Finding Myself in Paris



It occurred to me the Sunday before I left for Paris that nothing I could possibly say about my time there would be much of a surprise to anyone. Paris is possibly the most photographed, painted, filmed and written about city on earth and I am but one voice in the chorus.

I set myself a task - I was going to find myself in Paris. It’s not that I was especially lost – I like to think I’ve got quite a keen sense of who I am – but I’m not quite the same person I was when I lived in South Africa.

I decided it was time to reconnect with who I am and what I like. To show you Paris through my own eyes, what I see when I look at the world around me. This is a post of things, of experiences and impressions. It won’t include the actual reasons for our visit – meeting up with precious friends and family, tracing our family history, reconnecting with our loved ones – but I thought it was a good place to start.

Paris Metro

Tube, underground, metro or subway. Whatever you name it, I love the underground networks beneath many of the world’s greatest cities. I’m a little sad that I didn’t take more photos of the Paris Metro – I was convinced I had but this turned out to be my only photo.

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

I love discovering grand old houses, palaces and buildings and learning of their history. This is the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the western suburbs of Paris. My mother's family once lived in a house in the grounds of this estate but today all that remains of the house is overgrown grass covering the foundations.

Stairwell in St Germain-en-Laye

I love stairwells and tiles, old buildings and classic fittings. My mother and uncle would once have run up and down this stairwell when they were young children.

House in St Germain-en-Laye

I love architecture. I like to look at the lines and curves of a building and learn more about its style and design. This house is part of the house where my mother and uncle lived as children. It is next door to the building that the photo above was taken in.

Statue in St Germain-en-Laye

I love gardens and statues and learning more about their meanings and the reason they were built. This photo was taken in the gardens of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. After a particularly difficult morning tracing family history, I took a long walk alone in the gardens. I love being alone and often like to be alone when I am feeling emotionally drained.

View of Paris from St Germain-en-Laye

I love views, especially ones filled with greenery and nature. This is the view from Saint-Germain-en-Laye looking towards Paris in the distance. If you look closely, you can see the Seine winding through the middle of the photo and also some interesting turrets in the right corner of the photo.

Street scene in the 10th Arr

I love city scenes and seeing how different cities in the world look. This photo was taken in the 10th Arrondissement, shortly before the shopkeeper closed for Friday prayers.

Joan of Arc Paris

I have always loved Joan of Arc and consider her a hero. This statue is located just off the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Tarte Citroen Angelina

I've learned to love sweet foods during my time in London. I was never really a sweet tooth before but that has all changed now! This is a Tarte au Citron from Angelina which is located on Rue de Rivoli.

Lamp post Tuilleries

I love lampposts and am quite certain that this can be traced back to my love of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This photo was taken in The Tuileries Garden where the lovely Yannick took me on a sanity-saving walk.


I love sculptured gardens and extravagant walkways. This was taken in The Tuileries Garden looking towards the Louvre.

Arcade Paris

I love old Victorian arcades. I think this is only something I discovered after moving to England seven years ago but since then I have discovered arcades in London, Norwich, Paris and Milan.

Eglise Saint Laurent Paris

I love churches in all their details and symbolism. This is the Église Saint-Laurent in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

People in Paris

I love people-watching and looking at how people interact and relate to each other. This was taken from my seat in the Renouveau Bistro in the 10th arrondissement.

Art nouveau Metro sign Paris

I love Art Nouveau and was thrilled to see all the Art Nouveau touches in Paris, such as this Metro sign. This was taken emerging from the École Militaire Metro station near the Eiffel Tower.

Handwriting in Paris

I love handwriting as well as stationery and books. This is the Mur de la Paix or Wall for Peace monument in the Champ de Mars gardens.

Eiffel Tower

I love seeing the things that other people have seen with my own eyes. I try not to think about whether or not they met my expectations but instead I like to really look at them and to see the details that I hadn't noticed before.

Eiffel Tower detail

I love metal work and filigree and the details that go into massive metal structures. I first realised this love in New York when I visited the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty.

The River Seine

I love rivers and especially rivers that flow through cities. Water is in fact one of my greatest loves of all. I love rain and oceans, waterfalls and rivers, swimming pools and canals.

French flags

I love flags. I always loved the Union Flag and the new South African flag but I think it was again in New York that I discovered my love for flags in general. New Yorkers were so proud of their flag whereas we in the UK only really discovered that pride in 2011 / 2012 in the run up to the Royal wedding, Diamond Jubilee and Olympics.

Cafe culture

I love cafe culture and sitting in cafes across the world. I also love eating alone and am also known to go to the cinema alone. I know that many people don’t like that at all but I find that these are my best times to think and reconnect with myself.

