A Perfect Walk Through Paris

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Sunrise over Marais.

John Baxer’s ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’ paints a gorgeous visual of some of his favorite neighborhoods in Paris. In each chapter, mixed with snapshot tales of his life living on the Left Bank, he captures the true wonder of experiencing this city—on foot. As an urban hiker, I’m no stranger to street wandering in new cities, but when considering my most beautiful walk, it was hard to pick just one.

A more recent favorite walk though took place on a Saturday, and finally adjusted to the time zone, I was up early and feeling refreshed from a week of heavy train travel. Unlike most of my trip so far, this day was set aside simply for wandering—I had no tours booked, just a list of must-sees and a plan to knock off as many as I could in one day.

A travel tip—if you are an early riser (or more so, become and early riser!), plan to visit one of your must-see spots first, right when it opens. Not only will this give you ample time to see everything, but because you are there first you are gifted with smaller crowds, and many times, especially in museums, you get to experience parts all by yourself.

img_6435.jpgSuch was the case on this perfect walk, where I arrived in Paris’ Marais district just as the morning sun was rising over the buildings. Most stores were still closed, leaving me to wander the pastel streets alone, arriving at the Musee Picasso in time for opening. Here, you can view thousands of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs from the Spanish artist’s life. The building itself is a work of art as well, providing brilliant curves and corners that frame the galleries, offering a glimpse into the life of its former owners.

Leaving the museum, life on the streets of Marais had started to emerge—storefronts were opening for the day, cafes were bustling with patrons, families heading out for the day’s activities. It was October, and while still warm in the sun, I was desperate for a thicker sweater as I passed in and out of cooler buildings. Luckily, Marais offers adorable boutiques for the more shopping-centric travelers, and I was able to find exactly what I was looking for—chic, warm, but not too overpriced.

I’ve written before about the different characters the Right and Left Banks of Paris have. My morning was spent mostly along the Right Bank, starting with the more traditional Marais, then quickly turning to modern as I came upon the Pompidou Centre. The lively square is open to the public, but on this day was also playing home to the long line of tourists trying to get into the Modern Art museum inside. While intrigued by the architecture of Renzo Piano, the museum itself wasn’t high on my list and with such a long line (even with my Museum Pass), it was not worth my time. This is the beauty of solo travel, and one of my favorite things—you can change your list regularly, and make decisions on where to go and what to see easily, without compromise.

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It is difficult to fit the whole Pompidou Centre in one shot!

From the Pompidou Centre, I turned towards Rue de Rivoli, which as a former New Yorker, I could only compare to Herald Square. The streets are grungy, with modern superstores and chains like H&M and pop up stands selling sunglasses and scarves lining the sidewalks. It’s a fun experience, but unless you are there to shop, it doesn’t offer too much for travelers. Realizing this, I opened my trusty map and found that just a block over was the bank of the Seine, and headed that way, onto the Jardins des Touleries and Musee de Orangerie.

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One of eight full length Water Lily paintings by Monet at the Musee de Orangerie. 

It was my love of the film ‘Midnight in Paris’ that drew me to the Musee de Orangerie. Smaller than the Louvre or Orsay just down the street, this museum really has one (very) big highlight—Monet’s Water Lilies. While Monet was known for painting the same landscapes over and over (at different points of the day to capture light, atmosphere, etc.) it is his many series of water lilies that he is most known for. The eight canvasses housed at the Orangerie span two rooms, and are some of Monet’s largest. A fun fact—Monet painted these later in life when he was nearly blind, yet still captures the impressionist portrayal of the subject as he has done time and again. You experience the paintings at two perspectives—first, standing up close, where you can marvel at the intricacies of Monet’s brushstrokes, of the layers of blues and greens and yellows that swirl together to create a seemingly abstract picture, then, stepping back, you watch the colors merge together to create the landscape. Once you take your time to explore these paintings, head to the other rooms for glimpses at works by Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso and more.

My walk continued through the National Assembly, where I desperately tried to find an open café for lunch. This area, which I am sure is busy on weekdays, was a near ghost town on a Saturday. It reminds me now, of my advice to plan your urban hikes around neighborhoods and times of day, so when you are ready to eat, you don’t find yourself in an area with minimal options (on weekends, look for popular shopping areas where lunch spots will more likely be open).

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Rodin’s Le Cathedral

Once I managed to grab a bite to eat, I headed to the Musee Rodin, located in the 7th arrondissement. This museum was created in a former home of Rodin, with his authentic sculptures displayed within the house, and replicas placed throughout the property gardens. Here, you can see his famous The Thinker, The Kiss, as well as many studies for his Gates of Hell. Of the thousands of pieces on display (including some works by other artists, ie. Van Gogh), my favorite was Le Cathedral, two hands twisted together to create a pointed arch, mirroring the design of many of Paris’ gothic cathedrals.

