The Au Pair Series: Caitlin in the South of France

The Au Pair Series: Caitlin in the South of France

Becoming an Au Pair

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Caitlin Houston! I’m a 20 year old living near Glasgow, in Scotland. I study International Business with Modern Languages (French, Spanish & Italian) at the University of Strathclyde. I’m just starting my third year of University, and next year I’ll be studying in France for a full year!

Where and when were you an au pair?

I was in au pair in the Summer of 2015 in the South of France. I lived in a tiny village in the Midi- Pyrenees, called Mazères, that I imagine you wouldn’t really know unless you were from there/had friends there. It was very small and so cute, and had such a buzz around it for such a small village! I was around 30 minutes away from Toulouse and 40 minutes away from Carcassone, but very remote and in the countryside. It was beautiful. I au paired for 3 beautiful girls, aged 8 months, 3 years and 9 years old. My host mum was an air hostess (but still on maternity leave), and my host dad is a pilot on long haul flights.

Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?

I’ve studied French since high school, but my French grades at university weren’t what I wanted them to be. It was a shame, because I LOVE French, and I love studying it, but I just wasn’t doing well in class at all. I struggled with my confidence and had issues with basic French conjugations that I really should have known by my 2nd year at university. I’ve heard time and time again that the best way to learn a language is to live in the country where they speak the language for an extended period of time, and so that’s what I did.

What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?

My main aim for my summer was to improve my French. I knew that I had to do something if I wanted to keep up with everyone on my course, and then go on to study for a year in France (starting in 2016). I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and learn loads about France and the way of life, to see if I was still as passionate about my languages as I thought I was! Then, if I was lucky (which I undoubtably was), I wanted to be able to find a “home away from home”, and create a situCaitlin Au Pair in South of Franceation where I could stay in touch with my host family.

How did you find your au pair family, and what tips would you have for those beginning their own searches for potential families?

I was very organised finding my au pair family. I wanted to arrive in June, and started searching for a family probably some time around January/February. I used aupairworld.com – an amazing site that made everything so easy for me. You set up your own profile with small paragraphs about yourself and pictures, and then send private messages to families that fit your criteria, and they can send messages to you. It made me feel more relaxed and secure, as I didn’t have to give out my email address to anyone I was wary of this way. I emailed my host mum (to be) and she replied quickly, and I just fell in love with her family. From there it all went quite fast, and I’m sure within 3 emails back and forward to each other we both agreed we were happy for me to come and be their au pair. I would absolutely recommend AuPairWorld for any au pairs coming from the EU, the whole process was very easy. The website also features guides on each country and their au pair laws and even provides a copy of the au pair contract, which I found interesting to read as part of my preparation.

How did you find the first few weeks moving in as an au pair with a new family? Are there any things you wish you’d have known before beginning?

I’m sure as any au pair going to a foreign country might find, I found it a bit awkward for my first week or so! I can remember sitting in my bedroom on the first morning and I could hear the whole family was awake and downstairs eating breakfast. I must have sat in my bed for around 10/15 minutes before I decided to go downstairs to join them because I was so nervous! The language barrier was obviously difficult at first, but my host parent’s English level is fantastic.. so I always had the option to speak English if I needed to. This helped a lot as well for when I couldn’t think of a word I needed in French.. I could easily just ask them and they could give me the word I needed. We spoke a lot of “FrEnglish” which was so fun! I don’t feel like there’s much I would have liked to have known in advance, but I wish I had been more prepared. I left without things like my grammar book and dictionary, which would have been a big help if I’d had them all with me. I wasn’t in the mindset to “study” while I was away, but I feel like if I had been I could have learned even more than I did. I also wish I’d prepared basic phrases to use with the children before I got there, like basic commands and questions.

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France
Life as an Au air

What was your daily routine like as an Au Pair? 

I wasn’t in too much of a routine when I was away because I au paired in the summer holidays, and so every day was different. I also didn’t have set “working hours”, which other au pairs I met found strange.. but it worked perfectly for me! We lived in the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t much to do, so I didn’t mind keeping myself busy all the time. I bonded more with the girls I was watching because I felt more like a big sister to them and not at all like an employee or nanny.

Generally speaking though, I would wake up around about 8/9am and get ready.. depending on when my host mum needed me. I would usually watch the girls in the morning while my host mum would run some errands/do her gym classes etc. Then it just depended on the plans for the day!

