Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors at the AGO

"With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved.

In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe."

- Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

I can't remember when I first heard about Yayoi Kusama and her stunning Infinity Mirrors exhibitbut I do know that I've been wanting and trying to see it for years. It has seemed like wherever I have travelled, the show has either just finished or is starting after I leave!

When I heard last year that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was going to be hosting this exhibition (the only Canadian city to do so), I've eagerly awaited its arrival. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the media preview of this extraordinary show, which officially opened to members of the public this past weekend to overwhelming demand.

When the AGO opened the booking portal for tickets in January, thousands and thousands of people logged in, waiting for hours to snag a ticket to one of the hottest shows of the year. In three days, the AGO sold an astonishing 30,000 tickets, selling out well before the show opened! One of the most exciting things about this show is that it is drawing attention and a younger audience to the AGO, generating energy and excitement which will hopefully continue into the future attracting more shows like this one. For myself, this show inspired me to buy a membership to the AGO to explore everything the Gallery has to offer and engage in new ways.  

Infinity Mirrors and the dreamworlds they create in six immersive rooms have to be seen in person to get the full effect. Yes, they look beautiful in photos, but are even more dazzling to experience. These worlds were created by Yayoi Kusama, the brilliantly talented 88 year old artist who lives in Tokyo (voluntarily in a mental hospital since 1977), and still actively creates art today.  In addition to experiencing six of Kusama's most iconic works, there are more than 90 paintings (including her early Infinity Net paintings), sculptures, photographs, rare archival materials, and works on paper from the 1950s to current day to see.

In addition to the ticketed exhibit, you can see her 'Narcissus Garden' installation on the second floor (on view from February 24 - April 29, 2018), a beautiful 'garden' made of mirrored balls, which is open to general admission.

Kusama has been creating art and breaking new ground for over 60 years. During her time in New York (between 158 - 1973), Kusama moved in circles with fellow artists Andy Warhol and Allan Kaprow. It was during this time that she began creating her signature polka dot and net designs, transforming them into paintings, soft sculptures, installations, and performance-based art.

The first use of mirrors came with Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, 1965 (the red-and-white polka dot themed installation), which multiplied and magnified the repetitive effect she was hoping to achieve, transcending physical limitations and creating an immersive experience. 

Kusama was the first woman to have a solo presentation at Venice's Biennale's Japanese Pavilion in 1993, and was named on of the world's most influential people by Time Magazine in 2016.

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkins

Above, the famous 'Kusama pumpkins' can be viewed in her work called All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins. You aren't allowed to take photos while inside the room, but you can when outside the door looking in. You will also be escorted inside with a member of staff. This is apparently due to pumpkins being damaged in previous exhibitions held elsewhere and the art is fragile.

The pumpkins first appeared in some of Kusama’s drawings from the late 1940s and has regularly shown up in her paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations. Her first pumpkin mirrored room was staged in 1991 and later at the 1993 Venice Biennale. The concept of this room is for viewers to be transported into a space which recalls fairytales and fantasy. 

 

Love Forever is a trippy feast for your eyes, allowing up to two viewers to look through small peepholes into this room. Looking inside, you can see yourself in a mirror directly opposite as well as the other viewer, making it feel quite voyeuristic. Kusama was experimenting with new technology when she created this room, which features dazzling lights, patterns and colours which change every few seconds. Her 1966 exhibition featured this work and she distributed buttons with her 'Love Forever' message printed on them. For her, this work stood for civil rights, sexual liberation, and the anti-war movement in the 1960s. 

 

The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away takes you into a world of lights and mirrors resembling a galaxy. Hundreds of LED lights flicker and sparkle while you are inside activating the environment and becoming immersed into the infinite space. It is absolutely breathtaking to experience! I just wish that you could have longer than the allocated 30 seconds to experience it and really take it in. 

 

Phalli’s Field arose from Kusama wanting a new way to create a hallucinatory scene of phallic-like shapes covered in red polka dots. Up until the point this room was created, Kusama had spent much of her time between 1962 and 1964 sewing thousands of stuffed fabric tubes and affixing them to furniture and other objects to create her sculptures; however, this became physically and mentally tiring. Her breakthrough moment came when she began to use mirrors to achieve the repetitive effect she envisioned, transcending her physical limitations, and making it an immersive experience for viewers. 

 

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is another mesmerizing world comprised of flickering gold lanterns that seem to go on forever into black infinite space. Kusama's room is a reflection on the experience of death and potential afterlife, recalling the Japanese tradition of toro nagashi, a ceremony which sees paper lanterns float down a river to guide ancestral spirits back to the resting places on the final night of the summer Obon Festival. 

