Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Buzzworthy Cause

'When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited.' - Ramakrishna

Alex and I are going on a beekeeping course over the next two weekends and while I'm a tiny bit scared of being stung, I'm really interested to study the process involved in looking after a hive. The bee populations in Britain have taken a huge nosedive and I think it's really important to learn about these incredible creatures without whom agriculture would take a serious beating; bees and other wild pollinators are responsible for pollinating up to 84% of EU crops.

Attracted by the 'Bee Lovely' products in a Neal's Yard Remedies window in Borough Market a few weeks ago, I walked into the shop and had a great chat about honeybees with the woman manning the counter, who was very enthusiastic about the 'Save the Bees' campaign Neal's Yard are currently running. Their Bee Lovely range includes hand cream, body cream, shower gel and hand wash; £1 from each tube of hand cream goes to Buglife, Landlife and Pesticide Action Network UK in support of their bee-friendly initiatives. In addition, Neal's Yard are donating £10, 000 a year towards bee-friendly projects. Wanting to know more, I asked the woman what we might do to help the bees on an individual level, and she gave me the following advice.

• Buy organic or pesticide-free products, especially plants, flowers and seeds.

• Plant bee-friendly herbs and wild flowers in your back garden if you have one. Bee-friendly plants include cornflowers, cosmos, sunflowers, dahlias, crocuses, borage, mint, rosemary, lavender, ivy, poppies - the list goes on! You could also let part of your garden go wild to create a haven for insects.

• Don't use insecticides in the garden - use biological controls instead!

• Give a bee a home: put a simple box in your garden and wild bees will use it as a home. A great way to attract bees without the commitment of beekeeping - see Bee Guardian Foundation for more info.

• Buy chemical-free, unfiltered honey from a local beekeeper rather than supermarket honey, which is usually sourced from thousands of miles away.

• Become a beekeeper!

Experts have warned that honeybees could disappear entirely from the UK in 2018. The loss of natural pollinators could cost British agriculture up to £440 million a year and completely devastate our ecosystem, so I think this is a very important cause to get behind! I'll be reporting back on how the course goes - fingers crossed I don't get too many stings in the pursuit of learning how to help bees...

*This isn't a sponsored post in any way - I'm very passionate about the bee cause and thought that the Neal's Yard campaign was a very worthy one to write about on here. There's a great BBC2 programme called Hive Alive on iPlayer at the moment that'll give you a good introduction to how honeybees work. They truly are incredible creatures!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paris: Troisième/Quatrième Jour

We're having a real heatwave here in London this week. I'm currently slumped indoors with a glass of water, too hot to move or even go outside, and the thermometer's going to be pushing 32º C tomorrow - very hot for Blighty! This was very much not the case last week in Paris. It felt almost like autumn was digging its talons into France, soaking the city with an omnipresent blanket of drizzle and blowing cold winds over the arrondissements, leaving the mercury shivering at about 15º. In July.

Despite the miserable weather, I was happy. I was with A, and as they say - Paris is always a good idea. Even if it's chucking it down.

We spent our penultimate morning wandering through the city, pausing in Saint-Eustache church (so much prettier than Saint-Sulpice, where we were forced to hole up during a rainstorm later that day)!

Saint-Eustache has the largest organ in the land. It's a very well-endowed instrument, as you can see.

I discovered a Keith Haring altarpiece, Life of Christ, in one of the side chapels. I say 'discovered' - I had had no idea of its existence so it was a pleasant surprise to happen across it! I think the piece makes a great contrast to the soaring Gothic vaults in the main body of the church.

We left the church and walked into the square that would have once played host to the ancient food market, Les Halles (now unfortunately an underground shopping mall). If you look closely you'll see there's a little person hiding in the palm of this giant sculpture's hand, but she was too shy to have her picture taken.

A and I strolled down to the first arrondissement shopping area, pausing in Colette to wonder at the various gewgaws on sale, like a Lego version of the Simpsons, a Solowheel and the crazy water bar in the basement.

