Monday 27 March 2017

Terrass Hotel Montmartre by MH, Rue Joseph de Maistre, Paris

Although it occupies an 100-year old building overlooking one of Paris' historic cemeteries, the Terrass Hotel Montmartre is bang up to date inside. It has a cool and contemporary interior in which splashes of red and funky furniture are interspersed with restrained and tasteful decor. The hotel boasts studio lamps, director’s chairs, wooden floors, tiling of the Paris Metro and bathroom light bulbs modelled on the lamps in artists’ “loges”. Besides its location in buzzy Montmartre, the hotel's main draw card is distant views of the Eiffel Tower both from the premium rooms and the seventh floor rooftop terrace and bar. To make the most of this vista, the "studios d'artiste Eiffel" have large glass windows both in the bedroom and the en-suite bathroom, which is equipped with a luxurious roll-top bath and high-end toiletries. The Terrass Hotel Montmartre also offers fast free WiFi, safes, a gym, a spa, a library and games room, as well as Nespresso coffee machines in the premium rooms. All in all, this establishment is a memorable place from which to survey Paris. 8/10 

Sunday 26 March 2017

Paris Gare du Nord Station

Reputed to handle 180 million passengers a year, the Gare du Nord was built in the middle of the nineteenth century. The 540 foot facade is decorated
with 23 female statues, each representing a destination served by the Chemin de Fer du Nord rail company (now part of SNCF). The destinations sculpted
on the façade include Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Vienna, Brussels and Frankfurt, according to

Le Vrai Paris, Rue Des Abesses, Paris

The cobbled streets of Montmartre, sunshine, comfortable stools, chirpy service, fresh orange juice, coffee, toast and a croissant all for seven euros - Le Vrai Paris provides a near-perfect Spring time breakfast.

Place des Vosges, the Marais, Paris

Reputed to be the oldest planned square in Paris, Place de Vosges was laid out in the early seventeenth century and provides much-needed open green space in the medieval Marais district of the city. Originally built by Henry IV, the square is still lined with extraordinarily harmonious and handsome buildings. Victor Hugo lived at number 6 while he wrote Les Miserables, but the aristocracy largely abandoned the square in the nineteenth century as the Marais moved downmarket. Today, Place de Vosges is at the heart of one of the most trendy and enthralling parts of Paris.

Musée d'Orsay, rue de Lille, Paris

Le Basilic, Rue Lepic, Paris

  • Popular with locals and tourists alike, Le Basilic is a traditional and cramped Gallic restaurant on the slopes of Montmartre. Inside the timber-framed building, the ambiance and decor are old-school bistro: cream tablecloths and leather books on laced-lined shelves. If you haven't booked, you may have to queue in a tight space beside the door, but the waiters are very efficient and convivial. They lift tables around to help you squeeze into a berth  The three-course €29 Pleasure Menu seems to be the main draw. For each course, you can select from five fairly conventional dishes. To start, the herring, served with potatoes, is fresh and delicious. Among the mains, the duck leg with olive tagliatelle isn't quite as good, but is generous and filling. For desert, the chocolate mousse works well unless you have a very sweet tooth. The glasses of wine seem to be larger than billed and good value: the smooth Côtes de Bordeaux (€4.3 a glass) is very drinkable. Le Basilic is a tight ship that hasn't succumbed to the temptation to only pursue the ample tourist trade in this part of town. 7/10

Saturday 25 March 2017

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Paris

Bateaux-Mouches Cruise on the Seine, Paris

The Bateaux-Mouches cruise starts at the Port de la Conférence on the Pont de L’Alma. The itinerary takes about an hour and 15 minutes and is punctuated with commentary in half-a-dozen languages, which is sometimes amusing and sometimes annoying. You pass some magnificent architecture on this short trip, including Notre Dame, La Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Petit Palais, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, Les Tuileries, The Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. In March, the boats depart every half hour between 11am and 9.20pm. The trip costs €13.50 for adults, which is more than fair, given the beauty of Paris' riverside. You will take a lot of photos. 8/10

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris from the Seine

The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, Paris

La Défense from the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

 La Défense is a major business district on the edge of Paris

Abbesses Metro Station, Paris

Abbesses station's ornate and fanciful entrance, designed by Hector Guimard, is one of only two original glass-covered Guimard entrances, called édicules (kiosks), left in Paris, according to Wikipedia

