14th September 2010
Since my parents had the ingenious foresight to buy a small but fully functional one-bedroom apartment in the sleepy suburb of Colombes almost ten years ago, Paris has become something of a home from home for me. Occasionally, other cities have threatened to topple it from its position as my all time number one, but each time I come here it’s quickly reaffirmed as the best. This time, we’re using it as a base from which to explore other parts of Europe before we embark on our big adventure in Kiwiland in October.
Summer doesn’t appear to have ended here. The temperature hovers around 22 or 23 degrees and the skies are a brilliant blue, almost completely cloudless. There are some signs of the impending autumn decay though. Crackling leaves line the grand boulevards and those still clinging to the trees that line the Seine are browning around the edges. And stalls with roasting chestnuts hint at even greater pleasures at Christmas… It’s a great time of year to be here.
We’ve both done the big touristy stuff before so the priority this time is to explore more off the beaten track. One little expedition leads us south west to the final stop on ligne 10, Boulogne Pont de St Cloud. In London, the end of a Tube line would be deep into the Home Counties but in the more condensed urban sprawl of Paris, we are no more than 90 minutes’ pacey walk from Trocadero and the Tour Eiffel. Our purpose here is to visit the little known Albert Khan gardens, a lovingly landscaped park inspired by the founder’s visits to far flung parts of the globe. In one garden, a series of ponds, waterfalls and bridges combine to evoke Japan, while another’s impossibly blue spruces suggest colder, Northern European forests. Later, we take a walk through Paris’s own secret garden, the vast Bois de Boulogne, which stretches right the way up the inner city’s western edge. Once a magnet for the seedier elements of Parisian life, the “wood” is now a haven for all of those who crave a bit of a wild, untamed countryside in the heart of the city.
A day on, and we stumble upon a secluded triangular square (if such a thing is possible) on the Isle de Paris, which momentarily transports us to some picturesque market town in the Dordogne or Loire. A few office escapees sit on benches, eating sandwiches or reading a paper, while the couple of cafe bars that have been brave enough to set up shop in such an un-touristy spot do thriving lunchtime business. Later, we brave the hour-long queues at Saint-Chapelle to marvel at the painstakingly crafted stained glass windows that decorate Paris’s oldest church. This really should be near the top of any Paris holiday-maker’s hit list – it knocks Notre Dame out of the water.
So, two days in and I already feel a world away from the stresses of boxing and packing that preceded our departure from England. And it feels great to be discovering brand new things in a city I felt I knew so well. Tomorrow we head south to La Rochelle for a very different French experience. Allons-y!