We were quite enamoured with these monogrammed cases outside E. Goyard.

Though not so much with these dog accoutrements in the window...

Next we made a stop in the quite rightly lauded Pierre Hermé - my macaron shop of choice when in Paris! Again, they have Pierre Hermé in Selfridges here in London, but it feels nice to wander around Paris holding a little bag of macarons...

We chose Mogador (chocolate and passionfruit), Infiniment Pistache, Infiniment Caramel (the best!) and Montebello (half pistachio, half raspberry). 

Up next was lunchtime. On Miho's recommendation we went south of the river to Yves Camdeborde's wildly popular restaurant L'Avant Comptoir in St. Germain-des-Près, stopping off just inside the entrance to pick up crêpes. I chose a heartstoppingly (literally) good filling of saucisses and emmental cheese, while Alex chose the special of the day, filled with artichoke, cheese, pastrami, rocket and mushrooms. The rocket was just a little too bitter for Alex's taste, but the artichoke was delicious. We ate the hot crêpes in the rain, under the shelter of a tree in the Jardins du Luxembourg. 

After demolishing our crêpes we had a little promenade around the beautifully manicured gardens, stopping at an installation of a floor map marking out the military movements in France during the First World War. 

On my agenda next was the Musée d'Orsay. The queues were much more manageable this time, and the time passed quickly while we nibbled our macarons! Even sweeter was the lack of admission fee - if you're an EU resident and aged 18-25 you can get in for free.

The museum, housed in a former train station, is a beaut.

There's even old ballrooms attached to the main body of the museum overflowing with sparkling chandeliers and Rococo ornamentation. 

I'd like a giant clock for my house like this please. Reminds me of the film Hugo. There was an incredible view of Montmartre with Sacré-Cœur perched atop its crest in the rain from here.

The main hall that houses the art and sculptures in all its glory. There's some great pieces to see here, including a giant body of Impressionist works, Manet paintings, and collections of Art Nouveau furniture.

Later in the evening we did the prerequisite tourist promenade down the Champs-Elysées.

Alex even got to see the Eiffel Tower glimmering on the hour - Parisians may hate it, but there's something magical about it!

We woke up early on our last morning to have a giant brunch at Café Madam, a little place down the road from us. I had eggs benedict and chocolat chaud, and Alex had...just about everything.

The face of a man who's pretty smug about his breakfast choice.

We rounded off our trip with a walk to the Opéra. Alex and I met over opera (Die Fledermaus), so it was a pretty fitting end to our holiday!

We managed to pack lots into this lovely, if fleeting trip - and I already can't wait for the next time I step off the train in Paris! 

I hope that you've enjoyed my photos from the trip! I'm already itching to go away again (perhaps somewhere with snow - it's so hot here.) Next stop, Turkey!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Paris: Deuxième Jour

I've been brought up to jump out of bed in the early hours of the morning when on holiday to maximise the potential for the day. This time, though, Alex and I decided to try and take it easy, writing down a few things we'd like to do each day but mainly wandering the city flâneur-style, discovering beautiful places rather than planning everything out rigidly. I was a bit stressed at first as this type of spontaneous discovery is slightly against my better nature, but relaxed into it, especially when Alex quoted this line from his Paris book to me.

'Until you have wasted time in a city, you cannot pretend to know it well.'
(Julian Green)

We woke up earlyish on our second day and ventured to the nearby rue Montorgueil for breakfast. Luckily we managed to find a nice-looking boulangerie within about 30 seconds!

We bought a few pastries and a baguette for lunch from Maison Collet. 

After scoffing our petit déjeuner and packing lunch, we walked all the way down rue Saint-Denis, an ancient street that cuts right through the heart of the city, all the way down to the Seine.

We reached the Pont Notre-Dame and marvelled at how beautifully preserved (or restored, thanks to Viollet-le-Duc...) this part of the city is.

We crossed the bridge on to the Île de la Cité, walking through the quiet Marché aux Fleurs to see the spire of Sainte-Chapelle.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't spend so long dawdling on windy bridges in the future. My poor hair might thank me...