 

Dots Obsession – Love Transformed Into Dots has you enter a large gallery room which has a rosy glow from the large pink polka-dotted balloons hanging from the ceiling and placed around the floor. Near the back of the room, you can enter a room inside one of the balloons, feeling a bit like you are entering a fuschia fairy-tale world. On the other end of the room, you get the opposite experience by peering into a small hole into a dazzling pink infinity mirror room. 

 

The Obliteration Room is the final room of the exhibit. This room invites you to participate in completing the work. Upon entering the stark white room, set up to look like an everyday home with everyday objects, you are handed a sheet of coloured dot stickers and invited to place them anywhere in the room and on objects. I would love to see what this room looks like when the exhibition closes! Kusama's concept of obliteration is to find and create new expression on this white space as the coloured dots invite each visitor to participate on a journey to infinity one dot at a time. 

For each of the mirrored rooms, you will join a line to enter. You may have the opportunity to go in by yourself or with two to four other people. You need to leave your bags just outside the exhibit (watched by AGO staff) and can enter for twenty to thirty seconds depending on the room. The staff have a stopwatch to time each entry and will give a soft knock on the door to let you know when five seconds are left. I wish that you could have more time inside the rooms as they are so dazzling and extraordinary that there just isn't enough time to properly take everything in. But, on the other hand, it forces you to be present and enjoy the moments you do have. 

This extraordinary show is a visual delight, and you are encouraged to share your photos with the hashtag #infinitekusama. Part of the appeal and high demand to see Kusama's show has been driven through photos shared through Instagram. While you can bring your cameras and smartphones, you cannot bring in tripods or selfie sticks. 

There will be a new batch of tickets released by the AGO on Tuesday March 6th at 10am online only. There will also be a very limited number of same-day timed tickets available on-site at the gallery. The show runs from March 3 to May 27, 2018. 

Christmas in Paris

When I first moved to the UK in 2008, I discovered the phenomenon of Christmas Markets. I mean, being able to pop over to a new European country for a long weekend to explore a new city without high season tourist crowds, walk around in the frosty air amongst beautiful Christmas trees, twinkling lights, little market stalls selling all sorts of treasures, the smell of baked goods in the air, and sipping some hot gluhwein (mulled wine) to keep warm and festive - does it get any better? Well, perhaps, when snowflakes begin to fall around you adding to the magical atmosphere! Between exploring the Christmas markets in the city, you can duck into interesting museums, shops, and restaurants to explore and warm up. Since that first year I went in 2008 (to Prague), I have continued the tradition by visiting a new Christmas Market each year.

Paris is magical any time of year you visit, but add some more lights and sparkle at Christmastime and it's almost overwhelming! I'm sharing my Paris Christmas Market trip guide and recommendations below.

Christmas Markets:

La Defense:

This is the largest Christmas Market in Paris with over 350 christmas stalls to explore, shop, and eat. It's in the business area of Paris, so while it isn't right in the centre of the city, it is a pretty quick Metro journey to get there. It is prettiest at dusk and into the evening when the lights switch on over the market and the surrounding buildings. 

Open: 23 November - 28 December, 2017; open every day from 11am to 8pm.

Metro: Esplanade de la Défense, La Défense - Grande Arche; RER: La Defense 

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is one of Paris's most iconic and beautiful landmarks. There is a lovely Christmas Market in Square Rene Viviani selling a host of French arts, crafts, and gastronomy. There are fewer market stalls here (about 40), but the setting and atmosphere are beautiful - and you can check out the Cathedral while you're there. 

Open: 15 - 24 December 2017; open every day from 10am to 8pm. 

Metro: Saint-Michel

 

Saint-Germain-des-Pres

This is one of my favourite areas in Paris. It features a lovely Christmas Market in front of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. After exploring the wooden chalets, enjoy a coffee outside at one of the bistro tables of Cafe de Flore or Les Deux Magots to people watch. There is great shopping and other great restaurants in this area too. Try checking out Le Bon Marche or stock up on French beauty products at City Pharma

 

Place d'Italie

This small Christmas Market is in the lovely Place d'Italie, and features delicious food to enjoy as well as a selection of Christmas chalets selling festive items. 

Open: 28 November - 31 December 2017

Metro: Place d'Italie

 

Eiffel Tower - Mail Branly

Close to the Eiffel Tower, there is another small market to enjoy shopping at and warming up with some mulled wine. While it's small, it makes up for it by its location - close to the Eiffel Tower (go in the evening to watch is sparkle) and the beautiful Bir Hakeim bridge (a double height bridge, made famous in Last Tango in Paris). 

Metro: Alma - Marceau 

 

Montmartre

Montmartre is the Paris often described in books: it has a dreamy Parisian village feel with its fairytale-like shops and homes dotting the hilly landscape and providing some of the most stunning views of the city. This market has about 30 christmas chalets selling mulled wine, French food, and traditional gifts below the Sacre-Coeur.

