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Randomly: Quartier du Jardin des Plantes

It was too beautiful a day to head home straight away after our visit to the Panthéon. F and I let our feet did the choosing, and found ourselves heading westward, passing École Polytechnique, walking along rue Monge before weaving past a few smaller streets to arrive at the entrance of the Jardin des Plantes. And oh, finding the Russian restaurant which we went to when we first met had now been replaced with a Portuguese canteen. That’s Paris for you: so much that’s familiar yet things change all the time.

Quartier du Jardin des Plantes

Quartier du Jardin des Plantes

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Postcards: Panthéon Paris (FR)

As a mausoleum goes, the Panthéon is a gorgeous one. Recently, four heroes and heroines of the Resistance were newly interred by the President of the Republic – although two of them were symbolic interments – and as part of the celebration, the Panthéon was free to visit over a few days. We took advantage of it to visit the building itself, rather than jostling through the long queues at the crypt.

Panthéon

Panthéon

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Nationalmuseet: peeking into the Viking’s past

My ignorance about the history of Denmark (and Scandinavian countries) shows. Sure, we have this notion of Viking Age that reigned supreme, and I don’t know about you, but I have embarassingly little knowledge of Danes’ cultural identity, their nation, their kinship, etc. We popped in to the National Museum of Denmark, hoping to learn a few more things, and then we were duly lured by the bright sunshine outside to leave… Terrible, I know.

NMD

NMD

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SMK: a remarkable collection of art

When you live in a city like Paris, spoilt for choice of museums that each has its own niche collection, it is actually refreshing to visit the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, where seven hundred years of art can be found under one roof. Each room we stepped in has its broad theme, some pieces bearing familiar names while others form new lessons in (European) art for me. They made me yearn for some free time to follow an art history class…

SMK

SMK

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Postcards: Rosenberg Castle Gardens (DK)

The oldest park in central Copenhagen, Rosenberg Castle Gardens – also known as the King’s Garden (Kongens Have) is a beautiful spot to leisurely stroll in, even on a day when the sun decided to stay hidden behind the layer of cloud. Tourists by the bus load were busy queueing up for the castle and trying to catch a glimpse of the royal crowns and whats not, but we just wanted to walk around the gardens.

The King's Garden

The King's Garden

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Copenhagen City Hall

The Copenhagen City Hall started its life as a palace of the people, built by the skilful hands of the guilds who also funded its construction. It remains a palace of the people, today the seat of the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and the municipal council, with its door open to all, even tourists who just wish to roam its halls randomly. Getting in is a very informal affair – just walk through the main entrance. (Nonetheless, understandably, not all areas are accessible at all time to everyone, since it is a workplace afterall and not an amusement park – that, is right across the street.)

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen City Hall

Curious culture buff that we are, on finding out there are guided tours of the Rådhus and its tower – costing DKK 50 and DKK 30 respectively – J, F and I made a (small) beeline for them, and soaked up some interesting info shared by a staff who has worked for 15 years in the building and absolutely loves discovering, and uncovering, its secrets. Afterall, the architect responsible for its form and decor, Martin Nyrop, did not leave behind written legacy to describe his toil of 12 years, despite all the intricate details he incorporated to the structure.

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Postcards: Christianshavn (DK)

A short walk from Slotsholmen via Knippelsbro took us across to Christianshavn, a neighbourhood laced with canals and cobblestoned streets. For an area considered part of the city centre of a capital city, it has all the charm of the countryside by the sea. It oozes an unique vibe of cosyness, perhaps reflecting the philosphy of hygge that the Danes subscribe to. Or maybe it’s the waft of herbal joints from the freetown Christiania?

Christianshavn

Christianshavn

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Delicious Danish eats

You know we’ve got to talk about Danish food at some point, no?

Much as I wish I could report back on an experience chez Noma, that did not happen because it’s so freaking difficult to get a table, not to mention the risk of going into an overdraft given how puny my salary is by comparison to the living standard in Denmark. But, there were plenty of delicious things to eat at more wallet-friendly prices *phew*

Danish cuisine

Danish cuisine

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Cemetery parks

I know this is going to sound morbid, but if it is at all possible, I wouldn’t mind calling the Assistens Kirkegård or Bispebjerg Kirkegård my afterlife home. If only you’ve seen how beautiful, well-tended, serene and calming these cemeteries are, you’d wish for such a fine final resting spot too. The famous – and over-crowded – Père Lachaise in Paris would be envious of its Danish cousins.

