Thursday, 29 January 2009

Metro giving us lurv for Valentine's Day

Really chuffed that Metro have mentioned the Great Apartment in their Valentine's Day in Paris article. New York and Boston editions are out. More to come...

Monday, 26 January 2009

Feeling sporty? Got cash?

Paris obviously has enough going on to keep you busy every day for weeks, but if you'd also like to keep your fitness regime going during your stay, perhaps you'd like to know about a couple of cool places nearby where you can sweat to your heart's content?

Photo (c) Christian Lagat

First up, the Suzanne Berlioux swimming pool in Les Halles, named after a former coach of the French swimming team. I remember when I used to visit Paris in the eighties, I found walking through Les Halles and looking down at this olympic size pool underground impressive and bizarre; there are windows at ground level that look down through the tropical hothouse onto the water.

I used to swim here in the afternoons when I was working odd hours at the Novotel hotel nearby. It's great to have a huge pool practically to yourself. However, go in the evenings after work and the place becomes a kicking factory and elbow punchup. Anyone who dares to go slower than the others in his/her chosen aisle will be shown no mercy! Note that the water is pretty cold, which is actually a godsend when you're doing endless lengths.

A couple of other things that always amused me there: quite a few men standing up in the shallow end, very obviously showing off their pecs, and the signs in the men's locker room stating that no 'dubious' behaviour will be tolerated (I've even heard stories about men being thrown out after being found together in cubicles).

For: late opening (until 10 or 11pm weekdays), big pool, 5 minutes from the apartment
Against: quite dear (4 euros), swimming cap obligatory, not for leisurely swimmers, often not open before 11am (check opening hours here), tricky to find? (click here for the entrance to take and turn left at the bottom of the escalators).

Swimming not enough for you? Need to 'pump iron'? The most stylish choice in the area would be the brand new Usine gym.

When I arrived in Paris, this 18th Century building was a Moroccan restaurant called "At the Camel's Foot" and the "Casablanca Private Club". Not sure any of us miss those very much. Now it is the latest branch of the ultra-hip (and consequently pretty damn expensive) Usine gyms. Usine means Factory, which sound very 80s New York to me, but once inside the ambience is very much Parisian: cold stares and perma-tans obviously, but also solid stone arched ceilings, careful lighting and designer changing rooms.

Yes, they made me take the whole tour (I tried to look suitable impressed). Yes, they were a bit bristly and didn't quite understand what I was doing there. No, they wouldn't let me take photos. Idjuts!

Anyway, the place only opened a few weeks ago, and although they prefer not to shout about it they will let visitors in for a cool 45 € a day, "space permitting" (they were very careful to stress this, although during my visit - mid-afternoon admittedly - I only saw about five people). Their address is 16-20 rue Quincampoix (map here) and you can check out their site here (click Paris-Beaubourg on the right. I found it a bit difficult to navigate their Flash menus with Firefox). They're open weekday from 7am - 11pm and weekends 9am - 8pm.

For: brand new, fairly quite for the moment, 3 minutes from the apartment, stylish
Against: eye-wateringly expensive, major superiority complex

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Feather Gallery - Galerie Plume

Galerie Plume is just two doors down from our apartment. I've been going past it several times a week for over a year now, and it might as well be called Galerie Vomit as far as I'm concerned; I think I've only ever seen one exhibition in there that I could call 'better than rubbish'. But hey, I'm no critic right?

Anyway, passing by last Thursday - surprise! - their new exhibition looked rather enticing. My enthusiasm was not to last long though; as soon as I stepped inside, a rather loopy-looking man ran to stop me from getting off the doormat. Wet paint, he said. When could I come back and see the exhibition then, I asked. 6pm, he said. It was already 3pm. His paint had 3 hours to really really dry.

As it happened, I couldn't go back that day and haven't been back since, so I can't really say if the exhibition lives up to its promise. Checking on the gallery's site, it turns out to be a collective effort by students of Paris' Beaux Arts school. Not only did I miss the grand opening with nasty wine and a 'performance' but if I don't get a move on I'm going to miss the whole thing: the exhibition ends January 23rd (from the looks of things, they opened a week late).

Happily, the following event looks interesting too. Starting January 30th there is a photo exhibition by the wonderfully-named Skye Parrott. She has photographed some rather cool groups (Test Icicles, Justice, Devendra Banhart, The Go Team, Arctic Monkeys) and has lots of other nice, unpretentious stuff visible on her site that I'd be happy to go and see at the gallery. If the paint's dry of course.

P.S. There are a lot more galleries in the area, and I'll be making sarcastic, uninformed comments about some of them in the near future. ;-)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A place to go for breakfast... or a 7pm drink

We rather like the bar La Fusée (2 minutes down the road from us, here). It's colourful, friendly and noisy without being a shouting match. The crowd is young, the décor's kinda grungy, the waitresses are always smiley... I like that kind of atmosphere, and it's a great change from the quiet, designer order of the apartment.

