A few days in the Netherlands – Vintage shopping, museums and culinary diary

Last week I finally had the chance to visit the Netherlands, something I had been looking to do for a long time. I went first to The Hague for the weekend then spent a few days in Amsterdam. I will mainly talk about The Hague here since I feel like less has been written on it (usually, everyone goes to Amsterdam), and I absolutely loved it. However, as I cannot hope to write the perfect guide to The Hague after spending three days there, I will write about the few things I most enjoyed. You can find the address for all the places in bold at the bottom. I arrived there on a sunny afternoon, which quickly turned into a very rainy evening. After a stroll around the city centre, me and the friend I was visiting went to the former fishermen village of Scheveningen to enjoy freshly caught fish at the iconic Simonis Aan de Haven. From kibbeling (a kind of Dutch traditional fish and chips) to grilled salmon and herring sandwiches, Simonis offers a large selection of seafood, in a corny yet charming sea-themed décor (think sea shells and sand on the tables and fake sharks and stingrays hung to the ceiling), and I very much recommend you pay it a visit.

We then walked along the beach from the fishing port to the other part of Scheveningen where the leisure port is. Despite the rain, the walk was very pleasant: there are plenty of sculptures and interesting buildings to keep you entertained, aside from the beautiful beach. We went past a colourful surf village, which was as empty as they are crowded in the summertime, but nonetheless enchanting. We reached the Kurhaus, in which the Rolling Stones played their first European concert in 1964, now a hotel surrounded with fancy restaurants and tacky entertainment centres.

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We then went back to The Hague, which is only a short tramway ride away (take the number 1 or 17), and went to the local art cinema, the Filmhuis, which is the equivalent of our Mancunian Cornerhouse. You can relax and have a drink and some food while waiting for the film to start, in a cosy yet spirited atmosphere. We went there randomly with no particular idea as to which film we should watch, and ended up seeing Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend), the latest film starring French actor Romain Duris. What we thought would be a typical French rom-com turned out to be a psychological thriller, about love, death, and gender identity. It was an interesting film, and Romain Duris, along with the very talented Anaïs Demoustier are truly remarkable. You can watch the trailer here.

The following day, we all went to Delft, which is about 20 minutes on the tram from the city centre. I would not be honest if I did not say that I fell in love with this place. Although it is a pretty big town, its vibe is that of a small village, with cool pubs, restaurants, and, as I soon found out, lots of vintage, antique, and second-hand charity shops. Colin, the friend we were visiting goes to Delft every so often just to go to those shops, where you can find absolutely anything, from old (functioning) cameras for 2€ to handbags and liquor glasses. My favourite find is a 1980 mug commemorating Queen Beatrix’s crowning, which I found in a second-hand shop on the picturesque Markt, where the Nieuwe Kerk Cathedral is located. The Terre des Hommes shop offers an interesting selection of clothing, kitchen items, and books. If you take a stroll around the centre and along the canals, you will be able to find plenty more. We also stopped at the public library where we had a delicious appeltaart, the traditional Dutch apple tart with whipped cream on the side. On the cultural side, Delft has been the main centre for Dutch pottery manufacturing for centuries, and is where William of Orange was assassinated in 1584. It is also a very student-y city, as it boasts the prestigious Delft University of Technology.

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In the evening, back to The Hague, our first intention was to go to de Boterwaag for dinner, but it is a very popular venue especially on a Saturday night and we couldn’t get a table. We thus ended up going to Rootz, which is reputedly the best Belgian restaurant in the Netherlands. The menu is laid out in such a way that whichever dish you order, you can choose the suitable beer or wine, which is actually an excellent idea. The chips were to die for, and so was the accompanying handmade mayo. Three of us had the runderstoof, which is a traditional Flemish beef stew, and my dad had mussels cooked in white wine. It was all delicious and of excellent quality and I do recommend you go there. On the Sunday, after visiting the Mauritshuis, which exhibits paintings by the best Flemish artists, we had a stroll around the city centre and came across the most amazing vintage shop, called Acendi. Located on Papestraat in the Royal Palace district, among posh designer shops, this small boutique is a real treasure. There you can find sophisticatedly yet unpretentiously curated vintage pieces of clothing at a very reasonable price, and especially when I went because they had sales going on. For less than 100€ I managed to get a faux sheepskin coat, two skirts, a dress and a blouse, all in excellent condition. They had a large selection of lovely blouses, leather trousers, extravagant dresses, among other things, and I definitely would have bought more if I hadn’t been worried about airport luggage restriction…