Cemetery park

Cemetery park

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Postcards: Nørrebro (DK)

On our way from central Copenhagen to J’s place, we travelled past and overhead the S-Tog Ringline. On one side of the road, I noticed colourful structures and street art installation. Unfairly known as the ghetto, according to J, the neighbourhood had seen some riots in the past but the transformation that took place in recent years has brought it new prestige. J happily showed us around this multicultural and bright – and increasingly hipster-friendly – quarter.

Nørrebro

Nørrebro

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Goddag from Christiansborg Tower

Goddag! F and I have been fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in Copenhagen, and to see our friend J who was also a fantastic host, proudly showing off what the Danish capital has to offer. In no time, he got us oriented well and one of the first places that we visited was the Christiansborg Tower – free to visit, by the way – that stands high over a former royal palace but is today the seat of the Danish Parliament as well as the Office of the Primer Minister and the Supreme Court. Parts of the palace remains in use by the monarchy.

Christiansborg Tower

Christiansborg Tower

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Postcards: Saint Étienne du Mont (FR)

Despite my propensity to peek into churches, big or small, as I come across them, for some reason, I have never stepped into the Saint Étienne du Mont. Semi-hidden in the shadow of the Panthéon, the church, or rather its steps, is becoming pretty well-known after Gil set off in vintage car for his adventures in Midnight in Paris. Shall we pop over for a quick visit?

Saint Étienne du Mont

Saint Étienne du Mont

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Siseng

It appears I’ve been flitting in and out several “hip” eating places lately, and Siseng Asian Food Bar is one of them. Each time, I feel just as awkward as ever besides the stylish folks (although I do question the decision of a man stepping in with a bathrobe from a hotel as his coat – F was there too so he can attest to this!) until the food was set in front of me. Then, all else was forgotten and my taste-buds got to monopolise my thoughts.

Siseng

Siseng

After New York, London and Hong Kong, bao burger has landed in Paris, thanks to Siseng. White, pillowy steamed buns replace the traditional sesame burger buns, and two different versions are available: bao burger kaï – marinated chicken burger with coleslaw, red pepper confit and a sauce of basil and coconut milk, or bao burger 5 épices – 5 spiced-marinated beef steak with rocket, spinach, onion confit, onion rings and a sauce of caramelised tamarind. They were juicy and the Asian-fusion flavour combination hit the right spots for me personally. The mid-week lunch menu comes with a serving of sweet potato fries, which makes a nice change from the usual french fries, and housedrink of the day for €15.

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Randomly: Spring

It’s late April. Bar the blooming magnolias, cherry blossoms and daffodils, there hasn’t been quite as much splashes of colour as I’d come to expect at this time of the year. Even many trees are still fairly bare despite the relatively mild weather. It seems the longer I live in Europe, the harder time I have in deciphering the changing season. Or is my memory too kind to the past?

Spring in Paris

Spring in Paris

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Berges de Seine

It was a sunny midweek afternoon, my friends and I had had a good lunch at Ellsworth and we were in no hurry to get anywhere. As we strolled and chatted, we found ourselves heading for the Berges de Seine, which serves as riverbank walk, public space, exhibition hall, outdoor gym, patio-ed restaurants and games room, all rolled into one.

Berges de Seine

Berges de Seine

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Ellsworth

It seems la rentrée is not the only time of the year when we ponder which among the many new restaurants to eat in; there has been a spate of openings of late and by the Palais Royal, Ellsworth popped up on the ground floor of a building that’s currently under works (I thought I’ve got the address wrong when I first noticed the scaffolds) just steps away from its sister restaurant, Verjus, and helmed by Hannah Kowalenko, formerly a sous-chef at the latter.

