Nature Observations (lockdown 2021)

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We often talk about time as if it is real, yet according to Albert Einstein and many scientists, time is only an illusion. Time is subjective and personal, and everyone has their own concept of time. In Zen Buddhism, the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji (1200–1253), also wrote about time or ‘uji’ in Japanese, which is usually translated as ‘Being-Time’. The most common interpretation of the two kanji characters is: “time is existence and that all existence is time.” According to Dogen, we are time, and time is us. Time is a complex subject, and I don’t intend to dwell on it here, but personally, the lockdown has made me become more aware of my relationship with time.

During the pandemic, my digital calendar and paper planners were mostly blank for about 2 years. I had no work events or social engagements to attend, and no upcoming holiday to look forward to. I am sure that many people experienced some sort of anxieties when all the short and long term plans suddenly came to a halt. And with so much ‘time’ on our hands, how were we going to spend it?

Perhaps for the first time in life, I did not have to check my watch, clocks and calendar frequently. I stopped planning, and after a while, time became ‘insignificant’. I could ‘waste’ it day after day without feeling guilty about not being productive enough. When I finally let go of ‘time’, I felt liberated. I learned to slow down and live each day as it comes.

Instead of obsessively checking the clocks for time and calendar for dates, I began to observe time through plants and flowers when I went out for walks during the lockdown. Nature became the measuring device for me.

 

Winter

Perhaps it is a misconception to think that flowers do not bloom during winter. In fact, there are many evergreen shrubs and flowers that thrive in the winter like Snowdrops, Hellebores, Eranthis, Primrose, and Viburnum tinus Eve Price etc. During my lockdown walks, I would come across some blooming flowers despite the cold weather. With less distractions and stimulations, I found joy in identifying unknown plant species during my strolls around London.

 

Hedera colchica  Algerian iris

Hellebores

japanese skimmia  Iris foetidissima

First left: Hedera colchica/ Persian Ivy; First right: Algerian iris; 2nd row: Hellebores; bottom left: Japanese skimmia; Bottom right: Iris foetidissima

 

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of winter plants or flowers are the array of vibrant colours. There are bright pinks, reds, violets, and yellows – these are colours normally associated with spring/summer, yet they can be seen during the winter too. Time passes quickly when you place your focus on the surrounding nature rather than on yourself – the lockdown probably created an environment for introspection, yet too much of it would make us too self-focused due to less interactions with the outside world.

 

Red twig dogwoods  red maple leaves

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Eranthis   Mahonia

 Viburnum tinus Eve Price

Viburnum tinus Eve Price  Hellebores

First left: Red twig dogwoods; First right: maple leaves: 2nd: snowdrops; 3rd left: Eranthis; 3rd right: Mahonia; 4th & Bottom left: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; Bottom right: Hellebore

 

Euonymus europaeus  Chaenomeles

Chaenomeles

WEIGELA PINK POPPET

Magenta Hebe

First left: Euonymus europaeus; first right & 2nd: Chaenomeles; 3rd: Weigela Pink Poppet; last row: Magenta Hebe

 

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Erica carnea, the winter heath

Clematis armandii

Primrose – Primula vulgaris

First: Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’; 2nd: Erica carnea/the winter heath; 3rd: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; 4th: Clematis armandii; Bottom: Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

 

My favourite time of the year is autumn and spring. Around late February and early March, the day light hours would last longer, which means spring is in the air. The gradual increase of sunshine and day light makes a huge diference to the ecology and humans. We start to notice daffodils blooming everywhere, and seeing the golden yellow colour covering the parks immediately uplifts our moods and spirits.

 

daffadils  daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

Daffodils

 

On the grounds, there are daffodils, and when we look up, we would see seas of sumptuous white and pink magnolias over our heads. Magnolia shrubs seem to be ommonly planted in people’s gardens in London as I tend to see them a lot when I walk around my neighbourhood.