Metro: Abbesses

 

Gare Saint-Lazare

This Christmas Market is located at the Saint-Lazare station, and features a variety of pop-up shops selling unique items which are made in France. 

Metro: Saint-Lazare

 

Champs Elysee

This elegant, famous boulevard is a cavalcade of lights and market stalls competing for your attention. There are over 200 wooden chalets stretching from the place de la Concorde to the Champs Elysee roundabout. To be honest, this isn't my favourite area for Christmas Markets in Paris as I found it to be too busy, too commercial, and very few unique things at inflated prices. If you're in the area, check it out, especially in the evening when all of the lights are on along the boulevard creating a beautiful sight. Another idea is to take a ride on the Wheel near sunset for stunning views with beautiful low winter light over the city. 

*Note: this Christmas Market has been cancelled by the Paris City Council due to its 'inferior quality food, toys, and trinkets'. It remains to be seen if this decision will be overturned!

Do:

My favourite thing to do in Paris is to explore new areas and walk for hours discovering new shops, restaurants, and cultural and historical sights. Let yourself get lost and see what you can discover! Below are some of my favourite things to do in Paris:

  • Musee Rodin: This small but beautiful museum is perfect to explore without feeling overwhelmed. Many of the sculptures are in the beautiful gardens so you can walk around and explore outdoors, as well as inside the museum building. It also has a very nice cafe to stop for a small bite to eat or a coffee. 

 

  • Museum National d'Histoire Paleontology Section at the Jardin de Plantes, is very cool. They have lined up the skeletons of dozens (hundreds?) of animals progressing in size, so if you stand in front of it facing them, they look like they are running towards you! A small, but very cool museum inside a beautiful park.

 

  • Louvre: Incredible but overwhelming. If you go, pick a few things in advance you really want to see and target those. This museum is absolutely enormous with thousands of things to see, and will tire you out quickly. Try and also buy a ticket in advance online to beat the crowds and queues. Definitely check out the grounds of the Louvre with its iconic Pyramid dominating the square. Grab a pastry and coffee from Claus and people-watch on one of the benches in the square. 

 

  • Musee d'Orsay: Another iconic Parisian museum to explore devoted to the arts between 1848 - 1914. Artistic movements featured include Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau. Artists include Bonnard, Carpeaux, Cezanne, Degas, Guimard, Lalique, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Rodin and Van Gogh. There is a lovely cafe on the top floor of the museum to stop and rest your feet. While you're there, check out the large clock window for great views and photo opportunities. There is also a great terrace offering fabulous views over the city near the cafe. 

 

  • Musee National Picasso-Paris: This museum was recently renovated and features over 5,000 works of Picasso and tens of thousands of archived pieces. This collection, housed in a beautiful building, is the only one in the world that presents Picasso's complete painted, sculpted, engraved, and illustrated works, as well as a record through sketches, studies, drafts, notebooks, etchings, photographs, illustrated books, films and documents of his creative process. This is a fantastic museum to visit and not too overwhelming. It also has a very nice gift shop nearby.

 

  • Eiffel Tower: For me, this is a must-visit every time I visit Paris. Yes, it's touristy but there's just something about it that draws me in, whether early in the morning when that magical Parisian daylight is rising, or in the evenings when the Tower sparkles and shimmers. My suggestion is to go to Trocadero first to admire it and take some fab photos, then walk down the steps and across the bridge so that you're at its base. under it. It sparkles on the hour every hour at dark (usually from 6pm) for about 5 minutes. There is a lovely park stretching out from the Tower as well, which is perfect for a picnic. Click here for more of my Eiffel Tower suggestions. 

 

  • Institut du Monde Arabe: This stunning building opened in 2012. The Institut features exhibitions and objects that show the diversity of the Arab world and Arab-Islamic civilization throughout history. More than 560 unique works are displayed across four levels including bronzes, ceramics, woodwork, textiles, scientific objects, and illuminations. One of the most beautiful and fascinating elements of the building are it's windows, which features 240 photo-sensitive motor controlled apertures / shutters, which automatically open and close to control the amount of light and heat come into the building from the sun. This mechanism creates interior spaces with filtered light, which is an effect often used with climate-oriented strategies. I love going to the top of the building to enjoy the beautiful views over Paris from its rooftop terrace, and stopping at the rooftop cafe for a glass of champagne and delicious baklava. 

 

  • Musee de l'Orangerie: This beautiful museum is located in the Jardin des Tuileries. With many beautiful works of art to admire, the jewel in its crown is the spectacular room featuring Claude Monet's 'Waterlilies'. Worth the visit even if you just go to see this famous work of art! 

