Monday, February 22, 2010

Cool Japan in Paris

What amazes me during my weekend stay in Paris is the ubiquitous presence of Japan. So many Japanese restaurants are scattered around the city. Colette, the "concept store" that sells everything that's cool, exhibits casual fashion brands from Tokyo, including Graniph (my favorite t-shirt brand). It also sells laptop bags and mobile phone cases decorated by Tokyo landscape along with the ones of London and New York. I discover a Paris branch of Japanese socks brand Tabio in fashionable Marais district. Uniqlo, Japan's answer to H&M and Zara, has also opened a branch here. And Japanese patissier Sadaharu Aoki has opened two little stores on the Left Bank, where I bought Pomme Caramel tea (I usually don't drink flavoured black tea, but this one as well as Mariage Freres Marco Polo, which I also bought during my stay in Paris, does make my taste bud tantalized).

Japanese people in Tokyo, especially girls, still adore Paris and France. Parisians now adore Tokyo and Japan.

Colette's website, by the way, streams cool music 24 hours. Check it out.

(This is the last blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the first post.)

Tips for flying to Paris by Ryanair

1. In the baggage claim area of Paris-Beauvais Airport, you can buy tickets for coach services to Paris city center. But they only accept cash. Make sure you have an enough amount of Euro in cash before you board the Ryanair aircraft in your home airport.

2. Make sure you buy a return ticket (28 euro). There is no discount by buying a return rather than a single (14 euro), but you will avoid the long queue to buy a coach ticket when you return to the airport. You don't want to waste your precious time of being in Paris, by waiting to buy a coach ticket.

3. Once you exit the baggage claim area, go straight out of the airport building and walk to the right along the building. The coach to Paris departs from there. The airport map is available on page 8 of the PDF file that you can download from the airport website after clicking Timetable > Passenger's Guide.

4. In 75 minutes, the coach arrives at the bus parking lot near Porte Maillot station, served by Metro Line number 1 (the red line on the Paris Metro Map). Although there is a series of signage that leads you to the east entrance of the station, the west entrance of the station is closer. Head for the large M sign to the right.

5. Paris-Beauvais airport is packed on the Sunday evening when European visitors to Paris all go home by Ryanair and other low-cost airlines. If you need to check-in your luggage, make sure you arrive early.

6. Toilets in Paris-Beauvais airport are badly maintained. The floor is dirty. There's no hook for coats inside the cubicles. If you do need to change your clothes at this airport (say, because you are heading back to icy-cold Nordic countries in winter), use the disabled toilet at the check-in counter side of the airport.

7. Restaurants in Paris-Beauvais airport are not impressive. Try to have your last meal in Paris before you get on the coach.

8. The waiting lounge for boarding passengers is rather small with only a few seats despite a large number of passengers using this airport. Be prepared to keep standing for a while until you board the aircraft.

9. If the budget allows you to do so, avoid flying with Ryanair to Paris. Flying home via Paris-Beauvais airport is such a hassle. And using up your precious time as much as 150 minutes for taking a coach to Paris is a real waste of time, because the French capital makes you stay for as long as possible.

(This is the second-to-last blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the final post.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hotel Review: Hotel Aviatic

I stayed at a single "tradition room" on the 5th floor at Hotel Aviatic from 20 to 21 February, 2010. The room rate was 120 euro per night.

The Good:
Within a walking distance to Gare Montparnasse from which the train to Chartres (famous for the gothic cathedral) departs. Also close to Montparnasse Bienvenue Metro station (Lines 4, 6, 12, and 13).

The staff at the reception is friendly and professional.

The decor with an influence of Oriental motifs.

The Bad:
The hotel looks not as great as its website photo suggests.

As the hotel is only 30 seconds away from a busy street (Boulevard du Montparnasse), the bedroom can be noisy at night.

They charge the wireless internet access (6 euro for 24 hours).

The Ugly:
Breakfast. They charge as much as 14 euro, and what they serve is a cup of coffee made by the self-service coffee maker machine, yogurt bought in a local supermarket, and cold continental breakfast.

The Verdict:
Unless you stay in Paris for one night before going somewhere else in France from Gare Montparnasse, it's not really the place to stay in the French capital.

(This is the seventh blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next post.)

The Louvre

It was on Tuesday when I previously visited Paris. The Louvre was thus closed. So this is the first time to visit the world's most famous museum.

