Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011: Paris/Grenoble - Green Roof, Couscous, Bercy, Green Wall, Architecture, TGV

For our last day in Paris Mark and I wanted to get away from some of the major attractions. So we took the subway out to the east side for a visit to the Palais Omnisports.

This sports stadium has an impressive 45 degree sloping green wall/roof encircling the building (as well as a flat green roof on top, which can't be seen from the ground). It's pretty impressive - if it was just concrete it would be massive and forbidding, but covered in grass it's welcoming. There was also an interesting inverted fountain/waterfall/canyon feature nearby by Gérard Singer - we weren't clear on whether it was just decorative or served some practical water retention/purification purpose, but its shape was striking.

After walking through the nearby Parc de Bercy, which had lovely contemporary landscape design, we went for lunch in a neighbourhood café. At last - we have discovered the spicy food of France - and it is couscous! The restaurant was such a local establishment that they didn't have a real "carte", just a hand-written list of standard French fare on a piece of paper when I asked for it. When I went to order, they mentioned that they had couscous that day, and would we like to have that instead. I agreed, and I'm glad we said yes. There was tasty grilled meat on a skewer, root vegetables and onions, and a spicy broth that the waiter demonstrated how to ladle on (unlike all our other Parisian meals, this one was entirely conducted in French).

After lunch we visited the Village of Bercy. This should have been an interesting mix of restaurants and shops in a semi-industrial area of restored former wine warehouses, much like the Distillery District in Toronto. But instead it was a row of aggressively marketed at tourists restaurants and chain stores with nothing really unique to sell. I can't understand why they haven't encouraged artist's studios and merchandise that's unique and handmade. It wasn't far off of a mall experience, save for the interesting old brick architecture.

We headed back into the heart of the city to the Musée du Quai Branly to see the famous green wall by Patrick Blanc. Unlike the Palais Omnisports, this one is a vertical wall, and it's also more than just grass - it has a fantastic variety of flower, greenery and small bushes growing out from the wall. I was not disappointed - it's pretty amazing.

Continuing with our green theme we went to see the exhibition "La Ville Fertile" at the Cité de l'Architecture. There were many inspiring landscape architecture projects on display, although in the end the abundance was overwhelming. It might have been more instructive to have fewer exhibits with more in-depth information. But I was excited to see some projects that I was familiar with, such as the High Line Park in New York City, and the riverside parks in Lyon where so many people enjoyed hanging about.

And at last it was time to head home to Grenoble on the TGV. We got to the Gare de Lyon early and had a light supper in the train station café. In spite of the fact that it's a full-service establishment I still had to pay to use the washroom. This would not have annoyed me so much (although I do think that if you're serving food and drink you should be obligated to provide free facilities) if there had been an attendant to take the money. But instead it was a coin-operated entry, and I didn't have the correct change. Not to worry - there's a machine to make change - except it wasn't working! There was an attendant who told me that it wasn't working - but it wasn't his job to fix it, just to clean the facilities. So I was stuck until I went back upstairs to find our former waitress (who wasn't very interested in us now that we'd finished paying for dinner) to try to tell her that I needed change for the toilets. Which is surprisingly difficult to figure out how to word in French when she tells you that there is a machine that gives you change already. In the end I prevailed.

But there's nothing to complain about with the TGV. As usual we boarded on time, traveled comfortably and smoothly, and arrived in Grenoble a scant three hours later. Paris was nice to visit, but we're happy to be back home!

The Palais Omnisports green roof/wall...

...and the lawnmower that cuts it!

Gérard Singer's fountain/canyon/waterfall feature

A great undulating wooden bridge across the river

Parc de Bercy, well-used by kids and pets on this beautiful, sunny day

Bercy Village's street of restaurants

Mysterious sculptural heads peer out of windows at Bercy Village

Mark makes a friend...

Musée du Quai Branly green wall

The wall is amazingly tall - it's hard to imagine how they keep it all evenly watered over this expanse, but there was very little water dripping off at the bottom

We passed by the Eiffel Tower - nice to be able to take pictures with blue skies behind, unlike the day before when it was so overcast

La Ville Fertile - the exhibition started with an indoor garden/jungle installation

Gare de Lyon train station

Le Train Bleu restaurant

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