Wednesday, 8 December 2010

New! New mirror! New HD video tour of the premises! That's a whole lot of new!

As if the bathroom hadn't had enough love and attention already this year (repairs, additional tiling, extractor fan), recent events dictated changing the mirror.
I really liked our previous mirror; discrete, it swivelled round to store toiletries, looked smart and, er, cost only 55€. Then the cleaning lady pulled it off the wall. Then I screwed it back on again. Then it fell off during the night and gave some of our guests a nasty fright.

Although it was intact, two corners had been seriously smashed, and it was very obviously time take to take action. So, I had a new mirror cut, lugged it across town and fixed it to the wall, aided by the ever wonderful Alain. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that it's still hanging there ;-) Anyway, it does make the bathroom feel bigger, which can't be bad.
Taking new photos to show it off also inspired me to do a new video tour with our flash new camera (that films in HD). The old tour was lovely of course, but it did last 2'15", showing every last detail of the place. After having watched it a couple of times it just felt s-l-o-w, so the new HD tour clocks in at a zippy 43 seconds, and although focus is a bit wobbly from all my fast panning, it is by all accounts a much more succinct and smarter experience. Check it out below. You may need to click bottom right to get the full 720p wonderfulness (plus the four little arrows to go fullscreen).

Music is still by the amazing Esthero. 'Bout time she brought some new stuff out...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Another great Paris resource - Gogo Paris

I always used to favour TimeOut guides when travelling, as they seemed to be the most hooked in to cool and unusual things to see, great bars and restaurants, etc. Nowadays, I'd be more likely to rely on an iPhone app or the web, because print guides are around 6 months out of date even before they're published, and then they're only updated once a year at best.

Gogo Paris used to be a small, regular print guide to the city, and a great read it was too. Very hip, with lots of excellent, quirky, interesting things to see and do, I was a bit sad to see them stop publishing and go web-only. I thought the move probably spelt the beginning of the end.

I was wrong. Since then, Gogo Paris has gone from strength to strength, their website and Twitter feed are essential, and - best of all - bang up to date. They have loads of info about new fashion events, openings, the best exhibitions, gigs... basically the sort of guide I'd like to have for every city I visit. It's like having a plugged-in best friend living in Paris. I've been here for nearly twenty years now, and many of the tips I could give would be the same as theirs.

Recently, Gogo have started producing bi-monthly PDF guides, which is a brilliant idea, and I decided to take the plunge and buy one. At 10€ it's not cheap, but it's well laid out, there's an awful lot of bang-up-to-date info in there, insider tips from Paris illuminati... and they even mention the Great/Canal apartments! I think that means we are now cool.

The guide starts off with a summary of essential new exhibitions and upcoming concerts...
...then for each area there's a quick debrief of what's new...
...followed by several pages of listings of shops, galleries, must-see places and insider tips for each part of the city...
...and you can click on the links given to go directly to the websites of each place mentioned. Just look at all the stuff they recommend for the area around the Great Apartment! Each dot is something great!
With over 50 pages of info, the Gogo Guide is a concise, stylishly-presented and hip resource that will help you get the most out of your stay. It must look excellent on an iPad (if only I had one), and their iPhone app is coming soon too. Yay!

There are however a few improvements that could still be made. I'd like to be able to click on an address and be taken to Google Maps for example. The index isn't clickable either, which would make referring to articles a lot simpler. And the price may also make you think twice; On one hand, it's only 10€, less than an (out of date) paper guide, barely more than two beers. On the other hand, it is a full 10€ for something that will basically be replaced by a newer version in two months' time, and 10€ is quite a lot compared to, say, iPad apps of magazines that typically offer the latest edition - with a lot more interactivity - for less than 5€.

Those niggles aside, I'd recommend Gogo Paris' guide without hesitation. You can get the latest edition here. Go go!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Paris by Mouth. A handy restaurant resource for English speakers

One of the questions that people often ask when arriving at the Great Apartment - especially if they don't know Paris - is whether there are any good restaurants around, and of course there are! We loved Derrière and very much enjoyed Le Cochon à l'Oreille, but there are many many more places that are probably excellent, if only we had the time to get round to eating there.

Paris by Mouth is a new site that could well be of help to a lot of people for a number of reasons.

1. It's almost all in English, which is incredibly handy for those of you who can barely grunt anything more complicated than 'baguette'.
2. It's a collaborative effort with both original content and aggregated reviews from a number of trusted food blogs, all written by Paris residents, meaning that there are several trusted views on each restaurant that you can compare.
3. Having a large group of contributors means that there's something new to read every day.
4. There's a very handy filter that allows you to hone down listings by area, price and - genius - certain days of the week: a lot of places in Paris are closed on a Sunday or a Monday, and Lord knows even I can't remember which ones are open when, so this is a very welcome feature.
5. They even have special sections for bakeries and ice cream parlours, an ace idea.
6. And if all that wasn't enough, there's also a great links section, so the extra curious can click off left and right to their heart's delight.
The site is the brainchild of Meg Zimbeck, an American freelance journalist based in Paris who has been writing about the city for years now, awlays with her keen sense of what's hip and what's hokum (earning her the job of Paris editor for both Budget Travel and BlackBook).

Paris by Mouth is fairly new, and the sometimes slim listings pages will undoubtedly fill out over time, but you should definitely have a look at the site's reviews by Meg and all the other gastronomic bloggers. Their no-nonsense personal experiences will help you avoid the tourist traps and over-hyped disappointments. And don't miss their daily porn section either. Actually safe for work!
photo: Meg Zimbeck

Friday, 1 October 2010

Keeping up appearances for our two year anniversary

The Great Apartment is two years old. Yay! Back in September/October 2008 we probably didn't really realise what we were getting ourselves into, but time has gone so quickly and we've have so many lovely people come to stay. We're really grateful to all of you. Apart from the people that put grated carrot down the shower, obviously (people love that story).

Of course as time goes by, some parts of the place get a little wear and tear, and we want it to stay looking its best, so a certain amount of money goes into upkeep.

The first problem we had was condensation, as there were no extractor fans in the place. Last year we even had to replace the sofa bed mattress because it had started looking nasty. So, in January this year we had some ventilation added to the bathroom and kitchen to try and alleviate the problem. I didn't write about it back then because - frankly - that would have been the dullest article on earth. We'll see this winter whether they do the job or not (and they bloody well better do - having them installed meant a fairly sizeable investment, a lot of trickery with the false ceiling and requesting permission to drill through the exterior wall from the building managers. Not simple).

Actually, the biggest problem, and I suppose it's not a bad problem to have, was finding some time when the apartment wasn't full in order for work to be done! Strangely, the bathroom needed the most work. We'd had some grief with our smart-looking shower for example, especially the glass door which turned out to be pulling itself away from the wall. Extra fixings solved that, but left nasty holes all up one side, even if you'd have to stand in the far corner to see them. That's been fixed, at last.
The accumulated condensation in the bathroom had made some paint crackle and come away from the wall and surface near the window. Add to that a couple of unfortunate guest incidents - like leaving your electric curling tongs to cool down on the paint, burning it brown - and it was obvious that this needed redoing. After camouflaging the corner with a plant (not terribly successful) we decided to have this area tiled to match the rest, and get the wall repainted. Looks like new! (erm, because it is).
Apart from that there have been a few paint touch-ups where things got banged, and a new coat of paint on the front door makes it look a little smarter. Unfortunately there was only time for one coat, because our workman's grandmother died in the middle of it all, and he had to fly back to eastern Europe for the funeral. We'll get a second coat on there sometime soon.

All that took about three days, and as the door had been sanded down, we completely cleaned the whole place afterwards to get rid of the dust. And it was everywhere, believe me.

Having the apartment looking like new was also the excuse to take a few pictures with my smart new Lumix LX-5. It's great in low light and has a wide angle lens that makes the place look huge! Actually, our last guests told us it wasn't as small as they had expected, and people often say that they don't feel cramped because everything is well thought out.

We actually have some more work coming up in the not too distant future, but I'll tell you about that another time. We think you deserve to have the place looking smart for your stay, and intend to to keep it looking that way.