 

Magnolia  Magnolia

pink magnolia

Magnolia

White and pink magnolia

 

For those (including me) who yearned to go to Japan but couldn’t for the last few years, the joy of viewing cherry blossom seemed to have become a distant memory. Yet London is also a good place for sakura viewing; even though it is not as spectatular as Japan, the number of Japanese cherry trees being planted in the U.K. have been increasing over the years. As far as I am aware, there is only one white-flowering cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis) standing alone the middle of an open field in Hampstead heath, and when it blooms, it is quite stunning. The next obvious place to view sakura would be Regent’s Park, both inside and on the outer ring.

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

A white-flowering cherry tree/ Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in Hamspstead heath

 

cherry tree

cherry blossom

cherry trees

cherry blossom

Cherry trees in Regent’s park

 

The lesser-known sakura viewing spot is the residential neighbourhood, Swiss Cottage. The open space in around Hampstead theatre and Swiss Cottage library features rows of white-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) and pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’). When the flowers are in bloom, they do look quite spectacular and make you feel you are in Japan for a second. Since it is a recreation space, it may even be possible to have a viewing picnic party there (weather permitted).

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom  cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

The stunning pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) in Swiss Cottage

 

In spring, we would often see a lot of beautiful camellias in various colours, especially Camellia japonica, which is the predominate species of the genus. Besides that, we might be able to spot some ravishing rhododendrons or azaleas ( particularly at Kew Gardens) blooming in people’s gardens.

 

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camellia

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Camellia – Top & 2nd rows: Japonica Camellia

 

rose

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

buddleia

primrose

First: rose; 2nd & 3rd: Rhododendron; 4th: buddleia; botton: primrose

 

If you are not a fan of showy ornamental plants/flowers, there are plenty of wild spring flowers that are captivating too. Personally, I am quite fascinated by gorse/ulex (commonly seen around the UK especially in Scotland), which is an evergreen shrub with bright yellow pea-like flowers and spiny leaves. The flowers are eible and can be used as a medicinal tea, as well as a natural dye, producing a yellow colour on the fabrics.

 

Forsythia

gorse

Top: Forsythia; Bottom: common gorse

 

Spring is also the season to enjoy various lilac/blue/violet flowers like Ceanothus, Periwinkles, wisteria, lavender and bluebells. Ceanothus are popular garden shrubs in the UK, and their lilac flowers are particularly impressive.

However, when it comes to popularity, wild bluebells certainly rank quite high up on the list. Besides cherry blossoms, the bluebell seasons are highly anticipated by many too. It is quite easy to spot bluebells in spring, but the best places to view are still in the woods. Whenever I see a stunning carpet of blue in the woodlands, I would feel instantly quite ecstatic. There are two main types of bluebells in the U.K.: the British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and the native ones are being protected by law as they are under threat now.

 

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Periwinkle

bluebell

bluebells

bellflower

Top & 2nd: Ceanothus; 3rd: Periwinkle; last three: bluebells

 

When I immerse myself in nature, I could see the cycles of nature and life. Flowers bloom, wither, and are replaced by other species as the seasons change. When there is a beginning, there will be an end… though the cycle will continue to repeat itself indefinitely. It does not matter if we can’t figure out what ‘time’ is, the more important thing is to live in the present. We are now living in a more precarious and unpredictable world, hence we ought to enjoy each day as it comes. If you feel down/ stressed/ anxious, why not head outside and spend time in nature to get lost in time? I highly recommend it.

 

Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

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Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

A perfect spring day in Nara

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Sunny and warm afternoon at Nara park

 

My trip began in Osaka, though I barely spent any time there except for the evenings. My good friend has recently moved to Sendai (we originally met in London) flew over to Osaka to meet me before I continued on with my journey. And I suggested that we take the train and spend the day in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan (before Kyoto).

Yet we started off the morning getting lost at the confusing and maze-like Osaka train station (just like Shinjuku and Tokyo stations), and it took us some time to find the right track and train to go Nara, which is about 45 mins to one hour away depending on the trains.