We would go for walks, paint, draw, play in the garden, visit the town and other surrounding areas etc etc. Then at bed time, we would maybe watch a bit of television, then I would watch the 7 month old baby while my host mum put the 3 year old to bed. I’d give the baby her bottle, she’d normally fall asleep.. and then bed time for everyone!

What was the deal with school holidays? (eg. Did you have the weeks off, or were you required to work during this time?)

I was an au pair for the 3 month summer holiday so I didn’t have a routine outside of this time! My host family were so accommodating, and gave me plenty of time to myself during the summer which they really didn’t have to. I was very lucky! I was able to travel to different parts of France: Rodez (where my host family’s mum is from), Sete (where I got to see one of my fav French artists at an amazing venue!), Toulouse, Carcassone, the beach a few times (I can’t remember the name of the town, oops!).. and more!!

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?

Best experiences:

All in all, I had an amazing summer in France. I can’t pick one memory that means more to me than the others. One particular time that sticks in my mind was when the little village I stayed in had a huge Medieval party one weekend and it was crazy.. I loved that!! It was so different from anything I’d seen before and I struggled to take it all in!! I also got to see the Tour de France go by when it was in it’s 13th stage (I think) at Rodez!! It was amazing, such a buzz!! I also loved visiting Sete and watching one of my favourite French singers, Tal, perform live!! The venue – Théatre de la mer – was amazing as it looked over the sea!

Some of my favourite memories are the simplest – walking down the stairs every morning to see the baby laughing at me in her high chair; the 3 year old running up to me and shouting my name as “Cli-Clin” because she was too young to pronounce it properly; over-hearing the oldest girl proudly introduce me to her school friends when they first met me; and drinking wine until the sun went down and talking in to the night with my host parents about everything and anything.

All in all.. I cannot chose my best experiences as an au pair, but can only say that being an au pair has been the best experience of my life to date. My summer was filled with lots of tiny, precious memories that I will keep with me forever. I have changed so much as a person after my summer away, and I know it’s for the better.

Difficult experiences:

I’ve changed the title here to “difficult” experiences, because I was lucky enough to not really have any particularly “worst” experiences.
I wasn’t a typical au pair in the way that you’re expecting me to say I was homesick in this section. I did not miss home at all, and could have stayed with my family for even longer if I could have. However, it’s the strong bond that I made with my family that in turn turned out to be one of the most difficult things for me to manage. I genuinely was/am so emotionally attached to my family that when the family was struggling with something I felt like I struggled with it too. I really struggled when my summer came to an end. I cried so much during my last few nights in France and I was heart broken on the morning I’d to leave. I couldn’t stop crying. I was in the airport and still sobbing away to myself. It’s actually something I’m still really finding difficult with today and I’ve been home for a month.

If you experienced any problems or issues with the family, how did you resolve them?

I had a grand total of ZERO problems with my host family!! I absolutely love them to bits, and will always have a huge space for them in my heart for as long as I live. They’ve given me more than I could have ever imagined from my au pair experience. The biggest problem I had was getting the 3 year old to eat her dinner BEFORE her ice cream… and if that’s the only problem I had, I know I am truly lucky.

 Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

Socializing and leisure

What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?

I joined a Facebook group called “Au Pairs in Toulouse 2014-2015” which let me talk to a few au pair girls not too far from me. Toulouse was a bit of a way out from my little village, so I only met the the girls once or twice. If I had lived more centrally/been able to drive confidently I could have met them more often, but it was nice just to talk to them by Facebook and compare experiences/ tips etc.

How easy was it to feel part of the community? Did you make friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?

At first I struggled to fit in with the community on nights out because I didn’t feel like I could communicate and I was nervous that I would embarrass my host family with my poor French. Once I could chat more confidently I felt so much more involved and got to know lots of family friends and their children. Everyone I met were always so lovely and very welcoming.

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

Learning the language and culture

How easy was it to find your language school, and did attending one help you personally?

I study French at university so thankfully I didn’t struggle as much as I could have if I’d had no prior knowledge of the French language at all. I could understand basic phrases and (sort of) hold my own in a conversation, and I progressed every day.

How did you improve your language skills?

