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Entries about markets

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A weekend in Paris with people who know what they’re doing

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So I had visited Paris a couple of times before and done the classic tourist route of The Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Eurodisney. But I knew from the start that this trip was going to be different. With four friends now living in the French capital it was long time for a rendezvous – but this time I would be at a major advantage… staying in a proper Parisian flat, with people fluent in the language and who are totally and every so coolly in the know about the ins and outs of that vast cultural epicentre. So, in a rather pretentious manner, I told my hosts that I didn’t care about the Arc du Triomphe and Sacre Coeur, and that I wanted to do whatever they normally do. And so we did. And so I saw, a completely different city. Scenes from a Paris that I didn’t even know existed were acted out before me, and enchanting visual spectacles along with numerous culinary delights filled my weekend with excitement.

I emerged from the airport somewhere in the region of the second arrondissement and was greeted by an icy blast of harsh December wind shooting through the winding tunnels that make up the immensely labyrinthine underground world of the Paris metro. I headed towards the exit, fighting against the stinging chill in the air and ice covered steps and popped out somewhere that instantly looked fantastically Parisian. Creamy, weather beaten apartment blocks with an array of stores and restaurants nestled below them lined the streets in all directions. High above, long, rectangular windows embellished by iron railings looked out onto the bustling world below, and lonely glowing lanterns cast a movie-worthy hue on the frost-nipped pavements. I looked around me, inquisitively and delightedly taking in the distinctive ambience. But naturally, was quickly escorted to a bar for my first vin rouge of the weekend.

I woke bleary eyed the next morning and was taken for breakfast on Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle where I was greeted by a perfect buttery-melty croissant, freshly squeezed orange juice and café crème, which although were delicious, were seriously expensive, proving my suspicion that Paris is capable of breaking the bank regardless of whether you’re in a tourist trap or not. Next, we headed over to Rue de Rivoli for a browse around the shops, in particular the BHV department store – one of my friends’ favourite places. It was then suggested that we went for a spot of lunch in the area of Paris where she works on the outskirts of the city, so that I could see somewhere different and try an authentic locals in the know meal. So off we hopped to a place called Fontenay-aux-Roses, to the Braserie L’Odyssee, and sat in a squished corner on a tiny table surrounded by hungry French workers – brilliant!

The menu du jour was extensive and baffling but thanks to my year 7 French I managed to decipher that cheesy onion soup and steak and chips with some kind of onion sauce (most things seemed to be based around onion) was indeed an option – and what a marvellous choice it turned out to be! A huge steaming bowl of comforting wintry goodness arrived as my starter and I tucked in with glee. The rich, rustic flavours of the soup were divine and the juicy breaded topping oozing with herby infusions. It really was perfect, and so, so filling! Next came the robust plate-devouring beef filet accompanied by a potent onion puree and a chaotic mountain of fries. The meal was simply delicious but unfortunately, given the quantity and the soup starter, unfinishable. However, I was most pleased to have dined out with the locals and sampled a truly authentic French lunch.

Of course, we needed a good while for the feast to go down, but by late afternoon we had made our way to the Village de Noël, the ever so festive Christmas market boasted by the Champs-Elysee. The market goes on for as far as the eye can see on both sides of the avenue and offers all of the usual yuletide goodies – mulled wine, hot cider, bratwurst, an endless array of glinting chocolates, and more decorations and gift ideas than one can handle in a single visit. The extent of the market is rather mind-boggling, easily rivalling the German effort, and with twinkling Christmas lights illuminating the sky, and the waft of hot festive treats swirling in the air this is surely one of the best ways to spend a shivery December’s eve.

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The next morning I was taken for breakfast and a stroll along Rue Montorgueil. This lively street had a fantastically olde-worlde feel to it, like a kind of Oliver Twist ‘Who will buy this wonderful feeling’ scene with a Parisian twist. Cheese shops, wine shops, ham shops, and fish shops mingled with flower sellers, tailors and cute boutiques. Inviting cafes, no doubt with a thousand tales to tell, lined the pavements and customers sat out in the morning chill leisurely smoking and sipping away at their coffee. The street had a vibrant, aged ambience, suggesting that it hadn’t changed much in centuries and I truly hope that it stays that way as it remains one of the quaintest and most colourful places I have seen in the city.

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Soon it was lunch time and we headed over to Rue Saint-André des Arts, in Paris’s Latin Quarter. One of my friends knew of a special crepe restaurant and was eager for me to experience it. Creperie des Arts, as it was named, was a charming and amusing restaurant set out in a cave-like style with curious art work and rustic lighting. Tables were housed in stone booths giving the impression of dining in toasty caverns. Indeed, the interior was most peculiar and provided a quirky lunchtime treat. As for the food, there were abundant crepes on offer, both sweet and savoury, and typical Breton drinks such as sweet cider to wash them down. All in all a great time was had!

