Rise above the tourist traps on Paris’s orig­i­nal ‘High Line’

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY HUGH BIG­GAR Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

On a re­cent trip to Paris, a determined ac­cor­dion player seemed to fol­low my friend Car­rie and me from Metro car to Metro car, play­ing the same wheezy melody each time. For­tu­nately, we rec­og­nized our symptoms and knew what to do. The fault wasn’t the ac­cor­dion player’s, it was ours.

He was a sign that we had hit the tourist wall. For all its charms, we needed a break from the touristy side of Paris — that point where the queues at the mu­se­ums sud­denly be­come “too long,” and we re­ally didn’t want to see an­other Eif­fel Tower snow globe or Notre Dame tea towel.

Ready for a re­boot and want­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence Paris more as the lo­cals do, Car­rie and I headed to the Via­duc des Arts and Prom­e­nade Plan­tée — an el­e­vated public park that al­lows vis­i­tors to see the city from above it all, or at least from the rooftops.

A quick walk from the Place des Vos­ges, once home to Vic­tor Hugo and other lu­mi­nar­ies, took us by the Place de la Bastille, site of the up­ris­ing that sparked the French Revo­lu­tion and now a busy traf­fic cir­cle, past the neigh­bor­ing L’Opéra Bastille — a modernist cube on the for­mer site of a rail­way sta­tion — and then up the stairs to the park.

Now nearly 20 years old, the Prom­e­nade Plan­tée — known in French as the Coulée Verte, or Green Flow — fol­lows an aban­doned rail­way as it am­bles three leisurely miles through the 12th ar­rondisse­ment. Since its launch as one of the world’s first el­e­vated rails-to-trails projects, the Prom­e­nade has in--

spired sim­i­lar parks, such as Man­hat­tan’s popular High Line, and pro­vided an in­no­va­tive ex­am­ple of Paris’s on­go­ing ef­forts to reimag­ine its past in the form of a stylish present.

At the top of the stairs, we en­tered through a rose trel­lis and pro­ceeded along the park’s paved path, which fol­lows an old rail bed. “This is so cool,” Car­rie said, look­ing to­ward the eye-level up­per floors of Beaux-Arts build­ings and bal­conies of mod­ern apart­ments.

Trains ran here for 110 years, start­ing in 1859, but on this win­ter day it was just me, Car­rie and a mix of lo­cals, re­mind­ing us we had passed into a cor­ner of Paris for Parisians.

I could see only two other peo­ple who might be tourists, with tell­tale cam­eras out. We passed them by to find a home­less man tak­ing a nap on a bench, a young cou­ple nuz­zling in one of the se­cluded al­coves off the path, a fa­ther push­ing a stroller and a group of stri­dent jog­gers.

The path, flanked by leafy gar­dens, of­fered ex­pan­sive views of the neigh­bor­hood. The chim­ney-lined rooftops on the older build­ings re­minded me of an im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing I had seen re­cently in Paris’s Musée d’Or­say, “Rooftops in the Snow,” by Gus­tave Caille­botte. Hap­pily, on this cold but sunny day, no snow was in sight.

As the Prom­e­nade path nar­rowed, widened and nar­rowed again, back­lit by the low win­ter sun, we qui­etly strolled on wooden tres­tles above the av­enues past small ar­bors and long, nar­row foun­tains.

Be­low, high-end arts-and-crafts work­shops are housed in the brick-lined arches of the old rail­way, and the shops, built in the 1990s, evoke the ar­ti­sanal char­ac­ter of the old neigh­bor­hood. Car­rie and I stopped for a mo­ment, leaned on a rail over the street, and I read from a guide­book that in­formed me that the brick was resur­faced and colored to match the his­toric houses we’d seen ear­lier in the day in the Place des Vos­ges. In keep­ing with our non-tourist mode, and be­ing nei­ther artsy-crafty nor high-end, we de­cided not to go down one of the grace­ful stair­ways to the street for a closer look.

In­stead, we moved past a man in a track suit em­phat­i­cally prac­tic­ing his kick­box­ing, strolled the path as it cleaved tightly be­tween mod­ern build­ings, then fol­lowed it to a wooden foot­bridge. The bridge arced over a large swath of green, which a sign iden­ti­fied as the for­mer home of 5th-cen­tury kings known as the Merovin­gians, dis­tinc­tive for their shoul­der-length hair. It is now a public park, the Jardin de Reuilly.

On this day, in­stead of long-haired Merovin­gian mon­archs named Clo­vis or Pepin, chil­dren en­joyed the park’s play­ground and groups of peo­ple sat on the grass warm­ing up in the sun.

Up ahead, the path coursed through broad public squares and small tun­nels as it dipped and rose down to the street level, mak­ing its way to a large public park with an an­cient chateau on one side, the Bois de Vin­cennes. But the Jardin de Reuilly was too invit­ing and sunny to pass up, so Car­rie and I found a bench where we could join the lo­cals be­fore we wan­dered to a neigh­bor­hood cafe for hot choco­late.

For a mo­ment, we had brief tourist guilt that we were leav­ing un­done ma­jor land­marks from our Paris to-do list. Then we re­al­ized that’s pre­cisely the point. We were here to sim­ply kick back and go with the flow — the Green Flow, Parisian-style.

PABLO POR­CI­UN­CULA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

JAC­QUES DEMARTHON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Far from selfie sticks and slow globes, peo­ple en­joy a clear day in La Coulée Verte, or the Green Flow, a leafy el­e­vated public park that was de­signed on a 19th-cen­tury rail­way in the 12th ar­rondisse­ment. Top, a gen­eral view of the Via­duc des Arts.

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