Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 - A Year of Change

And so we come to the end of another year, a year of many changes in my life.

The biggest change happened at work when the company I work for divested its business in September 2011. As a result, half of the workforce were transferred to the other company and a restructuring took place. My Corporate Communications department changed name to Marketing Communications (Marcom) and got parked under the Business Development & Marketing division.

After the divestment and restructuring, I was (and still am) the only person in Marcom and was afraid my new boss would not approve my 2-week leave to travel to Europe since I have no backup staff. But she's a gem and approve she did my leave and that's why I managed to travel to Europe recently.

Visited a few places this year:
  • Phuket, Thailand
  • Paris, France
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Thurles, Ireland
  • Killkenny, Ireland, and
  • Few other towns in Ireland like Templemore and Cashel.
All those travels made me a happy woman :-)

Now that 2011 is behind us, what will 2012 bring?

"What will 2012 bring?" The famous gargoyle in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France pondering as it looks out to the city of Paris.

I'm looking forward to new work challenges, the London Olympics, Euro 2012 and more travels (for sure!).

Here's to a great and wonderful 2012 !!! 
Happy New Year !!!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Breathless at Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is probably the most popular monument in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. And just like its superior sister monument, visitors can climb to the top of Arch de Triomphe for a birds eye view of Paris.

I successfully completed the climb to the top of Arch de Triomphe, albeit having to catch my breath numerous times. This climb was even tougher compared to climbing St Paul's Cathedral in London which I did in 2009.

The Arc de Triomphe is situated in the middle of a roundabout called Place Charles de Gaulle, as you may have seen in numerous photos and on television. Because the French drive like they don't value their lives, you should value yours by using the underground tunnel to get to the arch.

The tunnel that leads to the arch is located opposite it. There are other tunnels around the arch which leads to underground Metro stations instead. So you'd need to look carefully, otherwise you'd be walking around in circles like I did.

Underground tunnel that leads to Arc de Triomphe.

After flashing my Paris Museum Pass to the security personnel (€ 9.50 if you buy an individual adult ticket), I started climbing and what a climb it was. A narrow steel staircase lead the way in a winding fashion to the first level where there were some exhibits explaining the history and significance of the arch:

There's also a souvenir shop on that level, where I bought cloth figurines of Napolean & Josephine (his wife) for Pat's sister who collects X'mas tree deco from different countries. I thought these figurines of France's most popular son and wifey are more unique compared to baubles painted with images of the Eiffel Tower.

After that slight shopping 'interruption', it was time to resume the climb.

The huffing, panting and bouts of fainting spell continued (has my fitness level gone down the drain?) until I saw first signs of sunlight which means I had arrived at the top of the arch: 

It was indeed a cloudy day.

After climbing Arc de Triomphe, I was planning to climb the Eiffel Tower on the same day. But after seeing this ... 

... I changed my mind.

I was not going to pay € 13.70 to get my arse to the top of the Eiffel Tower and stand in a cloud with no view. Heck, I could do that on any airplane. 

Some of my friends said I was dumb not to climb the tower since I was already in Paris, but well ... I don't control the weather; I'm not Storm (X-Men).

Now Ladies, let me introduce you to Champs-Elysees where the world of fashion congregates. It's all here ... Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Lancel, Gucci (ok this is Italian, but they do have boutiques in Champs-Elysees), etc. Stop drooling, ladies  ... 

Champs-Elysees as seen from the Arc de Triomphe.

After walking around the arch and looking at the magnificent, albeit cloudy view, it was time for the descent.

This is how winding and narrow the steel staircase is. Visitors must walk in a single file and if someone stops to catch his/her breath, everyone behind will be held up. Someone asked me if someone fainted in there, with a long row of people behind and in front, how are paramedics going to get the victim out? He/She would have probably died by the time help arrives. 

This is what Arc de Triomphe looks like when you stand directly underneath it:

An angle of Arc de Triomphe which you have probably never seen before.

And to conclude this post about Arc de Triomphe, here is a grave at the foot of the arch:

Translation of the words on the grave: Here lies a French soldier who died for his country.

And this my friend, is the significance of the Arc de Triomphe - it is a monument to the departed, to the fallen soldiers who died for the country. You can read more about the history of the arch here.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Only One Louis Vuitton Item per Chinese Citizen

I met a Business Development Director (BDD) who had just returned from a trip to Europe. We exchanged notes and the topic of the Chinese lady who asked me to buy Louis Vuitton products came up.

According to the BDD, Chinese citizens are allowed to purchase only 1 LV product at a time because the international brand wants to prevent forgery.

Apparently these Chinese fellas would buy many different types of original LV products and forge them for resale. This has become so rampant that LV bags and wallets have become the most forged branded goods in the world.

So there you have it ... the answer to why LV has imposed this restriction on Chinese citizens has been answered.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

How I Became a Louis Vuitton Bag Mule

I arrived in Paris at 5.30am on a Friday morning. After checking into the apartment, I started exploring the city.

Since the apartment is a stone's throw from Champs Elysees, I thought I'd explore the famous street where everything is glamorous and pricey. Moreover it's only a long straight road and I didn't have to use my navigational skills which were still jet lag at that time.

The Louis Vuitton boutique (known as LV amongst fashionistas) is located along Champs Elysees, but I didn't go in. So I just snapped a photo of the boutique from across the street.

