By: Daniel Finch
I have always been interested in the naming, or rather the “branding” of cities. When I came to Paris, of course I was intrigued by the “City of Love,” I mean, come on what 20 (almost 21) year old seemingly a bit lost in the world wouldn’t love that? So now I’ve spent over a year and a half here, and I’ve learned a couple things. One, my American accent is to the French what fire is to wood, and the other is that the branding of the city is a bit of a misnomer. While sure the Parisian women are beautiful, and there is no shortness of flirtation about, the city of love rather refers to the romance that fills every corner of Paris.
Where would you like to start? The cobbled streets, the historical marvels, or why not sit for a bit in a park and enjoy a bit of silence? My truly favorite part of the city, is the parks. In my adventures I have visited every (not an understatement) park in Paris, and explored all of them individually getting a sense for their atmosphere and what makes them unique. I have thus compiled a top three list.
#1 Parc Monceau
Holding the first spot is Parc Monceau, a tranquil place just a stone’s throw away from one of the busiest intersections in Paris. The summer is the best time to go, especially if you’d like a picnic, or just like to read. The lawns are filled with an assortment of people from all walks of life, and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives. What draws me to the park is not just the colonnade or Egyptian inspired Pyramid, which seem so out of place, but rather the fact that just by stepping into the walled confines of the park you are transported into a different world. You are no longer in a city, the hum drum life from the outside does not find its way past the sturdy wall, and there is a calm which I cannot associate with anything else inside a major city I have ever been to, which includes the vastly more famous Central Park in my home city of New York.
After enjoying the atmosphere, take a stroll around the path, enjoy the tranquility of the pond surrounded by a roman colonnade, possibly feed the ducks, or take a picture. Then loop around to the Egyptian Pyramid, covering the second of the ancient world societies. It sits nestled behind some trees, making for a picturesque if not slightly bizarre image. Finally once back in the middle take a look at the main attraction. Where the paths cross, there lays a large rock outcropping, and on which is planted flowers of numerous variety and color. The first look uncovers its superficial beauty, but the second look reveals a winding set of stairs carved into the rock, and leading to a wooden platform on top of the rocks, at which point you notice the hint of a waterfall. I dare anyone not to look at those stairs and want to walk up them. Unfortunately this is impossible due to strict French laws against walking on grass. On your way out make sure to walk over the seemingly random bridge, and stop for a minute at the top, look out and take a deep breath, this has just been the most peaceful part of your day.
#2 Parc Buttes Chaumont
Number two on the list is Parc Buttes Chaumont, an oddity to be sure, but not in the way most would view it. Sure the fantastical quality of the park is not to be underestimated, from looking up these hills that seem to appear out of nowhere, or walking over what appears to be a toppled over Eiffel Tower, but what most interests me is the views you get. From Ile de Bélvèdere, a place that looks more like Middle Earth than a park in Paris, you can look out and see that city from a different perspective. Normally the city is defined by two pillars, one being the defining image of the city, the Eiffel Tower, and the other being Tour Montparnasse, a blight on the city depending on who you ask. Yet somehow you stand on top of this hill looking out and are greeted by a view to the north, a view of Sacre Coeur, and towards dusk the lights of Montmatre, and even the areas of the city which I have been warned not to walk through by myself. What truly draws me to these views is the knowledge that you can’t know or understand something until you look at it from all angles. It is not that I am tired of seeing the monument that marks this city, but it is nice to see something else, to get a different perspective of the city, one not very often seen.
#3 Parc Montsouris
Lastly, I would definitely advise you to take a gander at Parc Montsouris as well. It is located at the very south of the city, by the metro stop Port de Orleans. Located again in an area that seems to be less travelled, it offers a haven from the areas of the city I mark with tourism, or places where I walk around and hear almost as much English as French. The first thing I noticed about this parc, was that it seemed quite large to be in a city. I mean I know other cities have larger parks, but for some reason this one stuck out in my mind. I guess that it has to do with the feeling of being out of the city when I was in the park.
[Photo Credit: Georgios Michalogiorgakas]
Defined by its lake, some of the most magical moments I have had here have been sitting at a little cafe whilst the sun is going down, watching the colors reflect off the surface, whilst wondering about the rock outcroppings surrounding it, drinking a coffee and wondering how it is that a city can contain such a majestic place. At this café you can sit and drink something whilst taking in the lake its mini island, and best of all, French family life. Whole families on the grass picnicking, parents taking their kids to the merry go round next to you, parents teaching kids to rollerblade. Coming from the States, I must say even if it isn’t the norm, seeing families interacting was refreshing. After your coffee take a walk around the lake, and back up to the hillside dotted by trees. Be mindful of runners, and make your way to the top of the hill for a look back the other way over the lake. From here you can see Paris, whilst also fighting the child inside you that wants to run straight down the hill and try to come to a stop before spluttering into the lake.
[Photo Credit: busy.pochi]
Beyond just the serenity of it all, the size of the park allows for a nice walk, one that is both rewarding and also leaves you with the sense that you could treat yourself to a crepe afterwards knowing full well that you have walked it off already. There is one area of the park that is most intriguing to me, and that is the abandoned train tracks. These in and of themselves are not a landmark within Montsouris, but they stand out in my memory, hidden by foliage, they can be ventured upon on the south side of the lake. When you happen upon them it is like being blasted back thirty years, the tracks are nearly covered at this point, and the walls are green with moss, but what really gets me is the tunnel. These old tracks head in a straight line before disappearing into the mouth of a pitch black tunnel. On many occasions I have stood looking down on the train tracks, wanting to jump down and explore this tunnel which seems so mysterious and yet so appealing.
After visiting these parks, try to convince yourself that Paris does not have a romantic aura. Whether you have spent the day with friends, family, or a special someone, you’ll be relaxed and happy. The mystique of the city extends beyond just the parks, each one in its own way tempting you, and if you let them, you’ll end up falling in love with the city too.