 

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nara writing paper  img_8295-min

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It was a relief to get away from the hustle and bustle of Osaka. Even though Nara is also popular with tourists, it is much more relaxing, probably due to the expansive Nara park in the middle of the city. Most of the famous temples like Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine are located within the park, so it is easy to spend a full day wandering around the park, which was exactly what we did.

 

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Lunch was Kamameshi, a traditional aromatic cooked-in-an-iron-pot rice and vegetables with seafood or meat.

 

The park is huge and has over 1000 hungry and aggressive deer roaming around for food. These deer would do anything to get food, including bowing (they are Japanese after all)! The warning signs in the park are hilarious and quite acurate (see below).

 

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deers nara

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Todai-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple

 

During our visit, we were blessed with sunny and warm weather, accompanied by the beginning of the cherry blossom season. Although they are not fully bloom yet, it was still lovely to see rows of cherry trees around the park.

 

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Mizutani-chaya

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Matcha dessert at Mizuya Chaya

 

Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

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Kasuga-Taisha Shrine

 

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Kofuku-ji Temple

Kofuku-ji Temple

 

At the end of the day, we completely lost track of time… although we were exhausted from all the walking, we couldn’t believe that the sun was about to set, and that we had to return to Osaka. We both thought it was a perfect day – a relaxing day in a picturesque setting, I mean what more can you ask for?

 

img_8375-min  img_8379-min

Osaka’s Dotonbori

 

The transition from tranquil Nara to hectic Dotonbori in Osaka was almost too overwhelming for me. I did not enjoy being in central Osaka at all. Yet I knew this would soon pass because I would be heading off to Koyasan, Japan’s sacred mountain on the next day…

 

A glorious walk through Windsor Great Park

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January has been a stressful month for me, and even my regular meditation practice could not prevent me from developing some skin allergy as a result of stress. I feel that many city dwellers often struggle to maintain a work/play/rest balance, and despite the best effort, stress seems to affect many of us from time to time.

Over the years, I found that nature is the best antidote to stress. No matter how anxious, unhappy or stressful I feel, simply immersing myself in nature would somehow transform my negative state/mindset into a positive one. Sometimes it feels like magic.

Yet sunny days in winters are hard to come by, and when it’s cold, grey, wet and miserable outside, I would rather stay in and turn into a couch potato. But then one day I received an email notification from one of my walking groups going for a 9-mile walk through Windsor Great Park the next day (which was forecast to be sunny), I signed up for it immediately.

 

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windsor great park  windsor great park

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On the day I learned that quite a few people on the walk had signed up at the last minute as well. Perhaps the REAL attraction of this walk was the sun rather than the park itself. I think we all made the right decision because despite the cold, it was a beautiful day.

This Grade I listed historical park covers over 4,800 acres of land, and it contains an 18th century man-made Virginia Water lake, as well as a cascade. Walking along the lakeside was pleasant and calming on a sunny day. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop noticing and admiring the colossal and ancient trees all around me. They are magnificent.

 

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tree  tree

tree  tree

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After treading through some muddy part, we reached one of the highlights of the walk – the Snow hill. On the top of the hill stands The Copper Horse, a statue of George III on horseback, which looked particularly monumental against the blue sky. Here, we enjoyed a spectacular panoramic view of the area, including the 2.64-mile long tree-lined Long Walk with Windsor Castle at the far end, and high-rise in London on the right.

 

windsor great park

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img_7309  img_7316

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It turned out that The Long Walk is really a ‘long walk’! We were all exhausted by the time we reached the gate of Windsor Castle. Designed by Charles II, 1,652 elm trees were planted to create this landscape inspired by his previous stay at the Versailles. Over the years Elms have been replaced by Oak, Horse Chestnut and London Plane trees. Later in 1710, Queen Anne requested a road to be constructed down the centre of the tree lined avenue for coaches. And it is still used by the royal carriages annually as part of the route from Windsor Castle to the Ascot Races.

 

windsor  windsor

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After spending the beautiful day walking in nature, all the stress and anxiety that I was experiencing the day before simply faded away. I felt extremely content and calm on my way back to London. Can nature combat stress? The answer is definitely ‘yes’.