As I was walking away, a Chinese lady stopped me. I could see a Chinese guy standing a little towards the back behind her, looking at us anxiously. She introduced herself in broke English and asked if  I could help her buy LV products from the boutique. 

Immediately I asked why can't she buy it herself. Apparently Chinese citizens have a limit to the number of LV products they could buy. And this lady wanted to buy lots.

After listening to her, I was thinking since I can't afford LV products myself, why not help her, just for the experience and fun of it.

So I agreed. Instantaneously she whipped out a catalogue (colour printed from the computer), pointed to the items she wanted (5 in total) and I keyed-in the product codes into my mobile phone. She then handed me € 2,400 in cash which I quickly stuffed into my pocket. She told me that she would be waiting behind the magazine stand opposite the boutique.

You must be wondering how come this lady trusts a complete stranger with so much money (in cash!), what if I walked away with the money, what if the cash turned out to be forged notes, etc. Well, I've got an answer for all those questions because I had them too and weighed my risks before agreeing to help her:

  • What if I walked away with the money - she probably has some thugs waiting at the corner to beat the crap out of me. She may also have used face reading techniques on me and my face screams honesty ;-)
  • What if the notes were forged - She wants the goods badly and why would she want to get at a complete stranger? 

So I got into line (yes, you have to queue) and soon I was inside the boutique.

The shop was full of Chinese customers choosing and buying like there's no tomorrow.

In case you're not aware, branded goods from Europe like LV, Salvatore Ferragamo, Longchamp, Lancel, Gucci, etc. are more expensive in Asia because of tax. In Malaysia, these goods are like 30% higher. So whenever you see Asians on a buying frenzy in boutiques in Europe, you know why ...

I also realised why LV may have imposed this limit on Chinese citizens - they don't want these Chinese fellas to buy in bulk and resell in China. It would make the brand look cheap. What do you think?

Now back to the story.

The shop assistants were so busy handling the customers that I had to wait for someone to attend to me, which turned out to be a Chinese lady. She had been living in Paris for almost 10 years and could speak fluent French. But we spoke in English, of course :-0

When I gave her my orders, at once she asked whether someone had asked me to buy the items. I think the sales assistants are well aware that many Chinese fellas are lurking outside the LV boutique waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting person to help them buy LV products. I told her that family and friends have ordered the items since I was coming to Paris (I seriously need to go for confession).

Some of the items were out of stock and so I took the Neverfull MM Damier and Westminister PM Damier which the boutique had. They got the items wrapped nicely, I made payment (had to show my passport too) and headed to the magazine stand.

When I returned the change to the lady and informed that some of the items were unavailable, she asked whether I could help her again by going to another LV boutique on Avenue Montaigne nearby. She was that desperate.

I agreed and got a Neverfull PM Damier and Zippy Wallet Damier for her. When I met up with her to hand over the goods and change, there was another Chinese girl with her. The Chinese guy had disappeared. I wonder whether these ladies are online shop owners or boutique owners who are going to resell the items back in China.

Things I learned from this incident:
  1. LV bags do not have serial number to ensure authenticity. The sales assistant in the LV boutique personally confirmed that.
  2. There's another LV boutique on Avenue Montaigne which is approximately 10 minutes walking distance from the Champs Elysees one.
  3. The Chinese are crazy for LV stuff. Personally, I prefer Gucci and Ferragamo :-)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Use the Paris Museum Pass

During my recent trip to Paris, I visited 9 tourist spots that has entrance fees:

  1. Arc de Triomphe - € 9.50
  2. The Louvre - € 10.00
  3. Archeological Crypt at Notre Dame Cathedral - € 4.00
  4. Tours de Notre Dame (this is the tour to the towers, entrance to the cathedral is free) - € 8.00
  5. Orangerie Museum - € 7.50
  6. Versailles (ok technically this is not in Paris) - € 18.00
  7. Orsay Museum - € 8.00
  8. Rodin Museum - € 6.00
  9. Sainte-Chapelle - € 8.00

TOTAL - € 77.00

But I visited all of the above for only € 50.00 by using the 4-day Paris Museum Pass. Great savings, huh?

Passes are sold according to the duration of the pass:

  • 2-day pass: € 35.00
  • 4-day pass: € 50.00 
  • 6-day pass: € 65.00

Visitors with the pass can go in and out of museums and places of interest as many times as they like. I almost visited the Louvre twice because the place was too damn big to cover in one visit!

And if you want to make the most of your pass, try to visit as many places as you can and/or sites with high entrance fees (like Versailles), as long as your pass is valid. But trust me, 2 places a day is already tiring enough.

However, not all museums and sites are included in the Paris Museum Pass, one of which is Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower. I was hugely disappointed cause a ride to the top of the tower is € 13.70 which I had to fork out again.

Another advantage of having the Paris Museum Pass is that I can whizz into museums and places of interest without having to queue for tickets. This is indeed handy in a touristy city like Paris where ticket lines are perpetually long, even in the winter. Again, not all places have this whizzing facility. For example, you'd have to queue like everyone else to join the bell tower tour in Notre Dame Cathedral.

It was only 2 hours till closing time when I arrived at the Orsay Museum. The ticket queue was so long I thought it would take at least 30 minutes to get through it. With the Paris Museum Pass in hand, I quickly looked for the line for pass holders and I got my arse into the museum in less than 10 minutes. The Paris Museum Pass certainly comes in handy to beat long queues.

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