Unusual tours give view of Paris’ hidden corners
August 17, 2009 ·
You’ll learn that the popular Wallace fountains used by Parisians to quench their thirst on hot days were named for an English philanthropist who was shocked to find out one had to pay for a glass of water in Paris. He built fountains around the city to provide free water to all.
And if the tour has made you thirsty, ask Meles about the free water available for bottling in the 16th arrondissement.
ECO-VISIT: http://ecovisitparis.com, $113 (80 euros), offered daily. Starting at Place de la Concorde.
If you can spring for it, let Erwann Maizy take you on an air-conditioned visit of the city of lights in his stylish Prius, recognizable by the colorful print of a gingko biloba tree, the world’s oldest tree.
In the comfort of a hybrid car that zooms silently through the busy intersections, the nature enthusiast points out air sensors that help AIRPARIF, an air monitoring system, measure the quality of the air Parisians breathe daily.
Maizy explains that Le Notre designed the Champs Elysees in 1670 to allow for the sun to set at the end of it. Today, the Arc de Triomphe becomes a frame for the sunsets twice a year — around May 8 and Aug. 1.
On the avenue where crowds gather to see the end of the Tour de France, Maizy also points out the world’s first LED-lit building now owned by French newspaper France-Soir.
With 100,000 trees lining the boulevards, Paris has become the most wooded European city, according to Maizy. As he drives slowly though the streets to recharge his car battery, he talks about the vertical garden at the Musee du Quai Branly and 50 other gardens most people don’t know about.
Opera Garnier won’t look the same once you know there are beehives on its rooftop. And if you’re feeling hungry or simply looking for an unusual souvenir, ask Maizy to stop at the Opera’s gift shop or at the popular Fauchon store to pick up a jar of the urban honey.
MOVIE TOUR: http://www.tourisme93.com, $12.75 (9 euros), offered on Sundays. The group meets in front of the MK2 movie theater on the Quai de Seine side of the canal.
Led by movie buff and actor Lula Suassuna, you’ll learn that one out of two French movies is filmed in or around Paris these days. Suassuna points out quotes on the walls of the movie theater, famous lines from movies like “You talkin’ to me?” from Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver.” First reading the lines, he then acts out parts of the scenes, setting the mood for the tour.
Traveling by boat to the outskirts of the city, the small group listens to the driver and his assistant talk about the construction of the Canal Saint Martin and Canal de l’Ourcq in 1808 by Napoleon. On the edges of the canal, people bicycle and walk quietly.
Going past bridges, with the help of Suassuna, you recognize one on which the sweet title character from “Amelie” spent afternoons skipping stones on the water.
Suassuna tells the story of the two yet unknown brothers who traveled from the southern city of Lyon to Paris in 1895. The Lumiere brothers showed their first film at the Grand Cafe on Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement. They made more than 100 movies in Paris. The brothers supposedly believed their contraption was a fun invention but one that had no commercial value.
The Seine-Saint-Denis is home to companies that did special effects for movies such as “Spider-Man,” “Fight Club,” and the three last “Batman” movies. In 2012, Fifth Element film maker Luc Besson will open a large film academy here that will include studios and a film school.
“I thought this would be a great alternative to a shopping weekend,” said Elodie Emsallem, a Marseille native who moved to Paris eight years ago. “I feel like I’m on vacation.”
Before you embark on this French cinema stroll, you’ll probably want to see a few movies so you know what Suassuna is talking about, including “Dobermann,” “Amelie,” “Hotel du Nord,” “Delicatessen,” “Le Peril Jeune” and “99 Francs.” Non-French speakers beware, although the guide speaks English and Portuguese, the tour is usually offered only in French.
Other tours worth mentioning:
2CV DRIVING TOUR: http://www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com/, starting at $30 (19 euros). With the popular French Citroen 2CV car as your means of transportation, the tour called 4 roues sous 1 parapluie (which means “four wheels under one umbrella”) takes visitors on a tour of the capital. The quirky tour comes complete with a beret-wearing driver.
PRIVATE PARIS: http://www.parisprive.com, starting at $565 (400 euros). If money is no object, Paris Prive opens the most coveted doors. See the Eiffel Tower and Versailles after hours, get a whiff of custom-made perfumes in the city’s most well-known luxury boutiques, or master French cuisine thanks to the help of a starred chef.