Interestingly, I came across an article from the New York Times on how nature can change our brains and our mental health, which explains what I experience walking in nature is proven to be true and effective.

 

The Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

 

Opened in October 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton was designed by star architect Frank Gehry in the Bois de Boulogne adjacent to Jardin d’Acclimatation.

Commissioned by Bernard Arnault, the Chairman of LVMH, the $143 million sails-inspired glass building is a contemporary art museum consisted of 11 galleries, an auditorium, a restaurant, a bookstore and a roof garden.

 

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton

 

Like many big-budget buildings by other contemporary star architects – Zaha Zadid, Daniel Libeskind and Renzo Piano to name a few, subtlety is the last thing you would expect from them. Imposing, audacious and conspicuous, the building’s facade is very ‘intagramable’, but it looks completely out of place next to the 19th century children’s amusement park Jardin d’Acclimatation. Beautiful or hideous, it is utterly subjective; though personally, I have quite mixed feelings towards this building.

 

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Inside the horizon, Olafur Eliasson's installation   Inside the horizon, Olafur Eliasson's installation

Top two rows: The miniature models and floor plan of the building; Bottom: Olafur Eliasson’s installation ‘Inside the horizon’

 

My issue with this building has less to do with its exterior, I was more bothered by its confusing layout and navigation. While there is only one route to visit the connecting galleries in the basement, the galleries upstairs are disjointed in an erratic manner, and so it is easy to miss certain rooms without even realising it!

 

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

Gilbert & george at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Jean-Michel Basquiat at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Jean-Michel Basquiat at Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

Mann im Matsch ("Man in Mud") by Thomas Schutte

‘Popist, and music/sound exhibition’ – Top right: Philippe Parreno’s helium-filled black balloons; 2nd row: Gilbert and George; 3rd and 4th left: Jean-Michel Basquiat; Bottom: Mann im Matsch (Man in Mud) by Thomas Schutte

 

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton  Fondation Louis Vuitton

The building’s stainless steel, carbon steel and wood (larch) structure and its roof garden

 

One of the highlights of the museum is its roof garden, where you can admire the building’s complex steel and wood structure and the skyscrapers of La Défense (looking very much like Canary Wharf in London) on a clear day.

 

Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation  Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation – 2nd & 3rd row left: outdoor jazz/music concerts on Sundays

 

After spending time admiring contemporary art work indoor, I was eager to get out and enjoy some sun and nature. Even though Jardin d’Acclimatation is a children’s ‘theme’ park, it is spacious and relaxing, and has plenty to offer adults like outdoor music concerts in the weekends.

To my surprise, there is even a Korean garden and an Edo period (1862) Japanese farmhouse within the park.

 

Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation  Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation

Jardin d’Acclimatation  Jardin d’Acclimatation

Korean garden and a traditional Japanese farmhouse

 

Yet the cutest attraction at the park is the Little train, a locomotive with electric traction which travels on the historical railway (1878) that links the park to Porte Maillot metro station. It is great to see the railway still being in operation after 138 years!

If you are not prepared to pay €14 to visit The Fondation Louis Vuitton, you can spend €3 and enjoy the park’s attractions while admiring Gehry‘s architecture as the backdrop!

 

gare du petit train  gare du petit train

gare du petit train

Le Petit train

 

Spring in London!

spring blossom

 

Technically speaking, spring has yet to arrive when I took these photos before my annual trip to Asia. Yet flowers in London have started to blossom despite the persistent cold weather.

If you take a stroll in the park, you will notice colours like yellow, purple and pink starting to emerge. Daffodils and Camellia can be seen now, and soon we will see more cherry blossom as the weather warms up.

 

Spring blossom Spring blossomSpring blossomSpring blossom Spring blossomSpring blossom Spring blossom

 

I love springtime in London. It is a shame that I will miss most of London’s spring this year, but on the other hand, I am looking forward to visiting Japan during the upcoming sakura season!

