Very Vert-ual Paris: Taking a Long Green Weekend in the City of Light
Paris was as quiet as a church mouse. It was August 15th, the celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s a public holiday, despite its Catholic roots and that means that most businesses were shut tight, both for August vacation as well as the holiday — yet another excuse for the French to take a long weekend, or “faire le pont.”
I didn’t venture outside Paris. Instead I popped on the sunglasses and headed for the sunniest café along the narrow Marais streets for a leisurely lunch. Serendipitously an old friend sat at a nearby table whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Before long, during our ‘catching up,’ he told me he had become quite an aficionado of the Vélib public biking system. In fact, he hadn’t much liked Paris until having discovered it on two wheels.
The virtually car-less streets and a willing teacher were a perfect opportunity for this ‘wuss’ to test out the bikes for the first time. You may find that hard to believe, but at this age, fear of hurting anything has set in like rigor mortis.
For residents that hold a French “Carte Bleue,” (bank debit card), or those who hold smart-chip Visa cards and American Express cards, it’s pretty simple to rent a bike. At any Vélib station, you pop in the card to allow a deposit of 150€ be held and pay for the rental while you take possession of the bike. If you hold a “Navigo” card, it’s even simpler — you just wave it like a magic wand over the bike station and out the bike comes — but obtaining the card itself for a short-term visitor is no simple task.
As they say, you never forget how to ride a bike, even after decades of pedestrianism. Luckily I didn’t run into
any of those (pedestrians) or end up in the morgue, as I was so sure I would. Thirty minutes of circling the Marais with several turns around the lovely Place des Vosges was enough to have every muscle aching for the rest of the weekend and no extra charge on the bike for the 1€ per day rental fee and 30-minute free ride. Back it went into the closest station near my apartment with a click and a “whew!”
Volumes have been written on the Vélib, all available online by doing a simple Internet search, so I won’t bore you with the details, but don’t think the system was designed for tourists. It wasn’t. It was designed to revolutionize the way the residents transport themselves around the city, eliminating cars, noise and pollution. It’s all part of the “Greening of Paris”…and it’s worked.
If you can’t rent a Vélib because your credit cards won’t allow it, but wish to take a tour by bike, there are lots of bike rentals and tour companies that offer great rides. One, in fact, is directly across the street from my apartment at number 38 rue de Saintonge, “Paris Bike Tour.” So, now it’s impossible to ignore them anymore!
A Parisian friend suggested an afternoon at the Musée et Jardin Albert Kahn, to which she had never been. For her, traveling to the other side of the city for a stroll in a garden might as well have been like going to the other side of the planet for sushi. It is really just one Métro train ride away — the number 10 from Gare d’Austerlitz to the end of the line, Boulogne Pont de St-Cloud, drops you at the museum’s doorstep in just a few minutes.
Until March 8, 2009, the museum portion of the facility is exhibiting autochromes and old films from its Archives of the Planet, titled “Infinitely India.” The almost 100-year-old images are breathtakingly stunning and for anyone who has visited India may find them as I did, as “au courant” (to-date) as any my daughter took during our travels there last year.
When you leave the museum’s world of India you step immediately into Japan by virtue of the “Village Japonais” — just one of the many gardens in the four hectares of land. This is a perfect time of year to take its paths and discover its many worlds, while the weather is warm and the tourists are sparse. This is not one of the Paris museums or monuments to which the foreign tourists flock, such as Le Louvre or La Tour Eiffel, but instead draws a visitor with a more profound knowledge of the city.
I urge you to be one of them. There is no need to leave the city for a long weekend in the countryside, with so much greenery at our feet.
One of the apartments offered by Parler Paris Apartments, “Le Balcon Planté,” is adjacent to the “Promenade Plantée” having a view of it from it’s balcony. Renters arrived Sunday afternoon, a perfect excuse to revisit the elevated walkway after years of disregard.
On route by foot I stopped at one of Paris’ new tourist information kiosks at Place de la Bastille where one can pick up tourism brochures and maps of the city. I got a chuckle overhearing someone ask the adviser, “Where was the Bastille? And the prison that was stormed during the French Revolution?”
Clearly, with Place de la Bastille all around them, these were first-timers to the City of Light, so I had second thoughts of suggesting they visit the Musée Albert-Kahn or La Promenade Plantée.
It had been years since having climbed the stairs at rue Ledru-Rollin to walk the path almost to the Bois de Vincennes. Since then, the shrubbery had grown to full maturity, the path taking on a lush and inviting atmosphere. Strollers were old and young alike, on foot, on skates and “trotinettes” (scooters).
The path is so lush that the street is hardly visible now, yet there are points along the way where one can peek below. It’s always a pleasure to see the 12 replicas of Michelangelo’s “The Dying Slave” carved into the Police Station of the 12 Arrondissement on Avenue Daumesnil, the sections of path that cut through contemporary apartment blocks and the bridge that spans over the green carpet-like lawn of the Parc de Reuilly.
The shops under the walkway in the “Viaduc des Arts” were closed on a Sunday August afternoon, but no matter. It was a perfect repose on a long weekend in the City of Light…and GREEN.
Maybe we should change Paris’ nickname to “Very ‘Vert’-ual Paris?”
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris