A Wander in the 20th and 19th — from Parc Belleville to Butte Chaumont.

Yesterday was unexpectedly pleasant and so we did another November stroll where we popped up at a new metro stop and adventured forth. This stroll encompassed Parc Belleville which we had only seen from a distance and ended near Parc Butte Chaumont one of the most spectacular and least touristed parks in Paris. The picture at the head of the piece is from the painted facade of St. Serge, a tiny Russian Orthodox church — another Paris ‘Easter Egg’ and not far from the end of our trek near Butte Chaumont. It is hard to find but worth the effort.

We began at the Pyranees metro station in the 20th arrondissement; we chose it because this is the hilliest part of Paris — Telegraph not far from here is in fact the highest point in the city — and we wanted our stroll in Belleville to end at the Friday market well downhill from Pyranees.

After we got off the metro we walked a couple of blocks down Rue Pyranees to a stairway that took us down the hill to Rue Envierges. Rue Enveriege leads through a mix of modern apartments and traditional apartments to a viewpoint over Parc Belleville. All over Paris there are signs explaining important historic moments or identifying events that occurred on the spot. Where streets or squares are named for notables, their profession or achievement is noted right on the sign. This sign on the side of a school on Rue Envierge memorializes the Jewish students of this school who were sent to their deaths in the holocaust. Note the identification of Nazi barbarity, the innocence of the victims and the complicity of the Vichy Regime of france.This overlook at the end of the street may look familiar; it is where we went to Le Vieux Belleville for a night of sing along Chanson music a couple of weeks ago. See: https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/le-vieux-belleville-non-je-ne-regrette-rien/ The overlook offers a spectacular view of Paris and of course of the park itself. We walked down into the park. Here is a wisteria bower that is probably quite spectacular in the spring. The park is on a hillside and offers lots of benches and flowery niches to enjoy lunch or a bookAnd I am sure you will guess what this is. And you are right.We had purchased sandwiches for a picnic and had several options. This ampitheter in the park is the site of frequent local events and people use it as an impromptu lunch spot. It has the spectacular view of the city so is a great choice. This family had quite a fancy spread with flower shaped paper plates, oeufs mayonaise and an assortment of other lovely goodies. They are sitting alongside one of the many cascades in Parc Belleville. There is an elaborate set of fountains and cascades that are shut down for winter.Leaving the park we headed for Rue Belleville passing by the memorial to the Communards who were defeated and massacred in 1871.  A brief description of the Paris Commune is impossible; it arose in opposition to the German rule after the Franco-Prussian War and those not executed were mostly exiled to New Caledonia 1500 miles off the Australian coast.  We happened on an office of an organization that celebrates the goals of the Communards on a walk in the 12th a couple of weeks ago.Rue Belleville runs downhill and has a collection of Asian food stores and restaurants as well as some of the more impressive street art in Paris. This famous piece is at Place Frehel.The men installing a sign is another relatively famous installation on that same square.These two works were also intact during my street art walk last year (see: https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/graffitti-street-art-vandalism/) but the drawings on the lower part of the square were quite different.

And when we reached Rue Denoyez just beyond this square, perhaps the most famous site of street art in Belleville, the scenes were entirely different. Some spectacular paintings I had photographed the year before were gone and replaced with new and in some cases less  impressive pieces. At the foot of the hill, Rue Belleville crosses Boulevard du Belleville and a Tuesday and Friday street market begins and runs several blocks down the Boulevard to the square at Menilmontant. We live near a market street but the Friday market in Belleville is not only enormous, but the prices are about a third what we have to pay for produce in our high rolling part of town. For example figs in our neighborhood are 6 Euro a kilo; here they are 2 Euro. And we eat a lot of figs with balsamic vinegar/honey dressing and goat cheese. Hmmmm figs. Clementines were two kilo i.e. nearly 4 and a half pounds, for one Euro.  Pears, like clementines, were practically free here. Fish is also out of sight pricey on Rue Levis our market street; there were extraordinary displays of fish at the market for much lower prices. We were not about to haul dead fish around all afternoon, but it was really tempting. I did buy two kilo of clementines and a cute smocked dress at a stand selling children’s clothing; most of the kids’ clothes though were variations on polyester jackets and sweat suits, with an entire line of ‘Charming Kitty’ clothing complete with a ‘My Little Kitty’ look alike logo. At the end of the market there were a number of stalls selling beautiful lengths of fabric, and elaborate head scarves. There are  large African and also Muslim communities in this area.  At Menilmontant there was another huge mural on one of the buildings on the square. We grabbed a cup of coffee here at the square and then hopped on the Menilmontant Metro and road a few stops north to the Colonel Fabien stop in the 19th Arrondissement near Parc Butte Chaumont, our next destination. We walked along an apartment filled street uphill to the park. Here is a side entrance to Parc Butte Chaumont followed by a pathway we took up the ridge to see if we could spot the island and the folly which are the centerpieces of the park. There are nice views of city from the top of the park; this is the view towards the edges of Paris to the Southeast.  High rise buildings are generally not allowed in the center where the Haussmann standard of 7 floors is adhered to.From here was wandered down a path with bridges over green valleys below.
This path led us to the folly, the Sybille, located atop the large man made mountain in the center of an island. The park was part of Baron Haussmann’s brilliant plan for the new Paris and repurposed an old quarry. It is one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Paris. Here I am in front of the island lugging my 2 kilos of clementines from the market.  What was I thinking? I don’t even carry a purse and yet here I am spending an entire afternoon with a big bag of fruit in a flimsy finger cutting plastic bag.
In addition to the island, there are playgrounds, a carousel, caverns and water falls and streams built for picnicking and play in summertime. The main entrance, where we exited the park is across from the city hall for this district of Paris i.e. the Mairie of the 19th Arrondissement. We left the park heading for yet another metro we had never used before: Danube. But before looking up the metro we detoured down Rue Crimee to find the well hidden Russian Orthodox church of St. Serge. It is located as part of a seminary complex that educates Orthodox priests and serves as the chapel. The entrance is up a small alley and more than one guidebook shows this picture labeled as the church of St. Serge; it is not. This is one of the administrative outbuildings.  I had read that is was beautifully painted and for a moment thought ‘that’s it?’  I am glad I persevered.We entered into this  private enclave and turned left into a pathway that was still not clearly leading to a church. There were a series of buildings that looked like housing and then we spotted a glimpse of church through the trees.The church has a wooden painted front with stairs leading to the sanctuary above and administrative offices below. They front a solid brick building.The icons and designs on the building are compelling.
This is clearly private space devoted to learning and the church is not welcoming to visitors; there were one or two French tourists there in addition to us but we were obviously an annoyance.