Cafe noisette

I love coffee. This wasn't always the case. For many years, coffee gave me headaches and so my love of coffee is a very recent thing. I generally like my coffee and tea the same, strong, sweet and milky but I've also discovered a passion for the French café noisette - espresso with a dash of hot milk. I’ve finally learned to sip it slowly with a glass of water too, instead of downing it in one gulp.

Arc de triomphe

I love France. This is a brand new love and one that surprised me. I never had any desire to visit France at all and often wished that other countries were just across the Channel. But visited Boulogne and Lille in 2012 and Normandy this year and I have certainly fallen in love. This is one of the reasons I try not to hold expectations about destinations.

Emm in Paris 

And finally, I am beginning to love myself, even my tummy which, it seems, will not be tamed. This is me after a mammoth walk through Paris right at the end of our four day stay. I was much more relaxed and at peace with myself than I had been four days earlier but that was soon scuppered by our bus to the station being delayed behind protestors and the two of us almost missing our Eurostar home!

Have you ever lost or found yourself? What do you do when you need to reconnect or are you naturally Zen about the whole thing?

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red: The Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London

The Tower, the Shard and the Poppies

I’d heard of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London and I’d seen numerous photos but nothing prepared me for the first time I saw them. I was on a bus speeding past the Tower and suddenly I could see them before me and they took my breath away. I knew that I had to go back.

And so on the day when I tracked down the Books About Town and revisited St Dunstan-in-the-East, I slowly made my way across London to the Tower. As I approached the Tower, they took my breath away again. The sight of the red ceramic poppies against the green grass and grey walls of the Tower is really quite impressive.

The White Tower and the poppies

There were volunteers below planting more poppies. I know that Sue Hillman from It's Your London was one of those volunteers but try as I might, I could not spot her!

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London

I was pleased to discover that despite the large number of people lining the walkway to get a view of the poppies, people were very patient in allowing each other to take photos or simply stand and reflect.

Ceramic towers spilling out of the Tower of London

I stood at this point and reflected for a very long time. In 1918, my great-grandfather Corporal John Quinn was on his way home after serving in World War I when he was shot in the eye by a sniper in a French village.

He survived and a year later my grandmother was born. I can’t begin to express how profoundly grateful I am that he survived and that his blood line continued down through the generations. You can read more about my great-grandfather and about my grandfather’s brush with Kamikaze pilots here.The outer Tower and the poppies

The late summer day was certainly turning blustery and cold and eventually I decided to make my way around to the main entrance of the Tower. I love this photo below, it shows the unique style of the Tower so well. That is the White Tower you can see there, just left of the flag.

The Tower of London

I was able to get quite close to the poppies to see some of the detail on them. Definitely click on the photo below to see how beautifully they are designed.

The ceramic poppies up close

At the front of the Tower, the poppies cascade over into the dry moat.

A cascade of ceramic poppies

It really is an excellent visualisation of the anonymous poem written by a World War I soldier Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red:

The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

By Anonymous (Unknown Soldier)

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.

As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead

My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.

It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more

I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

Ceramic poppies cascading into the Tower of London

In homage to the poem and to honour the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the installation is named “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”. The poppies are created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins with setting by designer Tom Piper.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

From 17 July when the first poppy was planted to 11 November 2014, a total of 888,246 poppies will be planted in the moat, each poppy representing one British fatality in World War I. The poppies will then be sold and the proceeds will be divided equally between 6 charities that provide support to those in service and the armed forces.  You can click here to Buy a Poppy.

Revisiting St Dunstan-in-the-East

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (9)

St Dunstan-in-the-East didn't always look like this. I say this with confidence although I will confess that I don't really know what it looked like before. Instead, I sit within these walls where the outside is inside and I reflect on the former glory of this place.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (3)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (12)

St Dunstan-in-the-East is almost as old as modern London itself, built shortly after the Norman invasion in about 1100. The White Tower in the Tower of London was built in 1078. Over the years the church was repaired and added to until it was gravely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (7)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (6)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (11)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (10)

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (14)

They decided not to rebuild the church at that time, opting instead to patch it up. The late 17th century was a glorious time in London and Sir Christopher Wren headed many of the projects to rebuild London after the Great Fire. St Dunstan-in-the-East did not entirely miss out and was blessed with a gothic Wren-designed steeple which was added between 1695 and 1701.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (5)

And then there was the Blitz. Starting on 7 September 1940 and continuing for 57 consecutive nights, the Luftwaffe bombed England and destroyed thousands of buildings and homes including many of London's iconic churches.

I wonder if his fortunes would have been different after the Blitz had they decided to rebuild the church after 1666? Would St Dunstan-in-the-East have been more valuable, more worth saving? No, I suspect that the losses London experienced were so great and seemed too insurmountable that the decision not to rebuild would have been made anyway.

