Episode 5: How to travel in Paris: Métro, Bus, RER, and Tramway

Ever since I set foot in Paris as a jeune fille au pair I found that circuler dans Paris — moving around Paris — has been a straightforward task. Travelling around France’s capital city is a rather simple affair. The public transport system is relatively quick and inexpensive. There are four different modes to choose from: métro, bus, tramway or RER (Réseau Express Régional — the Regional Express Network).

Le métro is the heartbeat of Parisian life; it’s the city’s identity. Almost everyone living there uses it. It avoids the mauvaise circulation — traffic congestion — that ‘snails’ from place to place over-ground. Of course as a visitor you might be tempted to walk or catch a bus; tourists usually have more time on their hands! Walking is a great way to see the splendours of Paris – look up and admire the architecture that is so reminiscent of the Ville Lumière — City of Lights.

So back to the métro! For me, it’s the best way to experience and ‘feel’ Parisian life as lived by locals as they dash here-and-there, in-and-out of underground stations. What’s more the métro system is so straightforward. There is none of this ‘northbound’/‘southbound’ exasperating nonsense that have tourists trying to assess which is which. The signposts in the métro provide you with the number of the specific line and its destination, in addition to the list of stations and the connections. Some stations, such as Cluny – La Sorbonne (line 10), are a must see; delightfully decorated with mosaics. It is located in the 5th arrondissement, in the heart of the Latin Quarter. The main fresco, created by artist Jean Bazaine is titled Les Oiseaux — ‘The Birds’. The remainder of the ceiling features the signatures of writers, poets, philosophers, artists, as well as scientists, kings and French statesmen associated with the Latin Quarter for eight centuries. Names such as Molière, Rabelais, Robespierre, and Richelieu can be discerned.

Jean Bezaine Les Oiseaux
Cluny-La Sorbonne train station in Paris

The other methods of transport such as the bus and tramway allow you to sightsee and explore the French capital while going from A to B. Or perhaps if you feel like having a lazy day! You can buy a single ticket that can be used on the different modes of transport within the city and costs €1.90 or you can buy a carnet de dix — booklet of ten. There is something for everyone — daily pass — Mobilis — for €5.80 which is ideal for visitors. For regular passengers there are weekly and/or monthly Navigo pass at €63/month which in my time in Paris was called the carte orange due to its colour! There are weekend passes for youth at €4 and Imagine R student pass for those under the age of 26. The RER is a commuter train connecting outlying suburbs and other destinations such as CDG Airport (RER B), Disneyland Paris (RER A) and Versailles (RER C) to the heart of Paris. Ticket prices vary depending on the zones you are connecting with.

Whether you use the métro, bus, tramway or RER, travel in Paris and Ile-de-France region is relatively quick and simple. I must say if I’m not walking I usually opt for the métro!

Feel free to tell me about your experiences of Parisian public transport and your preferred mode… Thanks for sharing.

Episode 4: The French Food Market and Food ‘tout court !’ – just simply!

Cheese and wine are reason enough to visit France; oh, and a good-tasting baguette or pain de compagne – country loaf. French stalls are so carefully laid out; they take such care with their produce. They recognise the importance of their cultural heritage – leur patrimoine culturel – and food is an integral part of that culture. They are aware of the value of what is old; they take pride in repairing and refurbishing anything from a falling-down wall or a crumbling village fountain where, once upon a time, the local women used it to wash their laundry. It’s about meaning and memories; all this material culture shapes who they are.

Haricots verts of natural and varied sizes; not those uniformly-cut! Even aesthetics has crept into our food. Here, peas-in-the-pod, mmm, the idea of shelling them and creating delightful combinations for this evening’s meal… umm with what? Let’s ramble some more…

I’m after getting side-tracked! A boulangerie – bakery – you will find all sorts of bread. Scrumptious smells wafting from the kitchen – behind the scenes. Les brioches, my favourite – full of salted butter – mouth-watering! You have, no doubt, happened upon the many chocolatiers – craft chocolate makers – or discovered one or two pâtisseries – French pastry shops – on your travels to Paris. I am always enthralled; my eyes are entranced by exquisite gâteaux of all shapes and sizes, mouth-watering, these pastries look as good as they taste!

As I step back in time to when, as a jeune fille au pair, I first set eyes on the mosaic of pastries I was mesmerised, wow, such choice, perhaps too much! Non, there is never too much! I appreciate good, bitter chocolate, and strong, but not-bitter, coffee, and so my choice of gâteau was, for quite some time, an opéra – mmm – just to think about it I can taste the delightful marriage of chocolate and coffee; all those layers… the onctueux – smooth chocolate, the rich coffee, what a mélange – a match made in heaven. So back to recalling this first time… the young shop assistant asking me to repeat, opéra, no less than three times! Of course I was not accentuating the ‘é’ of opéra, and she failed to understand my accent. It’s like the ‘fada’ in Irish; it indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced ‘long’. So in the end I just pointed to it – ce gâteau là ! – getting rather impatient, I suppose that is why I wanted to speak French without my Irish accent! Don’t worry I wasn’t traumatised or anything!

