Strange and Interesting Walks
OK, so you've been directed to a number of relatively contained places, such as parks or gardens, where you can walk around. But what if you actually want to go somewhere? What if you want to meander about the city and end up someplace entirely different from where you started? What if you wanted to have lunch on the way, stop for a drink, and see some things you might not ordinarily see in the humdrum life you've been leading? Well, then you should take a strange and interesting walk, and it just so happens that there are two of them right here. But beware of the gold ring scam as you walk around...
Strange and Interesting Walk #1
Here's a really strange an interesting walk to do. It's a little long, so if you're tired or out of shape, you can divide this into two sessions. Have a meal on the way; stop for a drink. Just whatever you do, don't whine. If you have to, you can make this a multi-day thing. But trust me: you'll enjoy doing this.
Start at the sickening Forum des Halles, but don't go inside (if you want the closest thing to an American shopping mall experience, go inside. But trust me—it's sickening). Instead, head across the park space that extends to the west of the structure, recognizing that this is all on the site of the old central marketplace, first established at the end of the 12th century. That's right—the twelfth century. It was demolished in 1971, ostensibly because it was no longer large enough to serve the city's needs, but many say it was because of all the prostitutes and rats that had accumulated there. Head to the northern edge of the park over to the église St. Eustache. This is the parish church of the Halles area, founded in the thirteenth century. It's a pretty impressive structure on the outside, but do make sure to go inside. Even if you don't like churches very much, it has one really extraordinary thing inside: Masson's famous "Départ des fruits et des légumes" (The Depart of the Fruits and Vegetables). This sculpture is a tribute to the closing of the central market (actually, it was moved out to the suburb of Rungis), and it's a strange and oddly moving sculpture. The merchants trudge joylessly away with their merchandise, and when you remember that when the market was closed in 1971, it finished off roughly 800 years of folks doing business in the same place. For centuries folks—including some of the most famous restaurateurs in the city, maybe even in the world—got their produce and meats, etc. here. Now it's gone, and you never even got to see it. But you can check out the sculpture. Even if you can't see the market anymore, though, you can still participate in one of its rituals (OK, maybe it's not as old as the market was, but still) by getting a bowl of soupe à l'oignon just nearby in the famous Pied de Cochon (see the Restaurant page). The place is open 24 hours, and despite its somewhat formal appearance, don't hesitate to roll on in at 3:30 am merely for a bowl of the delicious stuff. Now, go back over to the back of St. Eustache, and take the the rue Montorgueil, which begins right at the back of St. Eustache. The rue Montorgueil is a thirteenth-century street, recently renovated (no, not for the first time since the 13th century, smartass), and it's got an interesting mix of slightly upscale places and real down-to-earth shops and eateries. Check out the boulangerie Stohrer (at number 51), which has been around since 1730 and is reported to be the oldest still operating bakery in Paris. Wander around the side streets that connect to the rue Montorgueil, but be certain to have either (a) lunch or (b) a drink at one of these places. There's some absolutely fantastic people-watching here. As you progress along the street it will change names to the rue des Petits Carreaux and then to the rue Poissonnière.
For the next part of the walk you take a left on the rue des Jeûneurs and head over to the rue Montmartre (that's just a street name—you're not in the Montmartre district [yet]). Turn right onto Montmartre, and up to the busy grands boulevards. Now you have a choice to make: (a) head on up and down the grands boulevards (a collective name for the long, long string of boulevards that stretches from the Opera to the west on over to the place de la république to the east—the names change, but you're essentially on the same street); or(b), you can continue straight ahead, up the rue du Faubourg Montmartre.