I spoke French all the time with the family. That was my main method of learning. I would write down new words I learned in casual conversation in my vocabulary book and tried to use them as often as I could so I wouldn’t forget. I also watched a lot of English films on Netflix with French subtitles, and sometimes watched them in French with English subtitles. That helped a lot because I could then relate the two languages to each other. I also picked up reading the French Cosmopolitan magazine, and have even subscribed to it from Scotland as well now!!

Any tips for those learning a new language?

I would say find a way of studying you enjoy. If you don’t have an interest in French politics – don’t force yourself to read articles in French on them. Equally, if you don’t enjoy French music – don’t torment yourself by trying to translate songs you can’t stand listening to. Creating a pleasant study environment is half the battle, and if you can bring something you are passionate for in English in to learning a foreign language then you’re half way there. You’ll enjoy learning a language and absent-mindedly progress all the time. For me, I bring my love of all things Disney in to my French studies! I love watching Disney films in French that I already know so well in English and find it so interesting. I also love studying with music – so I listen to a lot of French artists and play them in the background when I’m getting ready in the morning etc. Do things that you love in English in your chosen foreign language, and you’ll come on leaps and bounds.

Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?

Absolutely. I feel like my confidence has improved more than anything, so now even if I’m conjugating incorrectly.. at least I’m conjugating! I can make sense of a lot more French as I read/ hear it around me. I’ve just had my first French class back at uni after my summer away and I feel so much more confident. More than anything – my summer away has made me even more passionate for the French language than I ever was before, and given me the motivation I’ve needed so that I can keep progressing even more now I’m back at university.

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

Life after being an Au Pair

How has being an au pair changed you?

Words will never be able to describe how much one short summer changed me! I found myself a whole new family, a whole new understanding of what it’s like to be French and a whole new way of thinking about my studies and my life at home! I feel more confident in myself and love France so much more than I thought I would. It was an experience that was genuinely invaluable for me for so many reasons and I’ll be forever grateful for my summer in France!!

Would you do au pairing again?

Absolutely, in a heart beat! If I could leave now I would. However, in the mean-time I’m hoping to return to my family again next summer if they’ll have me!

Would you recommend au pairing to others? And why?

Yes! I would recommend it particularly to every language student who wants to progress in their chosen language. There is no better way to learn French in a casual, understanding environment where you can have fun and create a genuine bond with the people you are technically “working” with. You don’t just learn the language – you learn so much culturally and about life in general. I was so lucky in finding my family and if you can match yourself to a family as well as I did, then I know for sure you’ll have such a positive experience like I did.

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

What advice would you give to those wanting to become an Au Pair?

Like I said, I was so lucky with finding my family. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories, so I would generally recommend thoroughly researching your family before you agree to go with anyone. Do NOT feel pressured to say yes to a family (I did a few times during my search). If it doesn’t feel right or you simply don’t want to/have changed your mind – trust your gut instinct. Potential host families are not your bosses yet during the initial chats, and they need you just as much as you need to find them, so take charge! Be polite, obviously, but don’t let anyone make you feel uncomfortable. Ask for references from previous au pairs/nannies and speak to them as often as you can before you leave, via Skype/FaceTime/Email.. anything!! If you are leaving with any doubt in your mind about your family and the conditions you’ll be staying in I’d definitely have another look at the situation. Have a back up plan incase something isn’t as you imagined it. Thankfully I didn’t need it, but I had back up money in my bank account in case of an emergency.

Overall (and on a more cheery note).. just throw yourself in! Don’t sit in your room too much! Speak the language! Go and play with the kids! Pick them up when they’ve fallen and skinned their knee, read them a bed time story at night, play hide and seek and chase them around the garden! It’s you who has the ability to CHOSE to be a member of your host family! You get out of the situation what you put in, and I promise it will be 100% worth it… and you will love your host family as much as I do mine.

Caitlin Au Pair in South of France

Find out more about Caitlin on her various social media platforms:

My name is Caitlin! I’m an International Business & Languages student in Glasgow, Scotland. I started my blog to inspire more people to au pair and to keep track of my travel experiences while I was away. I’m home just now and unfortunately my blog wasn’t as developed as it could have been (I was so busy this summer!!) but I’ll hopefully add more to it in the coming months as I look ahead to my year abroad. You can follow me & my Scottish/French nonsense on twitter and instagram!