Ellsworth

It was A’s birthday and as a treat, together with a couple of friends, we headed over for a celebratory lunch. The menu was small (just what I like in places I eat) with three options per course, and priced at an affordable €18 for 2-course and €24 for 3-course meal. FYI, in the evening, Ellsworth transforms into a tapas place with small plates to share, and come Sunday, there’s even brunch to be had. Could this be some kind of square peg for the city?

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Randomly: Food

Eat in, eat out, does it matter which? Sure, I haven’t been cooking nor baking as much at home lately, and the next couple of months will unlikely to see an increase in kitchen-y activities for me as we have a good few trips coming around. And when I do, things are kept easy and simple, leaving the fancier stuff to the professionals and all I need to do is order them. ;)

Food

Food

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Postcards: Schloss Heidelberg (DE)

The ruins of the Heidelberg Castle perched romantically to overlook the Altstadt, surrounded by forest and park. First built in the 1200s and successively expanded by Palatine prince electors, it was through French hands that it fell rather thoroughly in the late 1600s, burned and blown up during the course of the Nine Years War. Subsequent attempts to reconstruct the castle was hampered by financial difficulties and fires caused by lightning strikes, the latter taken as an omen from heaven that the Palatine court should not return to Heidelberg Castle. And thus, a well-loved ruin is born, no doubt helped by beautiful descriptions written by Victor Hugo and Mark Twain, among others.

Schloss Heidelberg

Schloss Heidelberg

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Postcards: Heidelberg Altstadt (DE)

Work travel recently took me to Heidelberg, a town which up to then was known to me largely because multiple research institutes are based here, including EMBO, EMBL and Max Planck Institutes. Somehow it escaped my radar as a place to visit, given the famed Heidelberg Castle and the picturesque, baroque Altstadt have made it a popular tourist destination. Whenever I did not have a meeting session to attend, I went out exploring ;)

Heidelberg

Heidelberg

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Chocolate chips and sweet wine cake

We opened a bottle of Banyuls a few weeks ago and somehow still haven’t got round to finishing it up. Well, it can’t – and shouldn’t – sit in the fridge forever, so after rooting around the kitchen, I decided to whip up a batch of chocolate chips and sweet wine cake. It didn’t came out quite right though, so a second batch was prepared along with some ingredient adjustments. Edible, getting there. Third time was a charm, and hey, no sweet wine left! (And not enough self-raising flour either so I improvised with plain flour and baking powder mix.)

Chocolate and wine cake

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Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

What is the common denominator between an immigrant, an expatriate, a foreigner, an alien and a non-citizen? Me. And countless others like me. We who fit the aforementioned, albeit with situations that vary in thousand shades of paperwork grade. Time and time again, the debate, in particular the pitting of an immigrant against an expatriate, can be painfully divisive. Just search for “immigrant vs expat” and you’ll see all kind of perception attached to these words, of social standing, origin, wealth, skin colour, intention. The fight is ugly.

Museum of Immigration History

Museum of Immigration History

The topic of immigration is a sensitive one and the question of integration has been contentiously thrashed out, in public and in private alike. At times of economic hardship, the subject is paraded – not only in France, mind – like an evil which must be stopped (UKIP’s Nigel Farage would like everyone to go back to where they came from, thank you very much) and the rhetorics filled with “selected truths”. My visit over the weekend to the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (i.e. Museum of Immigration History) was therefore an interesting one, one where I get to explore briefly the stories of the people who make France the nation it is today.

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La Chambre aux Oiseaux

A cosy canteen with a touch of vintage chic, that’s how I’d describe La Chambre aux Oiseaux. Upon S’s suggestion and initiative on making the reservation a couple of weeks in advance, we met on a slightly overcast Saturday afternoon for brunch in this café just off the Canal St Martin. They run two seatings for brunch, at 11.30am and at 1.30pm, and they were busy during both services. Clearly a favourite among many of the crowd of very fashionably dressed Parisians – yours truly not included given how carelessly my wardrobe is put together… – and for good reasons: the service is friendly, the food is delicious, and the ambiance is homey.

