Suffice it to say that travel writer and guidebook author Andrew Evans knows a thing or two about how to navigate a city. But what happens when he arrives in Paris without a plan?
A few months back, I had to go to Paris “for work,” but last week I got to go back just because. I had no justifiable reason, no deep-seated purpose for this particular journey. Thanks to a very generous friend with beaucoup frequent-flier miles, I could get there and I was delighted. Going back so soon meant that I really had no agenda, nothing to do other than “be” in Paris.
My first new discovery was Velib, the city’s free bike service with some 100,000 bicycles stationed all about town. A credit card unleashed my first set of wheels somewhere in the 7th. Ten minutes later I had pedaled past a mime (yes, really), tore down the Champs-Elysées and dodged rush hour at Place de La Concorde, ringing my spunky little bell at passing Peugeots. The free bike program was launched last year in order to lessen traffic congestion and clean up the air in Paris. It’s working. I rode from the 18th to the 13th and from the 20th to the 2nd, all on designated bike lanes. No matter where I was, there was a free bike on hand and no matter where I stopped, there was a place to leave it. It’s an awesome way to see the city, especially if you have no agenda.
The exercise also did me good because I ate a lot (hey, it’s Paris). I stopped at Ladurée for dainty black currant macaroons; visited Berthillon for a decadent ice cream sundae on the Île St-Louis; went to Foucher for chocolate. I had duck, three different ways: for lunch, dinner and lunch the next day (that would be confit, magret, and à l’orange). I slurped phở at my favorite Vietnamese place and burrowed through 250 kinds of cheese at Fromagerie Rigattieri.
Of course, the best part of Paris is finding treasure, and so I did when I happened upon Chez Fouquet
somewhere in the 9th. The century-old candy shop makes delicate sweets the really old fashioned way. I licked lollipops infused with real violets, sucked on bergamot candies and sampled fragile confections made from red orange cocquelicots, or poppies. I also discovered Le Maryland (2 rue de Rochechouart), a classic Parisian café that will never have an English menu and feels nothing like Baltimore.
I felt no need to mount the Eiffel Tower—I’ve been there and done that at least 15 times. But I did it anyway, sigh. Why? Because the weather was perfect, the view is incomparable and because in Paris, that’s what you do. I waited in long lines at all three levels and listened to excited conversations in Czech, Italian, and Chinese. I asked the elevator operator how many times he rides to the top (together we crunched the numbers and figured it comes to 600 up and down trips per month—he asked me to apply for the job). At one thousand feet I read the graffiti scratched onto the painted railings (“Naughty bear ’s Fifi”, Japan rulz, I love Paris ☺”).
For the first time ever, I bought a little keychain of the Eiffel Tower (two for one euro). I spent the rest of my visit lingering in places like the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. I heard Vivaldi’s Gloria
performed at l’Eglise de La Madeleine and discovered a unique church in the 16th, Saint Pierre de Chaillot.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What I didn’t do was set foot in a single art museum (oops!) or ride a boat down the river. I also forgot to send postcards and had to rush some off at the airport. My, my, time flies when you have no agenda.
Photo: Berthillon ice cream, by Guy Flâneur; Graffiti on the Eiffel Tower by Andrew Evans