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Amsterdam

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After these three days in The Hague I went to Amsterdam for another couple of days and although it was my first time there I came across a few very good places, which I am going to share with you. The hotel was located in Amstel, near a street called Utrechtsestraat, where you can find a lot of Indonesian restaurants as well as a few Indian places. There are also plenty of boutiques, which all have that cool vibe I quite like. Also, go have a look at Marqt, a large organic/health food shop which sells delicious bread among other things, located on that same street (there are a couple more around Amsterdam). On the last day before leaving we also had lunch in the café downstairs from Hotel Toon. In this tastefully decorated café-bar, you can enjoy Mediterranean-inspired dishes such as Shakshuka (a kind of omelette with lots of tomato sauce, spices, and different toppings of your choice), and a roasted aubergine salad (which was supposed to have pomegranate, but they had ran out so we got red currants instead, and it worked well). They also have different types of bagels, salads and cakes at a reasonable price. For drinks you can have beer, wine, and tea/coffee. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and I particularly liked the music, which was a mix of Latin and Eastern-European inspired tunes. Just round the corner from the hotel was the Bar Lempicka, a rather sophisticated yet really welcoming brasserie where you can enjoy nice wine and nibbles, or a more substantial meal if you feel like it, and the staff is very friendly.

Toon

Toon

Toon

Toon

Near the Rijks Museum is a great little street called Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, on which there are plenty of antique shops and art dealers, and two shops that retained my attention. The first one is Episode, which sells, yes you guessed right, vintage clothing. It is more messy than Acendi but the choice is enormous, and if you’re not too much in a hurry, take the time to look through the racks, you might find some great pieces in there. Episode also has three other shops in Amsterdam, one in Utrecht, Haarlem, Brussels, Copenhagen and Paris. The second one is Van Roselen, a family-business that sells all sorts of fine chocolates and chocolate from around the world, which would please even the fussier chocolate-eater (you can buy chocolate with up to 99% cocoa for instance).

And finally, I must add that this trip was the occasion for a museum marathon (7 in 5 days!), and although I recommend you go to Mauritshuis and the Rijks museum because of they show beautiful pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt among others, there is a less famous museum I strongly recommend. The Tropenmuseum is a large ethnographic museum located in East Amsterdam, a bit out of the city centre. It is nonetheless worth doing the extra mile for if you like the study of non-Western cultures. From India and Morocco to Mexico and Papua, the history and culture of the peoples of the world is presented and explained, and there are also special sections on the colonial history of the Netherlands. Suitable for people of any age (there are special activities for children), I strongly recommend you go to this captivating museum.

The Parade - Tropenmuseum

The Parade – Tropenmuseum

Here are the addresses of the different places I mentioned all along this entry, sorted by city and alphabetical order. I hope you enjoyed reading about this trip, and if you have any questions, recommendations or opinion on the matter please let me know.

Amsterdam

Bar Lempicka – Sarphatistraat 23

Episode – Nieuwe Spiegelastraat 61

Marqt – Utrechtsestraat 17

Toon – Utrechtsestraat 18

Tropenmuseum – Linnaeusstraat 2

Van Roselen – Nieuwe Spiegelastraat 72

Delft

DOK Delft Public Library – Vesteplein 100

Terre des Hommes – Nieuwe Langendijk 33

Scheveningen

Kurhaus – Gevers Deynootplein 30

Simonis – Visafslagweg 20 (you can also find Simonis in the centre of The Hague at Gedempte Gracht 405H)

The Hague

Acendi – Papestraat 3

Filmhuis Den Haag – Spui 191

Rootz – Grote Marktstraat 14

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The 5 best cafés where you can study in Manchester

January. Post-Christmas food coma, bad weather and good resolutions. And exams.For all my fellow UoM students, January is not the most fun month of the year. Essays are due, revision notes are piling up, and the dissertation deadline is just ‘round the corner. So those who are already sick of spending their day in the Learning Commons (great building, sure, why does it always have to be so crowded…), this post is for you. Studying in a café isn’t for everyone, you’d have to have good headphones or be immune to noise. Noise actually helps me concentrate, because it forces me to make that extra effort that stops me from being distracted. What’s better than going to a café for a couple of hours? You can get food, nice coffee, and a different environment. And they say change is as good as a break. Anyway, here is my top 5 of Manchester’s best cafés for studying, or for an actual break if you have time for that.

The Anchor Coffee Shop

The fact that this small coffee house is just 2 minutes away from my home and 10 minutes away from the main campus is not the only reason it has topped my list. A former pub rescued by a local church-run charity, The Anchor is the most welcoming place in Manchester. The back room has long communal tables, which means there is plenty of space for you to sit or have a meeting if you have a group-project due (bear in mind it is closed on Wednesday mornings because it hosts a community project on that day). The front room is warm and cosy, although a little bit noisier. The Anchor serves very high quality coffee, and I really recommend the Cuban: it is simply amazing. They also serve bagels and soup, which are good-value for money. Keep an eye on the bagel of the month as well, it is usually a sophisticated and seasonal.

Power sockets: +

508 Moss Lane East, Manchester M14 4PA – Monday to Friday 9am-5pm

Takk

Takk is a Scandinavian café on Tariff Street, close to Piccadilly Gardens and North Campus. The main room is pretty big yet surprisingly quiet, which makes it an ideal spot for a study session. Lightly and tastefully decorated, with bookshelves and artwork, you will feel at home there. The sandwiches are delicious, and they also have a range of warm cheap mains (about a fiver). The coffee is really good, and they sell cakes and pastries as well, to keep your brain going. The only downside is the very limited choice of tea, but the place is just so pleasant it makes up for it.

Power sockets: ++

6 Tariff Street, Manchester M1 2FF – Monday to Friday 8:30am-5pm Saturday 10am-6pm Sunday 11am-5pm

Grindsmith Great Northern

Grindsmith is a new independent café located in Salford, which has opened a small outlet in the Great Northern (access on Deansgate). A short walk from Oxford Road Station, it is ideal if you live around that area, or if you like to go to the old John Ryland library. The place itself is very luminous and most importantly very quite (there is music but it is light). There is a very good choice of coffee and tea at a reasonable price, as well as toasties, soups, and cakes to choose from, and again, it is far from being overpriced especially for the area. It closes at 7pm, which is a bit later than the others, and there are plenty of power sockets.

Power sockets: +++

Great Northern Warehouse (access from Deansgate, across Sainsbury’s) – Monday to Saturday 7:30am-7pm Sunday 9am-5pm

North Tea Power

For those who like to multi-task, North Tea Power is ideal. Located in the Northern Quarter just two-steps away from Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street, you can go there for a study session in the middle of the day or after a quick shopping break. A little noisier than the others, NTP might be more suitable for a group discussion, but if, like me, you don’t mind the noise, it is a very good place to go. Although the choice of food is limited and sells out quickly (go early for lunch), the sandwiches are very high quality, and they offer a small range of creative salads. On the drink-side however, they have plenty to choose from, and the loose-leaf teas are good. There also are breakfast options available for those of you who like to start early.

Power sockets: ++

36 Tib Street, Manchester M4 1LA – Monday to Friday 8am-7pm Saturday 10am-7pm Sunday 11am-6pm

Oak St. Café Bar

This peaceful café located in the Craft and Design Centre is the best if you want to have a lunch break in the middle of revising. It has an extensive toastie menu as well as a daily menu with soups, frittatas, and yummy snacks as well as cakes. Everything is homemade, and delicious of course! It is very small, but never crowded on weekdays. They also have a big choice of teas, coffees, and homemade cold drinks. The only thing is that the wifi is only free for an hour, which could be a good thing if you’re trying to study without the temptation of online procrastination…

Power sockets: +

Craft and Design Centre 17 Oak Street, Manchester M4 5JD – Monday to Saturday 10am-5:30pm Sunday 11am-5pm

I hope this article gave a good overview of where you can go for a coffee/study session around uni and in town, and I am looking to make another article like this with places in the Fallowfield/Withington area because I know most of you guys live around there. Also, let me know if you know a good place, I’d be more than happy to feature it.

Good luck with your exams!