Next, it was off to Le Marais, which I was fervently informed was one of the coolest areas of Paris. And of course my knowledgeable hosts were right! Le Marais was none other than amazing. With a strong Jewish influence the narrow streets were buzzing with history. Alluring display windows intrigued and contented me and small cafeterias beckoned me to pop in for a warm. Vivid shop fronts and richly colourful awnings enchanted me at every turn whilst elegant squares whispered tales of the artists and aristocrats of times gone by. Chic is the rule for everything on sale along with the occasional flirting with the vintage, and on every corner is an opportunity to take the perfect black and white photo of the perfect Parisian scene.

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The final thrill of my weekend was to be a raclette party (apparently a typically French winter affair) and since I had no idea what a raclette was I was eager to see what it entailed. Cheese, and lots of it – that’s basically what it’s all about. Melting cheese on mini spades under a specially designed table grill then tipping it over potatoes and ham – those French are genius! The problem I discovered was that it is very easy to get carried away. You hear yourself saying ‘oh go on then... just one more slice’ time and time again until eventually, you can’t move. No regrets though, it really was a truly memorable way of ending my weekend in Paris and something that I shall certainly be repeating in the not so distant future!

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And so I discovered that weekend, that as wonderful as the famous landmarks are, they are merely the beginning. The Eiffel Tower is astounding no doubt, but there is so much more beneath the surface of the city, so much to see, to do, to taste – it really is worthwhile making a friend in Paris!

Posted by lauracerys 08:23 Archived in France Tagged markets winter paris christmas eiffel_tower december champs_elysee le_marais frace raclette Comments (0)

Baubles and Bratwurst!

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Frankfurt Christmas Market is an epitome of festive clichés, merry, bustling and with a perfect frosty chill. Although the city itself is primarily made up of modern, industrial buildings, historic Römerberg Square is turned into a quintessential Bavarian winter wonderland at the end of November each year. Infinite twinkling fairy lights illuminate the aisles and a sky scraping Christmas tree acts as a proud and magnificent centre piece. The quaint, wooden-framed buildings enclosing the square offer a backdrop straight out of a Grimm fairytale and provide the perfect setting for this festive spectacle.

Traditional wooden booths, embellished by elegant red and green wreathes, offer a magical array of yuletide treats and are bursting with colours, sparkles and flavours galore. Handmade wooden toys delight and intrigue, whilst mini candle-lit cottages give displays a warm and inviting glow. Opulent baubles and enchanting decorations glint at passers-by, their varying shapes and sizes never failing to impress.

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Traditional German Christmas carols, many of them now famous world-over, are regularly performed, providing a perfect soundtrack for our wintertide get away. And meanwhile the old fashioned merry-go-round entertains children and adults alike, provoking smiles and giggles all-round.

On a cold winter’s eve the deliciously sizzly wurst are perfect, comforting snacks, their rich scent whirling in the nose-numbing air, enticing us over for a nibble. And the sweet toothed visitors are far from disappointed either. Fantastical baked ginger goodies with their intricate designs pose for the festive food paparazzi, the glisteningly sticky pretzels and divine chocolate kebabs never far behind. And perching at one of the market’s bars for an apfelwein or rich mulled wine is a truly evocative way of soaking up the festive atmosphere.

So for scenes and an ambience fit for a Christmas card, why not head to Frankfurt this year for a few days of festive fun! Fröhliche Weihnachten!

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Posted by lauracerys 09:35 Archived in Germany Tagged markets traditional germany christmas frankfurt german carols christmas_market Comments (0)

Getting Dizzy in La Paz

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The sprawling Andean metropolis of La Paz is booming, vibrant and rich in history and culture. The chaotic streets are exhilaratingly bursting with life, with reggaeton and cumbia blaring from every corner along with crowd-pleasing pan-pipe classics, and in the distance, through cracks in the city skyline, the snow-capped peaks assert their dramatic presence.

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A fascinating mix of people call La Paz home, and a modern latino culture vividly blends with timeless indigenous customs, the fashion alone bringing this to light. Ultra-tight jeans and dangly earrings are seen as much as the humungous, rainbow skirts, bowler hats and brilliantly beautiful, woven shawls. A sense of historical wrong-doing and political discontent is forever present in the air, seen simply in the roles played by different city folk, the mixture of skyscrapers and shacks, or manifested in spectacularly striking murals.