 

  • Notre-Dame Paris:  This Parisian landmark is an iconic medieval Catholic cathedral located on the Ile de la Cite on the Seine. The cathedral is one of the largest and most famous religious buildings in the world, and considered to be one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. You can climb up inside and enjoy stunning view of the city, as well as stroll the perfectly manicured gardens surrounding the Cathedral.

 

  • Sacre-Coeur: The Basilica of the Sacré Cœur dominates the hill of Montmatre. It is a Roman Catholic church at the highest point in the city, providing visitors with incredible views over Paris. It is actually also a double monument as both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the social Paris Commune of 1871, which crowned its most rebellious neighbourhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order.  located at the summit of the hill of Montmartre, on the right bank of the Seine. Its dominating appearance on the hill in white with rounded towers make it seem almost fairytale-like. There are public 'steps' located out front that you can sit and enjoy the fantastic view and street performers. Annoyingly, there are some aggressive people selling cheap, knock-off items and trying to rip tourists off. Ignore them. Also ignore the tables selling lottery and games towards the bottom by being firm and confident. 

 

  • Palace of Versailles: It probably requires at least a half a day but is well worth a visit.  The Palace of Versailles has been a World Heritage Site for 30 years. Once Louis XIII's old hunting pavilion was transformed by his son, Louis XIV, when he installed the Court and Government here in 1682. A succession of Kings continued to expand the Palace until the French Revolution in 1789 forced Louis XVI to leave Versailles for Paris.  The Palace became the Museum of the History of France in 1837 with the rooms devoted to housing new collections of paintings and sculptures representing important figures and events that had marked the history of France. Today, the Palace has 2,300 rooms! The palace has extensive, beautifully landscaped gardens which spread over 800 hectares. One of the most spectacular rooms is the Hall of Mirrors, which was built to replace a large terrace which opened onto the garden. If you're a fan of Marie Antoinette, you'll enjoy seeing the chambers where she lived and slept! 

 

  • Palais Royal: Located close to the Louvre, this beautiful spot is popular for people to come for a walk around the beautiful gardens, strike a pose against the chic black and white columns, check out the contemporary fountains in the courtyard, or grab a coffee from the popular Cafe Kitsune. The Palais Royal was originally built for Cardinal Richelieu. The main part of the palace became a royal residence from 1661. It was completed and modified in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, it became a place of promiscuity, which was immortalized by Balzac. 

 

  • Gardens: Paris is known for its stunning gardens. Some of my favourites to explore are the Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Plantes, and Jardin des Tuileries.

 

  • Pere Lechaise cemetery: Located in the 20th, it is really fascinating and worth a visit (it isn't creepy). This is one of Paris's most famous and frequently visited cemeteries due to its extensive size (44 hectares and 70,000 burial plots), its landscaping (modeled after an English park), architecture and shrines including Gothic graves, Haussmanian burial chambers, and ancient mausoleums, and the numerous famous people who have been laid to rest here. Famous residents including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Jim Morrison, Colette, Frederic Chopin, and Moliere, just to name a few. 

 

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton: Designed by renowned architect, Frank Gehry, the Fondation is an art museum and cultural centre which opened in 2014. The building itself is worth seeing, which is located in the Bois de Boulogne (near the Jardin d'Acclimatation). There are panoramic views throughout the building, due to its extensive and creative use of glass. It features a permanent art collection as well as special exhibits, and has a lovely cafe on the ground floor. 

 

  • Place des Vosges: One of Paris's oldest and most beautiful squares! Explore the arches housing shops, restaurants, and galleries which surround the main square and central garden. On the edge of the Marais, it is a perfect place to enjoy a picnic if it is nice outside. 

 

  • Arc de Triomphe: At the 'top' of the Champs Elysee and at the Place de l'Etoile, you can climb this famous arch and have beautiful views from the top across the entire city.

 

  • Palais de Tokyo: This gallery is dedicated to modern and contemporary art, near the Trocadero. It also has a terrace with incredible views out to the Eiffel Tower that can be accessed for free. 

Shop

  • Le Bon Marche: I visit this beautiful store every time I'm in Paris. It's chic, filled with all kinds of fabulous brands (especially the beauty and women's contemporary sections) and items, and a seriously Instagrammable main hall with art deco escalators criss-crossing each other. They often feature creative art installations, so worth checking out to see what's on display. 

 

  • Galeries Lafayette: go here to check out the incredible main hall which always features a breathtaking Christmas tree! Some nice shopping for contemporary fashion and beauty, but I usually prefer Le Bon Marche. 

 

  • Printemps Hausmann: The showstopper here is their fantastic rooftop cafe for stunning views over Paris. Enter through the beauty counter entrance of the building and head to the rooftop via this route. The view is free, and it's lovely to sit with a coffee or glass of wine at the rooftop cafe, especially at sunset.  

 

  • ColetteLocated on the swish Rue St Honore, this is a fashion favourite. They always have cool features happening in-store as well as carefully curated, unique items and brands to check out.

