Any great city can be best explored on foot, and Paris is probably number one among them. Each time I find myself in Paris, for the first few days I am content to be in situ working or doing whatever has to be done there. Then the urge descends on me. I need to get out and about, to feel the pulse, to be jostled about, to listen to the never ending multitude of tongues, to stare and marvel. To be glad and sad, in short to feel alive! Thus it came about that I took my courage in both hands and braved the local RER train. Before embarking on my impromptu journey I Googled everything beginning with the train schedules. Not that they are always reliable but they do give one an idea, a focal point, like, do you want to start at 9:53 or twenty minutes later? I was unsure about my route and then Fate decided it for me. It started to rain heavily
while I was walking those five minutes to the station. I ran, swiped my Navigo ticket against the turnstile, waited a few minutes on the stairs, under the roof, then rushed into the train. The ride lasted about twenty minutes. I chose Luxembourg gardens as my destination for one very important reason: it has no changeovers. At many other stations one has to walk underground up and downstairs, along spooky passages, checking the signs. When you arrive to Luxembourg you just get outside. From there, since it was still raining, I took the familiar bus #21 to Rue de Rivoli and emerged near the Louvre. A very long thick line was winding around the palace slowly moving forward to visit the celebrated museum. I happily walked along the opposite side which has the great advantage of being an arcade, a nice passage with zillions of little and big shops. It’s the best place for a walk in the rain. The palace is really huge, so at some points one gets stuck in a crowd of Japanese tourists. They always travel in large groups. When they stop to take pictures or discuss something, it is quite a problem to get through them – they seem to be completely oblivious to passers by. Many shops have sales with prominent signs “TSHIRTS €5″; it was impossible to get close due to groups of Muslim women who were grabbing large piles of goods. Now that it is summer there seem to be more beggars and vagrants around, even in this area. The tourist stream never stops, it flows on and on like a parallel universe, everybody staring at their devices or following their guide. There is constant clicking; one has to watch one’s step and be attentive so as not to stumble right into a tourist who braked suddenly to take yet one more picture. As lunch hours approaches, more and more pedestrians get a sandwich and continue walking, sometimes forgetting their food and waving their hands with disastrous results for someone who happened to be directly in front or behind.
I don’t have any specific goals in mind but I do stop at a few real stores. C&A offers me nothing. A nice optician’s catches my eye, I remember that my eye-glasses need a new holder and walk in, to be greeted by a whole group of clerks who are obviously bored and happy to have at least one customer. The moment I say a few words in English they all disappear, leaving only one bright young woman, clearly their trusted rep for dealing with foreigners. A quick glance at some holders and cases, not to mention the glasses, shows me my mistake. But hey, they don’t charge you for asking and looking! I study a few cases, try to fit my eye glasses in; what do you know, they are too big. ” A bit old-fashioned”, the young woman murmurs. ” Would you like to try on some very modern models?” I politely decline and leave. Swarovski, yes! I wanted to look at some ear-rings for my daughter. I boldly walk in. Again there are no customers inside, just a very discreet clerk. I study all the displays and feel slightly disappointed at the absence of choice. There are plenty of wristwatches, bracelets, rings, pendants but not many earrings. Unexpectedly I find my old friend, a large crystal parrot sparkling and shooting rainbow rays under a carefully positioned light. Somehow I always saw it as a part of the airport life. Naturally any traveler rushing to departures with luggage, especially one who has to go through passport control, and all those who go on to security check, have just one burning wish: to stop by at a Swarovski counter and buy that parrot for €1,000+. By no means do I wish to say that one should not buy Swarovski crystals. I just wonder each time I encounter the parrot.
Time flies swiftly when one is enjoying oneself. It’s noon, so I get to another favorite place, the large Franprix supermarket in a side street opposite C&A. Cross the street from C&A, walk past Naf-Naf store and you will see it to your left. Inside, you may buy any food you like; there are also nice trays with hot grilled chicken legs and potatoes for €3.90. Turn right when you get out of the store and right again towards the river. There is a lovely little boulangerie with a few tables outside. Buy some bread or buns and a drink, sit outside and have your lunch enjoying the view, feeling like a real Parisienne.
The rain let up so I walked some more, past Notre-Dame with the crowds milling around, along Boulevard Saint-Michel. I stopped at “Marks & Spencer’s” to buy some soup and real oats. And what do we do about our juices after several hours walking in the rain? Just visit a “MacDonald’s”, there is one opposite the Louvre, corner of Rue de Rivoli and Rue Lechelle; there’s another one on Saint-Michel.
Then I walked along to Luxembourg and back to RER train.
Paris is always lovely, vibrant, full of energy.