Monday, May 05, 2008

When "Paris in the Spring" is Closed and Wet

After almost two years of living abroad, I like to think I’m a bit of a savvy traveler. Finding ways to avoid crowds of tourists and smoothly work my way around a city or region has become it’s own enjoyable challenge. To creatively re-discover a place is one of the rewards of travel. This was my third time back to Paris (and always visiting people, mind you!).

So when my “Valborg” weekend in Paris faced a bank holiday where almost everything was closed, I thought it would be a good reason to stroll and picnic like the Parisians. Then it started raining and I knew a blog entry was blooming…

So provided you have enough foresight to pack an umbrella for "Paris in the spring," here are a few things to do when it’s raining and everything but the Louvre is closed (and if you’re ever in Paris on rainy holiday weekend when the only museum open in the whole city is the Louvre, I trust that you already know not to go anywhere near it!):

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise: Why visit a cemetery when you’re in the “City of Light” (or “Love,” as the case may be)? Because this isn’t just any cemetery. One Parisian friend of mine called it “the most beautiful park in Paris, “ which is saying a lot. Quite simply, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The list of those laid to rest in this location reads like a history of France, plus multiple non-French who made a contribution. Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and beloved French singer Edith Piaf are the most visited memorial spots, but composer Chopin, poet Balzac, artists Gericault, Ingres, Delacroix and David and so many more significant contributors to Western culture can be found here. Check out the website and take a virtual tour of what could be the world’s greatest cemetery – yeah, I know it sounds strange, but it’s true:

Promenade Plantée: This 4.5 km walk runs through the city and is an old railway route converted into an outdoor garden. Even in the rain, this can be a good walk as you rise above the city, breathe in the fresh air from plants, flowers and trees and take in a still very unknown part of Paris.

Seine River Walk, Eiffel to Notre-Dame: Fortunately, even on a treasured bank holiday, Parisians can’t close three of their most famous sites. Walking along this legendary river from Monsier Eiffel’s tower to the Notre-Dame Cathedral takes about an hour and can be a true Parisian delight. While en route, I successfully found one spot (Pont de la Concorde bridge) where with a 360 degree turn, one can see virtually all of Paris’ most famous sites at once (Eiffel, Les Invalides, the National Assembly, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, Pont des Arts bridge and, of course, the Seine). Not a bad spot, even in the rain.

Le Marché: Just pick one and enjoy. The outdoor markets, and some indoor ones, throughout Paris are an experience unto themselves. Choosing just the right cheese (of the 400 or more available) with just the right fruit with just the right bread topped by just the right wine is a vintage French experience. Ask for help along the way and have a ball…

Fika in a French Café: Two of the best European traditions at once – you don’t really think the famous cafés of Paris would close just for a little bank holiday, do you?

Pictures above:
1. Just bring an umbrella and Paris is great, even in the rain.

2. Trying to take unfamiliar pictures of the world's most photographed tower, this one through some vegetation, is a fun challenge.

3. The Père-Lachaise cemetery is a never-ending view of impressive tombstones memorializing France's favorites, plus a few more.

4. And when the sun clears, the beauty of French squares like the Place des Vosges is overshadowed by the joy of Parisians (and a few wanna-be Parisians) embracing spring.

5. The Hotel d' Ville is probably my favorite building in Paris, especially at night - it just seems to scream "Vive la France!"


Hurricane C said...

Hey Sean!
How's it going? I hope alls good... guess what!?! I'm looking at grad schools... and one program in Europe I'm looking at is... guess where? Yup Linkoping! I have to see if it is in English and the cost (uh grad classes in Swedish.. ummm not my plan)- but it seems like the program is better for me and my interests than the programs I'm looking at in the USA- crazy huh? So we should chat, or hang out when you come back to visit! Peace - Hurricane C

davidgeridoo said...

Hey Sean!
Nice to read your French post. Now I know what to do next time it rains in Paris! (although right now it looks like it's not gonna happen soon)
So how was the end of your week-end? Was everything like you expected? Or even better!?
Next time you come over here, we'll try the Buttes-Chaumont Park, which is beautiful as well. It might not be "the most beautiful park in Paris" like Père-Lachaise (how right is your friend, that I happen to know very well indeed ;-) but the shady lawns and grassy hills of Buttes-Chaumont are definitely a better place for picnics than the tombstones of Père-Lachaise! :-))