If you choose (a), the grands boulevards, you'll probably want to head primarily to your left (east)—to the west things just get a little seedy a ways down, and you'll wind up heading toward the rue Saint Denis, and if you've been reading Tom's Guide carefully, you'll know that that's an area you might want to avoid (hookers). To the left—west—on the grands boulevards, however, you get into one of the ritziest areas of the right bank: upscale clothing stores, chic cafés (the elegant Café de la Paix, for example, below right), the spectacular Garnier Opéra, the classic Church of the Madeleine, and, if you take a slight detour, the grands magasins, the giant department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
When you get to the point on the grands boulevards where the bouldvard des Italiens diverges off to the left, take that route if you want to see the Opera and the Café de la Paix, and continue on to the Madeleine (the surrounding area of which, by the way, also has some great shopping). If you want to go to the grands magasins, keep going straight on the boulevard Haussmann (named after the man who is the principal architect of modern Paris's wide streets, such as the one you're walking on right now). You'll want to check out the Opera, because it's so beautiful and so excessive (and click the link to get more info on that edifice). From here, you can either continue down the boulevard des Capucines on toward the Madeleine, or turn left and head down the Avenue de L'Opéra, for more upper-crust excesses. Those of you hell-bent on checking out the Champs Elysées can keep going down the Avenue de l'Opéra and head smack into the Jardin des Tuileries (which is something you should see anyway), head to your east (you'll be able to see the Arc de Triomphe, and just continue on, if your feet aren't killing you by now, up the sickening Avenu des Champs Elysées. But remember: I warned you.
All of this is if you've made choice (a) and gone along the grands boulevards. Now you're free to do whatever you like: talk amongst yourselves, buy something, sneak off to the Champs-Elysées (just as long as I don't have to find out about it), or whatever... Or, if you're up for it, you can backtrack, and then do the second part of this walk, which begins here:
If you've taken choice (b), which is perfectly legitimate, you're going to head straight up the rue du Faubourg Montmartre. This is your funkier choice, and probably the perfect antithesis of choice (a). As soon as you cross the busy grands boulevards you'll feel the difference as you enter the narrow and hectic street. First thing to see, even if it's not meal time, is the famous Restaurant Chartier, at 7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Directly across the street is the site of the famous "Palace," a giant music Mecca in the 80's and 90's, now fallen into considerable disrepair. Continue on up the street and just take in (or go in) the various strange and wonderful shops and purveyors of food. Keep going straight and cross the busy rue Lafayette and the equally busy rue de Chateaudun until you see a church directly in front of you (that's the églist Notre Dame de Lorette). Turn right up the tiny rue Fléchier and then straight on head up the rue des Martyrs, staying on the left side of the street.
You'll want to time this for around 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, because the rue des Martyrs is an interesting market street, with butchers, bakers, green grocers and the like, and it's busy and fun and interesting. As you approach roughly half way up the hill, look straight ahead of you and you'll get this really wonderful view of the top domes of Sacré Coeur, which is where you're headed, but keep on checking out the things around you. After you get to the rue Victor Massé things aren't that interesting, so keep going straight (actually you'll have to bear right a little) to the boulevard de Clichy, cross over to the center strip in the middle of the boulevard and hang a left. Now you're in the land of the Pigalle sex clubs and life shows, and even if you're here at night it's not especially dangerous or sinister. In fact some really big and cool night clubs are right here, so you're probably pretty much OK. Keep going straight on the boulevard de Clichy until you get to the Place Pigalle. If you want to check out the famous Moulin Rouge, keep going straight to number 82, bd de Clichy. Along the way you can check out the glitz and the garbage of Pigalle, and what always tickles me is to see those giant tourist buses full of folks from the Netherlands, Japan, or where have you oggling the sin. The thing to keep in mind, though, if you haven't been there is that it's not as bad as all that, and unless your threshold for shock is really low, you won't find this all that strange.
After you've had your fill of this do a 180 and head back toward the rue des Martyrs where this all started. Head up the steep hill (c'mon, you've been walking around a lot and in you're in shape) and keep going until you reach the rue des Abbesses. Turn left. Straight ahead you'll see the extremely picturesque Place des Abesses. There you'll find one of the only two remaining fully covered metro entrances. This is a charming little square; you should have a glass of champagne at the corner café—Au Baroudeur—you can see just behind the woman leaving the metro in the picture (just order "une coupe de champagne" and they'll bring you something nice) [2009: Never mind. This great little bar is one, replaced by a bank.] Wander around here a little bit, looking at the little cafés and shops. Montmartre has a whole different feel to it, and you're going to see more. Here's the official website of the butte Montmartre.
