What looks like a massive ball from a boule game, with the sky and clouds reflected in its silver surface, is in fact the “Geode,” a cinema in the shape of a sphere in Parc de la Villette in Paris. When it was completed its design was considered futuristic.
Porte de la Villette is the starting point for a 20-kilometre walk that traverses Paris from north to south and is marked with small yellow and red signs. However, the markers are easy to oversee, so a map is essential.
At a former slaughter yard in northern Paris, young ballet dancers gracefully practice their steps. In the 19th century, 12,000 butchers worked here, supplying the French capital with meat. The animals arrived by train at a nearby cattle market.
The path follows the old railway line through the district with its sad suburban charm: chain hotels, apartment blocks and a concrete church that looks like a nuclear power station.
The view begins to improve a short distance further in the neighbourhood of Belleville: a small village with timber-framed houses, cast iron lamp posts and gardens with blooming flowers. Life appears somewhat more relaxed here than in the rest of Paris.
Joggers can be seen at all times of the day in Buttes-Chaumont park. At a small open space, about two dozen people are going through their Tai Chi movements. The park has a waterfall and a duck pond and is one of the biggest green areas the city has.
A good place to take a break is at a reproduction of an ancient Roman temple in the park, built on a hill, with a view of Sacre Coeur.
Just outside the park is a long stairway that begins at the unimposing door of a house. It leads up another hill, the Butte Saint Chaumont. At the top is a sleepy cobblestone village right in the middle of Paris with its own vineyard and a collective garden with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
Gardens like this one, where adults and children can plant flowers and vegetables, are becoming increasingly popular in Paris. Even garden gnomes and scarecrows are welcome features. Whenever one of the hobby gardeners is present, the gates are open to visitors and, at least once a year, there is a festival where part of the harvest is cooked and eaten.
The path leads from the 19th to the 10th arrondissement, the location of the Gard du Nord and Gare de l’Est railway stations. The streetscape is more colourful and has an international flair.
Deep red cuts of beef hang from hooks in a Muslim butchery. Cat figures wave to customers from the window of a shop selling goods from China. If you have taken time to stop and examine facades or courtyards you will reach Saint Martin canal by midday.
The route crosses three large boulevards that lead eastwards away from the Place de la Republique, the location of the statue of Marianne, the start and end point for most demonstrations in Paris.
The area is also close to Marais district, a place where the temptation to take a diversion away from the route is at its greatest, thanks to the many interesting small shops.
Trendy clothes shops and hairdressers have pushed out the Jewish restaurants and food shops that were once typical for this area.
Hotel Sale houses the famous Picasso Museum, which is closed for renovation at the moment.
The red-yellow markers lead walkers through narrow lanes to the banks of the Seine, across Pont Marie and on to the Ile Saint Louis, the smaller and quieter of the two islands on the Seine. Its westerly point is a place for Parisians to relax, especially at sundown.
An old man with a beard and baseball cap sits on the bridge that leads to Ile de la Cite and plays a mobile mini-piano. The path leads to the rear side of Notre Dame cathedral after making another crossing over the island. Close by is the house where one of the most famous couples of medieval France met as lovers: the philosopher Peter Abelard and Heloise.
The Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame were at the heart of old Paris before it spread beyond the banks of the Seine. The Gothic cathedral is to this day one of the most important churches in the Catholic religion and a highlight for many visitors to Paris.
The end of the north-south path is in Parc Montsouris, a few kilometres south of the cathedral. But with so much to discover along the way, it would be a pity to be in a hurry. So why not take the opportunity to sit down on one of the stone benches outside Notre Dame, rest your legs and look back on a day spent walking through Paris? Information: http://en.parisinfo.com. A map of the walk through Paris is available online at www.ffrandonnee.fr.