Blog: caitlinaupair.wordpress.com
Twitter: @houstyx   |   Instagram:@houstyx

A return to Rainy Paris

A return to Rainy Paris

After being back in England for a month, last weekend I was headed back to Paris.Sadly it was only for a weekend, but any amount of time spent in Paris is sure to be appreciated. Despite having lived there for the past year and calling it my home, as I boarded the plane I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. This time I was somewhat of an outsider – I was no longer the current au pair, and so it felt a little different visiting the city that had stolen my heart.

Despite these minor worries, I was super excited to get back to the city of Lights and couldn’t wait! Although the weather throughout the entire weekend was pretty awful – rain everyday – I still had a wonderful time meeting with some of my closest and dearest friends who still live in Paris, as well as spending time with my au pair family. As soon as I stepped off the metro to meet one of my French friends, I knew that I was home. There’s something about Paris that has me longing to go back. I had also missed speaking and hearing French a lot, and it was only after spending a month away was I able to appreciate how much I had learnt and could understand. Much more than I had previously thought!

Due to the dismal weather, I wasn’t able to visit most of the places I had hoped to see. So, I’m definitely going to have to go back soon to do some more exploring! But hey, who can complain – most of my weekend was spent Cafe hopping and eating some delicious food!

Paris Notre-Dame Cathedral

Paris bridge/pont

Palais Garnier, Opéra national de Paris, Paris

The Au Pair Series: Emily in Paris

The Au Pair Series: Emily in Paris

Becoming an Au Pair

Tell us about yourself!

I had recently graduated from University of Northern Colorado when I decided to live abroad as an au pair before starting my life in the “real world”. Now, I am back in Denver working and missing Paris dearly!

Where and when were you an au pair?

I was an au pair in Paris, France from August, 2014-July 2015 (age 22).

Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?

I had studied French throughout college. I had done a short study abroad trip to the south of France over the summer in 2012. I love getting to practice my French and learning about French culture! I have always wanted to live in a big city, and Paris is the perfect place for au pairs.

What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?

My goal was to learn everything to know about life in France. What I never realized is I would learn so much about many other countries as well through my sweet friends!

How did you find your au pair family, and what tips would you have for those beginning their own searches for potential families?

I found my au pair family through a site called Almondbury Au Pair & Nanny Agency (aupair-agency.com). Although the word ‘agency’ might throw you off, this was a free site for me to use that allowed me to choose my own family instead of being paired with one. I would personally suggest not using an ‘agency’ that is asking for au pairs to pay fees in order to be placed with a family. I knew many au pairs in Paris and only a few who used this type of service, and their experience was at times negative because of the lack of connection between the au pair and the family, as well as the miscommunication about the appropriate role of the au pair. I enjoyed being able to choose from many family dynamics and job descriptions.

How did you find the first few weeks moving in as an au pair with a new family? Are there any things you wish you’d have known before beginning?

It is very nerve wrecking moving in with a foreign family whom you have never met. I was sick to my stomach the first couple days from all the nerves! I always assumed the family had very high expectations for me and how I should be acting and spending my time. This was not true at all! Be yourself and act how you want, the family is just grateful to have you there!

 Emily, Paris Au Pair, The Au Pair Series Roisin Grace, Au Pair Guide

Life as an Au Pair

What was your daily routine like as an Au Pair? 

  • Prepare the breakfast table and wake the kids around 7:00 am
  • Help kids dress and prepare their bags for school
  • Drive kids to school at 8:00 am

The time from when I arrived back home from dropping the kids off and picking them up in the afternoon was mine to spend as I pleased. Three days a week, I had a French course that lasted from 1:30-3:30 pm. Before and after, I would either relax in the house or hang out with nearby friends!

  • Pick up kids from school at 4:25 pm
  • Depending on the day, I would drive one of my kids to an activity such as tennis or writing lessons, and pick them up an hour later.
  • Play with kids, help with homework, give baths
  • Prepare and serve dinner for myself and the kids around 7:30 pm
  • Help kids calm down for the night and get ready for bed
  • Mom arrived home from work from 8:30 pm and my duties were finished

What was the deal with school holidays? (eg. Did you have the weeks off, or were you required to work during this time?)