Following the piece of advice by Time Out City Guide Paris, I enter the Louvre from the Cour des Lions entrance (at the south-west corner of the Louvre building) to avoid the queue for buying an entrance ticket. This allows me to enter immediately. The cost of doing this, however, is to get lost.

I've never been to any museum that's so hard to navigate. I want to follow a self-guided tour suggested by the Louvre website. But this document assumes that a visitor enters the Louvre from the Pyramid. It takes a while to arrive at the room of Mona Lisa.

And the way Mona Lisa is displayed is a huge disappointment. Even though the painting is rather small, visitors are not allowed to get close to it. You can only gaze at it from at least five meters. And there are tons of people taking picture of it. I wanted to see why this painting has got so famous. But with such a setting for viewing the work, I cannot.

Forget about Mona Lisa and turn around. There is an excellent painting entitled The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, which is more entertaining than Mona Lisa.

This self-guided tour includes the famous painting of Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, the one that appears in perhaps every country's European history textbook. It's still not clear to me why the woman representing the concept of Liberty has to be topless. Perhaps it was the way to promote liberty to every man. When new technology appears, it's always porn that contributes to its eventual prevalence. Think about the Internet. Porn websites certainly contributed to the initial expansion of Internet users.

After museum fatigue kicks in, I have late lunch at the museum restaurant near the main entrance. Since it's already 3 pm, most warm dishes are run out even though they display those dishes. Every customer asks the lady serving food which food is available. She's apparently in bad mood. And the food is not very pleasant. These days, museums reinvent themselves so they often serve good food as well as nicely decorated cafes and interesting museum shops. But the Louvre, with its horrible direction signs, seems to be still part of the old generation of museums.

(This is the sixth blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next post.)

Viewed from beneath

Do you know what this is?

No? Okay, let me change the angle slightly.

You still have no idea? Okay, see this.

Now you should know what this is.

When viewed from beneath, the Effel Tower is still beautiful. The last time I was in Paris, I just watched it from Palais de Chaillot across the Seine. The beauty of perfect symmetry in a metropolis (which is usually associated with chaotic landscape) impressed me greatly. This time, I wanted to see the Tower more closely.

And I'm impressed again. What amazes me is the design of the tower that allows visitors to see it from directly beneath it. As the elevators climb up the tower along the four legs, there is vast open space below the tower, decorated by eight iron arches (two in parallel in each side). Not only does this allow the view of Palais de Chaillot or of Ecole Militaire to be seen below the arch when the tower is viewed from a distance, it also allows visitors to look up in awe while they are standing directly beneath it. As far as I remember, there is no other soaring tower in the world that has an open space beneath it. Although French people (and Europeans in general) are not a big fan of high-rise buildings (in stark contrast to Americans and East Asians), they accept the Eiffel Tower. I now understand why.

(This is the fifth blog post on the weekend trip to Paris. Click here to the next post.)

Le Café du Marché

As the hotel's breakfast doesn't look great, I do intensive research in Time Out City Guide Paris and decide to visit this cafe as a breakfast place.

A short walk from Ecole Militaire metro station (Line 8) takes me to Le Cafe du Marche at 38 Rue de Cler. It's a laid-back neighborhood restaurant of Paris. I have a pleasant breakfast here.

As I feel slightly ill, I order a glass of tomato juice. They serve it with celery salt. I use it for salad that comes with a tasty cheese omelette. It works like magic.

(This is the fourth blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next post.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Le Petit Marche in 2010

For a dinner with a bag designer friend of mine living in Paris, I picked Le Petit Marche, the restaurant that I liked during my previous visit.

He booked a table from 8 pm though I arrived earlier than that. I found a nice tea salon across the street, but it was actually closed at 7 pm. This tea salon named Le Cafe Chinois looks interesting. I'll visit this place next time I visit Paris.

Four years on, the restaurant now has at least one person who speaks English although he has a hard time explaining the menu to non-French speaking dinners at a table next to us.

The food is unfortunately not as good as I expected. Tartar is too sour. Creme brulee tastes good, but the portion is too large. Perhaps I didn't make the right choice from the menu. Although the friend helped me translate each dish, I wasn't really sure which dish would fit my taste the best.

But I enjoy talking to my friend whom I met for the first time in almost four years.

