ever in the world you happen to visit...

And Paris is part of this crazy world where there is still lots of great places to discover, amazing food to be eaten, friendly people to meet, opportunities to practice my broken French and lots of creativity bursting out from behind the beautifully shuttered windows.
But it's a part of the planet you can't simply just rush through.
It takes time - there's so much to find at eye level, up above, underneath your feet... argh I could have done with the eyes of a spider!- and possibly it also takes a bit of acclimatising but you'll love it. Or hate it. Or like me... a bit of both! It's an enjoyable experience to say the least and now that I've seen a bit of it I can go back with the notion that Gene Kelly isn't skipping down an artist filled street but instead I will hopping along with a big fat macaroon in one hand and a bottle of rouge in the other... and if the moment takes me I might also do a little soft shoe shuffle along to this city's mesmerising beat! Ah Mr. Kelly, you'd be proud!

*Here are a few random photos of things I found and that inspired me... enjoy!*

Old fashioned loo with amazing kitsch wall paper...

Our Paris home for a few days had the most amazing stairs...though our eyes loved it our legs didn't!

The Louvre gardens... beautiful spring blooms and sexy marble statues! OOH la la!!!

OK maybe I was slightly obsessed but I love sign writing/shop fronts, it's a fantastic art form!

More type...

Stumbing on to an organic market just off Pigalle.

Another fine example of shop fronts and beautiful type!

Gallery LaFayette... has the most amazing interior. Well worth a visit.

The Louvre has the best lawn mowers and completely environmentally friendly!

The "doll hospital" in Republique...the bobo quarter or Paris' Shoreditch!

Art Deco beauty!

An interior door in a pretty French Church...

Stained glass casting shadows...

Awesome door knocker...

Lace and reflections of a Parisian Street...

Love the whole look to this shop front!
An old advertising sign on the exterior wall of Café Blanc.

French Kitty, soft Kitty, Little ball of know the rest!

Beautifully painted shop front...

...And in some closer detail!
Nice bike for hire but I really wouldn't cycle in Paris. Scarier then cycling in London... mental drivers!!!

Shamefully this huge Art Nouveau department store has been left to die... I really hope it's not turned into flats like they tend to do in London.
The new city hang out can be found at the canal St.Martin in Republique and...

It's a hipsters paradise!
And more cakey goodness... giant raspberry macaroon from Angelina!

Our flat had a private entrance to a bakery... need I say more?

Adding a bit of craftivism to Paris! Hopefully the tin flower will be found...

Tired feet on cute cement tiles.

Gorgeous advert on the side of a bakery...

The lovers bridge. Apparently it's in danger of collapse due to the weight of the locks... YIKES that "love stuff" is heavy business!

Tins, glorious vintage tins!

Thanks for reading!