Where should you go this weekend? Food Fight at the Great Northern – UPDATED

For some reason, food courts do not seem to be as popular in France as they are in Britain (and elsewhere for that matter!). My first experience of a place where you can all eat food from different restaurants and still sit together (my very own definition of a food court) was thus fairly recent, when I had the chance to go on holiday to Malaysia a few years ago. As you can guess, I loved it.  The only thing that I found hard was choosing where to get my meal from, too much choice.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I moved to Manchester that I had access to this kind of place. From the not-so-exciting Arndale Food Court to more sophisticated venues, one particularly stands out: Food Fight. Although it technically isn’t a food court, it is still a place “where you can all eat food from different restaurants and still sit together”, and that’s what matters, right? This pop-up street food event brings together the finest dirty food you can find in Manchester: a plethora of South-Western style snacks, burgers, hot-dogs, you name it. Add to that an attractive choice of cocktails and funky music provided by the resident DJ, and you’ve got the perfect Friday night outing.

So, I ended up in Food Fight last Friday, not knowing what to really expect. The whole concept is a bit unusual, but as soon as you get into it, it is very much enjoyable. Although it opens at 5pm, there is no need to get there that early, we showed up at 8 and had no trouble getting in. First, we decided to share a cornet of almojabanas from El Capo: cheese and chilli fritters from Puerto Rico, which turned out to be very tasty. I then had a hot-dog from Piggie Smalls. Now, hot-dogs are usually my preferred choice of street-food, as I never cook them myself. This one had the quirky name of Chilli con Kanye (among a choice of Amy Swinehouse and Notorious P.I.G), and consisted of a frankfurter topped with chipotle sauce, chilli con carne and crushed Doritos. The meat was good, as well as the sauce, which was perfectly spicy. My friend had a burger from Chow Down, which was, according to him, delicious.

For drinks, we both had a Dark and Stormy, ginger beer mixed with rum, which wasn’t bad at all, and then my friend had a Moscow Mule, which I do not need to introduce, and I had a Hot Winter. The Hot Winter turned out to be a surprising mix of warm Rekorderlig with spices and rum: very nice for a cold November night.

The only thing we didn’t quite get our head around was the token system in use to pay for the food. Basically, before you order, you have to collect 1£ and 5£ tokens from a stall, which you then use to pay for your food order. The prices weren’t outrageously high, although it all adds up quite quickly. The cocktails were 6.5£ each, the almojabanas were 3£ (more than enough to share between the two of us), the hot-dog was 6£ and so was the burger. So expect to pay about 15£ each, or more if you decide to try different cocktails. The portions are big though, so you do get your money’s worth.

If you want to go with a large group of friends I’d recommend you book a table to make sure you’ll be able to all sit together. The place was not too crowded when we went, but you can expect it to be on a different night. GOOD NEWS: although it stopped for a few weeks across Christmas break it is back on from the 23rd of January!

It is located in the Great Northern Warehouse, and you can access it from Deansgate (just across the Santander Bank). It closes pretty early – 12am – so you can still go and party the night away after paying it a visit. Let me know how you find it!

Soup Kitchen

One thing you need to know about me is that I absolutely love Soup Kitchen. Whether I am in need of a mid-shopping cup of tea, a filling meal, a pint or a good night out, I know it will never let me down.

As one of the first places I’d been to in the Northern Quarter during my first year in Manchester, it remains my favorite. In fact, chances are, if you are one of the happy few who came to visit me here, you have been introduced to SK. I indeed believe that there is no better place to go after going through a flight and a long bus ride all the way from the airport. You got the idea, the first place I usually take my visiting friends from home is Soup Kitchen.

If I were to describe it with one word it would be “hybrid”. Is it a bar, is it a cafe, is it a club? Well, as you can guess, it is all of them. Now, what can you expect from it? In the daytime, you will find people working om their laptop drinking coffee and small groups of friends enjoying the delicious food at the communal wooden tables. As the sun sets, a happy crowd will start invading the place in search of a good craft beer or a pint of quality cider.

On certain nights, the basement will be open for a gig, or the infamous Remake Remodel, a night of alternative rock and roll and 1960s to 1980s gems.

If you happen to go on a Sunday, you may have the chance to see the tables covered with blank paper. Sharpies are provided, and you are free to draw whatever pleases you. Although I am not sure it happens every week, you might get lucky. It also occasionally hosts local art exhibitions.

Food-wise I would recommend the pea and ham soup, as well as the onion and ale soup. The sandwiches are equally good, with a special distinction for the cheese and tomato relish one. The main menu changes every so often, offering a variety of stews (vegetarian options available) and pies, as well as salads. They also serve cakes, (from the classic lemon drizzle to the not-so-common chocolate-avocado tart.) Although the prices are a bit higher than in more student-y areas, it remains reasonable. Expect to pay about 10£ for a main and a drink, perhaps 12£ if the drink is alcoholic. The staff is also super friendly.