In France, school vacations each last two weeks (except for summer which is longer). I usually watched the kids the entire day during the first week, and had the entire second week off. My monthly pay was normal, since it ended up being the same amount of working hours. The only exception was the fall vacation, during which I watched the kids the entire two weeks without extra pay. In exchange, I had the entire two weeks off during Christmas break.

What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?

My best experiences revolved around becoming close with my host kids, and also spending amazing times in Paris and traveling with my friends. Although it took a few months, the kids I watched and I became very close. I felt really lucky that I was able to have great relationships with them, it made being an au pair not feel as much like “work”.
The most frustrating experiences came from lack of communication with the family at times, and feeling that my time was not respected. I’d also had some negative experiences out and about, such as having my phone stolen and once being slapped by an Italian man! It was hard to often feel taken advantage of as a foreigner. I frequently had to remind myself that these types of problems I would encounter in any large city known for having tourists, and it wasn’t a reflection of France specifically.

If you experienced any problems or issues with the family, how did you resolve them?

At times I felt very uncomfortable living with the family. There are certain days when you feel like you’d like a break from being around the people you technically work for, but it is simply not possible living there. My host parents often took for granted my availability. They assumed because I was home, I was able to watch the kids or help with homework, even if it was my designated time off. I resolved that issue in a somewhat cowardly way: by always leaving! I was often intimidated by my host parents and afraid to ask for something to change, since they were giving me so much already by opening up their home to me. If I were to do it over, I would have been more vocal with my concerns in order to feel more comfortable living there.

 Emily, Paris Au Pair, The Au Pair Series Roisin Grace, Au Pair Guide

Socializing and leisure

What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?

Use the internet! I thought this was a weird way to meet people before becoming an au pair. It’s not! If you join a couple au pair Facebook pages that are related to the city you’re in or near, you will make friends in no time. Go to events for au pairs and expats, or even just write up a post asking someone to hang out. Everyone’s in the same boat and will want to be your friend.

How were you able to fit socializing with the commitment of your hours as an Au Pair?

Luckily, my hours of work were pretty standard for an au pair. I had weekends completely free, and usually my vacation days lined up with at least a couple friends. One thing I wish I had known before was the lengthy walk from my house to the nearest train station. On week nights, it really wasn’t worth it to take a 30 minute train ride to see friends after I already had to walk 30 minutes to the station! It was pretty frustrating sometimes.

How easy was it to feel part of the community? Did you make friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?

The majority of my friends were au pairs. I had already had a friend in Paris because she studied abroad the year before at my university. I became friends with another Parisian girl on a metro once, when I was being verbally harassed by a drunk French man and she sweetly intervened. It was harder to stay in touch with my French friends than my au pair friends because of the unique au pair schedule (basically opposite a normal person’s work schedule). I am not sure if the feeling of community would be more accessible in a smaller town than Paris.

 Emily, Paris Au Pair, The Au Pair Series Roisin Grace, Au Pair Guide

Learning the language and culture

How easy was it to find your language school, and did attending one help you personally?

I attended La Clef, a language school in Saint Germain en Laye. The biggest plus was that I met some of my best friends through my class, and even more friends who were in other classes at the same institution. I didn’t personally like my class after the first few months, because it felt a little repetitive, and I wasn’t getting the conversational practice I was looking for. I would suggest finding a language school that lets you pay in installments throughout the year, in case the class ends up not being exactly what you wanted.

How did you find the language barrier (if there was one)? – How were the first few weeks of living in a new country?

Since I had studied French in school, I knew enough already to get by alright. The first few weeks (or months!) were spent asking people to repeat themselves, and having to respond very slowly, thinking about every single word!

How did you improve your language skills?

Practice speaking! I wasn’t as interested in the grammar and vocabulary that my French course was teaching me as I was in speaking to my friends after class and trying to have entire conversations in French. You can always Google the vocab! 😉

Any tips for those learning a new language?

Something that helped me a lot while learning was to read the language. It was hard at first. I had to stop after almost every sentence to look up a word or two. Start by buying an easy to read book in your host country and watch how much you improve!

Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?

Yes! Throughout the year, I was able to communicate much quicker and feel like I was fluent enough to have a decent conversation with just about anybody.

Emily, Paris Au Pair, The Au Pair Series Roisin Grace, Au Pair Guide

Life after being an Au Pair

How has being an au pair changed you?