Back on the place des Abbesses, look up the slope and to your right (there may even be a little sign directing you to Sacré Coeur). Go up that little street, follow the bend around to the left (and there are some nice little restaurants up here, including a relatively famous vegetarian one called Au grain de la folie at 24 rue la Vieuville, and it's really tiny), and then turn left on the Rue des Trois Frères (Street of the Three brothers). At number 56 is the grocery store from the Amélie Poulain movie (and if you're as obsessed with this movie as some people seem to be, go here to take a stroll that will let you stalk the poor girl). Keep going up the rue des Trois Frères until you see some steps on your right. Go up the stairs, all the while remembering not to whine, take the bend round the corner to the right, and head straight on the rue Gabrielle. Keep going straight. Now you'll run smack dab into some more steps, but take a look around here and you'll recognize this stairway as the one that all those famous photographs depict, usually with some old person carrying a baguette or something. Go the rest of the way up the steps, and if you can't find Sacré Coeur on your own by now you probably shouldn't be reading this anyway. If the basilica is still open, go in. And by all means, if you're not claustrophobic, climb to the very top of the dome.
In the evening, a little before sunset, all kinds of people gather on the steps of Sacré Coeur, the beginnings of which you see here. People bring beer and wine, food, guitars, and it turns into a whole party atmosphere. By the time it gets dark the stairs are almost impassable. Sometimes this can be fun, but sometimes as the evening rolls on it can get a little weird—it really all depends on the crowd and the night, but it's certainly never dangerous or anything: there are way too many people around here for that. Check out more info on Montmartre at night here.
Now you can go home, go clubbing, go for a drink, or go for broke. But get up in time to do...
Strange and Interesting Walk #2
Strange and interesting walk #2 starts before it starts. That is, if the timing is right and you feel like it, and the weather is good, go to a boulangerie and buy yourself something nice for lunch; don't forget to get something to drink. Pack it away, and I'll tell you when you can eat.
On this map we start with the letter "K," because you've already done Strange and Interesting Walk #1, right?
What better place to start your next strange and interesting walk but Kilomètre zéro—the place from which distances to Paris on the major highways are measured? I trust you know how to get to Notre Dame. Go there. Now, what you may well not know is that in front of the cathedral, on the parvis, or square, is a little bronze medal embedded in the pavement. That's the zero point from which all distances to Paris are measured. Find it and stand on it. It's very, very cool. (It's about 100 feet in front of the cathedral, pretty much between the center and left-hand doors as you're facing the cathedral.) You must stand on this or your trip to Paris is seriously compromised! (And look, there's the shadow of my head in the photograph!)
If the weather's nice, you'll see a lot of activity in front of the cathedral, such as skaters, mimes, puppeteers, etc. I think the skaters are pretty amazing: they'll set up ramps and do amazing jumps and things. You also sometimes see this guy who dresses up as death and stands very still in front of the cathedral. I don't quite get that.
I'm going to assume you've already visited the cathedral, so that's not on this walk. But something that totally fascinates me is that there's been a place of worship on the site currently occupied by Notre Dame since at least as far back as the Romans, who dedicated a temple to Jupiter there. Just look around you now, and realize that the island you're standing on—the Ile de la Cité—was first inhabited by the Parisii, a Celtic group of mostly fishermen and gamesmen (that makes it sound like they were big gamblers, doesn't it?), and then by the Romans, in 52 BCE, and they called this place Lutèce. It wasn't until the middle of the 4th century that the name Paris took hold, and pretty much everybody, including the Barbarians, invaded here. The construction on Notre Dame started in 1165, and it took until the thirteenth century to complete the cathedral as it was originally envisioned. By then, the island you're standing on had someting like thirty tiny little streets criss-crossing through it, which is kind of hard to imagine, and there were houses built right where you're standing on the place in front of the cathedral.
