père-lachaise, montmartre & more // autumn in paris

It’s ridiculously easy to get to Paris from London. All you have to do is make it to St Pancras station, and three hours later, you’re at Gare du Nord in the centre of Paris, fumbling around for euros at the ticket machines. For that reason, I resisted going to Paris for a long time. It seemed ‘too easy’.

I was lucky enough that my parents prioritised travel over all else growing up, so it meant that I’ve traveled a lot more than other people my age. But our trips followed a formula, so to speak. We would always stay with family in the UK, and then take the Eurostar to Paris and hire a car from there to explore the rest of the continent. Paris was always a destination that we left almost as soon as we arrived there, so I was a little reluctant to go back when there were new places to explore instead.

However, I did eventually start to warm up to the idea. After all, people rave about Paris for a reason! When I found out that a friend of mine was going to be studying there for six months, I knew that it was a perfect opportunity to go back! It was horrendously difficult to narrow down to the photos I used in this blog post, that much I can say.

The trip worked out very cheaply too; many of the museums offer free entry on certain nights of the week, so I made sure to coordinate my trip around that! Versailles was free for me as well, as an EU resident under the age of 26 or so, so I also made sure to take advantage of that with my UK residency (while I still can…).

Paris has no shortage of beautiful architecture, and it’s not hard to imagine sitting outside with some fancy bread and cheese on one of the little balconies, listening to Françoise Hardy on an old record player. I can dream, can’t I?

I was lucky enough to see Notre-Dame before it burnt down. Ironically at the time I felt like I was going through the motions, because when we went inside there were so many people that you were forced to slowly shuffle through the aisles at a funeral pace, and the constant hum of conversation and obnoxious amateur photographers mostly drowned out any sense of awe from the building. Despite that, it’s such a beautiful building, and it’s impossible to fathom that people have been wandering around feeling the same things as me for centuries.

I wouldn’t be lying if I admitted that I timed my trip so that we could take advantage of the one night per week that the Louvre is free. I haven’t been to the Louvre since I was about nine, so it was amazing seeing all of these iconic paintings that I now recognise, especially after studying Art History at high school. I think I preferred the Musee d’Orsay though, despite it being smaller.

Crowded, but but no means a tourist trap!

Directionless travel is what I do best. It is one of the cities where you just have to get lost! Supplemented by Google Maps, of course. During my wanderings, I found the Marie Curie museum which was far more interesting than it appeared from its unassuming exterior. I’ve always been fascinated by the world that was still figuring out what they could do with radioactive materials – radioactive cigarettes were a feature!

It was lovely getting to see my friend again, although she did have classes for some of it. She had the kind of tiny Parisian studio apartment I’ve always dreamed of having. You had to climb a lot of very steep staircases to get there!

I do always enjoy the challenge of learning the basics of a foreign language, but I’ll admit I struggled quite a bit with my French pronunciation! Saying please and thank you is one thing, but I couldn’t even begin to correctly pronounce any of the place names around the city, much to my friend’s bemusement! After some practice, I think I managed to correctly pronounce ‘arrondismont’, which I was quite excited about.

A view from Sacré-Cœur.

I arrived just a week before Halloween, and although I’m not a big celebrator of that, we inadvertently planned our activities in a very seasonally appropriate way. One thing that I’ve wanted to check off my bucket list for as long as I can remember was the catacombs, which is a sprawling labyrinth underneath the streets of the city, decorated with human bones. Some of the bone arrangements were quite creative, too – in one section I even saw some human skulls arranged into the shape of a heart.

Père-Lachaise was a personal favourite destination of mine. I’ve always loved the melancholy atmosphere of cemeteries, and it was easy to see how this one in particular was the blueprint that inspired many places afterwards. Wandering the wide, cobblestoned paths in the autumn golden hour… it took your breath away. We finished that evening staying in, eating crepes and binge watching every single Halloween episode of Brooklyn 99, to continue with the Halloween theme.

It’s so ridiculously easy to find photographic inspiration in Paris, and I’m very much glad I could return as an adult and have the freedom to explore a little. I’m also extremely grateful to my friend for providing me the opportunity to stay with a local, as opposed to just staying in usual tourist accommodation. I always find that local accommodation is always so much more interesting when you get to see how people in the area really live.

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canary wharf // inside a concrete jungle

Canary Wharf is quite a funny area of London. In the eighties it was essentially an abandoned dockyard, yet today it is home to one of the most important financial centres of Europe, if not the world! It’s the textbook example of ‘regeneration’.

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View of Canary Wharf from Greenwich.

I work quite close to it, but I don’t go in very often. Although I’ve never been to New York, Canary Wharf is what I imagine Manhattan looks like. Everything in Canary Wharf is very Fancy and New™. The Canary Wharf underground station looks like a spaceship, with all of its glass panels and long strip lighting. So much like one in fact, that it is featured as such for a small moment in the Rouge One film.

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In this station at rush hour you can view a spectacular case of British queuing at its finest. 

