Traditions are important in France and change is slow in coming. I was made sad this year to find out that the very hotel that I was recommending when I surprised myself by saying the words, “whenever I’m in Paris”, has changed. It still lives on a tiny street near the Latin quarter and the Seine, but when I returned to it, trip after trip, it was a modestly priced hotel with tiny, indifferently decorated (but clean) rooms; plumbing that grumbled loudly to get me out of bed in the mornings; weak English-syle coffee with a roll, a croissant, butter and jam, for breakfast; and a friendly manager who spoke English and remembered her customers; even when it was years between visits. I usually booked with an e-mail saying, “can I still get the same rate?” and the answer was almost always yes. Sadly, a friend came back to me for another recommendation this year because the rates have more than doubled. It appears to have changed ownership and become part of a small luxury chain.
The Left Bank, while a good place for inexpensive hotels and restaurants by Paris standards, has never been the place where people would look first for true luxury accommodations. The historic old streets are small and noisy, full of the smells of diesel fuel and garlic. At night, the hawkers in the small streets will stand in the doors of the various ethnic restaurants, music blaring, to try to pull you in for dinner. The crowds are full of students, emigrants and budget tourists. But the location has its charms, especially for me. A short walk to the East, just past the Arab World Institute, and the small Park zoo, is the entrance to one of the most wonderful places in the world, Jardin des Plantes, Paris.
The people of Paris use this place (no entrance fee, except for the zoo and museums) as their front porch, their work-out studio, their alternate living room. Summer, winter, rain or shine, there are always people in this park. Jogging, walking, sitting, snacking in the cafes. Rows of benches under the Plane trees create a cool haven in the summer and a comfortable place to sit year-round, to soak in the beauty and the history. Kings and queens have walked here; in fact it was established as a medicinal garden for a king, hundreds of years ago. Sitting as close as it does to the historical center of Paris, it’s challenges, reversals and perseverance to become a world-class botanical and scientific resource could fill a book. But you can see it; soak up its essence, for free.
I highly recommend it as a cure for jet lag. The overnight flights often drop you off in Paris in the morning, with little or no sleep and an afternoon to fill. Take a book to the park, wander around and when you get tired, find a comfortable bench. The light of day will start to reset your clock and the beauties will sooth the soul.
There are a number of gardens, including one that organizes plants by their botanical characteristics; so read up on your interests before you visit or ask for a map at the small gate house. The rose garden is best in late May or very early June as it contains a number of once blooming varieties, but the main parterres have many roses that last most of the summer. Most of the pictures in the gallery were taken in the main parterres.
Notice the smoke over Buffon’s right shoulder in the long shot toward the front gate (fourth in the gallery). There were some particularly vehement protests that day; I saw worried police everywhere on my way to the gardens but I was oblivious to the cause until I heard the noise, and saw that night’s news. Explosions, smoke, screaming loudspeakers and sirens as the protests passed the park, but inside it was an island of tranquility.[oqeygallery id=20]