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We will always have Paris - glowing, indomitable s

Paris parks offer rest, refuge, relief, a long list of literary references and now free Wi-Fi. They were part of our soft entry to the French capital city.

If you are coming by train, there is a less stressful alternative to the plunge straight into the Metro at Gare du Nord.

I recommend the soft entry to this capital city, if you are travelling light. Guided by Google Maps, our route was out onto Rue de Saint Quentin, then down Boulevard de Magenta.

Our acclimatising walk took us left to Canal Saint-Martin, with a side-step into the little park Square Villemin to smell the lilacs. An Antoine et Lili, part of the inexpensive chain selling hand-made women''s and children''s clothes and colourful ethnic trinkets stands on Quai de Valmy.

We stopped at Restaurant La Marine (49 Euros for two) for lunch, then continued through two outdoor markets to the Bastille (the accompanying canal is underground by now). This is the site of a great turning point in French history, yet the only trace of the original prison, torn down in the Revolution, is a piece of wall on line 5 of the Metro station.

Paris parks offer rest, refuge, relief, free Wi-Fi, and a long list of literary references. Victor Hugo, in his novel Les Misérables, has Marius and Cosette first meet in the Luxembourg Gardens. Henry James uses the gardens as a scene-set in The Ambassadors. Hugo’s house, now a museum, overlooks the park on Place des Vosges.

It is in the Madeline children’s books (Ludwig Bemelmans’s “12 little girls in two straight lines”) too. The little heroine has adventures in the Luxembourg and the Tuileries gardens.

The Tuileries is very central. We found it a good place to pause at an open air cafe and ponder our trip to the nearby Louvre.  There are good clean public toilets. Madeline’s last call was the vast Jardin Des Plantes, just beyond Île de la Cité.

It’s important not to wear yourselves out in Paris. The Champs Élysées is 1.2 miles long and 230 ft wide. Why walk it?

The 73 bus (it starts at Musée d’Orsay) runs its entire length, from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. The best time to see it is in the evening, when you beat the crowds.

Try pairing the Arc with the Eiffel Tower. Now this ought to be the ultimate tourist logjam, but it isn''t. Get there on the (light green) Metro line 6 direct from the Arc (Charles de Gaulle Etoile) to Bir-Hakeim. Then stand back and behold the Eiffel from the Champ de Mars. This one-time military parade ground is vast enough to swallow the crowds. (An option is to see it at night, when it is bathed in golden light.) Then stroll over to Les Invalides, for Napoleon’s tomb. 

Monday is the day to improvise in Paris. Museums and galleries are closed. The same applies on bank holidays, so check before you travel. (We were there on Sunday May 1st. A public holiday, so everything was shut, followed by Monday the 2nd - all shut again.)

Our wild goose chase to the shut Picasso museum (St Paul Metro, Rue de Rivoli) gave us time to explore the Marais, and its Jewish quarter. There has been recent gentrification, but there is still lots of original character in buildings, shops and cafes. On our visit an accordion and violin duo were playing soulfully on the pavement.

The queue was long at the celebrated L''As du Fallafel, Rue des Rosiers. So to Florence Kahn’s bakery, behind a vivid façade of blue mosaic, opposite. We ate our Linzertorte and Apfelstrudel on a bench in Rosiers-Joseph Migneret Garden, another bijou of a park, bursting with flowers.

The Paris waterfront can be dauntingly long, if you are walking. There is a manageable three quarters of a mile riverside stroll on the Rive Droite, the north bank of the Seine, through the Port des Champs Elysées (there are about 50 houseboats tied up). It runs from Pont des Invalides to the Passarelle Sengor footbridge, which leads to the Musée d''Orsay.  No traffic, only runners, cyclists and strollers.

The walk is part of a wider UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also takes in Haussmann''s majestic boulevards, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There’s a quieter church alternative, the Sainte Chapelle, on Île de la Cité. There is a minor thrill in walking past 36 Quai des Orfèvres, (Paris’s Scotland Yard) where Maigret and so many other police dramas were set.

The grandest cemeteries distinguish great cities - Highgate in London, Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, Washington DC’s Arlington. But there isn''t a resting place to match the random narrative of bygone lives told in Père Lachaise. 

It is steep and rambling and crammed, but also green and shady and ringing with bird song. There is a haphazard scattering of elaborate tombs, some like stage props from the last act of an Italian opera. Others are poignantly minimalist. We found, quite close together, Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, and Lady Amherst, who gave her name to a pheasant.

Everybody here is equal in theory, but some residents go way beyond the merely famous. The epic statue by sculptor Jacob Epstein decorating the tomb of Oscar Wilde has recently been enclosed with an adulation-repelling, kiss-proof glass screen.


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