Located on Spear St just off Stevenson Square, it is ideally situated at the heart of the Northern Quarter, a 5 minutes walk away from the Arndale.

Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse

When Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave his acceptance speech for receiving the Palme d’Or for this film, he dedicated it to the “young people of Turkey, many of whom have lost their lives in the past year”[1], an oblique reference to the recent protests and mining disasters. The director of this 197 minute-long opus has also said in an interview that the central character of Aydın is “a typical Turkish intellectual”[2]. These two facts together tell us much about how this film is commenting on Turkish society.

One could easily dismiss it as typical art house cinema. Its sheer length will no doubt put many off. It lacks ‘action’ in the sense that we have become accustomed to expecting from films. By the end, we might feel as though nothing has happened – but we should be mistaken to think so. For over three hours, and many, many scenes of just dialogue, we creep deeper into the trapped and stultified lives of Aydın, an ex-actor turned hotel owner in the harsh landscape of Cappadocia, his divorced sister Necla and wife Nihal. The conversations of these characters simply are the drama: wandering and meandering, they are undoubtedly long, and that is their strength: pleasantries and everyday affectations come one moment, then a series of implied insults, a smirk, a sigh, a forced smile, silence, and then back to pleasant chatter. By these circuitous scenes of dialogue we learn more about the self-importance of Aydın – his pontificating articles in the local newspaper, his disdain for his pauper of an Imam and tenant Hamdi, his tiresome sense of being a self-made man and lordly ruler of his small kingdom. Necla, his sister, brims with a passive aggression towards Nihal and Aydın that has clearing being steeping for many years; one senses that her keen words of criticism have been carefully rehearsed in her mind. Yet it is Nihal’s contempt for Aydın that is most striking. Her fair face shows us a woman withering away, fraught with spite, yet succeeding to distract herself with philanthropy – until Aydın learns of it, cuts it down with a few patronising remarks and takes it from her.

The powerful social critique expressed in the film reaches its peak when Nihal decides to donate a very large sum of money to her husband’s tenants. Does she do it to solely alleviate her conscience or in a genuine attempt to improve the family’s situation? Whatever the reason, her gesture is seen by Ismail, the imam’s brother, as utterly insulting and humiliating. Although she seems to seek to abolish the existing economical hierarchy that defines the relationship between the tenants and her husband and herself, she only reaffirms the pervasive social hierarchy that exists between the two families. Expecting gratitude, or acquiescence, she is confronted to Ismail’s pride and hostility. She then perhaps realises how degrading her initiative is, giving charity to the very same people disgraced by her husband. The hierarchy is equally maintained by the fact that Aydın insists on charging the tenants for the rent. If he is as wealthy as he gives to understand, why does he not simply allow them to live in the house for free? Or would that, again, be an act of unwanted charity?

The notions of morals and conscience are underlying in all the conversations between the characters, who use them to undermine each other’s actions and thoughts. Although Aydın believes he is a man of good conscience, his sister Necla makes a point out of showing him it is nothing but an illusion, a way for him to keep on living his deluded life. Nihal violently puts him in front of his contradictions: all those morals he constantly talks about, isn’t he the very person who lacks them the most? With their self-righteousness, the three of them seek to justify their own acts, words, and thoughts, in order to disguise their deep uneasiness towards each other and towards the members of the community around them.

The study of these faces showing and hiding back their emotions, as they are lit by flickering log fires in the cavernous rooms of the hotel, are fascinating enough to keep one’s attention throughout these conversations. And yet, in between these scenes, there are also some astonishing shots of the barren countryside as it slowly slips on a spotless blanket of snow. The wisps of fog clinging and passing through the fingers of grass in the first shot alone could not fail to catch one’s eye. The frozen beauty of snowy Cappadocia adds aesthetical substance to the powerful psychological drama taking place.

Toward the end, where the film swells to a dénouement, we are tempted to be enticed by the rakish smile of Aydın as he stares straight at us, his grey hear whirling in the wind, and as we hear his voice reading out his letter to his wife to ask for her forgiveness. Yet the following sight of Nihal, staring lifelessly onto the floor, without even the energy to cry any longer, reminds us of Necla’s words to him:

“Butün meselen ne senin, biliyor musun? Sen, acı çekmemek için, kendini kandırmayı tercih ediyorsun.”