Every time my husband and I take a trip to Paris – or to France in general – the predominant theme that informs our vacances is food. We are constantly in pursuit of that original pâtisserie, bread, café, restaurant that heightens our senses.

Laurent Duchène, 238 Rue de la Convention, Paris XV, is a pâtissier with the edge. His work is colouful, creative, and bien entendu, tasty. The Club pistache griotte is a favourite of ours; L’exodus is a personal choice, go try it out, it’s worth the detour. And there’s so much more; the colourful shop front will entice you. We never leave Paris without having our box of macarons – not to be confused with macaroons. Made with almond flour (ground almond), Pierre Hermé, 72, rue Bonaparte, Paris VI is a renowned name in this speciality. But don’t forget to support small, local food businesses that produce their bread and pastry from scratch in the early hours of the morning, they are just as inviting so check them out. À suivre

A Day Trip To Clonakilty, West Cork

A few weeks ago my sister and I were spending a long weekend at our parents’. It had been a very long while since my sister had been to Clonakilty, a quaint town in West Cork. We travelled there one very wet Saturday morning just after breakfast, at about 9 am. We had no agenda, just the idea to soak it up! As I’ve previously mentioned in another post my husband and I lived in Courtmacsherry for a number of years, a ten-minute drive from ‘Clon’ – as it is known to locals – so I acted as her personal guide for the day!

In less than two hours we arrived, found a parking space in the local Catholic Church yard. He rain has subsided. We went to the Olive Branch first; a health food shop established in 2004 and a remarkable place for healthy foodies. It also offers a great range of skin care products. The staff is only too delighted to be of service. Check out their website: https://theolivebranch.ie/.

From there we had decided to stroll though the main street, but, as we move to the door a deluge has started. So we wait… and wait… We make a dash for the car which isn’t too far; but far enough when there’s a downpour! We grab two umbrellas from the car and I decide to exchange my canvas footwear – yes I agree a rather impractical move this morning – for ankle rain boots, ah! much better, my feet are grateful for the dry comfort.

Return to the main street, people are dashing in and out of shops. Despite the rain the locals appear to be positively pleasant. By now we are feeling peckish and are enticed into the Arís Café and Wine Bar. The place is bustling with an energetic atmosphere – plenty of locals with a dash of visitors. A young waiter accompanies us to our table upstairs. We sit by the window with view on Asna square. It’s 11h30 so we opt for coffee and scones; we pile on the better and jam mmm! We delight in soaking up the atmosphere that reveals itself as friendly. They have an appealing selection of mouth-watering cakes and pastries as well as an inviting lunch menu. We both encourage you to stop by for a bite – you won’t regret it. Check out the website: https://www.ariscafe.com/.

With our stomachs satisfied we head out into the damp street. Despite the heavy showers is a vibrant feel to the town. We explore the main street; stopping and starting as we go. The Clonakilty Bookstore is a lovely place to while away a small half hour – but don’t forget to buy a book! It shelves some unusual and interesting books about West Cork and Ireland in general. There are two other book shops but we didn’t have the time to pop in there.

There are oodles of restaurants and cafes; craft shops and boutiques dotted about the town. As we are stuck for time we thought a picnic – in the car – was the best option; I wanted to bring my sister to Inchydoney Beach. We went to Lettercollum to get food-to-go with a healthy twist. They have an organic garden in Timoleague – a village located between Clonaklity and Coutmacsherry. We both decide on the roasted vegetable feta savoury tart. There is a small seating area that caters for 3/4 people, already taken! But I’d recommend you trying the food; it’s scrumptious. Visit their website: http://www.lettercollum.ie/. The place is packed so we set off to Inchydoney Beach. It’s about a ten-minute drive from the town.

We find a parking spot overlooking the beach. We indulge on our savoury tarts, ‘oohing and aahing’! The mist is rolling in over the bay from the Atlantic but that does not deter people from taking a walk, surfing or indeed swimming – without any wetsuit in tow!

It’s two o’clock; time to head home to Castletownbere. My sister is enthralled by ‘Clon’. The place is friendly, dynamic and has an altogether positive vibe. There is much more to be discovered so please do check out: https://www.clonakilty.ie/ for more information.

Storm Lorenzo has gate-crashed…

Starring as a hurricane in the Caribbean, Storm Lorenzo has arrived on Irish coasts even though he was not invited! Following the same trajectory as Storm Ophelia two years ago, he has swept its way across the north Atlantic hitting the Azores on Wednesday. Moving slowly north east, it had been downgraded to an extra-tropical storm upon arrival to Ireland’s shores early this morning.

