I’m in a taxi whizzing down Boulevard de Magenta, one of those wider than normal Parisian streets. There are cheap shops where you can buy mobile phones, bags and wedding dresses in the windows on both sides and you wonder what surprise will come around the next corner.
We pass a sign for a Bach concert at one of the music halls, somewhere around Place de Clichy. My driver hangs a right on Rue de Rocroy and the street gets narrower. Small shops, a coiffure Mixte, a few not so stellar looking 2 star hotels, a cafe brasserie and tabac on every corner, a nail salon and a few optique stores for glasses. In my rear view mirror, I see travel agent and pharmacy signs as we weave in and out of even more narrow alleys and roads.
The meter is escalating and I can’t help but think of the sign that had prefix prices for certain districts of the city. He is miserable and not worth the fight despite his fabulous taste in classical music which he has blaring from some device in the front seat I can’t see. Salt and pepper, a sharp nose, no smile. He refuses to smile in fact and he hates that I am paying by credit card.
It was the first Sunday in June and the sky was hazy but the day was warm, a rarity on Paris visits. I originally had plans to get out of Paris for the day with a friend, take in some gardens and have a picnic in a park however after the plans fell through, I changed course and decided after a taxi towards a more remote spot on the Seine, I would begin to walk and keep walking until the sun set. One of my favorite things to do is meander through Paris without a clear purpose and just see what shows up.
I had started my morning in a funky part of the Marais, where art and graffiti were plastered across walls before jumping into the cab. As the desire to see more nature and less people increased, it was time to move towards the water. And so….I asked the driver to stop on the Seine where there were very few people.
A couple of hours go by and I’m swept with gratitude as I sat along the Seine on that warm afternoon. I received a message at 5 am that same morning from an acquaintance who had just finished a ten day meditation retreat and I couldn’t help but wonder during those reflective hours if I could do something like that knowing how hard it is to shut my mind down. He had asked me how often I meditated and I began to reflect on what meditation meant to me.
A meditative state for me isn’t necessarily a specific place and time I dedicate to silence and breath but more of a state of being, one which I find hard to do in Silicon Valley, yet can so easily be brought into the moment I leave.
With a SIM card in my phone that gives me the ability to text or call, I purposely put it away deep into the bottom of my purse. Instead of the rings, beeps and web page loading distracting me, I listen to the sounds of Paris amidst the haze of the sky.
Most shops are closed, yet locals and tourists alike buzz past me on roller blades and bikes while boats zip past them making their way under each bridge that crosses the Seine as far as my eye can see. From there, I figured I would pop into the Pont Neuf metro stop on the 7 line and keep going until some visual or sound suggested I get off – I love days like that when you don’t have to be anywhere else other than towards what moves you in a given moment.
Despite my miles of walking, it still felt like a blissfully lazy day.
Paris has a way of making even the most unconscious present, for her sounds, textures, smells and historical colors have a way of weaving you into her storyboard, inviting you to share her glory with everyone you encounter after you leave her soil. While her spell is cast on you, you become conscious of all of ‘her’ grandeur, including the most intricate details.
A family rides by on bikes, a bright yellow balloon fixated to the boy’s handlebars, an elderly couple walks their Jack Russell, a blue-eyed blonde blades past me alone followed by a dark handsome 30 something year old with Caribbean features.
A gray haired man in his sixties with a professor-like beard sets up shop nearby and pulls out a mahogany hard bound leather book and while I can’t make out the text, my guess is that he’s reading some Eastern European dialect. My gut says he’s Hungarian.
Yanks walk past me with day packs, a baggy t-shirt hangs loosely over the older man’s overweight middle. A brunette with a fabulous brown leather sachet strolls by ever so pensively. She stops and then…pauses. As she looks out over the river, she pulls out a notebook and writes something down. Then, she raises her face, glances over at me and gives me a smile before tucking her notebook in a side pocket and moving along on her journey to who knows where. I wonder where for quite awhile until that thought was interrupted by a falling chestnut which landed near my right leg. The fallen chestnut dangled off the lengthy stone stair I had been sitting up against for hours.