“You know what your problem is? In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.”

The word ‘Aydın’ means ‘intellectual’ in Turkish. Together with the remarks mentioned at the beginning by Ceylan, we can see that this is all that is left of the bourgeoisie in Turkey: feeling increasingly alienated from the religious and impoverished masses, they distract themselves by being charitable to avoid waking from their deep slumber, to avoid seeing the republic of their long-misplaced ideals, a republic in decline.

You can see Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse on Oxford Street until the 30th of November, in Turkish with English subtitles.

This is an article co-written with Mehmet Çiftçi.

[1] http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/17-things-to-know-about-cannes-winner-nuri-bilge-ceylan.html

[2] http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/cannes/nuri-bilge-ceylan-winter-sleep/5072348.article

The picture is from The Playlist.

#Şiirsokakta – Poetry on the streets of Istanbul

Saying that Istanbul is a city full of surprises is a terribly ordinary statement, and euphemism at its finest. Whoever has been to this marvelous metropolis would agree with me. Şiir sokakta, literally « poetry on the street », is one of those surprises. As I was strolling around the Cihangir area looking for The Museum of Innocence (more to come about that in a future article), I saw that the facade of some houses were covered with quotations and poems. My knowledge of the Turkish language being rather limited, I struggled to understand them, but nonetheless took pictures of them to try and translate them later with the help of a dictionary. It turned that they were quite complex, and I had to ask my Turkish friends for extra help.

While most of these poems were about love, beauty or life, some of them had a political dimension.

I would like to introduce you to my favorite ones, that were all located on a beautiful blue and pink building on the way between Tophane and the Galata Tower.

The first one that caught my attention, and that happens to be my favorite was written by Özdemir Asaf, as I found out upon investigating. The translation goes as follows : ‘She (he) said wait I will come back and then she (he) was gone/I did not wait/she (he) did not come back/it was something like death/but nobody died’.

The second one is only a sentence : ‘It was the happiest time of my life, but I did not know.’ It appears to be the first sentence of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, which narrates the tragic love story of Kemal and Füsun, in mid-1970s Istanbul. Although I have visited the museum itself, I am still reading the book, so more to come about it in the future.

I could not establish the origin of this particular one. If someone knows who wrote it please let me know ! The translation is : ‘It seems that as beautiful this city is, as blue the sea is ‘.

Another one, written by Metin Altıok, is, I think, rather mysterious : ‘It is as if me and mine / in front and behind / in the corridor of me.’ If you have an alternative translation please let me know, because as you can see this one is rather clumsy. This is only part of a stanza in the poem ‘Kendinin Avcısı’, which you can find here.

Finally, this one, written by the popular poet Edip Cansever proved to be extremely hard to translate. Instead of providing an approximative translation, I would rather simply share the picture with you, until I manage to find a good one. Same, if you do have one, please let me know, and you will be rewarded with my eternal gratitude (or a coffee !). It’s been brought to my attention by a friend of mine that this quote is a part of a very long poem titled ‘Sera Oteli’, which you can find here.

If you type #siirsokakta into Twitter or Instagram, you will be able to find an extened collection of poetical graffitis in Turkish. I find this initiative very intriguing. Taking poetry to the streets is something that I greatly praise, as being yet another way of sharing the beauty that words can create.

Breakfast @ Lazare, the award-winning train station brasserie

French people do not eat croissants everyday, despite the stereotype. Even more now that I have spent time in Manchester, I have always been more of a porridge or muesli kinda person (I will probably have my passport taken away from me for saying that!). However, when in Paris, I wouldn’t say no to a nice pain au chocolat, especially from Chef Eric Frechon’s new brasserie.

My experience of railway station dining so far has been utterly disappointing industrial sandwiches and very expensive tasteless salads. Not great, hence my scepticism about having breakfast at the Saint-Lazare station.
I was then delightfully surprised when we entered Lazare, which far from being your average train station food outlet, is in fact an award-winning brasserie (Brasserie of the year by the Guide Pudlo in 2014). Located in the shopping arcade in the station between two random chain shops, I would have never guessed such a place would have taken up residence there. But oh well!

