In this week’s guest post, we travel to Paris with resident Sion Dayson, the writer dreamer behind paris (im)perfect. Sion takes us for a wander around the (free!) highlights of her arrondissement, the oft-ignored nineteenth.
FROLIC FOR FREE IN PARIS’ NINETEENTH
It’s official: the Eiffel Tower is the most photographed landmark in the world. Paris regularly takes the prize as the world’s top tourist destination, too. Add the fact that France was again voted the best country to live in and we’re nearing superlative saturation.
How do you write about a place that has captured the imagination of multitudes without resorting to cliché? More importantly – at least for me – how do you live in a city this famous?
“Just avoid Rue de Crimée,” a former New York colleague had warned when he heard I was moving to Paris’ nineteenth arrondissement (Paris has twenty of these large neighborhood divisions).
Sure enough, Rue de Crimée became my cross street – and I count myself lucky. While a stroll along the Seine or glimpsing Notre Dame at night still stops my breath with their beauty, it is my discoveries in more offbeat parts of town that truly make me feel that Paris is home.
The nineteenth is an oft-ignored area in guidebooks, but it is lively and real; finding a place in the hallowed City of Light became possible from here.
Read on for a round-up of what I consider some of the nineteenth’s gems. There’s a timely bonus, too: Paris recently topped another list, that of most expensive city in the world. As a confirmed cheapskate, I picked sites that are totally free. Just in time to frolic in the Paris spring!
• The side streets off Rue de Mouzaïa beckon with a rows of adorable bungalows. Wisteria creeps up brick houses, brightly-painted doors hide behind latched gates. Wander small passages with grand names, like Villa de la Renaissance or Villa de Progrès. (The three pillars of the French republic, in fact – Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité – all meet at one street corner here).
Best explored during the day, this area feels like stumbling into a storybook world of secret gardens. Check out Aux Petits Jouers or Les Mères Veilleuses for music and conviviality afterwards, if you’re still around at night. (Metro: Pré St-Gervais)
• Buttes Chaumont is one of the most gorgeous parks in Paris, yet it’s rarely given its due. From the Sybil temple perched high atop a cliff to hidden grottoes and gushing waterfalls, this park is at once dramatic and relaxed. Unlike the many manicured parks in Paris, Buttes Chaumont seems more rugged and untamed.
It may not appear on tourist maps, but Buttes Chaumont is no secret to Parisians. Expect lots of locals strolling around the lake or spread out on the green (another advantage over other Paris parks where usually you can’t sit on the grass!). Café/club Rosa Bonheur at the top of the park turns into a hipster hangout at night. (Metro: Buttes Chaumont, Laumière)
• Nearby Parc de la Villette also lets you grace the lawns. Flat and modern, it’s nothing like the hilly wonder of Buttes Chaumont, but it boasts interesting multidisciplinary complexes like the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie and offers several of the summer’s best events. Villette Sonique presents big-names and up-and-coming indie acts while the outdoor movie series draws crowds with its wonderful selection of free films.
You’re as likely to spot people practicing capoiera as playing the guitar at the Villette. You may stumble into a soccer game, an African drum circle, or a Brazilian batacuda. There’s no getting that in the Jardin de Tuilieries! (Metro: Porte de Pantin, Porte de la Villette)
• From the Parc de la Villette, take a stroll down Canal de l’Ourcq, the extension of the trendy Canal de Saint Martin in the 10th (which I also recommend). Customers spill out of Bar Ourcq with drinks or cluster around the MK2 independent cinemas that flank each side of the canal. People play pétanque at a leisurely pace, the game’s silver balls reflecting sunrays on bright days.
For perhaps one of the odder combos in town, there’s Vélo et Chocolat, a bike shop which also serves rich hot chocolate. If this pairing proves too strange for you, do as the Parisians do – bring a bottle of wine and some food for a perfect picnic by the water. (Metro: Laumière, Jaurès)
What? You’re ready to leave the 19th? Here are a few more favorites:
• Street art is one of the delights of wandering around the neighborhoods of Ménilmontant and Belleville in the 20th arrondissement (get off at the metro stops of the same name). Some artists like Nemo are so well known now that there’s little chance these creations would ever be erased. But there remain many murals that follow graffiti’s more temporary rhythm – here today, then gone in a flash. Discovering these urban tableau par hasard (by accident) is pure pleasure, but try Rue Dénoyez or Place Fréhel if you want some specific places to start.
• Flateurville is an imaginary city with a real-world address (24 cours des Petites Ecuries). Tucked into a discreet passageway in the 10th, it’s not the kind of place you’d find if you weren’t looking. Artist Laurent Godard has transformed a sprawling industrial site into a wild and playful space. Pass by one Thursday evening to inspect the collection of paintings, photographs, mementos, and all manner of knick-knacks imaginable. You’re as likely to find a temporary photo exhibit as an avant-garde film festival or acoustic music group these nights.
• Think of La Promenade Plantée as Paris’ Highline (for those of you who know the awesome park in New York) – though, of course, Paris’ was the first! This elevated walkway in the 12th offers a flowery escape from city life. In spring, the whole path is in full bloom. Stop to smell the roses, marvel at the cherry trees. With its unique position above street level, the Promenade Plantée offers a whole new perspective on the city. (Metro: Bastille, Dausmenil, Bel-Air)
• Like the Promenade Plantée built on an old railroad track, the Petite Ceinture is the abandoned rail line that circles all of Paris (like a “little belt”, the translation of its name). Unlike the Promenade Plantée, it’s not yet open to the public, though plans to convert it into a nature trail are in the works. For those who are tenacious, there are ways to visit now – but I can’t give away all of my secrets, can I?