La chambre aux oiseaux

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Randomly: rue Bichat

Brunch reservation was 10 minutes away and S hasn’t arrived yet either. Not one to stand outside a café idly, I took a short stroll along rue Bichat and see what may be hidden on this street, in a neighbourhood that I don’t know very well. Not that I got very far though; I didn’t even get to peek into the windows of Helmut Newcake, the only other address I know a bit further along this street.

rue Bichat

rue Bichat

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Gwon’s Dining

For anyone looking for a good and classy Korean restaurant in Paris, with a menu that has more than bibimbap or garlicky fried chicken – don’t get me wrong, those are good Korean staple dishes, but don’t you want to try something new? – search no more. You should book a table at Gwon’s. It’s perfect for a date night. ;)

Gwong's

Gwong's

Truth be told, we’d meant to eat here for a while now. Located mere minutes walk from home, there was no good excuse not to, especially since each time we peered through their windows, the place was busy and filled with Korean diners. However, its upmarket setting means it carries a price tag that says “for a splurge”, so we’ve been saving it for an occasion which finally arrived: the completion of the Paris Semi Marathon.

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Planting herbs

When we moved last year, I had a wee shopping spree chez Ikea and apart from the bookshelf and dining table and chairs, I dropped a couple of herb kits into the basket too. I discovered the kits sitting sadly in one corner of my kitchen, forgotten, so I guess now is as good a time as ever to rescue them and fulfill their destiny.

Herb garden

Herb garden

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Early spring, abloom

Spring finally arrived in Paris. It has been a touch unfortunate that it came adist sustained peaks of pollution in the past week; such a shame that we could not be out and about to enjoy the sunshine and the blossoms without worrying about scratchy throat and allergic reactions. But, ah yes, but, as soon as the count dropped slightly, off we went for a stroll to visit the Iron Lady.

Spring in Paris

Spring in Paris

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La Cuillière en Bois

We used to go to a particular crêperie at least once a month, and we brought just about every one of our visitors there, who loved it too. We were therefore fairly sad when the brother-and-sister team decided to sell their business. While we had been back there under the new ownership, things were just not the same anymore.

La Cuillière en Bois

La Cuillière en Bois

We started to test a few other crêperies near us but failed to find one that we really like. Incredulous, in a manner of speaking, since we lived near Montparnasse – the veritable neighbourhood filled with crêperies! We found some of the more famous ones served something very average, and horror, even pre-cooked galette. A crime, if you ask me.

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So many places…

Q: What makes a wonderful gift to someone who has been bitten by the travel bug?
A: A scratch map! (pun not intended) ;)

Scratch map

Scratch map

Anne gave me this highly entertaining gift for Christmas but I’ve just got round to getting the materials to hang this map in the apartment. Right now, I’m attempting to remove the curls out of it, after a lot of fun scratching out the places that I’ve to, plus a couple of countries which I’ll be visiting soon – I’m too excited to leave them off the map!

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Four years and a semi marathon

Semi Paris 2015

I woke up yesterday morning with thousands of butterflies in my stomach. What was I thinking when I signed up for the semi marathon of Paris? Me, the fair-weather jogger who had just indulged in two weeks of holiday diet and last ran exactly four weeks to the day, never mind the fact that I’ve never yet completed a distance further than 12-13K, top! I nearly crawled right back into bed and stayed under the cosy duvet with my Kindle.

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Jeff Koons – a retrospective

File this under “arts I do not understand”.

I was at Centre Pompidou with S to check out the retrospective exhibition on Jeff Koons, famed for its balloon dogs. As usual, I entered into the exhibition rather naively and knowing next to nothing about the artist. I feel reading up too much about an artist tends to colour one’s judgement since the articles will inevitably contain praises and criticisms; I like forming my own opinion without voices of others in my head.

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons

What an eclectic mix of work. Sure enough, there was the giant balloon dog about half-way through the exhibition, but the retrospective began with a series of work “Pre-New” and “The New” based on vacuum cleaners (huh?) and advertisements. I was, simply put, confused. The section on “Banality” contains mostly porcelain-based sculptures, including a rather creepy one of MJ with his monkey. Right-io. Next came “Celebration”, which is prettier and happier, with balloons, heart, and more balloons.

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