I’ll be honest, I prefer the main City of London, with its mish-mash of old and new architecture and ancient streets. Still, they certainly knew how to impress with their massive towers here. I see them every day, but I’m still in awe. It’s crazy to believe none of it existed a mere 40 years ago!

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Obviously if you aren’t a Londoner this will not be relevant to you at all, but we’re getting a brand new underground railway running straight through the heart of the city, named ‘Crossrail’. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but it’s pretty exciting, and more transport links are definitely needed! It’s not due to open for another year or so, but we already are reaping the benefits in many ways, namely the new Canary Wharf station, otherwise known as ‘Crossrail Place’. It’s not a functioning station yet, but there is a choice roof garden!

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The Garden is located directly on top of the prime meridian stemming from the nearby Greenwich, which in layman’s terms, is the line that divides the world into the eastern and western hemispheres. This directly influences the garden’s design, which intends to play into this division, and is split into two sides; east and west, both showcasing the best of the exotic plants from their respective hemispheres.

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The juxtaposition of the towering glass and steel monoliths and the messy greenery of the garden pack quite a punch. I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at spotting some fauna from my very own New Zealand featuring in the Western side! A slice of nature and bit of nostalgia in surrounded by the tallest towers in the country, what more could you ask for?

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notting hill // antique markets & pastel hues

One of my friend’s was returning home to her home country, and this was basically our final chance to spend some time together before she left. Notting Hill was an easy choice in deciding how to spend our final day together! Notting Hill is a small neighbourhood in West London, adjacent to the rich and impressive streets around Hyde Park and Kensington. Although still rather posh in its own right, it’s got a much cosier vibe, and there’s a bustle and sense of excitement in the area that its more expensive neighbours lack. Even if I can’t afford anything on the shelves, no one minds if a girl in scuffed shoes and an oversized jacket wants to window shop!

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Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you Notting Hill is an incredibly pretty area. Looking around at the late Victorian houses in bright colours, and you’ll instantly see why. Window boxes and potted plants are on almost every doorstep, and I can’t help but wish that the rest of London would follow suit! They certainly know how to make their surroundings photogenic.

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IMG_3908 Portobello Road is home to the market of the same name, the biggest antique market in the UK. The weekend is the real time to go, when the entire market is open and the street is clogged up with patrons. However, despite that fact that we visited on a gloomy Tuesday in the middle of winter, we found ourselves plenty occupied by the ordinary shops still open on the street! We had a lot of fun exploring the shops here.

I absolutely love basically anything vintage, and I couldn’t help but wish I could decorate my flat (and wardrobe) with the entire contents of some of the antique shops! They’re the kind of place where you could imagine finding just about anything for sale. Goods of all ages and uses were stacked haphazardly on tables and shelves. My friend and I were a bit terrified of accidentally knocking something over, so we ended up taking off our backpacks and just carrying them!

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Funnily enough, I had just happened to see the film called ‘Notting Hill’ just a few days earlier. For the uninformed, it’s a classic 90s rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and makes a strong point of being set in the neighbourhood of Notting Hill. Although cheesy, I enjoyed it very much, and was a little bit excited to look at the area with a new light.

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Spotted the flat with a blue door, but unfortunately there was no Hugh Grant?

The great thing about Notting Hill is that you feel almost like you’re taking a holiday from the city when you’re there! Of course, just around the corner is Shepherd’s Bush and Hyde Park which definitely feel like you’re back in London again. If you want something a bit different from the usual tourist hustle and bustle of the central city, Notting Hill is there waiting for you.

an ode to brutalist beauty

The emergence of Brutalism in the ruins of post-war Britain is one of the most fascinating parts of modern design. The name suits it; brutalist architecture knows what it is and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Done wrongly, it can look rather depressing. Think of 60s era council flats with dirty, water stained concrete. However, done correctly, it can be powerful, unassuming, and beautiful, all at the same time.

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The other day, I had the pleasure of wandering around the Barbican, a massive complex of buildings in central London. I was meeting some friends nearby in Old Street, and the route I found on Citymapper told me to walk from Barbican station. I never really visit this side of the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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It’s impossible for the Barbican to not catch your eye. It’s there, blocking the horizon in its brutal, brutalist way, as soon as you exit the station. I had time to burn before meeting my friends, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to enter this cavernous sprawl, one so important as to lend its name to its very own train station.

IMG_0362As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by grey; lots of grey. Massive concrete monoliths rose forebodingly into the skyline, and balconies bedecked with small potted plants greeted my eyes in every direction I looked. It was stark, unapologetic and in-your-face. It was beautiful.

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In a way, it’s even more true to the nature of the concept of a building than anything. Brutalism doesn’t pretend to be anything else, to integrate into the environment around it, because that’s impossible. There’s no paint or glossy facades, it just is. It’s simply a building, built for and by humans.

If you were describe an ideal building on paper, it would not be a brutalist one. It’s too easy to enjoy bright, smooth surfaces and big windows, but then again, that’s what we’re conditioned to like in a way.

Bold, unapologetic, and undeniably urban; people are quick to dismiss brutalism, but it’s just another type of beauty.