Stopping there for a quick crème the other day, I noticed that they offer three different types of breakfast, depending on how hungry or skint you are feeling.

- 2.80€ for a coffee and bread & jam (the board says 'tartine'. Could be Nutella, could be all sorts of things).
- 5.50€ for a hot drink (not limited to coffee), freshly-squeezed fruit juice or another type of juice (not freshly squeezed), and either a tartine or a pastry (usually a pain au chocolat, croissant or pain au raisin).
- or 10.50€ for the full-on I'm starving and I deserve it because I'm on holiday breakfast, with hot drink, juice, French toast (or eggy bread as I like to call it), and - good grief - a plate of cold cuts and cheese.

You may want to skip lunch after that. Here's a hint though: a glass of wine will help to get your appetite up again.

Another great thing about the bar: it's open every day from 11am until 2am. Simple! I'm looking forward to a little warmer weather to make the most of their terrace. Again.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Our historic street includes the oldest house in Paris!

OK, our apartment might be all designer and modern and stuff, but step out of its warm cosiness and you're straight back into old school Paris, including - just opposite our building - the oldest house in the city! It dates from 1407 and was the home of Nicolas Flamel, a writer.

Funnily enough, I got a book for Xmas called Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget's Paris, with photographer Christopher Rauschenberg following in the footsteps of Atget, a French photographer best known for documenting a fast-disappearing Paris in photos. Rauschenberg takes identical shots of the city, but 90 years on. Funnily enough, it was Berenice Abbott that brought Atget's photos to the attention of the world, and a book called New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbott's New York is also available. But I digress...

This is the photo of Nicolas Flamel's house at the end of the 1990s, as seen by Rauschenberg...

Here's what the street looked liked for Atget in 1902...

And here's how it looked on the morning of 7th January 2009, 107 years later (it was bloomin' cold too!)

Frankly, things haven't changed that much down rue de Montmorency (apart from the building on the left that looked black and is now white), and I doubt that the next 90 years will see any radical relooking either.

One striking thing is that even in Atget's 'historic' time, a lot of period detail was already hidden; it is only when the building was restored recently that certain stone carvings were found. Here's what it looks like up close (plus it's a little less stark in colour):

It's currently a restaurant, which we'll be trying out before too long to tell you what it's like. First impression is that it's a bit Disneyland Paris (i.e. faked up and chintzy) but let's wait and see...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Lessons learned in 2008

2008 was a great year for us. We are not property moguls or interior design experts, so seeing our first apartment finished (and rented!) was - frankly - very satisfying.

Because of the apartment, the year went very quickly. I first visited it on 31st January 2008, and to be blunt, it looked like crap. Remember ? (cue wave-like fade effect...)
No toilet, no bathroom, lino, mould... the kind of place where you wanted to wash your hands after leaving. Signing off on it took forever (we almost gave up), and there were a few hitches with the work that had to be done, but it was finally ready in October, and since then it's been going really well!

So what have we learnt during the first few months of rental?

- if you compose a window box with 50% of plants that need little watering and 50% that need constant watering, half of them will die. All the time.
- very expensive golden coffee tables look amazing. And get incredibly scratched. Immediately.
- even very very nice guests sometimes steal things (have a nice life, little Lock 'n' Lock).
- bathrooms full of glass, mirrors and stainless steel take a shitload of time to clean.

And contrary to my fears, meeting and greeting people doesn't have to be cheesy or tedious. I genuinely enjoyed welcoming people to the apartment and trying to help them get the best out of their stay in Paris. It was the bit I was dreading, but I've found a taste for it. Call me sentimental...
So what's next? Well, I'm looking forward to adding a few things (ivy at the bathroom window for example), tweaking a few things, improving a few things. I think it's important to make an effort and keep everything looking great. It's too easy just to sit back and think that the money will just roll in. For a start, money doesn't just "roll in": there's a fair bit of behind-the-scenes work to making an apartment a success (blogging is just a tiny part of it), and secondly, anyone trying to make lots of money does not do it by renting an apartment out. For the moment we are content to be able to pay the mortgage, and any eventual surplus will doubtless go into upkeep.

Of course, we'd like to thank everyone who stayed with us in 2008, everyone who said nice things about the apartment, everyone who gave us suggestions (we're always open to comments) and everyone who said they would be back, or that they would recommend our place to friends. We've met some very laidback, friendly people, and it was a pleasure to have you!

So 2008 was the year we believed in our project and went for it. We even got away with nicknaming it 'the great apartment'! Amazing how far blind faith (and bank loans) can get you, eh?!