Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer in the park

One doesn't need to go too far to escape the dense urban centre of Paris, all stone façades and narrow streets. We decided one weekend to escape to Parc de Bagatelle located in the immense Bois de Boulogne (2.5 larger than Central Park in Manhattan). We hopped on to a métro to Porte Maillot and caught a bus which conveniently dropped us off at the entry to the park, in all a total of 20 minutes of travel time from where we live.

Parc de Bagatelle was created in 1777 at the behest of Marie-Antoinette after she aquired the property from a gambling bet she won with the Count of Artois. The park is one of the poshest run by the City of Paris, and as such there is an entry fee (not sure if this is all the time or just when there is an exhibit). You can see how much care they lavish on this property; there is no litter whatsoever, all of the plants are in excellent shape, the grass is mixed together with moss providing a lounging surface bar none. It helps too that the park is located adjacent to one of the most bourgeouis neighbourhoods of Paris, the 16th arrondisement. B and I spent a good part of the afternoon just rolling around in the grass getting completely covered in nature, much to the horror of passing snooty rich grannies.

The park was conceived by Belanger, developed by Thomas Blaikie, in an english-chinese style which was popular at the type. There are artificial grottoes and small waterfalls, pagoda pavillions, and an orangerie (a greenhouse where warmer climate plants, such as orange trees, were sheltered during the colder months), and a delicious rose garden. To add to the exotic flavour of the park there were free range peacocks all over the place. They are quite beautiful, these birds, but they produce a brutal sound. Rather like a choked up blow horn.

The park also houses a sleek restaurant/café plus a museum, this time 'round showcasing the life and work of Charles Darwin. Honestly, I wasn't that familiar with Darwin's accomplishments other than the Theory of Evolution. After this exhibit I have to say I have a lot of admiration for this controversial and pioneering spirit. It's true that the technology of today is turning some fundamental ideas he proposed on it's head, but it doesn't invalidate how radically he affected the changing of attitudes regarding science in the 19th century. I'm glad B and I took the time to go through the exhibit, even though rolling around in the grass seemed more appealing at that moment...