Most people come to Paris and end up running all around the city to check items off their lists, rushing from Notre Dame to the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower all in one afternoon. True, a visit to Paris would be incomplete without stopping to see these iconic landmarks. But this city is so much more than just a couple of old buildings.
Every arrondissement has its own unique and defining characteristics…parks, cafés, boutiques, views, etc. And personally, I find beauty in the ambiance of each of these areas where I can walk leisurely in a park or sit at a café and marvel at my surroundings. Lately I have come across some uniquely quiet and serene activities that have allowed me to see Paris in a new light, and have made city living feel…gasp…peaceful at times.
Both of these suggestions came from my 60 something year old colleague at work, Annick. Now Annick is quite the character. She and I hit it off pretty quickly because we both share a serious passion for food and the art of dining, and we both like to talk to customers at length at work. (Annick is friends with half of our clientele). Ever since I started working in June, she has been taking me aside and giving me countless tips for restaurants, museums, and good walks in Paris. On one of my first days she told me that most Parisians don’t appreciate Paris for the beautiful city that it is, and that I should make it my goal to really get to know the city on a personal level before I leave. So I have been trying to do just that all summer long.
One of the most calming things I have done recently was to wake up early and see Paris in all its glory – in the morning. For those of you who know me, you know that I am not exactly a morning person, but I somehow managed to not sleep through my alarm and make it out the door by 8 (hey, that’s early for me, ok?) And Annick told me it was a must, so I made it happen. Now the city in the summertime runs rampant with tourists, so this morning stroll free of slow walking sight-seers mixed amongst rushed and grumpy Parisians, was refreshingly tranquil. I walked across my favorite bridge which connects the Assemblé Nationale and the Place de la Concorde, the Pont de la Concorde. Standing in the middle of this bridge, I swear you can see at least a dozen monuments at once: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, even Sacre Coeur. After crossing the bridge and walking up the Champs-Elysées, I stopped in to Ladurée for an elegant breakfast before work. It’s amazing what a difference having a calm morning makes – it was a nice change of pace from my usual dash out the door and noisy metro ride.
Another satisfyingly peaceful experience I’ve had recently was a trip to the gardens at the Musée Albert Kahn, located just outside of the city in Boulogne. My family (minus my brother), was able to come visit recently so we all took a day trip outside of the city in hopes of finding something different to do; and that, we definitely found. It felt like I stepped out of Paris and into the Huntington Gardens. The different theme gardens are part of a property bought by and owned at the end of the 19th century by the wealthy banker Albert Kahn. With a great appreciation for travel and exploration, he founded la Société Autour du Monde which helped finance hundreds of people to travel abroad and document their interactions with other cultures through film or photography, some of which can be seen at the museum. But the main attraction is really the outdoor space. Walking outside is, as Kahn designed it to be, like taking a trip around the world. The Japanese garden is first with all of its manicured shrubbery and intricate pathways. The rose garden, though we just missed the major bloom which was in June was still very beautiful. And perhaps the most surprising was la forêt bleue with its enormous cedar and spruce trees from Colorado.
It felt like we were there hiking through the Rockies – we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in fact in France. It is an absolute must-see for anyone looking to do something different and relaxing when they come to Paris.
So thanks to my new friend at work, I’ve been able to experience Paris in a new light, and get to know it on an intimate level: in the morning when it’s just waking up, and through its unique spaces that make it a truly remarkable place to live.