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Trip Report Paris V: Chateau de Vincennes , the other Antipode

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The 46 bus passes our apartment many times a day, its destination Chateau de Vincennes. Who can resist the lure of the end of the line? Not I, nor my wife, when there are gardens to be seen!

We have ridden this line a lot but only as far as Rue de Faubourg Saint Antoine near Aligre. Beyond that was terra incognita, but my expectations were not high. The area between Republique through Belleville is tired if not seedy, and I assumed that Paris would get more tired until it petered out in some desperate banlieue next to a no-go park. Well, silly me!

After Saint Antoine the surroundings got better and better (economically, which has nothing to do with being more interesting) until we reached the Porte Dorée, which looks like Nice, complete with palm trees and gilded fountains. One leaves Paris through this Porte and passes a great many expensive houses on the left and the entrance to the Paris zoo on the right. It was examination week for older students, but the younger ones were having field trips, and their laughter was everywhere at Vincennes.

The Bois de Vincennes is vast and would take many months to explore fully. It is full of all kinds of oddities from past expositions and world's fairs, and Kerouac has a brilliant photoset on the "lost gardens" around some of these. Alas, that's another trip for us.

We got off for the Parc Floral which we explored pretty thoroughly. There are lots of interesting paths snaking around between exhibition rooms, many of which were closed. Most disappointing was the bonsai house -- it is famous -- which remained closed despite a sign promising to return momentarily. We pressed our hands and noses against the glass for good views, but not 360. Sadly we can't grow baby's tears where we live, sadly because it is used beautifully here and in the Japanese garden at Albert Kahn.

The bulb gardens here are famous as well. Though all but a few flowers are gone, you can see the architecture of the beds really well. Ditto azaleas. There are more astilbes than I ever knew there could be growing amongst tall pines, and the grasses everywhere are fantastic.

We had lunch under a market umbrella at the Cafe Magnolia in the Parc Floral, serenaded by a wandering peacock. I was delighted to find a salade des gesiers (that's braised chicken gizzards to you) with crisp green beans, chopped hazelnuts, and salad greens, all topped with a slice of foie gras, satisfying both my vegetable hunger and my fat hunger. Your Mileage May Vary on gizzards.

After lunch, we walked to the castle itself, and this Chateau is a real castle, mostly used for imprisonment over the years. Mata Hari was executed, as were many others, in the moat. They do an opera here every year, which would be a treat, but there is a fair bit of construction going on, and the dust was bothering my asthma. We merely crossed the moat into the castle, only to find more construction and dust inside, before giving up on the museum to head home.

Thanks to MaineGG, we took the 56 bus back to the northeast. It leaves across the street from the Chateau and goes through completely different areas than our 46.

Again, surprise at the affluence of Vincennes and St. Mandé! It reminded me very much of London in Sloanland. We even passed one house guarded by the CRS, perhaps an ambassador or minister. I certainly couldn't afford to live in this neighborhood!

As we approached Place de la Nation, I continued to expect decline, especially along Boulevard de Picpus, a street possibly named for the need to pick off fleas. No more! And Nation itself betrayed no evidence of its bloody days in 1794, when it was the site of the beheading of the Carmelites memorialized in Poulenc's opera. Republique looks great after its restoration, but the streets leading to it still look tired.

These two bus routes might be memorialized as the Routes de Maman. Both buses had constant traffic of moms with Mclaren strollers, each subtly evaluating the inferiority of the other moms' babies while adoring her own. They were generally riding quite long distances. Between Nation and Republique, there were so many strollers on the 56 that other passengers couldn't get by into the rear seats.

The real mama drama was on the 46 in the morning where a very young and pretty clearly childless woman chose to criticize a mother whose baby was crying hard. It is amazing how much vitriol can be exchanged in a mile or so by two people who never raise their voices. In the midst of all this, baby went to sleep, of course, but it did nothing to stop the exchange of insults. They got off at the same stop, but the woman with the baby wisely waited until the other had huffed off down the street.

The person who tires of Paris, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson on London, tires of life.

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