 

  • City Pharma: If you're as obsessed with beauty and skin products as me, you have to visit City Pharma in St Germain. This beauty cult favourite has all the best French products, like Caudalie, Avene, La Roche Posay etc etc, and all at inexpensive prices. Be warned though - it gets insanely busy so I suggest going early on a weekday morning or later in the evening on a weekday if you can. Stand your ground and ideally go with a list of things you want with you to stay focused. 

 

  • Merci: In the Haut-Marais is this fabulous fashion and home store. You'll probably know it by seeing the iconic Mini Cooper in the courtyard and its cool Used Book Cafe. Merci acts as a launching pad for young designers to make themselves known to French and international shoppers. 

 

  • Shakespeare and Co: This brilliant and famous independent bookshop sells a wide selection of English language books on the left bank.  It was the first bookshop to publish James Joyce's Ulysses in full. It regularly hosts events, including hosting some of the most famous literary figures in history such as Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. The shop was forced to close in 1941 when Nazis occupied Paris. It also has a little cafe attached to it next door. It is definitely worth checking out!

Eat

There are too many wonderful places to eat in Paris to possibly list them all, so I'll dive in by sharing some of my current favourites:

  • Fish La BoissonnerieLocated in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, this restaurant has a regularly changing menu featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients and dishes. Their wine selection is also terrific. I have never had a bad meal here. Make a reservation for this small restaurant to secure your chance of having dinner here, or slide up to eat at the bar to enjoy and chat with the people around you. A must visit on any trip to Paris I make! 

 

  • Semilla: This restaurant is by the same owners of Fish La Boissonnerie and is also a wonderful, slightly more upscale restaurant just across the road. Semilla features very tasty dishes with fresh, seasonal ingredients on its regularly changing menu.

 

  • Le Mary Celeste: This is easily one of the coolest places in Paris. This tiny restaurant and bar is located in the Marais and features creative, delicious dishes on a regularly updated menu. This place is buzzing with people so reservations are recommended. It's a great place to go with friends to share a variety of dishes, or try some of their amazing cocktails (some of the best I've ever tried anywhere!).

 

  • L'Éclair de Genie: The best eclairs anywhere, hands down. The incredible eclairs by master pastry chef Christophe Adam literally brought tears to my eyes when I first tried them - they are THAT good! There are a few locations in Paris now, but my favourite is the one in the Marais. If the Salted Caramel eclair is available, definitely make that your first one! 

 

  • Rose Bakery: This is a great place for brunch, particularly at their Marais location, or take a shopping break and have a coffee and their famous carrot cake if you're at their Le Bon Marche location. Don't go too late in the day though or you'll miss the carrot cake and some of the other in-demand cakes!

 

  • Bistrot Paul Bert: Classic French food in a beautiful bistro style restaurant. The food was incredible and the desserts were out of this world. We ordered a cheese board, which arrived at our table on a giant cutting board - with full size blocks of cheese and a knife to cut the amount you wanted! One of my friends ordered the baba au rhum (Rum Baba cake), which came with an entire bottle of rum to top up at your pleasure! I had their Paris Brest, which was to die for. 

 

  • Grande Mosquee de Paris: Enjoy a fabulous mint tea and baklava in the lovely courtyard and gardens, and explore one of the biggest mosques in France. 

 

  • Printemps Haussmann: If you're looking for a great quick lunch or snack, the gourmet food hall at Printemps is incredible! This is a food hall Parisian style - think champagne and oyster bars, fancy tapas, gorgeous pastries, and more. The last time I was there, I enjoyed some sparkling wine and tapas. Lovely! 

 

  • Mama Shelter: Not just a fabulous place to stay, it is also a great place for cocktails at night and where cool Parisians hang out.

 

  • Mariage Freres: This French tea company is my favourite brand of tea (particularly Vanille des Iles and French Breakfast). They have a few locations around Paris, and some of them do a wonderful afternoon tea. 

 

  • Ralph's Paris: This lovely little cafe by Ralph Lauren is in Saint-Germain-des-Pres inside a beautiful courtyard. It is a nice experience if you want something a bit lux. 

 

  • Claus: A lovely brunch and coffee spot in the Marais, close to the Louvre. It's always busy so I've usually just grabbed some of their lovely to-go pastries and a coffee and eaten them on one of the benches outside of the Louvre while people-watching.

 

  • Au Petit Versailles: One of the best bakeries in Paris in the Marais. It's tiny but wonderful, and regularly wins awards for their bread. Their croissants are wonderful for breakfast, and don't forget to try their Paris Brest (located at 1 Rue Tiron)! 

 

  • Cafe Kitsune: Fantastic coffee in the beautiful Palais Royal.