Seb'on, rue d'Orsel, Paris

An intimate and well-regarded French restaurant with just seven or eight tables, Seb'on is a two-man band - one in the kitchen and one waiting on tables. Unsurprisingly, the menu is short with just a handful of choices for each course, but the food is expertly prepared and beautifully presented. Although the portions are modest, the prices are reasonable for top-notch cooking - a foie gras starter, for example, is €16, while a meaty main course is around €25. However,  the wine comes in small glasses and can be a hit and miss affair for the uninformed. You might find the Vallee du Rhone Domaine (€7 a glass) coarse, but the Bourgogne Les Grandes Ter (also €7) is better. A one litre bottle of San Pellegrino is a whopping €6, while a cafe au lait is €3.5. Although the service is generally good, the waiter can show signs of irritation if you make any special requests. 7/10

Thursday 16 March 2017

The Crown, Blackfriars Road, central London

Canonbury Square, Islington, North London

Laid out in 1800, Canonbury Square is described as having "particularly beautiful proportions" by the Guide to the Architecture of London, which also notes the raised pavements on the south side and the fact that George Orwell was a one-time resident

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Barnsbury Street, Islington, North London

The elegant nineteenth century terraces that are a feature of Islington

Highbury Fields, North London

Lined with mature trees, Queen's Walk cuts straight across Highbury Fields - Islington's largest park

Milner Square, Islington, North London

The unusually-elongated architecture of Milner Square

Highbury Crescent, Islington, North London

Stately period properties overlooking Highbury Fields

Compton Terrace Gardens, Islington, North London

When the first owners moved into Compton Terrace in the 1820s and 1830s, they had private use of gardens between their houses and Upper Street. Today, the gardens are maintained by the local council and are open to all 

Friday 10 March 2017

Twelfth Night, The National Theatre, South Bank, Central London

Images from the Twelfth Night website

Seemingly set in the twentieth century, this extravagant production of Shakespeare's farce Twelfth Night employs a large and eclectic cast dressed in skinny jeans, outlandish suits, shades and brash swimsuits.  At times, the comic delivery is delicious, with Tamsin Greig (as the pompous and presumptuous Malvolia), Tim McMullan (as the mischievous Toby Belch), Daniel Rigby (an indignant and idiotic Aguecheek) and Phoebe Fox (a subtle and seductive Olivia), adding a great deal of humour to the script. But in this age of short attention spans, Twelfth Night can sometimes feel laborious and long-winded, as the cross-dressing and cases of mistaken identity gradually unwind. Moreover, some of the other performances, notably Oliver Chris (as a one-dimensional Orsino) and Tamara Lawrance (as a dutiful Viola) lack a spark, making the production feel flat at times.

Sunday 5 March 2017

Ten Pin Bowling, Ham Yard Hotel, Soho, Central London

An upmarket and charismatic establishment, the Ham Yard Hotel has a traditional wooden ten pin bowling alley in its basement. It costs £20 an hour for adults and £10 an hour for kids to use one of the four lanes, which are complete with electronic scoring monitors that flash up garish cartoons and images when you hit a strike, spare or split. Although the alley can suffer a few technical glitches, the friendly and numerous staff will often allow you a bit of extra time.  Drinks are pricey at £6 for a beer and £9 for a glass of wine, but the Ham Yard Hotel is both more intimate and smarter than your average ten pin bowling centre.  For some strange reason, you can only book one week ahead. 8/10

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Alsur Café Llúria, Carrer de Roger de Llúria, Barcelona

An airy and modern cafe-bar, Alsur Café Llúria feels quite different from many of Barcelona's old school establishments - it seems more Scandinavian, than Spanish. Although the menu and the football on TV will bring you back to Barcelona.  You can get a decent and unusual eggs benedict, featuring sweet scones, Iberian ham and spinach, for 7.95 euros. It is not massive, but it is big enough for lunch, You can wash it down with a large bog-standard beer for another 2.6 euros. Service is slow and haphazard. But the ambiance is quite chilled and seems to attract American expats working on laptops. 7/10

Hotel Roger De Lluria, Roger De Lluria, Barcelona

Although it is very central and within walking distance of Barcelona's main sights, the elegant Hotel Roger De Lluria is in a fairly peaceful neighbourhood and is well sound proofed. Despite being decorated in an unusually traditional and staid style, the plush furnishings are good quality and in good nick. The rooms aren't big, but they are comfortable and well-equipped with baths, showers, flat-screen TVs, safes and free Wi-Fi. At the front of the hotel, there is a pleasant view down Roger De Lluria. The hotel staff are friendly, while the buffet breakfast is both extensive and impressive, offering smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, an array of pastries and other appetising options. The only complaint could be the lacklustre coffee, but there are plenty of eating and drinking options nearby. 7/10