In 1967 the City of London Corporation chose to turn St Dunstan-in-the-East into a public garden. Here we can remember a church that was devastated in the Great Fire and ultimately destroyed in the Blitz but still stands to enclose a place of quiet reflection.

Today St Dunstan-in-the-East is surrounded on all four sides by modern buildings. If you do not know where to find it, the church can be quite difficult to locate.

All the photos above were taken from inside the church. A final two photos from the outside looking in…

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (4)

This doorway would have once lead to you in to the back of the church.

Bombed out church of St Dunstan in the East (13)

St Dunstan-in-the-East is probably my favourite place in London. You can read about my first visit to The Bombed Out Church of St Dunstan-in-the-East in February 2012. The garden looked very different in late winter!

St Dunstan-in-the-East
St Dunstan's Hill
Nearest postcode: EC3R 5DD

Tracking Down the Books About Town

Well hello! It feels like ages since I was last here when in reality it was just five days ago. The reason for that would be that I took a much-needed break from my studies and work last week to spend time with friends, explore London and Kent and relax on the sofa watching TV and reading. It totally worked because it felt like I took several weeks off, not just nine days.

At first I feared the rain was going to ruin my plans for the whole week but luckily it cleared up towards the end of the week and I went off in search of the Books About Town and the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London.

Books About Town is a summer long initiative by the National Literacy Trust to highlight the city’s literary links. The benches each depict a famous book or author and will be auctioned off at the end of the summer to raise money for the Trust’s work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

If you’d like to follow one of the four trails to track the benches down, you should hurry! The benches will only be displayed until 15 September 2014.

Brick Lane book bench

My walk took me from Charing Cross to Holborn to the Tower of London and back to Cannon Street. The first bench I saw represented was Monica Ali’s Brick Lane illustrated by artist Charlotte Brown. It was in one of my favourite hidden locations in London – Postman’s Park.

Mary Poppins book bench

Next I walked down to St Paul's Cathedral where I encountered P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins illustrated by Darel Seow. The bench was right in the sunshine on a lovely bright day so I must admit that I struggled to take a good photo and avoid glare.

Peter Pan book bench back

Peter Pan book bench

I think most of you know about my Peter Pan obsession by now and I was thrilled to discover J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan illustrated by Laura Elizabeth Bolton. You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t actually ask the man in the top photo to move off the bench – one of the mums did that! I was part in awe, part terrified of all the mothers that day. They were very assertive in asking people to vacate the benches for photo opportunities but ultimately the benches are there for the benefit of children.

Fever Pitch book bench

I quite liked this photo because I managed to capture the chap in the red shirt too. I’m still very shy to take photos of people but I’m learning to be more casual about it. This is Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch illustrated by Sophie Green. The quote on the bench says, “real life contains less potential for unexpected delirium”. I haven’t read the book but I quite like this quote; it reminds me of why I explore and discover and chronicle my travels. You never know what hidden treasures and unexpected deliria await.

Jacqueline Wilson book bench

Jacqueline Wilson book bench back

Gosh, even the super mums struggled to get this bench free for their precious photo opportunity! These girls were very determined to enjoy their lunch and by this stage I was happy to stand in the shade and watch the interaction between the diners and photographers.

This bench celebrates the work of Jacqueline Wilson and is illustrated by Nick Sharratt and Jane Headford.

Alex Rider book bench

Now I know that I said before that the benches are there for the children but I evidently looked so happy to discover this bench that a fellow bench-tracker insisted on taking my photo with it. This bench represents Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker, the first in his Alex Rider series. Anthony Horowitz is one of my two favourite authors, along with Garth Nix and yes, I was thrilled to discover this bench.

The Wind in the Willows book bench detail

The Wind in the Willows book bench

The final bench I tracked down on this trail was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Mik Richardson. The bench was located right outside the Bank of England where Grahame worked his whole working career until his retirement in 1908. This bench was an absolute work of art and definitely the most beautifully illustrated of all the book benches I saw that day.

I love it when we get these exciting installations in London and in the past I’ve tracked down the Elephant Parade, the BT Artboxes and Wenlock and Mandeville. I think my favourite was the Gifts from the Olympian Gods during the Olympics but I tragically didn’t manage to track those all down before they disappeared!

I still have to tell you all about the ceramic poppies and all the other things I got up to in my week off but that is a story for another day. At the moment it is back to work and back to studying. I have to admit that I’m more than slightly overwhelmed and not a day goes by that I don’t think about giving up blogging.

What are your tips for when it all gets too much? I worry that if I give up my hobbies then nothing will break the pressure of studies and work. What do you do to make your hobbies more manageable and when do you fit in the time to exercise?