 

  • Daroco Paris: Daroco is in the building of what used to be Jean-Paul Gaultier's first store, and leaves much of the original footprint in place. New, chic additions have been added, such as an open kitchen, opulent velour banquet booths, and mirrored ceilings. The pizzas here are out-of-this-world delicious! Make a booking as this restaurant is proving to be one of Paris's most popular. 

Stay

Mama Shelter Located in the 20th arrondisement, this Philippe Starck designed hotel is one of Paris's coolest places to stay. While it isn't in the centre of Paris, it is easy to get around to due its proximity to the Metro. It is one of the most diverse, interesting areas of Paris, as well as being close to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. there are 172 rooms which are equipped with 5 star bedding and fun interiors. The restaurants are all delicious, from simple, homemade cuisine. You can check the huge island bar, pizzeria, or terrace. There is also a lovely rooftop to enjoy during warm days for a drink or meal. 

 

Grand Hotel du Palais Royal: I absolutely adore this beautiful small luxury boutique hotel in the heart of the Palais Royal. Incredibly friendly staff are there to help you have a comfortable staff, the rooms are impeccably decorated, and the location can't be beat. Check out a more detailed review of this hotel when I had the opportunity to stay there here

 

Le Meridien Etoile: This hotel is located very close to the Champs Elysee near the Arc du Triomphe end. It has small and stylish rooms, and is well located to travel around the city with a Metro station very close by. Check out more details and full details on my stay here

 

Airbnb

Staying at an Airbnb is a wonderful option, particularly if you are staying in Paris for longer than a weekend, and/or want to feel like / pretend you live in the city. Below are two Airbnbs that I have stayed in that I really enjoyed!

Le Marais - rue Vieille du TempleLarge (especially in Paris terms), stylish, and a super location in the Marais. 

Saint-Germain-des-Près: Tiny, but in lovely building in an unbeatable location in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. 

 

 

Getting There and Around

  • Paris has a great Metro system. Buy a set of 'carnets' (tickets) so you can pass through the stations easily without having to buy a new ticket each time. While you're in the stations or on the Metro though, be sure to watch your pockets and belongings very carefully, particularly when it is busy, as there are very skillful pickpockets that work the system. 

  • Walking around Paris is one of the most wonderful things. Overall, Paris is a pretty small city. I suggest picking a neighbourhood and just start to wander. Literally, just pick a neighbourhood and wander. My favourites are St Germain, Marais, the Latin Quarter and Montmatre.

  • If you can take the Eurostar to Paris, I highly recommend it! It is such an easy, quick, and chic way to travel. From London, it takes just over two hours from St Pancras International Station to the centre of Paris at the Gare du Nord station. 
  • Paris is well served by two main airports: Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly. Both are well connected into the centre of the city by transit links. 

City Break in Paris

I absolutely adore Paris. I know that won’t be earth-shattering because let’s be honest – who doesn’t? One of the things I really love about it is that you can have a different Parisian experience every time you are there – an art focused weekend; girls weekend; romantic weekend; foodie weekend; shopping weekend; or a combo of any of those.

I want to share a few of my current favourite things to do, see, and eat in Paris that hopefully provides some inspiration for you!

Eat

First things first – where are you going to eat?? There are too many wonderful restaurants, cafes, bars, patisseries, and markets to name, so I’m going to share just a few of my current favourite places:

  • Start the day off right with doing as the Parisians do and stop off at a patisserie or boulangerie in the morning and grab a croissant or pastry to go. When I was visiting in the spring, I stayed in the Marais and stumbled across an amazing little bakery called Au Petit Versailles du Marais. Turns out it has been voted as one of the best bakeries in Paris!  It's tiny but wonderful, and regularly wins awards for best bread. I highly recommend their pain au chocolat, as well as one of my favourite pastries, Paris Brest.

 

  • Fish La Boissonnerie is a lovely restaurant in St Germain. I don’t usually do this when travelling, but the food is so good that I usually end up there more than once on a trip to the city of light. The food is seasonal, tasty, and never disappoints. It also has a fresh, regularly changing menu, and brilliant wine menu to boot. Across the street from Boissonnerie is its sister restaurant, Semilla, which is also fantastic though a bit fancier or more upscale. Expect a delicious, seasonal menu and terrific wine as well. 
  • I’m a much bigger tea drinker than coffee drinker, so if you’re with me on that (and even if you aren’t), my absolute favourite tea is Mariage Freres. I discovered it a few years ago and stock up whenever I’m there. My favourite flavours are French Breakfast and Vanille des Iles. There are various locations across Paris, including a few where you can sit in and have afternoon tea. 

 

  • A lovely brunch and coffee spot is called Claus in the Marais, close to the Louvre. It's always busy and I have never organized myself enough to book a table, so I've usually just grabbed some of their lovely pastries to go and eaten them with their coffee on one of the benches in the Louvre square (perfect for people watching and stunning surroundings).  

