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April 22, 2017

3 Unexpected Venues To Visit In Paris

Text by Fareeda Kanga

Ditch the tourist traps and typical tour itineraries to uncover new faces of the French capital

Let’s face it, most seasoned holidaymakers have already paid homage to the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Champs-Elysees more than once. So when Paris popped up on my European itinerary due to a flight connection, I was curious to see if there were any new or unexplored sights that might catch my fancy. “Want to explore the city like a local?” asks Veronique, the ever-so-attentive stewardess on Air France. When I reply in the affirmative, she crouches beside me and patiently provides some insider tips at 30,000 feet over a sublime glass of Bourgogne Blanc…ah, nothing like French hospitality!

Jump into a painting

My first stop is Google Art Project’s Cultural Institute. I wonder if I’m on the right track, visiting a Google Lab in Paris instead of the Silicon Valley…. But, I’m more than pleasantly surprised.

The Cultural Institute was born in 2011 with a simple ideology — to help showcase the wealth of world-class art hanging in museums and galleries across the globe, to any member of the public via a computer. The result is a non-profit initiative that collaborates with 1,200 cultural organisations (museums and art galleries) in 70 countries to upload the world’s cultural heritage online. So, basically someone sitting on a computer in Mumbai can make a ‘virtual trip’ to Madrid’s Prado or Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum at the click of a button. “We build free tools and technologies for the cultural sector to showcase and share their gems, making them more widely accessible to a global audience,” says a Google spokesperson.

What happens next can be likened to being in a science fiction movie. Click on a button and with the gigapixel technology that digitalises artworks you are transported onto the ceiling of the Paris Opera with a bird’s-eye view of Marc Chagall’s frescoes, for example. “The 360-degree seamless video technology allows us to go on a virtual tour as viewers can jump from a gallery’s interior into a high-resolution artwork image,” says the spokesperson. For centuries, cultural institutions have collected and safeguarded our heritage.Powerful technologies like the ones witnessed here can augment this mission while preserving these gems for an audience in the future. I’m proud to discover that our own Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum are also on this platform!

After being injected with a heady dose of art and culture, albeit in a futuristic manner, we head for a more traditional yet trendy repast — a quiet cafe that has been wowing locals and gourmets in the uber-cool 11th district.

Lunch, anyone?

Pozada cafe is the kind of place you would go to for wholesome, flavourful food and ambience, at a quarter of the price of the fancy touristy traps one usually gets lured into in Paris. What do I recommend? Osso bucco that literally melts off the bone for meat lovers and satisfying ravioli for vegetarians, besides a glass of fine wine to wash it down.

To burn off the calories generated after lunch, we make a beeline to the 16th district (another one of Veronique’s insider tips) where well-heeled industrialists and politicians reside. But they are not the focus of our attention…. What we see next is wildly fascinating — an abandoned railway line built 150 years ago, in the heart of Paris, nearly 20 miles long — called the Petite Ceinture. Not since the last decade has a train raced across these tracks that loop around the city like a belt! The fate of this land is under government scrutiny and as in most urban cities where the price of prime real estate is vertiginously exorbitant, this is a real estate gem waiting to be plucked.

But until then, the forest-like, overgrown green patch attracts graffiti artists, nature enthusiasts and architects as well as foxes and various other animals that use the railway tracks as a passage to get from one place to the other in Paris! As soon as we step foot in this overgrown paradise, the din and buzz of the city fade away and flora, fauna and dense undergrowth of moss dampen our feet and assail our senses. Some sections of the city even have a portion of the track popping up mysteriously and offering sights of the city hitherto unknown to tourists and travellers.

A floating abode

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last…a Paris secret that just opened in June last year. The Off Paris Seine is a floating hotel that offers the most stunning views of Paris from a different perspective. Moored on the Seine, this path- breaking property offers views of both the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite. Your choice of room determines the type of views you will enjoy when you wake up — either of river or quay. Parisian fashion influences abound especially in the Sunset suite designed by Maurizio Galante, where a palette of orange envelops the guest.

People-watching opportunities abound in the stylish lounge bar and dipping pool but the celebrities take a back seat here because the real star is the stellar view of Paris in all her glory — a visual spectacle that will stay with you for life.

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