Now, to continue on the walk, assuming you're still standing on the Kilometer Zero medal: look to the left of the cathedral, where you'll see the the rue d'Arcole. Head down that street and then take the next right onto the rue Chanoinesse. You're going to be heading into some little old streets now; if the courtyard door at number 26 is open, go on in and look at the old tombstones that are used as paving stones in the lovely courtyard (that's the courtyard pictured here). Most of the houses on this street are from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. Retrace your steps, and take the rue de la Coulombe, and then turn right on the rue des Ursins, following it until it turns right into the rue des Chantres. Turn left back onto the rue Chanoinesse, and then left on the rue du Cloître Notre Dame. Keep going straight onto the lovely Pont Saint-Louis. Depending on the day and the weather you will very likely find some interesting entertainment going on on the bridge.
Cross the bridge and then turn left onto the Quai de Bourbon. Go down the steps to the river level, and head over to the northwest "point" of the island. Sit down, unpack your lunch, and marvel at how beautiful and cool it is to have lunch in this spot. Make a mental note to thank Tom for suggesting that you do this. Enjoy your lunch, clean up, and then continue the walk.
What you should really do now is walk around the entire Ile Saint-Louis—it's absolutely gorgeous, and it's not all that big, so just do it (you'll have to go back up to the street level). As you do it, make sure to look at the many plaques above doorways indicating famous residents of the various buildings (Du Bellay didn't live—or die—on the Ile Saint-Louis—this is just an example). Pay attention to #17, quai d'Anjou: that's where Baudelaire and a bunch of his friends ran their hashish soirées. If you're tired or a wimp or otherwise not inclined to walk around the entire perimeter of the island (and you don't know what you're missing), then keep following the Quai de Bourbon until it turns into the Quai d'Anjou, and then turn right onto the rue Poulletier; take it to the rue Saint Louis en l'Ile, and then turn right onto that street. Assuming that all sane people want good ice cream, I now advise you to take your first right on the rue des Deux Ponts and grab some Berthillon ambrosia. When you're through moaning, retrace your steps on the rue des Deux Ponts (that is, head south)—or, if you did the whole island, head down the rue Saint Louis en l'Ile until you get to the rue des Deux Ponts, and turn right—and cross the Pont de la Tournelle. Stop and admire the odd pylon, and guess who the figure is on top (hint: it's the patron saint of Paris, and no, it's not Saint Paris, wise acre. Give up?). Now look at the building just on the other side of the bridge—that is, in the direction you're headed—and note the restaurant at the very top, with a kick-butt view of Notre Dame. That's the famous Tour d'argent, where you will never, ever be able to afford to eat. It's over 400 years old, and legend has it that the fork was brought into France from Italy here, and if you go, get the duck. (Check out the entrance and the elevator on the ground floor, and the little shop across the street where they sell Tour d'argent paraphernalia.)
Now turn right on the Quai de la Tournelle, and head a ways, enjoying the view of Notre Dame. You'll approach the Pont de l'Archevêché, which you'll recognize as the spot from which a million paintings and photographs of Notre Dame have been done; go ahead and venture out there, take a few pictures of your own, but then come back. (This is the point from which I took the photo that's on the home page of Tom's Guide, reproduced here in miniature. And no, that's not me: why does everyone keep asking that?)