 

  • My best friend and I went to Le Marie Celeste for the first time together a couple of years ago and LOVED it. Tricky to find (thank goodness for google maps), it’s deep in the Marais, located on a corner, and tiny. It’s also absolutely wonderful. It’s got a young, cool vibe, with a menu to match. The menu is fresh, features seasonal ingredients, and changes regularly. It’s great to go with friends and try various things through small sharing plates. But the real star might just be the incredible cocktails they concoct.

 

  • Bistrot Paul Bert is possibly one of the most traditional French restaurants I’ve visited. Fantastic food but what really stands out in my mind is the dessert course. It may have been the enormous cheese plate they brought to the table (think a large cutting board with big pieces of cheese and a knife to cut off the amounts that you pleased!), the rum cake that came with an entire bottle of rum to pour yourself (incredible!), or the magnificent Paris Brest that I tried for the first time and fell in love.

 

  • If you’re looking for a great quick lunch or snack, pop into the fab food hall at Printemps! I stopped in while shopping on my last visit and sat at the counter of a Spanish tapas vendor enjoying sparkling wine and tapas. Lovely!

 

  • Mama Shelter is an excellent place for cocktails at night and is where cool Parisians hang out.

 

  • I have saved the best for last. Promise me that you will go to L'Eclair de Genie for life changing eclairs? Yes? Ok. Seriously though, these eclairs are out of this world good. There are a few locations now but the one in the Marais is my favourite.

See/Do

There are a million things to do and see in Paris that it would be impossible to list them all – especially as everyone’s interests and tastes vary. If I was to recommend a single thing though, it would be to just wander around the city without a plan and few glances at the map. Perhaps start wandering along the Seine and crisscross over the bridges, such as Pont Alexandre, Pont Marie, Ile Ste Louis, etc.

Here are some of my other favourite places to visit at the moment when I’m there:

  • Check L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Zaha Hadid designed the building, so it is not only stunning to see on its own, but it features an incredible free view on the roof terrace. The café is great to stop for sparkling wine, mint tea, and some baklava too!
  • Visit the parks in Paris as each are unique and beautiful in different ways. The Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes are my favourite parks to wander through.
  • My current favourite museum is the Rodin Museum. Much of the museum is actually outdoors in their beautiful gardens, which is also a favoured location for Dior during Paris Fashion Week.
  • I’ll come right out and say that I'm obsessed with the Eiffel Tower. I think the best place and time to see it is at Trocadero super early in the morning - like 7.30/8ish when there are barely any people around. There's a wonderful little mobile coffee place there where you can grab a cappuccino and enjoy the view before wandering down the Champ du Mars. Alternatively, when it sparkles at night (each hour from twilight to 1am for 10 minutes on the hour each hour).
  • The Place des Vosges is lovely to wander and hang out in, as well as the newly re-opened Palais Royale. Cafe Kitsune is in the Palais Royale, so it’s a great place to grab coffee and sit outdoors when the weather is nice.
  • If you plan to do the Louvre, plan it carefully and have a game plan. It is enormous and overwhelming, so don’t put pressure on yourself to see everything. Do your research beforehand and pick a few things you’d like to see and focus on those areas. The best times to go are early morning when it first opens, or later in the day a couple of hours before closing to avoid crowds.
  • Walk up the steps to the top of the Arc du Triomphe as the 360 view is fab from the centre of Paris!

 

Shop

  • Bon Marche is a must! It’s personally my favourite place to visit and shop when in Paris. They have the best in beauty, contemporary fashion, accessories, and homewares - and the store itself is stunning! While you're there, take a break and stop in at the Rose Bakery inside and have one of their famous carrot cakes and coffee or tea.
  • Printemps is a fun store, though my favourite things about it are the food hall (across the road in a separate building from the main store) and the rooftop terrace where you can enjoy stunning views across Paris free of charge (one of Paris’s best viewpoints and little known to many tourists). There’s a great café up there to enjoy something to eat and drink while overlooking the city.
  • If you're as obsessed with toiletries like I am, you have to visit City Pharma in St Germain. For many in the know, it is an essential pilgrimage and I would happily take the train from London just to stock up. It has the best products, like Caudalie, Avene, La Roche Posay, Klorane, etc, at inexpensive prices. Be forewarned - it gets insanely busy I suggest going early on a weekday morning or later in the evening on a weekday if you can.
  • Shop some of Paris’s local independent shops as well as homegrown talents, such as Isabel Marant.
  • I can’t forget to add Colette to this list, possibly Paris’s coolest shop! You can find Colette and many other wonderful upscale stores to shop along one of Paris's most famous shopping streets, the Rue Saint Honoré.

