Continued from An Adventure Worth Telling (Part 1)
“Not all who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
In keeping with the Tolkien theme, this aptly describes how I spent the remainder of my time in Paris. After heading back to the apartment to shower and empty my backpack of dirty clothes, T. and I set out for a wander through some of the most popular tourist sites in Paris: the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumphe, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Because this was not T.’s first time in Paris, and she had already been on a tour of the city earlier in the week, she was my guide for the day as we walked from point to point. One of the key stops in our journey was a bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., recommended by my housemate in Dar. It had all the charm of Daunt Books in London, but in a smaller space and with less of an emphasis on travel books. I bought a few books to add to my collection, including Le Prince Petit, in French, as I made it my goal earlier in the year to continue learning French so that I can eventually read that particular book in French. Because why not? After arriving at the Eiffel Tower, we then waited in a nearby cafe for sunset so that I could take night photos of the tower, and see it sparkle (they have a second set of lights that blink/sparkle once each hour). The wait was well worth it—Paris by night is pretty cool!
On Thursday morning, I set out for Paris Bike Co., where I had made arrangements via e-mail on the previous day to rent a road bike for the day. When I got there, I discovered that the owner, Sam, was another Midwest transplant, originally being from Ohio before moving to L.A. and then Paris. He set me up with a carbon Cannondale, found a pair of old Sidi’s in my size that I could use for the day, and even filled two bottles with water for my ride. After a few adjustments to saddle height and position, I was on my way. The morning was absolutely frigid, so I had to resort to pulling my cycling shorts on over my leggings for a bit of extra warmth. I was certainly regretting not having gloves or insulated cycling gear. Regardless, the day riding was incredible, and certainly one of my highlights of the trip! I followed Google Maps directions (much more challenging at cycling speeds in a busy city!) to Versailles, finding some challenging climbs, epic views, smooth bike paths, and even some rough dirt paths more suited to a cx or mountain bike than the nice road bike I was on, along the way. When I got to Versailles, I cycled around the lake, stopped to take a few pictures, and then went into the small cafe for another croissant and a coffee and to sit underneath the heater and thaw my hands and feet for a bit. On my return journey, I meandered through random Paris streets, found some street art, and eventually turned back to the shop towards the end of the afternoon (after it started raining, making some of the cobblestone streets quite slippery!). Sam and I sat and talked bikes for a good while after I got back, and then I took his suggestion to hang out in the “hip” part of Paris (near the Bastille / Le Republique) for the remainder of the evening before meeting Friend M., yet another friend I first met in Tanzania, for a drink at 8:30. Along my way, I tried a crepe with Nutella and strawberries (delicious!) and tried my hand at night street photography.
Friday was my last day in Paris, so T. and I decided to try out a free tour with www.discoverwalks.com. The tour was of the Montmartre area of Paris, and our guide, Olivier, was excellent. He was charming, knowledgeable, and entertaining—everything a guide should be. But more interesting was the history of the Montmartre area that he shared with us. Apparently, Montmartre is a word that originally meant the “mountain of martyrs,” because during Roman times, the hill was where all of the crucifixions were carried out. One famous martyr was St. Denis, who, legend has it, was being led up the hill to be crucified, but along the way, the Roman guards got tired of climbing and just chopped his head off instead. He didn’t die, but picked up his head, finished climbing to the top of the hill, and then walked down the other side, head in his hands. When he reached a small village (now named after him), he handed his head to a girl, told her to build a church, and then died. Regardless of the truth of the story, there is now a large Basilica in that village and there are pictures and statues of St. Denis all over Paris. In addition, Montmartre used to be outside of the original Paris city wall, so it maintained a much more village-like feel, and even now is known for its sense of community. There is a word that the citizens of Montmartre use to describe themselves, something I can’t remember, but it is different than Parisian, and speaks to that small-town feel that is still present even today. The tour ended at the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, an iconic church that to Parisians is still a symbol of the 15,000 Parisians killed in three days in 1871 after revolting against the national government. The church was built by the king to remind the Parisians of his power (at the time it could be seen from the entirety of Paris), and to give them a place to repent of their sin of rebellion. I learned more in a single ninety-minute tour than I did during the rest of my stay in Paris, and found it extremely interesting! After lunch with T., I wandered, camera in hand, towards Le Republique and Belleville in search of more street art. I found street art, attempted some rainy day street photography, and even watched what seemed to be a gang fight go down before I made my way back to the apartment for a last shower and to pack my bag for my flight back to Dar.
Next time, who wants to adventure with me? Because, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien:
“The biggest adventure is what lies ahead.”