 

 

The last days of winter

Hampstead heath

 

Although Londoners had to endure a cold winter this year, we have also had many sunny days. I don’t mind the cold weather much as long as it is not consistently grey and wet. I am prone to winter blues if I am obliged to stay indoor for a long period of time, so whenever I have the opportunity, I would spend time walking outdoor.

 

Hampstead heathhampstead heath hampton courthampton court London winter swans

 

Being the greenest city in Europe, 40% of London is made up of green space. Hence, it would be a ‘crime’ not to take advantage of London’s enchanting parks and woodlands.

In the winter season, I particularly enjoy solitary walking. I don’t use this time to reflect nor contemplate, I merely walk… and I can walk for hours without needing to rest. I find these walks invigorating, and they help to clarify my mind significantly. Aside from meditation, I believe that walking and hiking in nature is the most effective antidote to stress, anxiety and physical tension.

 

Hampstead heathhampstead heath highgatehighgate

 

I love observing nature during the winter period. On the surface, everything seems calm and slightly barren; yet if you look closer, you would find that this is not the case. I was genuinely surprised to see a worker (female) bee out at work one day, it was only then I realised that not all bees hibernate in winters.

 

Winter beewinter naturehampstead heath

 

The poignant beauty of bare tree silhouette also reminds us of the fragility, ephemeral and perpetual cycles of life. Soon, spring will be on its way and all this will pass…

 

highgatehighgateRichmond highgate cemeteryhampstead heath

 

 

Parks and gardens in Paris

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries 

 

When overseas friends visit London for the first time and they asked me for recommendations, I would always say, “museums and parks”. Not only they are free ( which reaffirms the statement, ‘the best things in life are free’), but it is hard to find the same offering elsewhere. Although Paris also offers top-notch museums and wonderful parks/gardens, most museums are not free and it is forbidden to sit on the grass in many ‘upscale’ parks and gardens. You will have to find a bench or chair and ‘admire’ the surrounding rather than be in it, just like you do in the museums.

Whenever I travel to Paris, I would spend days visiting art/design/photography exhibitions, but I would also spend time lingering in their beautiful parks and gardens during spring and summer time. Aside from relaxation and contemplation, it is also fascinating to watch and observe people in parks and gardens. I find that people often reveal their true nature when they are in a relaxed state with their guards down. If you want to understand the people and culture of a city, spend a few hours observing them in a park, you will mostly likely learn more about them than from reading books.

Like London, there are many parks, gardens and squares in Paris; this is by no means a comprehensive guide, it is just a list of places that I have visited within inner Paris.

 

Jardin des Tuileries Jardin des TuileriesJardin des TuileriesJardin des Tuileries Jardin des TuileriesJardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries in summer and winter

 

Jardin des Tuileries ( 113 rue de Rivoli 75001) – Perhaps this historical garden is one of most touristy in Paris but it is also one of the most beautiful. Originally part of Catherine de Médicis‘ Palais de Tuileries, the garden was redesigned between 1660 and 1664 in French formal style by André Le Nôtre, the celebrated gardener of King Louis XIV, best known for his gardens at the Versailles Palace. The park was one of the first public parks in Paris and in 1999, many modern sculptures were added to the garden. The gardens has two ponds, fountains and two galleries, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (a wonderful contemporary imagery/photography gallery) and the Musée de l’Orangerie ( where you will find Monet’s water lilies).

 

Jardins du Palais RoyalJardins du Palais Royal palais royal

Jardin du Palais Royal and Les Deux Plateaux art installation

 

Jardin du Palais Royal (8 Rue de Montpensier, 75001) – Not far from Jardin des Tuileries is another historical garden and elegant originally constructed in 1633 by Cardinal Richelieu but now mostly dating back to the late 18th century. In the inner courtyard of the palais, you will find ‘Les Deux Plateaux’ ( also known as Colonnes de Buren), a controversial art installation composed of 260 black-and-white striped columns by French conceptual artist, Daniel Buren installed in 1986.

