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Three Places to Kill a Relaxing Afternoon in Paris

By Phil Chavanne Published 04/16/2007 | Travel
There are so many things to see in Paris and so little time to do it that your journey in the French capital can wind up taking the colors of a marathon run. I offer you a different take on it: stop, review your options, and decide to kill a couple of hours doing just nothing but reading a good book in a spot where you can be left to yourself. Here are three spots where you can do just that.


Sipping on a great tea at the China House

In America when we think of a social venue where to spend a couple of hours reading and sipping on some hot beverage, the local Starbucks shop comes to mind almost immediately. Starbucks is slowly building a beach head in Europe where Italian coffee dominates the espresso market, leaving very little room for the kind of brew Starbucks sells.

In other words, Starbucks shops do not abound in Paris. But there are many other venues of the sort, and sometimes much better ones. The China House (La Maison de la Chine) belongs to this latter category.

Standing at 76 rue Bonaparte, in the Saint Germain des Pres area, La Maison de la Chine offers tea lovers a perfect haven to taste various teas and nibble at a couple of 'macarons' (small cookies with a light cream spread within) and other pastries. The 'tea house' is open from 3:00 to 7:00 pm Monday to Saturday. Tasting sessions give you an opportunity to sip on some of the finest Chinese teas: Tieguanyin, Longjing, Yinzhen, and Shuixian. The tea is prepared along the lines of an ancient tradition with special bamboo utensils, clay teapot and water pot, a 'cup for smelling' and a 'cup for sipping'.

Should you also wish to have lunch there, their Shanghaï Cafe opens between 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Their courses are a mix between Chinese and Thai food, with some interesting flavors. The food doesn't come cheap (there are two options, one for 22, the other for 28) but quality is good.


Les Jardins du Luxembourg

Definitely one of my favorite areas in my teenage years. The Luxembourg Gardens are the Parisian version of London's Hyde Park and NYC's Central Park. It extends across a large section of the city, spreading over parts of several districts. The French Senate House was built along one of its sides.

Monikered 'le Luco' by the youth of the 6th district (a well-to-do crowd with its own social codes and exclusive parties), the Jardins du Luxembourg are informally divided into sections.

In one of these, children can ride an old wooden-horse merry-go-round, and catch metal rings with short wooden sticks. Further away, there are a few tennis courts, and a puppet theater. The vast expanse of land facing the French Senate House features a water basin where youngsters float model sailboats.

One of the quietest spots of the Gardens borders the Rue d'Assas. It is shaded by old trees around which narrow alleys wrap up. Metal chairs line up the alleys, and it may become hard to find one unoccupied during summer as students love to hang around and study in this area. A perfect place for a quiet afternoon of reading or romantic strolling.


Place des Vosges

Ensconced by four rows of 17th century mansions, Place des Vosges is probably best known for its art galleries. Those exhibit artworks of a more modern breed that the galleries which line up the famed Rue de Seine, near Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

To me however, Place de Vosges is mainly remarkable for its peaceful, miniature park. The 39 mansions around the Place shelter it from the traffic rumble coming from the Rue Saint Antoine (Southern side) and the Boulevard Beaumarchais (Eastern side). This sort of a rampart also serves as a wind-cutter during fall and springtime.

Mid-sized trees line up the fence around the symmetrically built park. At its center, a tree-circle in which stands a bronze statue of Louis the 13th who, we learn, died at age 33. Around the central circle, my target: one of four green lawns where I can unfold a spread, lay down, and read.

During summer, there are always a couple of classical and jazz formations playing under the nearby arcades. They play at a pretty good level which gives a nice touch to the local vibe.

Among the restaurants around the Place, I personally like 'Ma Bourgogne' at No. 19. They serve hearty meals for 25-35.


Plenty more spots to come

I could have written about at least twenty other spots where to 'take time off in Paris'. In fact I will. The vibe of the French capital is very different from that of New York City and London. I realize it may sound like a truism, but what I mean really is that beyond the historical, architectural, and cultural differences between the three cities, Paris is just more on the leisurely side of life. And I believe that's the way you will enjoy it the most.

About the Author:<br>
With thirty years of on-the-ground experience, Phil Chavanne has helped many travelers to make the best of their stay in Paris and shares many useful advices on the city at Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.