Now continue along the Quai de la Tournelle until you come to the rue de Bièvre; turn left (the only way you can) into that pretty little street. François Mitterand used to live here (but I don't know which building). The Bièvre used to be a small river that emptied out into the Seine; now it runs underground. (The photo here is mine; but here's a link to Paul Rushton's stunning photograph of this street that you get to walk down.) The story is that some of these buildings have multiple sub-basements, the deepest of which it is forbidden to enter, because they are at the same level with the Bièvre and the Seine. The first building on the left on the rue de Bièvre is reported to have one of these basements, which people are known to have descended into. Walk all the way to the boulevard Saint Germain, and turn right. If it's Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, between 7:00 am and about 2:30 pm, you'll see a nice little market across the street and a little to your right at the Place Maubert. Go here and buy cool things if it's open. Cross back over the boulevard Saint Germain, head over the northeast side of the Place Maubert, and take the little rue Maître Albert on your left. Enjoy the little shops and such on this strange street. Follow the left-bending elbow, and go straight until you get to the rue des Grands Degrés (image at left). Turn left. Go straight, and cross the rue Frédéric Sauton, and keep on this street until you come to where the rue Lagrange meets the Quai de Montebellow. You'll note a small park in front of you, and a little to the left a really, really old church. Go in the park and check things out. This is the oldest church in Paris, and it dates to roughly the same period as the cathedral (Notre Dame) just across the river. Now head over to the small rue Saint Julien le Pauvre on the west side of the park (to your left as you're facing the river). Take the small rue de la Bûcherie to your left, and on your left you'll find the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, made famous in part by beat generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg. This incarnation of the bookstore opened in 1951; Sylvia Beach's bookstore of the same name was at a different location and opened in 1919 (I think). Keep heading down the rue de la Bûcherie, and cross the busy rue du Petit Pont into the strange little rue de la Huchette.
The little pedestrian quarter you've just entered is one of the oldest areas of Paris, and most of the little streets date back to the thirteenth century; many follow ancient Roman roads. This is a tourist Mecca (and see Tom's note on tourists), but that doesn't make it less interesting. Back in the day (i.e., the thirteenth century), this street was home to, among other things, taverns and meat roasters; you will note that little has changed. Oddly (or perhaps not), those sandwiches made from the rotating meat they have in the windows of many of these places turn out to be really good. If you didn't have lunch at the "point" of the Ile Saint-Louis, consider snarfing one of these guys. The hucksters who try to get you to come into their restaurants in this neighborhood can be really annoying; just ignore them if they bother you. Tom lived in this street briefly (see the double red doors in the lower right corner of the photo at left?), and oddly enough, it was remarkably quiet, because his windows opened not onto the street, but onto the lovely courtyard shielded from the noise and tourists.
As you walk down the rue de la Huchette, you'll see to your right a very interesting sight: the narrowest street in Paris. The rue du Chat qui Pêche (Street of the Fishing Cat) got its name from a sign featuring that image. Most of these streets owe their names to such signs, which were useful for a population that didn't know how to read—arresting or otherwise easy to remember images were both popular and useful. I took this picture of the rue du Chat qui Pêche from the other direction (that is, from the Seine), so it won't look this way to you.
If you want to walk around this pedestrian area, fine. Check out the rue Xavier Privas, which is interesting because it used to be called the rue Zacharie, which was itself a deformation of "Sac-à-Lie," the sacs in which wine dregs were carried (charming). In any event, meet me back on the rue Saint-Séverin (which you get to by turning left on Xavier Privas, and then left again on Saint-Séverin.
Check out the gorgeous gothic Saint-Séverin church, with its eighteenth-century organ (they do concerts here). Then head across the busy rue Saint-Jacques onto the quiet little rue Galande. There are nice little restaurants and shops here, as well as a really good movie theater. Keep going straight (well, follow the curve of the road) across the rue Dante; keep going on the rue Galande, and then turn right on the rue Lagrange; take another right, almost immediately, on the rue des Anglais. Keep going straight until you're back at the boulevard Saint-Germain. Cross the busy street, and then head slightly to your left and up the rue Jean de Beauvais. Keep going straight for a while (you'll cross the interesting rue du Sommerard, wich has some nice restaurants; keep this in mind for later), and head up the slope until you get to the rue de Lanneau. Turn left (the only way you can turn). This is one of the oldest streets in Paris, dating back to the end of the twelfth century. Look at the weird little dead end off to your right as you head down the street. Now, cross the rue des Carmes and keep going straight onto the rue de l'Ecole Polytechnique, glancing discreetly at the Impasse des Bœufs to your left (actually, you can be as brazen about it as you like; I don't know why I wrote "discreetly"). Continue on straight ahead until it turns into the rue Descartes. You'll see some interesting places to grab a drink around here. Follow the curve of the road off to the right (and there's an internet café here, if you want to check your email); look down—or even go down—the weird little rue Saint-Etienne du Mont off to your right. Come back. Now, keep going up the slope in your original direction on the rue Descartes until you come to the rue Clovis.