The actual garden is slightly tucked away in another inner courtyard surrounded by elegant arcades full of designer shops ( also home to Paris’ most famous haute couture vintage shop, Didier Ludot). There is a large circular pool, fountain, and four double rows of lime trees dating back to the 1970s and chestnut trees planted in 1910. Although the garden is not very big, it is more laid back and less touristy than Jardin des Tuileries, a good spot to relax after a visit to the touristy Louvre nearby.

 

parc monceau parc monceauparc monceauparc monceauparc monceauparc monceau parc monceau

Parc Monceau

 

Parc Monceau (Boulevard de Courcelles, 75008) is a popular park amongst the Parisians (especially with families, joggers and Marcel Proust!) that dates back to the 18th century. The park is surrounded by luxury buildings and sumptuous mansions, including the Musée Cernuschi (which I will write about later) and Musée Nissim de Camondo. The park is really interesting because it was originally intended to be an Anglo-Chinese or English garden modeled on Stowe House in England, but it was later redesigned (Under the direction of Jean Charles Adolphe Alphand who was responsible for many of the parks in Paris and mentioned in this entry) to look more ‘French’. Now when you walk around the park, you will come across children’s playground, numerous statues, an Egyptian Pyramid, a Renaissance archway belonging to the former Paris City Hall and even a classical colonnade! Random but quirky.

 

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Square des Batignolles

 

Square des Batignolles ( Place Charles Fillion – Rue Cardinet 75017) – About half way between Parc Monceau and Montmarte, there is a well-hidden square ( or park) in an neighbourhood that is becoming popular with young hip professionals and young families ( there are numerous cool restaurants, bars and even A.P.C. has opened a shop near the square).

Ordered by Baron Haussmann to be built as a tribute to Napoleon III in 1862, the square was again designed by Alphand in a naturalistic English-garden style. This square is full of tropical plants and exotic trees ( I especially love the bonsai tree seen above), and it features a large pond which is fed by a stream that runs through the square and it is home to large red Japanese carp, koi and over 300 ducks. Other unusual features include a grotto, waterfall, and a small greenhouse, that was added in 1996.

 

Parc Clichy-Batignolles

Parc Clichy-Batignolles

 

Parc Clichy-Batignolles (147 rue Cardinet 75017) – About 10 minutes walk from Square des Batignolles is a new green ecological park called Parc Clichy-Batignolles or Parc Martin Luther King. The 50-hectare park is part of the Clichy-Batignolles redevelopment project by the City of Paris is to transform the formerly occupied by freight yards for the French National Railway Corporation into a new green community. The park is yet to be completed, but the first phase has been opened to the public since 2007.

The ecological park is designed by the landscape designer Jacqueline Osty, and it has three themes: seasons, sports and water. The park is self-sufficient in water and electricity with minimum energy consumption, and water is heated by means of solar panels and voltaic, which provides the energy necessary for the lighting. Even the park’s wooden benches are accredited with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification to guarantee the wood’s ecological and sustainable criteria. Hence if you are bored of the historical Paris, visit this park and you will see what future is in store for the modern day Paris.

 

Parc de Belleville

Parc de Belleville

 

Parc de Belleville (47 Rue des Couronnes 75020) is the highest park in Paris, located on the hill of Belleville between the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont ( see below) and the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The park was conceived by the architect François Debulois and the landscaper Paul Brichet in 1988, and it offers a stunning panoramic view of the city. Perhaps due to its location, the park is not at all touristy. It may not the most beautiful park in the city but it is pleasant and calm; and if you are hungry after all the climbing, you can always enjoy some pho at one of the authentic Vietnamese restaurants in the nearby Belleville.

 

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Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

 

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (1 rue Botzaris 75019) is probably my favourite park in Paris (and it is well-loved by the locals). It is also one of the largest in Paris, covering 24.7 hectare of land and offers great views from the top of the hill. Another Alphand creation, Parc des Buttes Chaumont was inaugurated on April 1st by Napoleon III during the Universal Exposition of 1867. Made in a disused quarry, the park is a prime example of how industrial land can be recycled.