After being an au pair, I feel so much more in touch with the rest of the world. Now I have close friends in many different countries all over the world. I thought a year abroad would quench my thirst for travel, but it has only made me want to travel more!

Would you do au pairing again?

Although I would enjoy living abroad again, I don’t think I would be an au pair again. It is at times a very difficult job that you can’t wait to end. It also depends a lot on your specific situation. Depending on your host family, kids, schedule, living arrangements, and compensation, a job as an au pair can be awful or amazing.

Would you recommend au pairing to others? And why? (Even if you said no, let us know your reasons!)

Depending on the person, probably yes. Being an au pair is wonderful most of the time, with fun perks like being able to travel, have a flexible schedule, experience new culture, and explore a completely new city. However, for the most part of your day, it is about taking care of kids. If watching kids isn’t something you’d thoroughly enjoy doing, find another way to live and work abroad!

VISA Preparation for Au Pairs

Was it a requirement for you to have a VISA?

Yes. Americans wanting to become an au pair in France must have a “student” type visa if your stay is over 90 days. There is actually a particular long stay “au pair” student visa you can obtain.

How did you go about getting your VISA?

The visa process took me a couple months, mostly because the appointment has to be made about a month or two in advance, and then it can take up to another month for your visa to be approved and sent to you. The U.S. likes to make things extremely difficult for some reason, and you actually have to apply for your visa in person at one of their few consulates around the country. The website will tell you which one depending on your state of residence. I live in Colorado, but had to fly to California for my appointment.

What do you wish you had known about the VISA process before you had obtained it?

Read everything you can. The French Consulate website is very thorough and explains everything you will need to obtain. The confusing part for me was obtaining the paperwork my host family needed for the OFII Residence Form. This is a form that you need to possess for your visa appointment, but your host family must get it for you in France. I did not realize this and was super confused. Trust what your host family says and answer promptly the questions they ask you to obtain this weird form.

http://www.consulfrance-losangeles.org/spip.php?rubrique206

Emily, Paris Au Pair, The Au Pair Series Roisin Grace, Au Pair Guide

What a year – Au revoir à Paris et bonjour à Oxford!

What a year – Au revoir à Paris et bonjour à Oxford!

As I sit here eagerly attempting to write down what an incredible year I have had, I cannot believe that a year has passed since I said goodbye to family and friends and headed off towards the city of light. A year today, my Parisian adventure began. It’s safe to say that it has ended much too quickly. Continue reading “What a year – Au revoir à Paris et bonjour à Oxford!”

Paris off-the-beaten-path: 5 things to see & do in the Summer

Paris off-the-beaten-path: 5 things to see & do in the Summer

Summer in Paris is truly magical, and it’s definitely a great time of year to come and visit the city. However, with this, comes a mass of tourists into Paris. But do no fret! For this blog post will show you some of the lesser-known sights of the city, meaning that you’ll be able to avoid those crowds who flock into Paris in the summer.

The Promenade Plantée, Paris

Escape the rush, and stroll along the Promenade Plantée

The Promenade Plantée offers walkers an unparalleled and unique experience. Often off the beaten-track for tourists, the promenade provides visitors with expansive views of the city – you become one with the various buildings and architecture, yet remain a flâneur simultaneously. It is a surreal experience – hardly do you find a place within a capital city wherein you feel totally separated from the buzz and rush; but whilst uniquely being right in the middle of it.

Ascend the mysterious La Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris, Paris Views Landscape

Ascend the mysterious La Tour Saint-Jacques

Throughout the summer months, the Tour Saint-Jacques opens its doors to visitors, to allow the public to ascend up and to marvel at its magnificent views.

Standing at over 200 feet high (nearly 50 feet higher than the Arc de Triomphe), la Tour Saint-Jacques offers visitors some of the most amazing views that I have ever seen of Paris. Not only are the views sublime, with the vantage point at the very top provides a 360-degree view of the Parisian landscape. From there, you can pretty much see everything (weather permitting).

La Tour Saint-Jacques is still relatively unknown to tourists, and even to many Parisians – meaning that it is a definite must for those wanting to escape the rush of crowds in the city and get the best view of Paris.

If you’re interested in reserving a place on the guided tour up la Tour Saint-Jacques, head over to the website here.

Lac Inferieur in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, Paris Park, Summer

Promenade along Lac Inferieur in the Bois de Boulogne

Situated southeast of the Bois de Boulogne, the Lac Inferieur is the largest lake within the park. It is a delightful scene, where two manmade islands are a joined by bridge, but can only be accessed via boat. Walking along the woody trails surrounding the lake, one is guaranteed to see a unique part of Paris.

Located on one of the islands of Lac Inferieur is Chalet des Iles. As previously mentioned, this Chalet is truly enchanting. To access, visitors must take a boat across the lake, at the mere €1.50 for a round trip. Here at le Chalet des Îles, one can have a delicious meal in the restaurant, or relax by the lakeside at the bar. You don’t just have to go to the Chalet to eat, you can also explore the two islands, and perhaps enjoy a home-made picnic amongst the trees.

An absolute must when visiting either the Chalet des Îles and Lac Inferieur is to rent a rowing boat! Whilst during Napoleon III reign, rowing was reserved for the social elite; nowadays anyone can enjoy this leisurely activity. Renting a boat on Lac Inferieur was absolutely fantastic. Not only is it a really fun activity to take part in (despite myself being incredibly rubbish at rowing), but it’s a great way to see the Lake and explore the islands too.

To get Lac Inferieur and le Chalet des Îles, the nearest Metro stop is either La Muette or Rue de la Pompe. Alternatively, you can just head towards the Bois de Boulogne and enjoy exploring the park! You definitely won’t see many tourists here.

Rose Garden of Parc de Bagatelle, Bois de Boulogne, Paris

Visit the magnificent Rose Garden of Parc de Bagatelle

Also located in the Bois de Boulogne, the Parc de Bagatelle Rose Garden is one of Paris’ best-kept secrets. Filled with around 10,000 rose bushes of 1,200 different varieties, with the annual international competition for new roses, Concours international de roses nouvelles de Bagatelle, the Rose Garden of Parc de Bagatelle is a great place to escape the rush of the city tourists.

Walking around the garden, one cannot but be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of all the flowers – and the smell! If you come at the right time during the summer when the roses are in full bloom, the smell of the different species is captivating.

Also located in the Rose Garden is the Orangerie. Built in 1865, the Orangerie is a classical-style building where concerts are held throughout the year. Overlooking the Rose Garden is a sweet Victorian style Pavilion, the Kiosque de l’Impératrice. Located at the top of a small mound, the Kiosque is a great place to sit, relax and take in the beautiful surroundings.

So if you’re ever in Paris during the summer, or just fancy seeing a new part of the city, I without a doubt recommend heading over to experience the beauty of the Parc de Bagatelle Rose Garden yourself.

Les Jardins du Ruisseau, Paris Garden, Paris

Wander around Les Jardins du Ruisseau and eat at a disused train station

Up in the 18th arrondissement, Paris has a little secret – Les Jardins du Ruisseau. As part of La Petite Ceinture (‘the Little Belt’), the former railway route has been opened to the public, with many of the old train stations having been redeveloped. It is here that the previous Gare de Charonne has been reconverted into a chic new restaurant and the delightful Jardins du Ruisseau are situated. After being used as a landfill site, in 1998 it was proposed to turn this space into a garden for schools and the community.

After much expansion and redevelopment, Les Jardins du Ruisseau is now a small haven. Maintained by volunteers and local schools, the Jardins du Ruisseau has become a great place to come for a walk. As you wander up and down the garden along the train tracks, you’ll see a variety of flowers and plants. There are even seats and tables where you can bring your own food and enjoy a lovely picnic in the sun. The Jardins du Ruisseau is a delightfully sweet place, taking you from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Throughout the year the Jardins du Ruisseau opens its doors to a variety of different events; including live shows, education events and exhibitions. There seems to be an incredibly strong social bond at the Jardins du Ruisseau, and I definitely recommend spending some time here.

During the summer, the gardens are open Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.

After wandering around the sweet Jardins du Ruisseau, head on up to the hip restaurant/café La Recyclerie. Originally a former train station, La Recyclerie has fast become one of the places to go and hangout at in Paris. Here you can wine and dine overlooking the spectacular Jardins du Ruisseu and former train tracks, or even relax on the terrace if the weather is nice. Not only is the food and drinks great at La Recyclerie, but there are a lots of things happening here – for example, there is a permanent DIY workshop situated within the former train station called Chez René. Here you can learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to restoring timeless pieces. There are also heaps of pop-up shops that are often set up along the train track in conjunction to the La Recyclerie, so definitely check out their website to see what’s coming up.

