Making the Most of a Found Day in Paris

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:20 pm -

When travelers find themselves with an extra day in Paris with no preplanned agenda, what should they do?   You could revisit a favorite destination.  But it’s also an ideal opportunity to succumb to serendipity and experience something you’ve never contemplated. This is especially true for people here on business, or those who have been to the City of Light so many times that they don’t feel compelled to make a pilgrimage to the Louvre to pay homage to the Mona Lisa.

Now that spring appears to be finally here, there are so many ways to take advantage of what I consider a “found” day. These are the moments to be treasured by people who work and live in Paris, along with those coming solely as tourists.

People are constantly asking the writers at Bonjour Paris what to do and where to go. Depending on your interests, the choices are endless. I happen to love walking the city. But as is the custom with many Parisians, I tend to stay in “my” quartier.   It’s comfortable; it’s home. Our apartment is located three minutes away from the Luxembourg Gardens which is an exquisite place to begin one’s day, weather permitting.

Occasionally, I fill a thermos cup with coffee, make a fast stop at the corner bakery, Kaiser, where I purchase a heavenly 100%-butter croissant, and dash across the street to the newsstand to grab the International Herald Tribune and a French newspaper. Even though I read numerous US and French papers online, there’s nothing like the tactile feeling of turning pages and reading articles you might otherwise skip in cyber-space.

I’m prejudiced. Many might disagree, but the Luxembourg Gardens are the most beautiful in the world. The Luxembourg Palace, in the 6th arrondissement, was commissioned in 1615 by Marie de Médicis, regent of France. It was modeled after the Palazzo Pitti located in her native Florence. It was remodeled several times and is now the seat of the French Senate.

Perhaps I feel so bonded to the gardens since they feel like an extension of home. If you’re entering the southern gate off Rue d’Assas, you’re greeted by tended bee hives (yes, beekeepers conduct classes there) and espaliered fruit tresses planted along a chain-link fence. The trees have been grafted by the garden’s horticulturalists, pushing science and nature.

There’s the “big” kids’ playground that has every conceivable variety of wooden play equipment. There’s an age limit as well as an entrance fee; but parents are allowed into the fenced area in the event there are any scrapes or falls and Suzette or Fredric require a tiny bit of TLC. It’s amazing how French children manage to stay clean in this confined area of potential tumbles.

Most mornings, there is a group gathered to execute the Asian discipline of Tai Chi.  The slow, dance-like speed motions create balance, flexibility and calmness. It exudes a feeling of mysticism combined with art. There’s an emphasis on deep breathing and mental imagery; Tai Chi is reputed for integrating mind and body while relieving stress. Watching the participants is enough to lower one’s blood pressure. It’s on my agenda to find an instructor, since Tai Chi is an art not intended for klutzes.

No matter how many times a visitor walks through the park, there are invariably surprises; both because of its vastness and the time of day. No matter where you look in the 25 hectare green oasis of perfectly manicured gardens, which change according to the season, you can’t help but be constantly overwhelmed by the beauty of this park, peppered with statues, fountains and flowers. There are innumerable attractions for children, including pony rides, a merry-go-round, puppet shows and a fountain where little wooden boats steered by sticks can be rented for the younger set. Squeals of children’s laughter are omni-present.   The Park is a magnet for lovers, parents with children and/or strollers, students, older couples coming to enjoy the fresh air. There’s a specific area for dedicated chess players to congregate at outdoor tables that are shaded. Don’t be surprised if you see games of boules.   The participants (generally male) meticulously hang their coats or jackets on the coat rack.

The tennis courts are public but be forewarned – members of the Sénat have priority. Even though players need to schedule court time and pay a fee, really good players are often around to join a pick-up game.   Tennis is an equalizer and a language unto its own.

People spend hours engrossed in the magnificence and variety of fauna and flora. They don’t have a uniform look since the numerous gardeners appear to be having informal contests over which area can win the beautiful landscape prize. This large park, which has sprawling lawns and abundant flowers, always astonishes visitors with its harmonious paths that entice visitors to meander.

Others, young and old, enjoy themselves in the gardens. Boats can be rented for children to sail in the glassy central fountain.   During summer months, some people adopt the garden as a beach and leave with tans that look as if they’ve been to St. Tropez.

A visit can take a full day or just a few minutes. I always make it a point to walk through the gardens if I am going anyway towards the Seine. Just a few minutes absorbing their beauty in the good weather refreshes me.   Being able to stay longer is a real luxury. Plus, I don’t need to drive or give up a parking space.

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