Turn left on the rue Clovis, and head to the south side of the street (the far side from the direction you were approaching on). Get ready to see something totally rad, now. Keep walking until you almost come to the end of the street. Right around address number 5, you'll see a fragment of one of the oldest walls built to protect Paris from invaders—this dates from the early thirteenth century. In the image here you can see the ring around the city built during the reign of Philippe-Auguste. Look at the wall; touch it. Now turn around and head back up the rue Clovis from the direction you came. No dawdling.
Now keep heading straight down the rue Descartes, noting the giant mural on the wall up to your right, and the weird little restaurants, shops, and especially bars on either side of you. Now you're approaching the very cool Place de la Contrescarpe (the name refers to the walls in a fortress), where you should stop and have a drink at one of the two excellent cafés you'll immediately see. Go ahead: take a break. Look around. Don't go to the ice cream store that might be tempting you, especially if you've already had Berthillon (no comparison).
When you're finished with your drink, keep heading down the slope (i.e., away from the way you came on the rue Descartes). You're now on the famous rue Mouffetard, which you've certainly heard of, and if you haven't, where in the world have you been? This street goes back to the thirteenth century, and you'll notice that today it's lined with interesting (?!) shops and restaurants. It's closed off to traffic at certain points during the day, so you can wander around freely. Grab a pastry, a coffee, buy some silly post cards, or do whatever you want here. Check the side streets that you'll be passing—there are some interesting things to note, including an excellent cinema, as you pass.
Your goal here is to make it down to the rue Daubenton, where you'll hang a left (and have a gander at the Saint-Médard church right there). Turn left on the Place Bernard Halpern, and continue straight up the rue des Patriarches until you get to the rue de l'Epée de Bois (street of the wooden sword). Take a right onto that street, and head straight to the rue Monge, a busy commercial street. Turn left, and keep going straight, and if you're a little hungry at this point, grab something at a boulangerie or whatever, but don't eat it yet. Keep going up the rue Monge until you get to the rue des Arènes on your right (it's the rue Rollin on the left, but don't go that way). Turn right on the rue des Arènes and hold your breath, because you're going to see something amazing.
Follow the Rue de Navarre / Rue des Arènes around the elbow curve, and you’ll come to an entrance on your left. Go in.
Gasp, exclaim, and be moved and surprised. Yes, it’s the Arène de Lutèce, a genuine Roman arena, right in the middle of Paris. Sit down, unpack your lunch or your pastry or whatever it was you bought, and watch the gentlemen playing boules in the arena. See what the kids are up to. Marvel at how calm and quiet it is here. Wonder how in the world they had ship battles in this space, and how much water it took and how they got it in there. Realize that you could sit here for a very long time, but then get up and leave, making sure that it doesn’t appear that you’re doing so in a huff.
Leave the arena the way you came in. Go back to the Rue Monge and turn left; then take your first left on the Rue Lacepède, and head to the Rue Linné / Rue Geoffrey St. Hilaire (it’s the next really busy street). Turn right, and go a short distance to number 39, rue Geoffrey St. Hilaire. Here you will find La Mosquée de Paris (the Paris Mosque). Go in. Really—it’s perfectly cool, whether you're Muslim or not (no one will ask). Sit down in the courtyard and order a tea (thé, pronounced “tay”). It is extremely refreshing. They also have some pretty unusual looking but scrumptious pastries. Watch the birds. Relax. Be calm.
You can end here, or, if you like plants, go across the street to the insanely large and beautiful Jardin des Plantes. Wander around here for hours until you fear you will never be able to walk again. Complain about how much your feet hurt. Go back to your hotel and soak them. Remember to send Tom an email telling him how great these 2 walks are.
Hey! Other people like Tom's Strange and Interesting Walks.
Answer to quiz: Alright, already. It's Sainte-Geneviève. Return.