A morning walk in spring in Paris is an inspiring event. I started at a café where I struck up quite a long conversation with a Frenchman I had never met before over a coffee and a croissant near the Place du Bastille.
Beside the café stood the great monument to the Bastille, the prison that was liberated during the French Revolution. The cobbled roads surrounding the massive sculpture used to be the floor of the prison where the inmates walked. The stony ground is still there and it has stood the wear and tear of traffic over the last two centuries. I headed off towards the Port de Plaisance de Paris, just across the street.
This port for private pleasure craft is also known as the Bassin de l’Arsenal due to the nearby region of Paris with a similar name. This little marina rests on a stretch of water which links the Canal Saint Martin to the nearby River Seine. The quayside here is always full of such a variety of vessels from the humblest of all, to motor launches fit for Royalty. Many of the owners and crew of these vessels were going about their riverside activities. Some of the boats were laden with bicycles, furniture and even cars. They seemed ready for action and eager to get going on this stunning spring morning. One or two of the craft were for sale, for one in particular it was clear, if you had to ask the price, you would not be able to afford it.
The quayside is intended as a place of relaxation; the gardens beside it and floral displays are well tended and there is space for picnics. There were a few people relaxing under the beautiful blue sky. Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel tower can be seen from along the pathway.
I took the steps up to the main city traffic and headed for the Pont d’Austerlitz, a road traffic bridge that crosses the Seine. Its construction was completed in 1806 to commemorate Napoleon’s victory at the battle of Austerlitz. It is a hefty construction consisting of five arches resting on four piers and two concrete abutments. It was designed by the engineer Becquey de Beaupre in 1801and is a poignant Parisian symbol.
When I got to the other side, I stood at the entrance to the great Jardin des Plantes. This is a beautifully presented and very carefully tended scientific botanical garden. The garden is very popular with families, children play amongst the flowers and plants. It is a vast space of floral and woodland splendour but also a place of education, learning and research. It is associated with the Paris Natural History Museum located at the far end.
The Jardin des Plantes was originally created by King Louis XIII in 1626. He persuaded two of his doctors to use it as a medicinal herb garden. It became a centre of early medical research and training; a school of botany was added and the gardens opened to the public in 1640. Along with the great natural history museum at its core, the gardens remain a centre for learning. Current research includes fertilisation, botanical subjects and climate change.
The design of the garden represents geometric symmetry. All is laid out in straight lines and in particular order. This assists with the research that goes on. The broad pathways that link the plantations are composed of soft, white sandy material to ease the progress. On the day I was there, the early spring blossom on the trees and the fresh emerging flower heads presented a splendid sight.
The Jardin des Plantes lies in the centre of a very busy Paris centre but forms an oasis masking all conventional pressures. It is a great place to sense complete freedom and enjoy the fresh, unpolluted air. Entrance of course is free and visitors can take all the time that they please.
By Bob Lyons an ex pilot turned travel writer in love with France…