One weekend in Paris
Last July we were invited for a wedding of our friends in Paris. Beginning of summer is perfect time to visit the city as it is neither hot as in August, nor chilling and grey as in February. We came couple days before and stayed one more day after the wedding to enjoy the city and meet our friends.
The very first evening, just after my train had brought me to the train station Paris-Est, we went for a drink to a small tiny bar hidden between apartment buildings in XX district of Paris. I was very surprised to discover a park with an amazing view over the city in the neighborhood.
Paris in the twilight
From the Belleville park – this is a name of these beautiful gardens – you have the same perfect view on the city as from the Montmartre hill. However, there is an important bonus to consider – the absence of tourists and annoying souvenir sellers in Belleville park makes it friendly and cozy.
The Belleville hill has very rich history. In the Middle Ages, many religious communities acquired areas on the hill. They cleared the hill and planted vines. Immediately bars and taverns were built in the area and it was a famous place for meetings and disputes between 14th to 18th century. At “Royal Drum” tavern the famous Ramponeau served a wine from the vineyards of Belleville called “Piquette”. Contrary to popular belief it was not a bad wine, but simply a young wine, slightly effervescent. Hence the name, the meaning has changed over the years. In the 18th century the land was largely agricultural and windmills dominated over the landscape that time.
Nice end of the day or a pause before clubbing
New population arrived to the hill when the gypsum quarries were open in 19th century. They were mainly workers. They worked for the Haussmann’s great construction project during the winter time and came back to their home land for the summer harvest. The neighbourhood was unsafe and the careers nearby did not make it safer.
In the 19th century the houses which at that time were located on both sides of the stairs of the current fleet, gave the hill the tunes of Montmartre. They belonged to Julien Lacroix, one of the largest owners of the hill of Belleville. Nowadays there is a street named in his honour close to the park. Every year a big party was held on the hill during the Mardi Gras period. The last day of carnival all Paris attended the “descent of the Courtille” – rows of taverns on the streets of Belleville. At the end of the 20th century the small houses disappeared giving the way to modern buildings and Belleville Park.
Some vines of pinot meunier (Champagne) and Chardonnay (Bourgogne) are still planting carefully at the top of the hill to keep the memory of the festive past of the area. When the summer heat becomes unbearable you can refresh yourself in the shadow of the largest cascade of fountains in Paris (100 meters long), which runs down the hill. The park of the hill is the great grift given to this area by the city since the district terribly missed green areas in the past. The park was designed by architect François Debulois and landscape designer Paul Brichets. It was designed in a way to keep the terrace uphill which has a breathtaking panoramic view of Paris.
On Sunday, a day after the ceremony, we decided to make a walking tour in the area. Since I had a great guide who had used to live in Paris for eight years. Therefore all I had to do during the walk was just to make pictures and ask questions.
Walking street in XX district
Sunday market on boulevard Jules Ferry
Here we start – beginning of the Green Walk – La Coullée Verte or Promenade Plantée
Promenade Plantée connects the beltway Daumesnil between Porte de Vincennes and Golden Gate. The walking path was created in 1986 by the City of Paris, replacing the old railway line that had been connecting the Place de la Bastille to Varenne-Saint-Maur since 1859. The railroad was converted into a pedestrian promenade by two architects, Philippe Mathieux and Jacques Vergely. It is located on the surface of 3,7 hectares and includes 4 gardens.
The walking tour starts near the Bastille metro station. The access to the park is at the beginning of the Boulevard de la Bastille. At the Boulevard you should turn left into the street Jules Cesar. The stairs lead to the upper level of the viaduct – also called Viaduct des Arts – where the gardens are located. The gardens and the pedestrian path go though the terrace of the Viaduct des Arts which is a home to craft shops and stylish art galleries. It was created for Parisian artisans who need to perform most of their work on-site. Some artists have set up their workshops in the window, so you may watch the birth of their creations in live.
After walking for a while in the paradise gardens of the Promenade Plantée you may have a break in the Hector Malot two level gardens with its maple trees and fountains of bricks. At the intersection of the promenande and the Rambouillet street do not miss the office of the police of 12th district. There are giant coriatides at the top level which support the roof of the building. It is an nice imitation of Michelangelo’s Slaves.
From the terrace of the Viaduct des Arts you may have a unique view on Haussmann bourgeois buildings and the Lyon railway station. They all are built in a style typical for the Reconstruction (1945-1955) period. This is a real parade of sights and a variety of materials: carved balustrades, domes and pediments, zinc roofs, brick courtyards and wooden facades. Once tired you may take a rest on a wooden bench and enjoy the picturesque flower combinations made of roses, bamboo, vines, hazelnut and maples trees. Viaduct des Arts is also a home to tiny little bats, who, however, still manager to scare us. The bats hide themselves in the tunnels of the Promenade Plantée and the viaduct as well as in abandoned tunnels nearby.
The promenade widens at the end of the Viaduct. At this place there is a wooden bridge above a large lawn of the Reuilly gardens. Parisians love to spend sunny days in this quiet park surrounded by modern buildings.
At this place we left the Promenade Plantée and headed to the Bersy arena, its park and the National Library.
At the Bercy park (Parc du Bercy), climbing the fountains
We crossed the river on the pedestrian bridge connecting the Bercy park and the National library of France. The Library’s embankment is also a very popular place for roller blading, jogging and walking as well as taking a glass or two in a restaurant right on a quay.
On a quay
Pont du Bercy. In my mind it is a masterpiece of urban architecture
In Paris you may participate in a rollerblading run – every Friday and Sunday the city closes some streets for the traffic and for several hours rollers own the city. The rollerblading tours are regular entertainment in the city so if you are a fun of active weekends then do not forget to take your equipment when you are in Paris for the next time.
Here are some links where you may learn how to sign up for the tour, the cost of a ticket, location of meeting points and a schedule. The tours are usually scheduled for Friday night (from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.): Sunday run and Friday run for advanced rollers.
Although we are back to our walking tour. We took metro in order to get to the second part of our tour – the Saint Martin Canal. We started at the Place de la Republique, which was totally rebuilt not so long time ago. 200 meters away from the square and we were on the Quai de Valmy, where we took our way to discover the Amélie Poulain’s neighborhood.
At that sunny Sunday both sides of the canal were occupied with students, locals and some tourists searching for new impressions.
The locks of the canal
At some point the canal widens and creates a big basin. On both sides of which you can take a glass in cafes or bars or even watch the latest movie in one of the cinema MK2. If the movie you have chosen to watch is screening on an opposite quay you simply take a ferry boat and enjoy a romanic 2-minutes transfer.
At this point we said good buy to the Saint Martin canal, took our city bikes and headed to the Marais district to watch a stand-up comedy and take a dinner with just-married and our other friends.