The main sitting room is elegantly decorated, with dark wood, comfortable chairs, and white crockery.
We showed up fairly early on a Saturday morning, so it was virtually empty. The service was good and very neat, like you would expect in this kind of restaurant. Luckily the waiter did not have this “too good for you” attitude that waiters in this kind of places sometimes have, and was very attentive.

The breakfast menu is very concise, you can either have a croissant (or pain au chocolat), or tartines (fresh baguette topped with butter and jam), and you can choose from a range of hot beverages and freshly squeezed orange juice. Quite traditional, and very French indeed.

Individually, the items on the menu are very pricey (around 7€ for a cappuccino, 3€ for a croissant), but if you come before 11am you pay 10€ for a hot drink, an orange juice (fresh), and a croissant/pain au choc/tartine. Considering that a similar breakfast in an average brasserie in the area would cost you around 8€, it is quite reasonably priced. But now, what makes the difference between the breakfast at Lazare and that of an “average brasserie”?

First of all, the pain au chocolat that I had was very good: not too buttery and the chocolate inside was very fine. I believe that all pain au chocolat weren’t created equal, and this one was definitely at the top. My parents had a croissant and a tartine, which according to them were equally good. The drinks however weren’t outstanding, still better than the bottled orange juice that we had the following morning in said average brasserie. The cappuccino, although topped with an impressive asymmetrical foam, was not exceptionally good.

All in all, Lazare is a pleasant place, the breakfast is simple yet of good quality, and the service is spotless. I would not specifically go out of my way to have breakfast there, but if you are around Saint-Lazare with an empty stomach, it is a good place to go. If you intend to have lunch or dinner there though, I think you should book well in advance, as it is quite a trendy venue.

This is the last post with bad pictures, as I have finally retrieved my camera, which I had forgotten at home when I moved back to Manchester in September (how could I, I wonder…). Next post will be about a place in Manchester, now that I am back here!

Restaurant Lazare Paris
Parvis de la Gare Saint-Lazare, Rue Intérieure, 75008 Paris
+33 1 44 90 80 80

‘Je m’appelle Niki de Saint Phalle et je fais des sculptures monumentales’ – Exhibition at the Grand Palais

As a child I grew up in a very much culture oriented environment. Being a millennial little girl also inclined me to appreciate female artists. I was thus, by the age of 8ish, able to say that Niki de Saint Phalle was one of my favourite artists, after seeing a documentary broadcast after her death in 2002.
However, at such a young age, what fascinated me about Niki was her project for a park inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell, and Les Nanas, those big, colourful sculptures of figuratively powerful women, which is what she is mostly remembered for.


I then, somehow, moved on and forgot about her. However, when an exhibition dedicated to her at the Grand Palais coincided with me randomly spending a weekend in Paris, I decided to give it a chance and go.
For those who do not know her, Niki de Saint Phalle is French and American sculptor and painter born in the 1930s in an aristocratic family, and was educated in a convent. She was raped by her father as a child, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman. After being a model, she decided to dedicate her life to art, recognising the healing power it had on her tortured mind.
The exhibition was chronologically organised, to reflect the artist’s evolution. If at first, she represented violence through collages, under the concept of creation through destruction, she then moved on to making pieces representing an extremely deep psychological insight and reflection.

She strongly believed in woman empowerment, and conceived and represented women as protective, creative, loving, and complex. She believed that with the failure of Communism and Capitalism, what the world needed (and probably still needs) was a matriarchal society, giving a political dimension to her art. Through Les Nanas, those gigantic sculptures, she sought to represent women in and of power, women with attitude, seeking greatness, ready to take over a world ‘where everything was invented by guys’, in her own words.

What impresses most now is her reflection on love and relationships, through a series of drawings made in the late 1960s. Her drawings ‘what shall I do now that you’ve left me?’ and ‘why don’t you love me?’ depict the distress that love, and lack of reciprocity in love, can cause.
Another one titled ‘could we have loved?’ explores the unstable dimension of the concept of soulmate on which we always seek to base our love relationships: ‘had we met some other time could it have been you instead of him?’ She addresses the issue of possibility and commitment, but also of deep love and the intimacy it supposes: ‘my love what are you doing?’, ‘are you you driving your new car/are you drinking bloody mary?’