Next we wandered to the tip of the main island and went beyond the Pont-Neuf to the Square du Vert-Galant, named after King Henri IV, whose statue stands proudly on the Pont-Neuf.

The Square du Vert-Galant is a sweet little park with benches a-plenty and surprisingly not very many other people. Alex and I walked to the end of it and spied this little prow-like structure at the end of the Île, jutting out into the Seine.

We decided to eat our lunch on it.

We'd only eaten breakfast about an hour before, so we sat and read our respective Paris books for a while. I was learning all about the Norman invasion from this side of the Île, which the Parisians were totally unprepared for.

Appropriate reading given our location!

At the very tip of the 'prow'!

Clouds threatened rain above. Also, that bridge that looks like it's made of gold or bronze, or at least gilded? It's completely covered in lovers' padlocks.

After lunch we walked to the famed Shakespeare & Company, an English-language bookshop on the Left Bank. We'd been pretty excited about visiting for some time after seeing the incredible pictures of the interior, and were prepared to wait in line to be able to go inside!

Pictures aren't allowed inside, but Alex and I snapped a few naughty photos on our trusty phone cameras. The bookshop was far too delicious to resist!

A cat intent on destroying this girl's work ethic in the reading room.

A downpour started while we were in the bookshop, thrumming on the plastic roof over the main body of the bookshop. It was extremely romantic to be trapped in such a beautiful bookshop while the rain came down hard outside, but it also meant Alex and I were destined to get soaked. 

We braved the rain and sheltered under the awning of Aux Merveilleux de Fred on rue Monge, which I'd read about on Lost In Cheeseland's blog! This beautiful pâtisserie sells 'merveilleux', which are  little snowball-like meringues filled with flavoured whipped cream. We bought three - a big Incroyable (meringue coated with shaved white chocolate and filled with speculoos biscuit whipped cream), one small Magnifique for me (meringue coated with almond chips and caramelised hazelnuts, filled with praline whipped cream) and one small Sans-Culotte for Alex (meringue coated with crystallised meringue and filled with caramel whipped cream). Dying a little bit reminiscing over these. Apparently there's one in South Kensington, which I might have to make a little trip to...

The entire area is populated with amazing food shops and pâtisseries, with a gorgeous Japan-inspired bakery across the road from Fred. It looked like there was a market in the area too. I'll have to come back here next time I'm in Paris!

After picking up our sugary treats we jumped on the Métro to the Musée d'Orsay but the queues were frankly humongous. On consulting the guidebook, we found out that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest time for the museum (why?) so we decided to make a visit the next day instead.

We crossed back to the right bank, browsing the bouquinistes as we went. Loving the science fiction selection on sale in this one - brilliant covers!

We walked straight into the Tuileries from the bridge. It had miraculously stopped raining and the sun was starting to peep through the clouds. Alex took a panoramic shot of the gardens on his Nexus.

There were goats cropping the verge in the park. Of course.

We heard a couple of tourists confidently proclaiming that the goats served as a 'royal lawnmower'. Oo-er...bit of a faux pas in a country that abolished its absolute monarchy so spectacularly in 1789...

We settled by the round pond to bask in the sun and eat our cream-filled merveilleux. Now this is my idea of a holiday!

Trop délicieux.

Someone was getting a little bit headachey in the sun.

A man played with his electronic boat on the pond. I could imagine him aged six doing exactly the same thing with a non-battery-powered one...

We walked a short distance to the Louvre in pursuit of respite from the sun.

The bright sunshine prompted us to go in search of ice-cream, and we bought some cones from Berthillon back on the Île de la Cité just as the rain began to come down again. Exhausted and a bit damp, we walked back via a charming little covered passage in our arrondissement and went straight to bed for a nap.

The rain ceased only a few times after this, but all this meant was that we were keen for indoor activities the next day! Stay tuned for the best crêpes I've had in France and a museum located inside a former train station...

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