By Georges, what a view

kim-pomp-6If you have the fortune of having the soul of a country bumpkin like me, you’ll appreciate how living in the big, bad city can frequently rattle the nerves and get the stress levels reaching for the sky. As a resident of some sizeable urban sprawls in the past (Leeds and Sydney) I always found it reassuringly simple to flee the choked-up centres and head out to nature to relax, breathe and recalibrate, being spoiled by the respective beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches.

kim-pomp-1Paris however, proves a great deal more difficult to escape when the rage levels reach their peak after too long dealing with those abrasive Parisian manners (and for those in the know, that’s being mighty kind….), though the need for liberation burns far more intensely than it ever has before. Luckily, I realised fairly early on that if out wasn’t an option (negotiating Paris’ bland and traffic-strangled suburban outreaches makes the need for breathing space ten times worse), then the only solution was to go up in the quest to put some distance between me and the modern tensions of city life.

In absence of a private hot air balloon or one of those superhero-esque jet pack contraptions, my only option is to rely on Paris’ buildings to hoist me skywards. The most obvious candidate is the grand old dame that is the Eiffel Tower, but relaxation for me doesn’t involve wading into the surrounding tourist treacle and waiting for an hour to get my chance to tackle the climb. The Tour Montparnasse is another good option, though heading south of the river is for me an exercise in frazzled nerves itself.

kim-pomp-5A little bit closer to Granny Flat HQ, and conveniently on my favoured line 4 is the centre Georges Pompidou, that garish tangle of pipes that houses the city’s modern art collection. A hugely divisive structure due to its out-there inside-out design, I’m firmly in the camp that prefers to be inside it regardless of what’s on offer on the walls, since safely housed within it means I don’t have to assault my eyes looking at the damn thing.

Taking in the featured exhibitions and calming the soul with art is an attractive option, but in my humble opinion the modern stuff is frustratingly confusing in its ‘go on, find a profound meaning in my toddler-esque crayon drawing’ style – about as soothing as a rush-hour ride on metro line 13. Give me a Degas dancer any day. Nope, for me I’ll leave the abstract musings on the lower levels to those who can enjoy the contemporary charms. For me, the only way is up

kim-pomp-2Head to the very top and you’ll be greeted with a stunning view of Paris, more authentic and real than the picture perfect versions that you get at the dizzy heights of the Eiffel Tower (plus escalators do all of the hard work getting you to the summit). You can see that on the day I ventured to the viewing area the weather was less than kind, but finding the perfect city tableau isn’t really the point. For me it’s more about gaining a different perspective, popping your head above the grey clouds of the daily grind and realising your place in the world. A bit of drizzle almost helps add to the peaceful grounding of it all.

The real beauty of this bird’s eye view though is the fact that you don’t need to bother with the art gallery aspect at all – entrance to the top viewing floor is a mere 3 euros on its own (though included in the main ticket price too, naturally). Where modern urban stress is concerned, a couple of 10 euro cocktails might offer some solace, or for those with a bit more cash in the bank, an afternoon at the shops. But mindless splurging isn’t my bag, so where relaxation is concerned, it’s the sky, rather than the overdraft, that’s the limit.

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Out and a spout

Kim strav 1Summer attracts folk to water like bees to a fallen scoop of raspberry sorbet. Paris Plages’ artificial beaches hugging the banks of the Seine are an option if you don’t mind your tides weak and murky, but for me it doesn’t come close to sating my need for the rolling waves and golden sands that I grew up with on the south coast of England.

Fountains provide the continuous liquid tinkle of relaxation if you park yourself next to them, and if we’re talking about out-spouting the rest, then you can’t beat the graceful flow found at Versailles. But maybe your donkey’s out of order, and the city centre is the only option there is. Where to go to soothe the soul with the gentle stream of calming water music?

Kim strav 2Nestled in a corner of the 3rd arrondissement in the patch more familiarly known as ‘Beaubourg’, you’ll find the modern colour extravaganza that is the Stravinsky Fountain. Just make sure that your eyes aren’t too preoccupied with the neighbouring fantasmic Pompidou Centre, or you’re bound to miss it. And that would be a crying shame – this puppy is like no fountain your eyes will have ever beholden before. If a water feature ever mated with A Clockwork Orange, this would be the happy result.

Kim strav 4Bright and quirky in equal measure, it comprises of a shallow basin (which doesn’t mean you can hop in and have a paddle) housing sixteen sculptures reflecting the different works of naturalised French citizen and composer Igor Stravinsky. If you study each piece for long enough, you’ll be able to identify such characters as ‘the firebird’, ‘the frog’, ‘love’ and ‘death’. It’s a living fountain too – the pieces move and spray water making those fountains at Versailles look pretty one dimensional in comparison.

Kim strav 5Inaugurated in 1983, it was the work of sculptors Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle. Not only does it celebrate Stravinsky’s work, but it was designed to put the Pompidou Centre is some kind of context. On its own, Paris’ modern art gallery is like a scary alien invader amongst the traditional architecture of the city, but with the fountain keeping it company, its progressive, contemporary charm suddenly finds a happy home. Even Dali approves, looking over the water play from a giant mural on a neighbouring wall.

Kim strav 3Once you’ve been suitably hypnotised by the liquid enlightenment and spinning parts, don’t hurry off too soon. That modern artistic spirit has spread to the streets, and this is one part of town where you’ll find some of the weirdest and most wonderful street performers keeping the passers-by mesmerised with their own unique brand of grass roots art.

If you’re immune to all of this creativity, all is not lost; on one of the fountain’s perimeters are cafes and terraces galore, including the home of some the best crêpes in town. Hear that dripping sound? That’ll be your mouth watering…