Thanks again to (almost) all of you. :-)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Are vacation rentals still legit?
Well, are they? ARE THEY?

Funny you should ask (the answer is 'yes', of course, before you start getting worried).

I may or may not have commented for this recent article on the Budget Travel site, and that may or may not be the window box at the Great Apartment adding floral splendour to the page. Yay!

Click the image to read the full article, given extra incite by the rather wonderful Meg Zimbeck. More about her very soon...

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Our cute new table lamp

I actually quite liked the old lamp. Tall. Majestic. Chic. Cost 25 euros. Can't really argue with that.

But one day a couple of weeks ago, the bulb went. At least I thought it had gone. I went to the trouble of buying a new, energy-saving, eco-friendly bulb (15 euros!), and it still didn't work. I tried taking the lamp apart. Impossible. I tried to open the switch unit and plug to see if anything was the matter there. No dice. It was all very solidly moulded together. And utterly, utterly dead.

So there was no choice but to go and buy another lamp. And with guests arriving the next day, it had to be done pronto! Luckily, we have one of Paris's greatest department stores - BHV - just a few minutes away. After wandering round their lighting section getting more and more distraught, I finally came across this adorable fella.
He just happens to be by the same people that make both our overhead lamp in the living room and the little light over the mirror radiator: Artemide. Their stuff is great. And not cheap. But great. But not cheap.

Anyway, it was gold(ish), it was smart, and I was desperate. There you have it. Hope you like it!
Wondering what track was playing on my iPhone during the photo shoot?
Amusingly, it's called Let's Get Intimate! Click here for more info on my music blog.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Our own little Arc de Triomphe

This is one of the reasons that I love love love Paris.

On my bike route between the Great Apartment and my apartment is this impressive edifice, the Porte Saint-Denis, modelled on the Arch of Titus in Rome.  Theirs is 'only' 15 metres high, whereas the our Porte Saint-Denis is 25 metres high, and although Rome's arch dates from 82 AD, ours is pretty damn old too: it was constructed in 1672 and still looks pretty sharp after recently being sandblasted. Hope I'll look this good when I'm 430 years old.

I must say, when the sun hits it from the south side, it is quite breathtaking, and as it's hard to believe that it was once a gate to the city, right on the edge of town...
What I especially like about it is how incongruous it is, a huge arch in the middle of an otherwise fairly ordinary Parisian neighborhood. Some people have apartments that look directly onto it, which probably guarantees either continual amazement or constant shadow.
I also love going down there, not because it's just next to one of my favourite bars, Chez Jeannette, but because it is one of the most improbable endings to any Parisian street that you are likely to see. This is how it looks from the north...
...and to prove that it's been there for a very long time indeed, here's a photo taken from the Albert Kahn archives, showing how it looked - perhaps more regal still - in 1914. I love this photo. I think one day it would be great giant size in the Great Apartment kitchen to replace our yodel-friendly mountain scene.
If you'd like to go and see the Porte Saint-Denis yourself just head north from the Great Apartment on boulevard de Sébastopol or rue Saint Denis (takes about 10 minutes on foot). The former has lots of traffic, the second has quite a grizzly collection of ancient (but harmless) hookers. Your choice.

You'll also find a few more photos here on my Flickr account.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Abruzze. Yummy Italian-ness.
And Corsican-ness. And Spanish-ness.

Being in the centre of town, there are many, many eating options near the Great Apartment (click here to see a few), and although Abruzze isn't a restaurant, it might be a good option for a snack at lunchtime. Each day, they make up fresh sandwiches with different Italian meats (or Corsican, or Spanish), and you can add an Italian cake and a drink for 7.50€, which isn't expensive.

You can eat in if you want, or perhaps take your mini meal to the nearby Jardin Anne Frank.
The store also has plenty of other sliced meats, cheeses and dry foods that look rather yummy. If you're in Paris and don't have time to pop down to Italy or Spain, you could just buy all the food here!
They also have an enticing selection of wine and drinks, perfect for taking back to the Great Apartment. Everything you need for l'apéritif!
Abruzze is at 33 rue de Montmorency (just turn left out of the apartment and you'll see it on the opposite pavement before you get to the main road). As they say on their sign, Buon appetito :-)

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Quick help needed with Google

I few months back I went to the trouble of registering the Great Apartment on Google Maps, but I didn't realise that this would also make it show up in Google searches (a handy bonus).

