I spent 10 days in Paris and I did a lot. Each day was new and interesting. I did a lot of tourist-y things like visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, a night boat cruise along the Seine. I won’t bore you with descriptions of these places, since you can find those anywhere. Instead I’ve just been talking about my favourite parts of Paris and what I loved about it. My highlights.
One of my favourite parts of travel, I may have mentioned before, is getting lost in a new city. I love putting away the map and the phone GPS and wandering around the streets, seeing what I can find. Sometimes this works out well, and sometimes not so much, but the like the old saying goes, it’s about the journey not the destination. Every day in Paris was about the journey, and sometimes I was lucky if I made it to my destination. The only time this was a problem was when I was meeting Justine for drinks or yoga, and she was very understanding if I was a few minutes late.
I have heard stories about how Paris is a city for walking, for wandering, for getting lost. It really is. There are the big Hausseman boulevards that lead to big main squares and circles, but then there are the older parts of Paris, with the tiny streets and alleyways that meander, end abruptly, take you in directions you never expected. They do not go straight and they do not follow any particular organizational principle or guidelines, so you never know where you might end up, but they are full of the romance of old Paris.
Generally I was good at getting to where I was going, but on the way home I invariably ended up taking an unknown side street or alleyway that beckoned to me, and ended up in the strangest or most wonderful places. One day on a friend’s advise, I decided to explore Le Marais. I took the metro there (oh, the Paris metro) and got out, took a right, and ended up in what seemed like little Morocco, with lots of tiny cafes selling meals in tagines and amazing foods from that area. It was beautiful! I wandered up and up until I felt like turning left to actually go into Le Marais instead of walking on the edges and I ended up in what looked like the cheap shopping district; later I was told it’s Paris’ “sweatshop” area. Lots of cheap clothing being sold out of strange little shops that aren’t really shops but tiny warehouses. I kept going until I found a main road and tried to orient myself, and a really nice local stopped to offer me directions. That isn’t supposed to happen in Paris! I declined, explaining that I was purposefully lost and he really liked the idea. He said Le Marais was the perfect place to wander like that.
I eventually found this cool little cafe where I ordered a goat cheese salad and ended up with quinoa and kale…I took it as a sign I needed more healthy food and just went with it. Once I was done with my food, I left the cafe, completely confident I knew which was I was going, south-west back towards the centre of Le Marais…and then another side street, and then another and somehow I ended up north-east at the Place de la Republique! I may not have a good sense of direction. Or I am easily led astray. But I will never regret ending up there, as the monument itself is very cool, even more so because of the graffiti that covers it. Paris graffiti itself is quite awesome, often inspiring, but the graffiti on the statue of the Republique was mostly in reference to the Charlie Abdo shootings.
It reminded me that Paris has recently been through something so traumatic, and yet during my whole time there I felt safer than in many other big cities in the world. I walked home from the Eiffel Tower one night at around 10pm, and the only thing that happened was being stopped by an exchange student who wanted to talk to another tourist about life and what it was like to travel. He pegged me for a tourist right away – I don’t look Parisian?! I took a look around for the partner who was trying to steal my wallet while he distracted me (something I had been warned about so many times) but there was no one. He just walked part of the way home with me talking about life, travel and the humanism. I arrived home safely, with my wallet still in my purse. I love it when my faith in humanity is rewarded with cool conversation or just good moments.
The only place I didn’t get lost, ironically, was in the Paris metro. The Paris metro system is nest of offshoots and passageways, of stairs going off into what looks like nowhere, but as you get to the bottom you realise it’s an platform for a train. You get the feeling if there were no signs you could wander around lost for days, before being eaten by rats or mole people. But luckily the signage in the Metro is wonderful and I have yet to get lost in even the biggest metro systems. As long as you know where you are going, and which direction your train should be headed, you will be fine. And of course since I love to go down strange little alleyways and offshoots, I would find this particular metro system charming – I think maybe it works the same way as my brain does. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but as long as you have a well laid out plan, you will always get where you were trying to go.
Except that one time I was a wee bit tipsy, coming home at 12:30 from the 10th arrondissment and I might have gone up the wrong escalator, to a one-way exit. So rather than leave the station and have to pay to re-enter (metro tickets are one use only, once you leave the system they are useless), I had to screw up my courage (the half bottle of fabulous chenin-blanc from the Loire definitely helped) and run down the up escalator. Much to the chagrin of the Parisians trying to go up, who just looked at me with “stupid tourist” eyes. But I knew I wasn’t a stupid tourist, I was a drunk tourist who was smart enough to realise her mistake before she ended booted out and circling to find a re-entry! Of course not everyone feels that way. If you’re late or miss a sign then of course it would be really stressful. If you had to take the metro every day to work, wandering through strange connecting tunnels with hundreds of other people pushing for the same few train cars, I can imagine it could lose some of its magic. But for me, getting on the metro is a kind of magic that I think would take a while to fade.
I think my favourite “getting lost” moment though was when I was coming home from my Paris walking tour on my first full day in Paris and I ended up finding this really cool gallery and shopping area, like a Parisian medina, near St Michel. The best part was wandering through these shops, ending up at Notre Dame and finding the Shakespeare and Company bookstore! I had planned to look for it one day, but this was so much cooler. Talk about walking into history! The original Shakespeare and Co. was opened by Sylvia Beach and was a place that the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald hung out in. It closed in the 40’s and a new one was opened in the 50’s, in honour of the original. The “new” Shakespeare & Co. Actually takes in wanderers, people can stay for free, sleeping in the bookstore and with a working arrangement similar to wwoofing. While I was there I chatted with a young American woman who was doing just that. She said it was absolutely an amazing experience, and her way of staying in Paris for three weeks affordably. Something to keep in mind. The bookstore is a funky little building with tiny stairs and full of little nooks and crannies with books from all over the world. It’s my favourite kind of bookstore, one you could wander through for hours, with lots of places to stop and sit and read, browse, stare in wonder at all the books. I was in so many different types of heaven.
My favourite part of Paris would have to be Montmartre. The history there just made me so happy. From the artists of the Belle Epoque, the writers of the Lost Generation and the history of the Moulin Rouge, that part of Paris is really fascinating. And beautiful. The hills and alleys full of
On my last night in Paris I met Justine for a drink in Montmartre and on my way from the metro station I passed a jazz manouche trio playing outside a restaurant. I stopped and leaned against a tree and as the sun set I listened to the beautiful music and watched people wander by.
It was absolutely the best way to say goodbye to Paris. Or maybe just “Au revoir”