I love this park because it is quirky, romantic and full of surprises. There is a large lake surrounding a rocky peak with a “Temple of Sibylle”, inspired by that of Tivoli. There are a few bridges including a suspension bridge, grottos and even waterfalls. And unlike other posher parks in the centre, you can sit on the grass and have picnics here. However, there is a darker history of the park that I found on the blog cultureandstuff

 

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Jardin des Plantes

 

On the south of the river, there is the wonderful and historical Paris botanical garden: Jardin des Plantes (57 rue Cuvier 75005). Founded in 1635, the garden has four museums, a botanical school, vineyard and a small zoo. You can also stroll and wander around the rose gardens, iris gardens, alpine garden and greenhouses. Given its central location, I was surprised that this garden is not as busy or touristy as one would imagine unlike the nearby Jardin du Luxemurg.

 

jardin du luxemurgJardin Atlantique Jardin Atlantique

Top: Jardin du Luxemurg; Bottom: Jardin Atlantique

 

Jardin du Luxemburg (2 rue Auguste Compt 75006) – Built in 1620, this graceful and well-laid out garden (part of the palace) is very popular amongst Parisians and tourists alike. This was the first French garden to be influenced by the Italian Baroque. And like Jardin des Tuileries, this garden is to be admired, so grass is off-limits but you can grab a green chair and sit in the designated areas. Once I visited a prestige duplex apartment nearby that overlooks the garden (even the bathroom has a view of the garden), it made realised why property prices in the area are one of most expensive in the city!

 

Jardin Atlantique ( Gare Montparnasse, Boulevard de Vaugirard) – this is a rather odd and random park on the roof that covers the tracks and platforms of the Gare Montparnasse railway station. There are several entrances to the garden but they are not easy to find, the one I used was from Boulevard de Vaugirard where there is a glass elevator and staircases that would get you up to the top.

Created by the landscape architects François Brun and Michel Péna, the maritime theme garden opened in 1994. Surrounded by office buildings and by a line of tennis courts on the west side, the garden is probably not the prettiest, but it is an interesting site if you happen to be in the area or is stuck at the station for some reason.

 

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Parc de Montsouris

 

Parc de Montsouris (2 rue Gazan 75014) is another Alphand creation, just like Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, this 15.5-hectare park was also built at the site of a former granite as an English landscape garden, though less spectacular. A train track cuts right through the park, yet it is hardly noticeable thanks to Alphand, who created a sunken trackway lined with pine trees.

The Park has a lake, a cascade, sloping lawns, meteorology station, a cafe and a guignol theatre. There are also many bronze and marble sculptures here, it’s a shame that some of them have been vandalised by graffiti. Although this park is not as ‘romantic’ as Parc des Buttes Chaumont, it is still a very pleasant park where you can unwind and relax.

All the parks and gardens listed above are free, but for a few euros, you can enjoy the impressive and tranquil sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin, it is best to be visit it with the museum, but you can visit it alone for €2. However, the museum is being renovated now, so it may be worth waiting for renovation is completed later in the year.

 

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La Grande Mosquée de Paris

 

The last garden is slightly unusual and it is within La Grande Mosquée de Paris ( 2 bis place du Puits-de-l’Ermite 75005) near the Le jardin des plantes, with a €3 entrance fee. The beautiful pink marble mosque was built in 1922 to honor the North African countries that had given aid to France during World War I. Inspired by El-Qaraouiyyin Mosque in Fes, Morocco, the mosque also has a minaret which is the replica of the one at the Zitouna Mosque in Tunisia.

The lovely Moorish courtyard garden makes you forget that you are in the middle of Paris, and best of all, there is a souk, hammam, tea room and restaurant within the compound. I did not try the hammam, but I enjoyed having mint tea and pastry at the shady courtyard cafe, which reminded me much of Morocco.

 

To be continued…