When I was a kid my parents went to Paris (without me, what’s up with that?). I still remember the story they told of leaving their hotel to walk through the city, getting lost, and not finding their way back for hours and hours. As an adult, I think of that story, and say, hullo! taxi? metro? But I like to think of my folks, my dad carrying an extra 25 pounds, trudging through the Paris streets, lost, but loving the sights and sounds and smells so much they didn’t want to take the easy way out.
For me, walking and/or running is the only way to see a new city. Each time Alan and I visited Paris, it was the only mode of transport that we used, with the exception of taking the Metro when we were traveling to a point that was too far to walk. In this way, we learned the city, we met people, we found little shops and restaurants that we never would have visited if we’d been driving.
Running in Paris
Truly the best way to learn about a city, running in Paris is popular enough that there are companies that offer running tours (you should click through just to see their home page, it is so cute!). About 10 years ago, I wrote a short description of one of my favorite routes and posted it on the internet. It is still floating out there on the cloud (somewhere, I couldn’t find it), because every couple of years I get an email with questions about the route. If you google “Running in Paris,” millions of sites pop up, many of them relevant. In 1999 (our second visit, on our honeymoon) we didn’t have that option. So we just stepped out of the hotel and ran.
Even back then, it was a good idea to run early. If you wait too long, the streets are full of cars and buses, the sidewalks full of pedestrians, none of whom want to give way to a random runner. It was early in the morning that we ran from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to the Luxenbourg Gardens, the second largest public park in Paris. With its beautiful lawns, gardens, artwork, and of course, the Luxenbourg Palace, it was a beautiful combination of running and sightseeing.
Our favorite run (the one I posted in that long lost write up) happened when we were staying in the 7th Arrondissement, on our second visit to Paris. From our hotel, we ran to the Eiffel Tower, then ran across the Seine and found our way to the Arc de Triomphe. From there, we headed up the Champs Elysees, past the Place de la Concorde, past the Musée de Louvre, then crossed the river again to run past Notre Dame. We found our way home by running along the left bank, past the Musée d’Orsay, all the way back to our hotel. That sounds like a long way, but if I remember correctly, it was about seven miles.
On Sunday, they close the road that runs along the right bank of the Seine to all motorized traffic all day long. If you ever see that road during a normal day with its bumper to bumper traffic, it makes it all the more amazing to see it empty of cars, with only runners, walkers, skaters and cyclists allowed.
I also remember running along the left bank, coming up from behind Notre Dame, which was shrouded in fog and very mysterious looking.
Walking in Paris
I really believe, if you’re not running, the best way to see any city is by walking. Alan and I have walked many miles through the city of Paris, and unlike my parents, we did it on purpose. Walking down the Champs Elysees, stopping to read menus, window shop, snack on a crepe, smell the fresh baked bread, is just the ultimate in sightseeing.
We cruised the Rue de Montaigne, where the famous designers keep shop, bought perfume and tried on scarves at Hermes on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, climbed the hills up to Sacré Cœur in Montmartre, walked the rue de Rivoli to visit the Louvre, climbed the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe. We saw interesting sights, beautiful art, and met fascinating people everywhere we went, and because we were on foot, we could stop and appreciate every moment. We did take the metro to Versailles, but walked from the station to the palace, toured the grounds and the castle.
We truly saw the city from the streets and the sidewalks. Thank you for allowing me to reminisce a little about my visits to Paris. You can blame it on the Tour de France, it always gets me thinking about going back and remembering my previous experiences. Merci beaucoup, mes amis.