 

 

Getting To Paris

Paris is easily accessible as a major transportation hub:

Parisian Architecture

In Toronto (and many places in North America), part of the thrill and appeal of Europe is the history of the buildings - many of which are much much older than our own countries. We live in cities that are very new, not the greatest at preserving heritage buildings, and lots of glass and concrete rectangular buildings which often look alike. 

Wandering around in Paris is a visual feast. Parisian architecture celebrates detail, beauty, and history, as opposed to solely function and efficiency. It also helps that the Parisian light seems ethereal and illuminates the buildings in beautiful ways. At sunset, so many of its buildings seem to glow in the sunlight. When in Paris (or anywhere in Europe to be honest), be sure to look up, down, and all around you as you'll never know what intricate details and surprises you  might find! Below are some of my favourites from my recent trip in April. 

xo Rheanne 

Postcards from Paris: An Ode to the Eiffel Tower in the Springtime

I have a confession to make. I am deeply in love with the Eiffel Tower and I just can't get enough of it. Yes, I realize how much of a tourist that statement makes me sound but I can't help it. I've been to Paris four times now and I often find that it's one of my first stops. I get a rush of excitement when I see it rising above the city. I love it in the morning, noon, and night. I adore it in the evening the most when it sparkles and glimmers - absolutely magical. Once it starts sparkling at the top of the hour for a few minutes during the evening, there are always people around who gasp and adore in its brilliance. I have heard more than one French person exclaim, "Ooh la la!", which to someone who is not French is fantastic! Its intricate details, its curves, its romantic design....it's no wonder it has become a worldwide symbol for Paris. There is something that draws people to it and can gaze at it for ages. 

I hadn't ever seen it just after sunrise in the early morning hours, so I made it my mission this time to do that. I went early on a Monday morning before the crowds had appeared and when the spring sunlight was hazy and glowing. This is my ode to the Eiffel Tower through photos and I hope you like it! 

 

xo Rheanne 

Postcards from Paris: Place des Vosges

On my first morning in Paris, fresh off an overnight flight from Toronto and desperate to stay awake and beat jet lag, I took a walk around the Marais after dropping off my bags at my apartment. Having left Canada in snow flurries, the bright blue skies and 20 degree temperatures felt invigorating! I grabbed a tea from my favourite tea institution, Mariage Freres, and a sandwich and began walking to Place des Vosges to have a picnic. As this was one of the first nice days in Paris this spring, I think the rest of Paris had the same idea! Although the lawn was packed with people, it was lovely to see everyone outside enjoying the beautiful weather in high spirits. 

Postcards from Paris: Sunday Morning in Le Marais

Ahhhh, Paris! Paris is beautiful in all seasons, but I truly believe that it is most magical in the springtime. People are out and about again, soaking in the spring sunshine, drinking coffee outside in bistros on boulevards, and riding on bicycles. The city is awakening with the green buds appearing on the trees and shots of colour with tulips appearing in gardens and parks. And perhaps most mesmorizing is when the cherry blossoms burst into bloom in shades of fluffy white and candy floss pink. 

I wanted to take a few days off from work and to have a break between finishing my last course module of my MSc before launching into my dissertation. That, combined with a flight sale from Air Canada, and I couldn't say no to a trip to Paris last minute trip. I booked a lovely flat in Le Marais through Airbnb to try a new arrondissement (I stayed in Saint-Germain des Pres last time and loved it there too) and I was all set.

My flat was located just off Rue Vielle du Temple - a fantastic location as it was close to both the St Paul and Hotel du Ville metro stations on Rue de Rivoli, Place des Vosges, as well as a wide selection of wonderful restaurants, boulangeries, and shopping - including some of my favourites like Le Mary Celeste, Mariages Freres, and L'Eclair de Genie.  

It's a beautiful arrondissement to stay, visit and explore with many nooks and little streets to explore as it is one of the oldest areas of the city with many important historical and architectural sights. Make sure to wander around its winding streets and let yourself get lost - that's always how you make the best discoveries! On my walk, I stumbled across a wonderful little boulangerie called Au Petit Versailles Du Marais, which has the most bread and pastries - but you must try their pain au chocolat as they are to die for! Their bread was also an award winner for the Top 10 baguettes in Paris. It's tiny but beautiful indoors, with all of the meticulously prepared, colourfully pastries that look too lovely to eat (but not quite because they are so delicious!) on display under a glittering chandelier. There is some outdoor seating when it's nice outside, though no indoor seating.

Sharing a few photos with you from a lovely Sunday morning two weeks ago wandering around Le Marais in the beautiful, warm morning spring sunshine. There's nothing like taking a few deeps breaths of the fresh air and turning your face to the sun to feel its warmth after the winter, and taking in all of the sights and the scents around you, like the aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries, to make you feel reinvigorated and ready to take on the world!