Not only do we turn up, but - in France at least - we are the first result on the first page! That means that if you type Great Apartment Paris and click "I'm feeling lucky", you're directed immediately to our site. Kinda cool.

However, I know that Google results can vary from country to country. Could our loyal readers from abroad try typing Great Apartment Paris into Google and leave a comment to say whether we are top of the list in your country too? I'm curious to know... Thanks!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Inspiring horticulture

We've always made an effort with our plants at the Great Apartment. The window box in the main room is renewed regularly (er, because things keep succumbing to my relentless overwatering) and the geraniums at the bathroom window were added in Spring of 2009 (although they all died off and had to be replaced after the extremely cool winter we had last year). Very well they are doing too.

We even bring the green-ness indoors with a plant in the bathroom and a little cut flower in a vase in the main room. Sometimes they're sweet, sometimes they are undeniably super lovely...

Until now it seemed that this effort had gone completely unnoticed by the neighbour opposite our bathroom though; his windows had remained desperately bare... until very recently, when we were glad to see that he'd finally invested in a window box, a pot holder, a tub and even the watering can to look after it all. Perhaps we have inspired him! Soon his plants will be looking very funky indeed.

But wait just a second. How funky is funky? I mean, what exactly is our neighbour growing? Let's get a close-up...
Man! That is the weediest weed I've seen for quite a while. You can tell he's new at this. Some gardening lessons would probably do him the world of good. Mind you, I suppose that if he had an enormous lush bush of the stuff, the rest of the building might hassle him for a leaf or two... ;-)

P.S. Neither of us are ever going to rival this façade on rue de Montmorency. Impressive (and slightly annoying) indeed!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Time to meet our biggest fan

It's been hot in Paris. Ridiculously hot. And although the Great Apartment is out of the sun in a solid stone building, eventually it's going to start warming up. And it has.

A popular question from potential future guests is 'do you have air conditioning?', and up until now we've always replied to say that - frankly - Paris is not a tropical jungle and that air conditioning is both unnecessary and bad for the planet. But this week was just nonsense hot. So we finally caved in and bought a fan.

But not any old fan. We've always tried to make the Great Apartment something a little special, so we decided to go for the ridiculously expensive but actually quite smart Dyson air multiplier (i.e. it's a fan).

I have to say, there's a lot of laughable marketing bullshit going on around this product that I really don't buy into. Take, for example, the "uncomfortable buffeting" that comes from ordinary fans. You know? That uncomfortable buffeting that people are always complaining about when they're hot and the fan's on. "Can someone please stop that buffeting?" That's what everyone says.
A fearsome representation of a severe case of buffeting. Very, very nasty. Potentially life-threatening. Look at those huge icy blocks of, er, buffet that will just buffet and buffet you UNTIL YOU HAVE A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.

Nor am I convinced about the air being sped up 15 times faster by a combination of its magical motor thing and a 1.3mm slot (don't ask). But hey, it looks pretty amazing, and the plug is the same colour as our sockets. That's gotta be fate, right?
The thing that will surprise most people (for a limited amount of time, obviously) is that there are no blades to hack the ends of your fingers off, so it's pretty darn safe to use and easy to clean (at least I agree with that part of the spiel). Of course, I had to try it out for you, so here's my really thrilling film of me turning it on.  And watching it move. And putting my hand in it.

My favourite part of all the techno-jargon on the box is this gem:

"Illuminated start/stop button so you can use it in the dark". They've though of everything! All those fans we had before just stopped working at sundown. Genius.

Anyway, forget all the hype and just pleasure yourself with the non buffeting, fifteen times blowier-ness of it. Just don't break it OK? ;-)
Oh, and don't watch this video report from Which UK that basically says it does the same thing as a fan that costs ten times less. Ouch!