The place gets packed while we are eating. Even though the restaurant is located at the quiet street corner, there is a queue after 9 pm. According to the friend, this restaurant is very popular with more creative types.

A short walk from here takes us to a series of bars in lively Marais district. We end up in an Italian cafe serving a pot of Mariage Freres black tea with wasabi powder coated nuts. :)

(This is the third blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next post.)

Ministry of Culture and Communication of France

On the way from Cafe Etienne Marcel to Colette, I happen to encounter the strange-looking building at the corner of Rue Croix des Petits Champs and Rue Saint Honore.

(viewed from Rue Croix des Petits Champs)

I am approaching from the back side. I wonder what this building is for, and I first feel surprised and then find it making sense after learning that it is for the Ministry of Culture and Communication of France.

The internet search reveals that architects named Francis Soler and Frédéric Druot designed this government building. Here is the architect's own account of how they designed it.
(viewed from Rue Saint Honore)

(This is the second blog post on the weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next entry.)

Cafe Etienne Marcel

The first thing to do during the weekend stay in Paris is to have a quality lunch. Flying from Stockholm with Ryanair on the Saturday morning does not allow me to eat something until 3 pm (except a piece of croissant at the airport). As I keep suffering from uninspiring lunches in Stockholm, I have to go to a place that serves a quality lunch.

Picked out from the list of "sexy" places in Paris featured in a Japanese magazine Invitation (the July 2008 issue) is this cafe:

I wish Stockholm had this kind of cafe. Then I would frequent it over weekends.

Cafe Etienne Marcel is open everyday from 7 am to 2 am, serving food all day. The cafe is full of contemporary art-ish furniture. It's not really packed on the Saturday late afternoon, which allows me to relax. And most importantly they serve quality food. A simple dish of omelettes (9 euro) comes with fresh green leaves alongside tasty salad dressing. It costs 9 euro with a basket of unpreteniously tasty bread included. Cafe latte also tastes good.

If it were in Stockholm, the cafe would be packed even on the late afternoon, it would close by 6 pm over the weekends, green leaves would be half rotten, salad dressing would have got its taste wrong, bread would taste uninspiring, and coffee would taste unpleasantly sour.

Well, perhaps I'm insulting the cafe culture of Paris if I compare it with that in Stockholm...

(This is the first blog entry on my weekend trip to Paris in 2010. Click here to the next entry.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thai royal family

According to Fabio on his BBC Radio 1 show broadcast last night, the princess of Thailand loves drum & bass, my favorite music genre.

The prince of Thailand is known to be a big fan of X Japan, my favorite rock group from Japan.

If I were invited to a Thai royal family banquet, I would have a great time, it seems.

One thing that I don't like about Stockholm

Today I'm reminded of one reason for why Stockholm has made my life difficult.

When I work hard, I don't feel like cooking on my own. However, there is essentially no decent, budget quick eatery in Stockholm. All those sushi places are no-nos to me because they are not Japanese sushi but Swedish sushi. (In case you don't know, Stockholm has a sushi restaurant literally at every street corner; and they tend to fall in the budget category for some reason.) Good restaurants are all pricey and not the kind of place to visit alone. Supermarkets do not help because they sell mediocre ready meals. The ICA supermarket's "Bombay curry" ready meal is pretty bad, for example. Swedes do not really understand the concept of curry. It's not just the mixture of colorful spice and creamy sauce.

Eating mediocre foods depresses me, especially when I am tired. As a result, I've started to avoid working hard and to hate Stockholm.

In London, I didn't face this problem because there were some (if not many) decent, budget eateries. I frequented the Brazilian delicatessen next to Tottenham Court Road station (which, sadly, no longer exists due to the expansion of the station) in the evening when I was very busy writing up my job market paper. Supermarkets sold rather delicious Indian curry ready meals. I would buy at least two packs of Indian curry a week and eat them when I had to work till late.

A partial solution to this is to ask my parents and friends in Tokyo to send me packets of Japanese curry ready meal. They are vacuum-packed. But sending a packet from Japan to Sweden is quite expensive. I cannot resort to this option very often.

What should I do? After more than 2 years have passed since I moved here, I still don't know the solution.

Someone who's not really a considerate person would say, "Have a girlfriend who is a good cook or a good companion to fancy restaurants." If things were that easy, I wouldn't complain here.