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The heart of the centre is occupied by the Iglesia de San Francisco, a dominating reminder of Spanish influences. From here streets spread like veins in every direction, the rhythm of the city pulsating through them, old, new, rich and poor in a melting pot of contemporary culture. Smart, colonial buildings stand frozen in time, as modern, dynamic La Paz inundates around them, taking on a new lease of life. Traffic howls in the air, and overflowing, rattling mini-buses tare up and down the hills like wild toy cars, dodging random boulders on their way, designated location-shouters adding to the civic hum.

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The colourful and atmospheric markets are a souvenir paradise for visitors to the city. The locals are friendly, the colours vivacious and our shopping eyes are welcomed by a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Bright, stripy trousers, llama wool jumpers, pompommed hats, jazzy satchels… All tourists end up looking the same, adopting the must have trends of the Latin-American trip, and oh do we love it!

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A short drive away from the city we find the mountain of Chicaltaya and the Valle de la luna. Both are exceptional examples of the astounding geography of Bolivia and well worth the day trip. The views from Chicaltaya are amazing, stretching to infinity and offering an array of landscapes, whilst the Valle is curious and mesmerising in itself, and satisfies the Indiana Jones in all of us.

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All in all, La Paz is a spellbinding place to visit, providing unforgettable experiences, dramatic environs and an insight into the real Latin America.

Posted by lauracerys 12:50 Archived in Bolivia Tagged markets la_paz andes latin_america valle_de_la_luna boliva chicaltaya Comments (0)

Lost in a souq in Marrakech

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Wailing oboes and mesmerised snakes. Tantalizing oranges and sweet sticky dates. An enchanting laberynth with vibrant twits and turns and more delights to the senses than we could ever imagine. Getting lost in a souq in Marrakech in undoubtedly one of the most exciting travel experiences out there where the weird and the wonderful perfectly combine in the form of the exotic and the alluring which never cease to impress.

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For those of us who are partial to the odd shopping spree, the souqs of Marrakech are none other than dangerous and can easily reek havoc on our bank balance. Each little shop is a cave of beguiling curiosities, ablaze with colour, enticing us to venture in ‘just for a look’. Like a real life theatrical production of Arabian Nights, the old medina quarter throws us amid scenes of Ali Baba and our dreams of an exuberant Arabian wonderland are played out before us.

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Sugar glazed treats and sunset shaded dunes of spices call upon our taste buds whilst jewel embellished tea sets and ornate ceramic tagines provoke thoughts of hosting the perfect riad style dinner party. And if in need of lighting for said arabesque eve, then help it as hand. Brilliant hand made laps of all shapes and sizes vividly illuminate like giant hard boiled sweets dangling from above. And how about a dazzling pouffe or two while we’re at it and half a dozen besequined cushions to complete our exotic scene.

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A couple of stalls along and we are greeted by an array of exquisite slippers, colourful and decorative with prominent curled toes sufficient to make any a wise man proud. Polished silver and deep turquoise (some honest, some faux) twisted into fantastical designs wink at us as we pass by and our purses gulp in fear. Displays of bright, jazzy belly dancing outfits never fail to bring a smile to our faces, but seeing men dressed in them, as is often the case in old Marrakech, is more bemusing than sensual.

Narrow amber and terra-cotta passageways lead us deep into the heart of the souq, their next direction and destination always a mystery. Suddenly, a bold secret door emerges and we long to discover the myriad of stories that lay behind it. Now and then we stumble upon beautifully adorned archways and aureate glassless windows, but we’ll be hard pushed to ever find them again, since the souq is an impossible maze of distractions.

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Donkeys amble by pulling carts of local goods, and at the turn of a corner an agitated foaming camel makes us a little unnerved. But our attention is soon diverted by a grotto full of intricately patterned carpets, and we curse the luggage size regulations for not allowing us to take one home. Our grief is eased however quickly enough, and we conclude that we’ll just have to buy one (or more likely a variety) of the smaller things we have seen instead. Maybe that scarf, the throw, or one of those satchels? Perhaps that decorative mirror for the bedroom wall? How about that drum or the candlestick holder? Or the basket, the plates and the pink shisha pipe?

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The souqs of Marrakech are a whirlwind of colours, sounds and flavours, and losing ourselves amidst their twists and turns of treasures is rewarding and unforgettable, providing us with our own one thousand and one tales to tell.

Posted by lauracerys 07:23 Archived in Morocco Tagged markets morocco camel marrakech donkey spices souq lamps tagine Comments (0)

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