Paris through urban design.

looking down on the Musee d'Orsay

looking down on the Musee d’Orsay

marche aux puches, complete with artificial turf and breakfast seating

marche aux puches, complete with artificial turf and breakfast seating

the band that we happened upon

the band that we happened upon near Place de la Concorde

Paris is beautiful. The Eiffel Tour. The Louvre. Place de la Concorde. The food. I’ll say that one again: the food! But this post is about urban design. Urban design in Paris, mind you, but urban design for sure.  Why? Because you can find info where to stay, and where to eat, and what to see quite easily. Guidebooks will point out all the best sites, like Le Jardin des Tuilleries or the various museums. Like the Musee d’Orsay, my absolute favorite European museum of all time (so far). This should not be shocking. The collections are masterfully curated, and the building itself is a beautifully restored and converted railway station. Art lover and transport nerd collide. Sadly, no photos are allowed throughout the majority of the museum, so I can’t share any with you. Instead, I spent time there sketching some of my favorite sculptures, and realizing that those skills are a bit rusty.

I’ll add one final caveat: I had already been to Paris, though many, many years ago. That was a months-long trip, 4 to be exact. I visited many tourist sites and probably 80% of the top museums at the time. I think I’m still museumed-out, if I can say that. So, on this trip, I felt quite comfortable just wandering rather than seeing the major sites. If you’re reading this to inform your first trip, great. But I don’t recommend that you skip the greats: the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees or the Jardin de Luxembourg or … well, I could go on, but I suggest you just consult your guidebook of choice.

But… like I said this is about everyday Paris, and how beautiful it is, just like the places we all enjoy in our everyday lives. The everyday, unexpected beauty of a city. I’ve been remiss in posting my pics from my most recent trip there. I spent about a week in Paris last Spring , on the way back from  my visit to Johannesburg. I booked a homestay via housetrip.com and I was off. My first day, I ran down the steps of my (6th floor!) walkup and began walking. I picked a general direction, but mostly I was heading toward the city center to find a place to eat and people-watch. This is the crux of any Paris trip: eating and people-watching. So long as I wasn’t heading to a meetup of some kind, I walked everywhere. I probably logged 4-7 miles a day.

One day, though, I discovered a simple little bar-restau near my homestay. Aux 3 Passages was a treat to find, not only because the staff are so friendly, but also because they serve kangaroo. Kangaroo! I had been craving and searching for the delectable meat after traveling in Australia a few years ago. Obviously imported, and oh so worth the steak-frites-style dish. If you’re in the 11th Arr near Voltaire Metro, stop by. Also make sure to visit the neighborhood parks along Rue de la Roquette (and elsewhere!) on your way to the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. On my visit there, I skipped the graves of more prominent people like Honoré de Balzac, Jim Morrison, and Gertrude Stein, and instead visited the final resting place of the everyday, or at least non-celeb, people. I allowed myself to be drawn to the intricacy of the headstones and whatever else caught my eye. I was struck by how many people still go there to place flowers and tributes on family plots, some established hundreds of years ago.

I also took loads of photos, mostly of everyday things and urban design. What I discovered, or rather remembered, is the way that Paris has normalized the beauty of everyday urban design. Few cities are so well-designed and notably beautiful. Not to say that other cities do not have beauty, but even the most ordinary things are made beautifully in Paris. Unsightly items are made to blend into the streetscape. The lounge chairs around the octagonal fountain next to the Tuileries. The BP station that almost disappears from view. And so much more. The first tranche of photos is on my Google+ page, with more to come later this week. Take a gander. And then take a trip to Paris. Take a walk. And remember to take note of the everyday.

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