View-ly scrumptious

IMG_2005Inner city living, eh? Flying by the seat of your pantalons from metro to boulot to whichever hipster hangout or cultural happening is the flavour of the moment, dodging your fellow chic citizens along the way. A constant thrill ride though it can be, sometimes you just need to take yourself off to a quiet green corner and take a few (hours of) deep relaxing breaths before you give in to the urge to boff someone across the chops for pushing in front of you at the supermarket. It’s high tension living for sure.

Thankfully large cities are fairly accommodating things and provide us with parks a plenty in which to mull over our urban woes, savour a sandwich or stroll through the leafy air without purpose to recharge our lungs. Paris may find it hard to compete with the sheer size and centrality of London’s royal parks or New York’s Central Park in its very heart, but there are enough small patches of lawn for everyone to have somewhere near to have a breather.IMG_2003

My need for the green took me up to Parc de Belleville one afternoon, sandwiched between Buttes Chaumont and Père Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement. An enormous sweeping park it isn’t, moulding itself around the hilly contours of the neighbourhood with enough steps to provide a behind-shaping workout, but with its winding leafy-lined paths, it’s probably the most Central Park-y space Paris can muster (minus the kamikaze squirrels).

It may not have Parc Monceau’s refined beauty or the classic charm of the Jardin du Luxembourg, but one thing it can particularly puff its chest out for is the view you get from the top. At 108 metres it’s the highest park in Paris, and therefore an awesome spot from which to survey the beauty of the capital spread out below. All the gang are in the picture; the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse and every church tall enough to muscle into view, plus there’s a handy plan that points it all out to you and a viewing scope for a close-up look.

IMG_1993Your only other options for getting a decent panoramic view of our darling girl is to shimmy up one of the highest buildings or climb the stairs to Montmartre, but we all know how common those ideas are. Nothing ruins a wide shot of the city scape like a strange tourist’s head. Here you can take in the scene in perfect peace without a foreign elbow shattering your sense of calm.

Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ve correctly identified where your apartment/hotel is in the geographical scheme of things, you can head down slope to a park bench, a patch of the 1000m squared of lawn, or choose instead to get to the bottom of that misty haze hanging over your vision, and check out the (free to get into) Maison de l’Air which will educate you about the importance of fresh air and the pollution problems choking it up. There’s a definite undercurrent of environmental protection in this park more than any other.IMG_1998

If the weather’s just not playing ball, check out the view and head toute de suite afterwards to one of the colourful independent cafes in the area, where the prices are far friendlier than in the packed-to-the-pavement tourist hangouts. This weekend though you won’t have to, given that we’re set to be graced with sun and an unseasonably warm 23-degrees. Time to give your sunnies their swan song and take in the panorama before the winter descends.

 

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Dead interesting

IMG_1956What does one do on a beautiful autumn afternoon in Paris? Head to a terrace and sip on a glass of rosé? Stroll along the banks of the Seine and soak up the sunshine? Not if you’re Kim you don’t. You head to a cemetery.

My last seven days have been very much less than perfect (in a magnificent understatement), so you’d hardly blame me for looking for a giant hole to fall in and escape the world. But that’s not why yesterday afternoon I found myself in a burial ground, it just so happens that my usual long walk home takes me past the Montmartre cemetery and for the first time, I decided to have a wander through.IMG_1964

‘Paris is dead’, the hipster avant gardists might say. Well it seems alive and kicking to me, but it certainly is full of dead, this beautiful graveyard being one of many scattered throughout the capital. Given the host of other beautiful things there are to explore in Paris, a cemetery is a pretty tough sell. But for me, there’s so much silent beauty to be found, I might just take a detour through it every day. Plus if you’re in a bad mood, it can remind you quite convincingly that things could be a whole lot worse.

IMG_1947If it’s serene solitude you seek, there are fewer more peaceful places to sit and read, or contemplate the meaning of life (and death, of course). You won’t hear a peep out of the residents, and the traffic and city noise refuses to penetrate as if you’ve actually just stepped right into the underworld. I saw a few singular people doing exactly that as I wandered through, happily ensconced between the tombs, perhaps reading the histories of the souls who rested beside them.

Personally, the silence barely registers with me at all, and instead I feel surrounded by centuries of chatter, generated by the stories of those who lie buried beneath the ground. Their Paris would have been so very different to mine, and as I passed grave after grave looking at the dates bookending each life, I imagined the experiences they would have had, what they would have taken from, and contributed to this uniquest of cities.  Soon after this had occurred to me, I happened upon the tomb of Louise Weber, or ‘La Goulue’, the creator of the French cancan. You can’t get more Paris-stopped-in-time than that.IMG_1962

If the stories of ordinary Parisians of ages past weren’t interesting enough, there are plenty of writers, painters, scientists, politicians and celebrities of the golden age who are laid to rest here. In Montmartre you can find the graves of Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas Fils and Edgar Degas, though it’s the two bigger cemeteries of Père Lachaise and Montparnasse that contain most of the famous names. Here you can pay your respects to, amongst many more, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Molière, Balzac, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde (former) and Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (latter).

IMG_1963In this digital age where only the photo seems to be important, there’s something quite arresting about physically being next to the resting place of a great figure, as if you can somehow absorb part of their spirit just by being close. In any case, the time of elaborate burials is over, so you’ll be walking through a beautiful museum of mourning filled with statues, sculpture and messages of love, even if you don’t know the famous names. Doesn’t it do us all good to just sit and reflect every once in a while?

For more info about the three major cemeteries and some of the lesser know ones dotted in and outside the périphérique, click here.