 

The Impressionist’s heaven: Claude Monet’s Gardens in Giverny

The Impressionist’s heaven: Claude Monet’s Gardens in Giverny

Not too long ago, I finally experienced something that I have been longing to see since I can remember. That was taking a trip to explore Monet’s gardens for the first time. It seems to be a cliché as an Art Historian to say that you love the Impressionists – but I really do! There’s something about their work, especially Monet’s, dreaminess and visionary paintings that captivates the viewers. When looking at their work, I could stand for hours staring at the various colours, watching them wash and merge into one another as you move your gaze around the surface.

It was here in Giverny where Claude Monet lived from 1883 until his death in 1926. Living in a delightfully sweet house, Monet transformed his gardens into an amazing landscape of beauty – an ode to nature.

“It’s maybe because of flowers that I’ve become a painter.” Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)

Monet’s gardens are divided into two separate areas – the Close-Normand and the Water Garden. Starting at the Close-Normand, which was remodeled according to the original design, the garden is made of winding paths with a variety of beautiful flowers wherever you go. The sheer amount of flowers is overwhelming – in the good sense! Everywhere you look there seems to be a different species, and of course you don’t want to miss a thing. The amazing array of colours within the garden reflects the work of Monet, and walking around the Close-Normand, one feels as if they have entered one of his paintings.

A descent through an under-ground path takes you to the infamous landscape that was the inspiration of Monet’s Water Lilies collection. Purchased in 1893, Monet transformed this land into a heaven – and into the ‘Jardin d’eau’ (Water Garden). This garden reflects Monet’s interest in Japanese Culture, with its own Japanese bridges and oriental plants, including magnificent Weeping Willows surrounding the pond. In contrast to the traditional red bridges of Japan, Monet’s were painted green – as if to blend into the landscape of the garden.

Having seen many of Monet’s Water-Lilly paintings in person all over the world, it was a surreal experience to finally be able to come to the place which ignited his inspiration for those works. Having spent time wandering around the Water Garden, it was easy to see how Monet was so inspired and devoted to this garden.

Monet once wrote of the gardens: “The overall effect is endlessly varied. Not just from one season to the next, but from one minute to the next… the heart of everything is the reflecting mirror of the water, whose appearance fluctuates endlessly according as it catches the teeming life and movement of the every-changing sky. A passing cloud, a freshening breeze, a squall that looms then strikes, the gale that comes without warning, the light that fades then intensifies anew – all these things transform the color and texture [of art].”

I felt that I experienced this when visiting the gardens, as every view created a different vision, with the reflections of the water changing and the slight breeze moving the plants.

As well as exploring the gardens, you can also head inside the house itself. Recently renovated in the style of Monet’s original décor, it’s interesting to be able to attempt to picture yourself in his life. In the bedrooms on the second floor, you can gaze out onto the landscape, which I can only imagine being twice as serene without the tourists. I am a little obsessed with the pink exterior of the house – it looks almost as if it could fit in Notting Hill without looking too conspicuous!

Overall, I had an amazing time visiting Claud Monet’s Gardens. It was a beautifully sunny day, with the flowers in full bloom – what more could you ask for? Despite taking around 600 photos, I still don’t feel as if I got enough, or did the stunning landscape any justice!

Advice for visiting Monet’s Gardens in Giverny:

  • Pre-book tickets: I had pre-booked my tickets online – which included no a fixed date, meaning that I had a lot of flexibility for when I decided to go. When I arrived at the Museum, despite it being early in the morning, there was already a big queue. But with my pre-booked ticket I was able to skip all of this and enter extremely quickly!
  • Getting there: Take a train from Saint-Lazare in Paris to Gare Vernon, which takes around 45 – 50 minutes. From there, either take the shuttle bus or hire bikes (or walk!). If a nice day, I would recommend hiring bikes – you cycle along a beautiful cycle path, and get to experience the cute town of Giverny.

You can see all the photos that I took during my visit to Monet’s Gardens here.