Thursday, September 17, 2009

Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes Chaumont

After visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery (see previous posts), I split from Linda and Joe (who were heading to Montmartre where I had just been last Friday) to visit two local parks in the 20th and 19th arrondissements (northeast Paris), respectively - Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, one of the larger parks in Paris.

I got on Line 2 at Pere Lachaise station and went two stops north to Couronnes station (site of the worst catastrophe in Paris Metro history in 1903).

I popped up in the median of a busy road (Blvd due Belleville) and immediately realized that this neighborhood -- Belleville -- was definitely not the Latin Quarter. First, I found my self right in the middle of a large open-air market. Second, it was very ethnic with what appeared to be a large immigrant population with significant Arab or Muslim representation. I didn't want to get swarmed by aggressive vendors so I took a quick picture and got out of there.

It wasn't till I got back to my computer and checked with Wikipedia that my observations were confirmed:

Today, Belleville is a colorful, multi-ethnic neighborhood and also home to one of the city's two Chinatowns.... A fairly large and popular outdoor market is held there every Tuesday and Friday along the Boulevard de Belleville, where many local Île-de-France farmers sell their produce. [Hmmm... today is Thursday] ...Many artists now live and work in Belleville and studios are scattered throughout the quartier... The demographics of the neighborhood have undergone many changes throughout the decades. While Armenians, Greeks, and Ashkenazi Jews were once the predominant ethnic groups, North Africans, and more recently, sub-Saharan Africans have been displacing these others.

This is a map of my walking tour of the two parks (start at the bottom):

View in a larger map

Once I got my bearings, I headed down the Rue des Couronnes 3 blocks to Parc de Belleville. Although relatively young (1988), it is the highest park in Paris at 108 meters with a terrace presenting a panoramic view of Paris, which of course is why I wanted to visit.

Unlike most parks, this was very sloped and more a garden than a park it seemed. I simply walked up the center steps canopied by an overgrowth of vines so I could get to the terrace at the top. There apparently are several other features that I missed in my haste ("1200 trees and shrubs, a 100 metre-long waterfall fountain (the longest in Paris), and 1000 m² of lawn accessible to the public. It also contains a wooden playground for children, ping-pong tables and an open-air theatre.") so maybe I will return with Amanda, especially since there is a Flower Decoration Competition every September (including the International Dahlia Competition tomorrow!).

The panoramic view was not disappointing but the weather was. We have had cool, overcast weather all week and the skyline has been quite hazy as you can see by the pictures below. The first shows the terrace in the foreground and the second shows the panoramic view with a couple notable sites labelled against the haze.

With the aid of my handy iPhone Paris2Go Street Map with GPS tracking and Wikipedia descriptions, I made the 10-minute walk further north to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, crossing over into the 20th arrondissement. I entered the park, which opened in 1867, from the south. Knowing what I know now, I would recommend entering from the north. Although there is Buttes Chaumont station (Line 7) on the south edge of the park, I would take Line 5 to the Laumière station and walk the two blocks south on Avenue de Laumière to the main entrance on the north side at Place Armand-Carrel, which is the much nicer part of the park (and neighborhood!) across from the town hall building.

This is certainly not the immaculate Luxembourg Gardens, which I have been spoiled by, but more resembles a typical municipal park in the US and is apparently quite popular with Parisians. The grass, while dark green, is motley and bare in spots.

I was initially confronted with a small hill which I marched to the top of only to discover a rather plain packed-gravel plateau with a few park benches. All paths led back down so I continued toward what I hoped was the center of the park, noticing that the entire park appeared to by quite hilly (hence "butte" in the name?).

Eventually I saw a lake and bridge in the distance and continued to walk before stumbling across the following (description from Wikipedia):

The most prominent feature is the belvedere of Sybil, which sits atop the rocky peak at the center of the park. The belvedere, added to the park in 1869, is a Corinthian-style monument, modeled after the ancient Roman temple of Sybil in Tivoli, Italy. A suspension bridge leading to the peak, presently closed for renovation, is also found in the park. Access to the belvedere involves crossing the stone bridge on the south side of the park.

Soon after I arrived at this monument, positioned some 100 feet above the lake encircling it below, a private tour group appeared. Fortunately they were not there long, leaving only two lovers to admire the view to the north.

I took this 360 degree video while walking the inside perimeter of the monument, starting with a view to the east:

More importantly, I had an awesome view of Sacre Coeur from the side strategically positioned between two apartment buildings. The park is almost 2 miles due east of the basilica, closer than Notre Dame (2.3 miles), but not as close as Galeries Lafayette (1 mile), although they are both mostly to the south. Unfortunately, as before, the weather was not the best and I was also fighting with my Nikon D80 camera battery, which had just enough juice in it to squeeze out an extra picture or two if I left it off for a while and took the picture quickly!

I struck up a conversation with a couple (he was French, she was Japanese) after volunteering to take their picture for them (with their camera, not mine). He informed me that the park was not natural, the result of excavation of stones for the surrounding buildings. (This was later confirmed by Wikipedia: "site of a former gypsum and limestone quarry mined for the construction of buildings in Paris and the United States.")

He was also a musician (confirming the earlier Wikipedia note about musicians and artists in the neighborhood). I told him about the concerts I had scheduled as well as tonight's visit to Le Petit Journal Jazz Club (see later post). He recommended a club called New Morning which I guess I will need to check out now.

We then watched two young Chinese girls (remember there are two Chinatowns in Belleville) as they added their own personal inscriptions to the metal plate on the stone in the middle of the monument. The musician explained to them that I would put them on my blog, whose address I wrote in their notebook. So here it is:

I walked back down the hill and circled around to the front of the park to get a view of the monument from below.

This is the suspension bridge, which approaches from the west and was indeed closed.

The park appeared intended for children (it had a merry-go-round, children's theatre, large sandbox, etc) and while there were a smattering of mothers/children around, this afternoon was disproportionately represented by the senior citizen set.

It also had a modest grotto-waterfall.

Finally, one feature which should be imitated in gardens everywhere: a diagram of each flower bed displaying the location, arrangement, and type of each flower. As usual, the picture unfortunately does not do justice to the flowers. Remember to click to enlarge if you want to read the flowers.

Well, that ended a lot better than it began. The back side of the park is not very inspiring but the front side was quite nice. I can see where this would be a popular hangout for young and old alike, especially on the weekends (and a little warmer weather).

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