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Paris in winter

3 Jan

A day out in Paris: an art exhibition, exploring the Christmas market, great food and strange fashion.

What to do

The exhibition du moment is Claude Monet at the Grand Palais. Over 200 of Monet’s best paintings have been reunited in this special showcase, including some of his best loved works such as “Les Coquelicots.”

Monet: "Les Coquelicots"

Claude Monet, "Les Coquelicots, Environs d'Argenteuil"

People waited in line outside for hours, yet once inside the rooms were so full you had to queue to see each painting. Impatient art lovers forget their manners and there was much pushing, sneaky queuing and swearing in true French fashion. And that was just me. Read The Telegraph’s review to see what you’re missing. The exhibition ends 24 January.

The Christmas market at the end of the Champs Elysees is well worth a browse. Selling everything from furry hats to watches, rich tourists left laden with gifts. The best part is no doubt the food; from sweet treats to cheeses and sausages, the air is thick with tempting smells. There is even a special ice sculpture exhibit and fairground slides for little ones. It certainly puts Cardiff’s measly craft and food stalls to shame. Unfortunately, it is very popular with tourists, and the crowds can be off-putting.

Eating out

You can’t get much more French than Le Relais de l’Entrecote.

le relais de l'entrecote

Le relais de l'Entrecote's only dish: steak frites

The famous bistrot had tourists waiting in line outside until the doors opened at 7pm. Alarmingly, there is no menu. Ushered to your seats like children in a school canteen, you are served a small and flimsy salad for starters. But then comes the main course; juicy steak and homemade frites allumettes with a rich basil sauce. As soon as your last mouthful is finished, the brisk and no-nonsense waitresses dump a second portion on your plates, despite any protests you may have. Even with a dessert and a coffee, you’re out within the hour and the second seating begins. The efficient service and excellent food have earned the restaurant its top reputation much like the famous Chartier. I defy you to find a more French menu anywhere. For very reasonable prices, these eateries pride themselves on giving tourists and locals alike a classic taste of France.

Trends

Doudounes uniqlo

Doudounes from Uniqlo; invading Paris

Doudounes appear to be the height of cool. I have been informed by a current lyceen that owning one, especially an expensive one, gives you cool status in school. About eight years ago, we banished them to the backs of our wardrobes after years of wearing unflattering knee-length ones which made us look like Michelin men.

Michelin man

The Michelin Man look is back, apparently

Now they are back and invading Paris. In all colours and price ranges – because, yes, there are designer doudounes de luxe which cost hundreds if not thousands of euros – they are sported by people of all ages and backgrounds. You cannot walk down the street without being assaulted by an army of doudounes… it’s enough to contemplate buying one, except I know I’d look like a prize wally upon returning to the UK.

Christmas preparations on either side of the Channel

20 Dec

In the UK, you definitely know when Christmas is approaching. As soon as November rolls around, we are bombarded by television adverts and signs in restaurant windows warning to BOOK NOW or say goodbye to the office Christmas party. Not to mention the fairy lights overkill and eerie plastic Santas hanging from windows.

These signs suddenly materialise overnight, knocking us over the head with their forceful message: “Christmas is here; spend, spend, spend!”

The changes are much more subtle in France, however. You might be forgiven for not even realising the festive season is approaching. Most towns splash out on a few lights and stars for the main streets, and only a small number of people get slightly carried away decorating their houses.

Christmas decorations overkill

The perfect example of tacky Christmas lights in Britain

This is a far cry from big events in the UK, like Doctor Who Matt Smith turning on the Christmas lights for large Cardiff crowds.

Tacky and over the top are not in the Parisian vocabulary. Sadly, the same cannot be said of these Brits who have truly gone to town with their house.

Paris manages to come alive nonetheless. The Christmas lights on the Champs Elysees are a lovely sight. The small blue fairy lights twinkle in the long rows of 450 trees, and the Christmas market is rustic and tasteful.

The highlight has to be the decorations in the Grands Magasins. The Galeries Lafayette and Printemps on Boulevard Hausseman are famous for their incredible window displays. The toy animations are family favourites which change every year, attracting thousands of specatators. This is the most extravagant it gets, and with the luxuary shops spending millions on them, they are better than all the British extravagance put together.