As I continue to watch a very eclectic world drift by, an out of breath man and his daughter get off their scooters and begin to walk them along the main path that runs along the river. A Chinese couple and their children speed by on bikes, the nearly bald teenage son’s hands are off the handlebars, as if a symbol of his new profound freedom half way across the world while on holiday with his obviously wealthy family.
A well dressed Italian couple give me a warm smile as they walk up the stairs next to me; the man’s face turns to curiosity as he sees me writing with such purpose and speed. Of course I’m writing about you I wanted to say with the same curious look and warm smile he gave me, but instead I redirect my attention to the sounds of the scooters and motorbikes in the distance, the taxi cab horns and the oh so familiar sounds that rollerblade wheels make, especially when the bearings are loose.
I spot my first graffiti — Buble But glares back at me from across the river, plastered in red on the back of a metal book stall, one of the many set up along the Seine to entice tourists to buy.
Then, I see two lovers embrace and I can tell from their energy that they both chose to be here and that it wasn’t one edging the other on for some redeemable lifetime romantic moment of sorts. Romantic it was however and they brought me into their world for just a moment. Accents told me that he was European and she was an Aussie and I couldn’t help but wonder if Paris was a meeting place to ignite these two lovers to the next level or if they had been together for years.
I decide to walk to Notre Dame since it is almost in my view. I have been to this remarkable church at least a dozen times and yet I always get a slight skip in my walk when I see her beauty emerge as I make my way around the corner and she stands sprawled before me. All the cafes that line up along the edge of her have become tourist haunts — crepes and coffees are twice the price and it’s more crowded than any of the surrounding streets. Yet, I’m called into sit down at one regardless.
I choose the one on the corner at the very end of the road, mainly because the man making the crepes is so obviously French, which isn’t as common as you’d think in Paris anymore. So many crepes from local stands are now crispy from being cooked for too long. While I typically go for a savory crepe (mushrooms, ham and onions is my favorite), I opted for an apple sauce and coconut crepe and the 40 something year old charming local who made it for me, nailed it – Yum!!
I left the cafe happily with my decaf cappuccino and my perfectly cooked crepe and proceeded to the bridge where I sat along its edge watching a street performer, three massage therapists taking clients on in small chairs in the middle of the street and a not so funny clown who was attempting to get kids to laugh by holding a bicycle upside down while circus music played in the background. Before I left this crowded part of Paris I know so well, I contributed to the lock bridge, which is always a favorite stop of mine….the romantic in me I guess.
Heading to Montreuil Market was somewhat depressing after the peace and serenity of Paris’ magical river, the same one that artists have painted to and been inspired by for centuries. I remember visiting the market over a decade ago and then again a decade before that and from my hazy recollection, it’s changed significantly. I seem to remember more antiques, paintings and jewelry, knick knacks and appliances.
Now it appears to be more of an old fashioned flea market, the kind you might find in America’s midwest where trucks come for the day and try to sell cheap clothes and shoes for the widest margin they can get. There were aisles with tires, oil, toothpaste, soap detergent, tea kettles and even Middle Eastern traditional shawls, but for the most part, it was a collection of clothes heaped in piles for those with enough patience to sift through for hours on end.
If you haven’t been however, I suppose its worth stopping by for the mishmash experience. Hours are 7 am to 7:30 pm at night and the market is open two days a week on Sundays and Monday’s. The official address is Avenue du Professeur André Lemierre 75020 Paris. Télephone: 01 48 85 93 30. The best way to get there is on the Metro Line 9 and the stop is Porte de Montreuil. The market is a short walk up the main drag from the exit to the station.
I come across fun jewelry with semi precious stones that an adorable Peruvian is selling. He is standing across from La Boulangerie de Papa, a quaint cute blue salon that also has an outside creperie stand on the corner. It’s a mere block away from the Greek eaterie I had so much fun in four or five years ago on a cold winter’s night. Gyros by the dozen….Moroccans nearby calling me to eat at their restaurant, offering deals and sweet nothings I can’t make sense of.