 

She also reflected on her background and her relationship with religion, and her parents.
Although she saw women as loving and protective, she also made a series of sculptures titled ‘The devouring mothers’, in which she gruesomely represented the endless (emotional?) greed of women, mothers, her mother, and the petty bourgeois routine characteristic of her family’s social background. Instead of colorful opulent women, these sculptures represent ridiculous fat ladies with greyish hair, old-fashioned purses and dresses, and pearl necklaces. The film ‘Daddy’, directed in 1973, seeks to openly address the abuse she suffered, imposed on her by her father, with crudeness, exposing the facts as they were in an attempt to show everyone what happened.

Niki de Saint Phalle used different techniques to express herself, including a very peculiar one: she would shoot on a blank canvas with a rifle, aiming at bags full of paint, which would then explode and drip. The canvas itself would be a sculpture: objects stuck to, or carved into a blank surface. With this comes again the theme of creation through destruction. According to the artist herself, she was literally shooting ‘on violence’, hers and that of her time. The shooting session were often made public and some of them were even shown on TV.  Here is a link to a video showing them.

Upon seeing this impressive exhibition I discovered that there was much more to Niki de Saint Phalle than colourful sculptures and extravagant parks. Her whole work is incredibly subtle and powerful, showing the artist’s genius and sensitivity.

If you happen to be in Paris before the 2nd of February do go see this exhibition at the Grand Palais, it is spectacular. However make sure you buy tickets online beforehands as it gets very crowded and the queue is endless.

I took all the pictures at the exhibition, the quality isn’t amazing but it gives you an idea of what you can see there, I hope you enjoy it!

Castlefield Market – Review

I recently bought Ceviche by Martin Morales, the founder of the trendy Peruvian restaurant of the same name in Soho. Although I am the biggest fan of world cuisine, I find it hard at times to cook it at home for one main reason: a lot of the ingredients are hard to find in your average supermarket.

So I found myself roaming the internet in search of aji amarillo and aji panca, only to find that the shipping was always more expensive than the product itself. As I had given up on the idea of making an authentic ceviche, I came across Viva Peru. First surprise: they are based in Manchester. Perfect, I thought. Then came the second surprise: they were going to have a stall at the Castlefield Market on the following weekend.

What stroke me when I first arrived in Manchester two years ago was the huge amount of chains in the city centre, and the relatively small amount of independent places. When I found out about the Castlefield Market as I discovered Viva Peru, I decided it would be the perfect place to go for a nice break between nightmarish essays. I ended up there with a friend, going through piles of handmade headbands (food isn’t the only thing you can find there), tables full of organic cosmetics, and all sorts of artwork.

On the food side, there was plenty to choose from. We first decided to have lunch from one of the food trucks. I went for a mushroom and truffle pizza from The Pizza Maker and Margaux had a pumpkin soup from 4Lunch. Although we struggled to find a seat in the rammed hall, the food was worth it. The pizza I had was absolutely delicious, with a thin crust and real mozzarella, the closest I’ve had to a real Italian pizza in Manchester so far. The pumpkin soup was equally delicious. For dessert we had paleo, gluten free and dairy free muffins from Tyler and Hall, so good you could not tell they were that healthy. The banana and walnut muffin especially was heavenly. Pricewise, it was all fairly cheap and good-value for money, 5£ for a medium sized pizza, 2.5£ for the soup and a roll of bread and I think about 2£ per muffin.

When we finally got to the Viva Peru stall, we got to meet Adam and Xavi, the two lovely guys running the business. As we tried samples of the products, they explained that they decided to open Viva Peru as Xavi, who is a chef, struggled to find the ingredients he needed. I decided to buy a jar of aji amarillo paste, one of aji panca, the basis to most Peruvian recipes, and a small bottle of Rico Picante ‘Oops!’ Chilli Sauce, with the promise that it would bring extra picante to any dish. I also ended up buying a packet of instant chicha morada, a sweet drink made with fruits and purple corn, that turned out to be delicious!

Overall, the Castlefield Market is a place I highly recommend, mainly for the food products, although the other stalls offered pretty good gift ideas (thinking ahead for Christmas!). There was also a DJ, playing all sorts of music, which added to the nice, joyous atmosphere.If you want to have a good time grab a couple of friends and take them there for lunch, make sure you check the dates though because it is only on every first Saturday of the month. Next time will be a Christmas special, and will be on a bit more frequently, to match the Christmas Markets in the city centre: every Friday to Sunday from the 28th of November to the 21st of December.

Also, sorry guys for the lack of pictures, I did not have a camera with me when I went (and the one on my phone is terrible), but next article will definitely have some so keep an eye out!