Earlier, I mentioned the Paris Museum Pass. If you plan to spend more than two days exploring the museums and monuments in Paris, this is a wonderful steal. It does require a bit of planning, as once you activate your pass you can use it only for consecutive days—two, four or six. I purchased the two-day pass, so tried to cram in as many museums as possible, which proves easy when the pass gets you free admission to over 50 of Paris’ best spots. And, it gives you a chance to see museums you may have not considered. It was thanks to this museum pass that I was able to stop over to the Hotel des Invalids, a lavish church and former veteran’s hospital that now towers over the tomb of Napoleon—even in death he is over the top with décor.

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Even in death, Napoleon loves to make a statement.

 

According to my cell phone’s tracker, I walked about 12 miles this day. By 4 p.m. or so, I had hit most of this already, and while too early for dinner, I was in need of a place to sit and rest. My Rick Steves guidebook mentioned visiting the Rue Cler, a small, pedestrian-only street famous for its markets. Here, you can see shellfish, fruits, cheeses and meats, all on display for residents and tourists alike, looking for some of the most delicious samples Paris has to offer. While I didn’t buy anything, I sampled a few slices of cheese before a rainstorm started. Not bothered by the raindrops, the cafes along this street activated their awnings over the outdoor seats, beckoning me inside for a glass of wine, providing me with the perfect ending to my most beautiful walk in Paris.

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Seafood for sale on Rue Cler.

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Montmartre: In the Footsteps of the Artists

It was my sister who first introduced me to Vincent Van Gogh. I forget if it was from her art class, or something at school that first lit that spark of interest, but the result became a fascination with this man and his famed stylistic works. It was his story that drew me to Montmartre, although I’m not sure I realized it right away. See, as an art history student, obsessed with the works of great impressionists, the Parisian art scene was something I was familiar with, but had never fully experienced. Montmartre, with its history of outdoor cafes that welcomed the heroes of my studies, was a point of pilgrimage I desperately needed to see.

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Montmartre is perfect for wandering, with its adorable side streets and staircases scattered throughout. 

As Paris’ 18th arrondissement, Montmartre lies at the top of the city’s northern hills. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, haunted by the memories of the city’s most famed artists. It was the first stop on my trip to Paris in 2017. Jetlagged but energized, I emerged from the Pigalle Metro station, passing under the iconic Art Deco sign, and onto the street. The refurbished Moulin Rouge greeted me with its glowing windmill while neighborhood merchants, with their fruit and cheeses on display, opened their doors to greet the day’s customers. It was a fairytale come true, of modern daily life meshing with the history of the stone streets.

What appealed to the artists that called Montmartre home was the outdoor café scene, where they could argue art and literature over a cheap bottle of wine late into the evening. Combine that with the cheap rent, and suddenly this northern arrondissement becomes a hub for struggling artists. At the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre became the center of the bohemian and cabaret club scenes, which today still attracts tourists to the windmill landmarks scattered around the neighborhood. Some famed cabarets are long gone—Rodolphe Salis’ Le Chat Noir may no longer stand, but its famed poster by Theophile Steinlen is seen everywhere, on cups, platters, towels, postcards, whatever a tourist may want to bring home.

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La Bonne Franquette and the adjacent Le Consulat were popular destinations for artists to stay late and talk art over wine.

You can still see the famous Moulin de la Galette, a café immortalized now by Renoir in his panting Bal du moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh’s apartment during the brief time he lived in Paris is marked with a plaque (although Van Gogh famously hated his time in Paris, the city loves to boast his residency with informational displays scattered around the center of the neighborhood). Restaurants Le Bonne Franquette and Le Consulat, set across the alley from each other, claim their role as regular haunts of artists and writers including Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, and more.

The most picturesque of the café scene in Montmartre though is the little pink La Maison Rose, at the corner of Rue de l’Abreuvoir and Rue des Salues. It’s a perfect stop as you wander the streets of the arrondissement for a snack or cup of coffee.

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Possibly the most famous cafe in Montmartre, La Maison Rose stands out on the stone streets of city.

Montmartre’s biggest lure for tourists is the Sacre Coeur, rising high above the city. From most vantage points in Paris, whether you are climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower or walking along the Seine, you can look to the north and see the ovular dome of this church. The easiest way to get to the church from the Abbesses Metro stop is to take the funicular, but for the urban hikers, I recommend walking the steep staircases up the hill, where you are rewarded with a perfect view of Paris’ skyline.

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The landmark of Montmartre, you can see the domes of Sacre Coeur all over Paris.

Montmartre can be as extreme or relaxing as you want it to be, but with any trip to Paris, it is a stop you must make. Be sure to take the time to wander along the small side streets, take in the lifestyle of the merchants and the café owners, stop to talk to the artists selling paintings in the Place du Tertre, but most important, take some time to sit at a café and watch the world go by—may it inspire your next creative project.