While no one was impolite, it was clear that tourists were not welcome to visit the church.  As priests and staff entered and left the building, they were always very careful to lock the doors.  This is the door to the sanctuary.There was a tiny crack between the doors of the sanctuary and peering through I could see that the church was beautifully ornate with pictures and icons not degraded by the weather.  One of the things I love about my Lumix camera is that while fitting in a pocket it also does a great job capturing the light available and producing an image.  I have photographed many night scenes and been able to pull a vision from the apparent blackness.  So without much hope, I propped the lens next to the crack and took a couple of shots.  These snapshots give a hint of the splendor of the little chapel within.St. Serge was the highlight of our walk and at this point we retraced our steps back to Avenue Manin and headed for the Danube metro.  But we had one more treat in store before finding the metro.  Here and there in Paris are little villages of single family 2 and three story houses that are quite distinct from Paris norms.  Most of Paris as designed by Baron Haussmann consists of impressive 7 story buildings like these with shops on the first floor and apartments above. For example we are in a 4th floor (American 5th floor) apartment.  On the first floor below us is a cafe and a Franck Provost chain hair dresser and then a stationary store, police station and corner cafe.  Across the street is  a bakery on the corner and a series of other shops.  Villas are small communities of single family homes; sometimes they are gated communities and sometimes just houses behind their own private gates.  Rue Hildalgo is the main street running through this area of villas. These small lanes of private homes branch off from Rue Hidalgo; each lane is a villa.This small gated community styles itself a ‘hameau’ or hamlet. Some of the individual homes have a modern flair.Most are more traditional and somewhat rustic.A number of the places had rather elaborate metal work in fences or balconies. And I love what these folks have done with tree roots. At the end of Rue Hidalgo after our meander through a number of the lanes of villas we found our metro, Danube.  It turned out to be a small metro that didn’t go far — 7bis — but it got us to a connection that brought us back to Parc Monceau and the walk home.

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6 Responses to A Wander in the 20th and 19th — from Parc Belleville to Butte Chaumont.

  1. Kate says:

    WOW! Great post – we’ll have to hope for good weather so we can go to that park too!

  2. Joanne says:

    I found this blog via Trip Advisor and I love it! We are going to France (Burgundy & Normandy) in June and can’t wait. I love your blog and the pics of some of the beautiful villages. We are planning a trip to Italy and reading your blog of Tuscany makes me want to go even more! Your blog doesn’t say where you are from.

  3. Karen says:

    Janet, I wanted to thank you for your guidance in this lovely part of Paris. I’d done a TA search on the 19th, as I came wanting to explore ‘alleys and passages’, and came across your blog. I’m here now, and spent a long day on a version of this walk. We found St. Serge late in the day and were blessed by a dear rotund old Russian man who took to us and let us in upstairs to take pics and explain the history of the church. I never would have persevered to find it had I not seen your blog. When I add my new Paris albums to my PBase photography site, I will credit you!


    • Janet says:

      Wow. Wish we had met him — as you saw, we could not get inside but had to be content taking a photo through a crack in the door. The people there when we were were not thrilled to have visitors in their enclave. Glad it worked for you.

  4. Kati says:

    My little family and I moved to Paris in August and we have been trying to get to the Parc de Butte Chaumant and have failed every single time! I’m glad you made it. My favorite part of this post was when you snuck the picture of the chapel. Maybe you should have offered your clementines to the church priests so that they’d be more welcoming to you. 🙂

    Maybe we’ll run in to each other on our meanderings about the city. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Butte Aux Cailles — Village within Paris | JANET TRAVELS

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