Friday, 29 November 2013

Four affordable and exciting meals in Paris

I knew that eating in Paris would be a heavenly experience, but I was worried that it would be a nightmare for my wallet. Instead, I found out that eating out in Paris is not particularly expensive for European standards, especially if you choose a menu instead of ordering à la carte. Of course you should avoid rushing inside the first restaurant you see, and as in most other touristic places, it's better to read the menu before entering. Here are four places I discovered during my recent trip to la ville lumière. Some of them don't serve traditional French food at all, but as you probably know  in Paris it's almost easier to find a Japanese restaurant than a traditional bistro. My French friends, for example, seemed to have an endless list of ethnic restaurants to try.

1) Café Divan  (Rue de la Roquette)

I discovered this place thanks to my French friends, who have been living in Paris for a couple of years, and knew the neighbourhood quite well. It is close to Place de la Bastille, in a road full of restaurants and pubs called Rue de la Roquette. The menu here is not particularly French: salads, burgers and bagels have the upper hand on poulet roti and soupe d'onion. I have been dreaming about bagels since my last visit to London (I know a place in Columbia Road), but the only place I know that serves them in Italy is in Florence, which I haven't visited in almost one year!  My favourite bagel is the classic one, with salmon and cream cheese. The restaurant was full and there was a very nice atmosphere, with music playing and a bustle of people talking and sampling the gorgeous food.

Bagel in Rue de la Roquette
Bagel at Café Divan

2) L'As du Fallafel (Rue de Rosiers)

This legendary place is recommended by Lonely Planet and by various bloggers, as well as being rumoured to be one of Lenny Kravitz's favourite restaurants in Paris (but then, dozens of places are said to be his favourite in the city he loves so much!). It is located in Rue des Rosiers, a nice and quaint street in the heart of the Pletlz, the Jewish quartier, in the Marais. There is a long queue for lunch, but if you order take-away at the the hole-in-the-wall (à emporter in French) the service is very fast. The falafel sandwich cost me only €5.5 and it was huge as well as delicious. The felafels were to die for, and so were the aubergines and the sauces they generously put in it. I wouldn't hesitate to come back if I found myself in the area again.
L'as du Falafel, Rue des Rosiers, Paris
Crowd in front of L'As du Fallafel

3) Café des Deux Moulins (Rue Lepic)

This is the café/brasserie where Amélie Poulain works in the movie. It is in Montmartre, in rue Lepic, very close to the Moulin Rouge. It is not as touristic as you may think, and it is only slightly more expensive than other places nearby. A formule, which in Paris means you can choose main dish + appetizer or main dish + dessert, comes at €14.90. As it often happens in Paris, I ordered something with a very long name, and what arrived was a pork steak with roasted potatoes. They have a poster of Amélie signed by Audrey Tautou, and of course they serve the famous crème brulée. Clients love to take pictures of themselves in front of the poster!

Café des Deux Moulins, Paris
The Amélie poster

4) Guibine (rue Saint-Anne)

This Korean restaurant is perfect for a break from your long visit to the Louvre. It is located in rue Saint-Anne, half-way between Musée du Louvre and Opéra. This street, once at the heart of gay Paris, is now famous for its Japanese and Korean restaurants. Guibine offers delicious barbecued beef served with plenty of little Korean-style side dishes like the infamous and spicy kimchi, bean sprouts, algae, papaya and so on, washed down with the ubiquitous rice of course. The express menu adds their mouth-watering dumplings as an entrée, all for €12.90. You also get a coffee or an ice-cream at the end of the meal. Your stomach will be ready for another couple of hours at the Louvre at the end of the hearty meal!


Rue Sainte Anne
Korean bakery in Rue Saint-Anne

Monday, 25 November 2013

A visit to the Opéra Garnier in Paris

I'd like to start my posts on my recent trip to Paris with one of the least obvious among my visits, that to the fascinating Palais Garnier, also known as the Opéra. Paris has two opera houses, the other one being Opéra Bastille, but this is the most interesting from a historical and artistic point of view. It is situated at the end of Avenue de l'Opéra (which starts outside the Louvre), and there is a special metro station dedicated to it, called Opéra. It is curious that the venue is now used primarily for ballet, rather than for opera, for which it was expressly designed in the 19th century.

Palais Garnier, Paris
The opera house seen from the busy street in front of it

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

My 3 favourite cities in Spain

Spain is one of my favourite countries in Europe: I have been three times so far and I can't wait to go back. The reasons why I like Spain are simple: friendly people, excellent food and lots of history, not to mention interesting sights. I'm particularly in love with tapas and with the Moorish architecture of the south of Spain, but I also enjoy Gaudí, sangria and speaking Spanish! Here are my favourite cities in Spain. I hope to add more in the future: I still haven't been to Granada or the Basque Country.

1) Barcelona

It might seem obvious to point it out but the main reason why Barcelona is on this list is its vibrant life. Museums, first-rate art venues, mind-blowing architecture, an excellent nightlife and good food, Barcelona has it all.

If there is an artist that has shaped Barcelona, this is Antoni Gaudi, the architect who designed the Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, Casa Battló and other sights in the city. His colourful and inventive style, which is inspired by the form of the natural world, is everywhere in Barcelona. It's really interesting to visit these architectural wonders: just look at the division between the window on the bottom of this picture: they are made to look like human bones!

Casa Battlò, Barcelona
Casa Battló, restored by Gaudí

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The joy of visiting Istanbul's bazaars

Grand Bazaar
One of the joys of visiting Istanbul is to get lost in the maze of the Grand Bazaar. I had heard lots of stories about this bazaar, about how men try to lure you into buying their merchandise, about how you have to bargain for everything you want unless you want to pay an exorbitant price, and how you are sometimes offered cups of tea during the negotiation.

If you look at the inscription on the entrance gates - Kapali çarşi is Turkish for "covered bazaar" - you'll see the date of inception, 1461. The Grand Bazaar was built before Christopher Columbus discovered America, just to give you an idea! At the apex of the Ottoman Empire, it was considered unrivalled in Europe for the quality and the wide range of goods available.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The holy trinity of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia

I will start my insights on three of Istanbul must-sees with a tip: spread these visits on three separate days, one for each day, and leave the rest of the time for other things: the Basilica Cistern, the Spice Bazaar or Süleymaniye Mosque.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is the most famous mosque in Istanbul and its silhouette is almost as recognizable as that of the Tour Eiffel in Paris. It is huge: you can spend plenty of time sitting in the main courtyard, reading a book or watching the people go by. Of course before entering you have to take off your shoes and, if you are a woman, cover your head. The entrance is free of charge, but during prayer time the mosque is closed to the public.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
The beautiful Blue Mosque, the most important mosque of Istanbul

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