Onion soup or fish soup, egg, salad and beef, chicken or fish followed by chocolate mousse, ice cream, cheese or fruit for E12 to 17 a head all inclusive and every variation in between although they all sound like the same offer after awhile. Restaurant after restaurant on Rue de la Huchette, one of the main drags, I find that there are too many offerings to choose one, something I often feel when I’m walking through the Latin Quarter.
Then, Le Lac de L’ouest for Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food across from the creperie but I’m not in the mood for Asian food, so I keep walking through her narrow streets. A sweet creperie stands calls out to me with far too many sugar rich toppings to say yes to, such as chestnut, caramel, chocolate, strawberry, lemon, sugar, butter, honey, Nutella, apricot, banana and coconut, all ranging from 3.50 to around 8 euros.
Then a warm smile outside a restaurant on Rue de Huchette stops me in my tracks and so I indulge. Aperitifs start with Kir Cassis ou Peche, Kir Breton, martinis, tequila, cognac, Calvados, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Rum. I have a small Kir Cassis although he tops up my glass before I can say no thanks to another. For E9.90, you can get Provencale or Cocagne or Complete or Bistrot or Basquaise or Kermaria AND a sweet crepe (various choices) with either cider, coke or apple juice.
Boulevard St. Germaine to Boulevard Des Italiens via Avenue de L’Opera
Food stalls outside on the street on Boulevard St. Germaine sprawl in both directions. Viva Espana Bodaga grabs my attention with scrumptious looking Spanish food cooking away in large pots. I sample some ham and then more Spanish food at Monceau Gardens.
I walk into Neo Cafe on 126 Boulevard St. Germaine to make sure my directions are in sync as I begin to realize I’m much further away from my hotel than I had thought. Florian directs me in a deep dark and sexy voice, one that suggests there’s a wink along with it even when there’s not.
Within a block or so from this quaint little cafe, I stumble upon another one called Tennessee Cafe, which isn’t quite as quaint and it seems like it caters to yanks with its burgers and English menus. What is adjacent to Tennessee Cafe however grabs my eye. There’s a little passage called Passage de St. Andre, which is a narrow pedestrian cobblestone street that runs alongside the cafe. It looks historical and authentic in every way but it’s hard to tell in Paris where everything is ten times older than even the oldest American city. Cafes, bars and restaurants are strung along the left as you make your way down the cute pedestrian passage.
I decide to have a drink at one of the cafes but need to move around a homeless person on his cell phone in the glass entryway to Thomas Travel to do so. There’s another homeless person along Boulevard Des Italiens who has a giant stuffed tan colored Snoopy sitting near him as he lay tucked up in his sleeping bag. I spot the elderly man perched up against a giant iron box on the same boulevard. He had set up a fishing pole that dangled a cup from some fast food chain and while it slowly moved to the wind, he occasionally yelped into the dark streets.
Then the giant life-sized chocolate lion in one of the windows along Boulevard St. Germaine and a giant pink elephant.
Then, a cafe calls my name. Here I stop and have a cappuccino while I watch people waltz by for the next hour or so.
In the spring, summer and fall, a great place to hang out is on the banks of Canal Saint-Martin. People lounge here, picnic here, play music here and hold hands. On Sundays, two streets running parallel to the canal, Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes, are reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood is nestled between Gare du Nord and Republique in Northeastern Paris, in the 10th arrondissement. The main streets around the canal include Quai de Valmy, Quai de Jemmapes, Rue Beaurepaire and Rue Bichat and I’d recommend walking down all of them. It’s a charming part of Paris not to be missed.
Other areas I love to wander through and try to each and every trip I make to Paris, include the Marais near St. Paul, Bastille and Luxembourg Gardens. Be sure to check out our Paris section for great shopping tips, restaurant finds, and other reflective pieces like this one. There’s also lodging & top hotels in France, and top hotels in Paris as well as general content on France. (travel to France).