Winds picked up during Wednesday night; status orange warning has been issued for the western and south-western counties. Our emergency services are on stand-by. The country braces itself for yet another storm. The last number of years has observed an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions worldwide. Ireland has not escaped…

As I settle myself cosily, I watch the waves surge upon the rocks and the shoreline below. The frothy splashes remind me of a cappuccino; it’s time for coffee. I switch on the espresso machine… mmm the smell of coffee brewing pulls me away from the window. Coffee in hand I settle down to writing.

There are, no doubt, many of you who have experienced tough weather conditions. However, here in Ireland we have never been used to extreme conditions; summers never too hot, winters never too cold. Yes, plenty of rain and mist in winter, but, generally we’ve been accustomed to a predominantly mild, stable climate. Due to global climate change the Atlantic is warming up; such hurricanes that previously headed into the Caribbean and eastern coastlines of the United States are now finding their way to the east of the Atlantic towards Europe. This change in trajectory is said to become a more common occurrence.

The last few years, perhaps even seven or eight, there has been a change. Of course, we’ve had the odd storm but they were far from being frequent. My husband has spent the past few Festive Seasons in France with his immediate family and I have spent it with mine. Each time, prior to going away, winds and rain would intensify “will the flight be delayed?” or “will the flight actually take-off?” I’d leave my husband at the airport, somewhat reluctantly, and head-off on my two-hour drive to my parents’. The winds were so strong that they would shake the car and rain so heavy that I’d have to use the windscreen wipers at the fastest speed position. I could feel the car being moved by the wind. It was always a sigh of relief to arrive at my destination; and once I heard from my husband, well, I could relax!

It’s supposed to get worse tonight; I do hope we don’t have a power outage! Last storm there were parts of the country, including where we live, without electricity for over a week due to fallen trees. À suivre…

Sorry I’m late with this post; wanted to post it last Thursday evening! Something unexpected came up and had to go… hope you enjoy reading it even if a little late! Thanks. P.S. The north-western part of the country was the most affected; they experienced gale-force winds and a lot of rain and many places got flooded. At least yesterday and today are dry with sunny spells.

Food Glorious Food…

Unique and quirky Siopa Gan Ainm –Shop With No Name – is located on the Coal Quay at number 3 Cornmarket St, Cork city. This farm shop and café is open from Wednesday to Saturday. It serves wholesome, honest-to-goodness local food. The shop sells fresh-farm vegetables, meats, free-range eggs, cheese, milk, jams and honey as well as being used in their dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch and ‘high tea’. This is where I go when I need to go to the city. The chef starts the day by offering breakfast; there is something for everyone, whether you are in the mood for a hearty breakfast or a light bite of French pastries such as croissants. Drop in for your mid-morning coffee and scone. Lunchtime offers a daily dish-of-the-day alongside the usual menu. Pop in for afternoon tea with a slice homemade tart topped up with freshly whipped cream or a slice of cake; there is a great selection of ‘leaf’ teas. Here you will find all local produce, menus cater for vegetarians too. I usually enjoy the ‘veggie breakfast’ if I’m having an early lunch and I’m fortunate enough that it’s still being served at that time of the day – the best poached eggs, just as I prefer them otherwise my choice leans towards the ‘veggie toastie’.

Siopa Gan Ainm

There is a homely feel to the place. The owner and staff are friendly. Be aware that waiting times can be (but not always) a little long but please bear with them. Staff members are overseas students who want to improve their English. Once your plate is placed in front of you, you will not be sorry for the wait. Whether it’s the homemade soup or grilled sandwiches, the food is always tasty. The seating is colourful; tables are placed somewhat haphazardly as the place is small. Regulars have no problem sharing their table if needs be as it can get very busy; they enjoy a good banter. There is always someone to chat to; however, there are newspapers and books if you prefer to read. During the winter months there is a wood fire burning which brings a cosy atmosphere to the place. I enjoy having lunch there when I’m in town and usually indulge in some home baking afterwards. Drop in for a look and perhaps you’ll stop for a bite…

The shop is associated with the weekly Saturday Framers’ Market, also located on the Coal Quay. From 9 am stalls are erected; home-grown vegetables, homemade breads, goats’ milk and cheese, locally-grown apples, and plants and flowers. So much to choose from… during the summer season locals are delighted by the presence of Irish-grown summer fruits – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – scrumptious. And, to top all that, pots of homemade jams are arranged alongside the wonderful-tasting fruits. We are fortunate enough to be an island nation and, therefore, fresh fish is easily available. All these family-run businesses are an inherent part of Cork’s cityscape.