I left my hotel at 4:30am to head to the airport. When I bought my tickets I had forgotten that the 24-hour clock is used for tickets. As a result, I accidentally bought a return ticket for a flight that departed at 7am. All things considered, it ended up working out very nicely in the end. Because I left Prague so early, I had an entire day to explore Paris and do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do.
Getting to the airport and the flight itself were uneventful experiences. I landed in Paris and made my way from CDG to Paris without any problem. I ended up beginning my morning at Gare d’Austerlitz, where my train would depart from that evening. I also learned the previous night that there are guarded lockers that you can rent at the train station. Needless to say, I decided it was worth whatever they were charing to not walk around Paris with my backpack.
Because I have been to Paris multiple times before (with the most recent trip being less than one week earlier) I have visited all of the popular tourist destinations. One thing I’ve always wanted to do in Paris, but never had the time to do was visit the covered passages throughout the city. These covered passages were built between the end of the 18th and the mid 19th-centuries. There were originally 60 covered passages throughout the city, however only 15 remain today. While I was not able to visit all 15, I was able to visit multiple.
Technically, the passages are private roads with shops on either side. The passages that remain today have been declared historical monuments. Each has a unique style and some have been better maintained than others. The passages I was able to visit are:
- Place Choiseul
- Grand Cerf
- Galerie Vivienne
- Passage du Caire
In my opinion, Galerie Vivienne is the best maintained and preserved that I visited. It definitely had a very luxurious feel to it Passage du Caire is one of the least well-maintained. When I found it I felt like I had discovered the Detroit of the covered passages. At one time, it was stunningly beautiful, but now it is neglected and in ruins, but definitely has the potential to be something great again.
As much as I loved visiting each of the passages, getting to them was less than simple. Because they are not major tourist attractions they tend to be located off the main roads and with minimal signs to guide you. Also, for whatever reason, my phone was not working properly, so I was literally wandering around aimlessly for far too long.
While wandering around Paris looking for the covered passages I stumbled upon many interesting things I had never visited. For example, the Nelson Mandela Garden. It was a beautiful park, with a very different feeling than Luxembourg or the Tuilleries. I also stumbled upon one of the smaller, but still somewhat well known, churches. However, I am currently drawing a blank on its name. Also, I found Lunettes pour Tous, an eyeglass store I had seen on a TV show about innovative French companies. The premise is that you shouldn’t have to pay an astronomical amount of money for something as basic as glasses. Your glasses will cost you less than 10€ (about $13).
There was one other thing I hoped to accomplish during my day in Paris. When I arrived I was not optimistic that I would have enough time to do this last thing. However, I had plenty of time. One of my favorite movies is Amélie. It is set in Paris and features many beautiful bridges throughout the film. The part of Paris where much of the movie is set is known as Canal Saint-Martin. One of the reasons I had not visited it before is because there is no easy way to get there using public transit. The most common way to get there is to take the Metro and then walk, which is exactly what I did. It was a very pleasant walk.
When I arrived it was everything that I had hoped it would be. The canal itself was a canal, but the area was charming and cute. The shops were colorful and very French. The bridges were just as they appeared in the movie. I ate lunch in this area, as there were several restaurants that were either vegetarian, or extremely vegetarian-friendly, a rarity in France. I had originally selected a vegetarian restaurant, but when I arrived I was very underwhelmed by the menu. I remembered passing a Middle Eastern restaurant, Mezz, and decided that falafel sounded good to me. The food was just okay. I think living in metro-Detroit for most of my life I got spoiled by the copious amounts of superb Middle Eastern food that is available. While the food was simply ‘okay’ a major bonus was the fact that they had true, honest to goodness lemonade. This simply does not exist in France. To top it off, the lemonade was true, old-fashioned, homemade lemonade.
By the time I had finished lunch I still had about 4 hours until I needed to be at the train station. It felt weird being in a wonderful, historical city, such as Paris, and not having any idea what to do or see. It was at about this time that I began toying with the idea that I had seen everything there was to see/do/experience in Paris. While I know this is not true, it truly felt like it at that time. I knew there was one museum I wanted to visit, but by this time my feet were very sore and the idea of doing that much more walking sounded like a terrible idea. I decided to revisit some of the monuments that I hadn’t visited since my very first trip to Paris when I was 13 years old.
I began my tour down memory lane with a visit to Place de la Republique. Other than the fact that there is an interesting statue in the square, there isn’t much to do when visiting. The history behind it is interesting enough, but truly not very memorable. The one thing I noticed while visiting is how much the woman resembles our Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France.
Once I left Place de la Republique, I made my way over to Place de la Bastille. Today, la Bastille no longer exists. Rather, there is a column that stands where the Bastille (the prison) used to stand. The column is called Colonne de juillet, or July Column. It is meant to remember the July Revolution of 1830. None of the Bastille remains, which can be confusing for people who are visiting and do not know the history.
After visiting Place de la Bastille I began working my way toward the train station, hoping to find a café to stop and have a drink along the way. Just outside of Gare d’Austerlitz there is a garden, Jardin des Plantes, which I did not know existed. Since I had the time, I decided to wander around for a bit. The gardens were still beautiful. Apparently, the garden was created in 1626 as a royal garden of medicinal plants. Also, within the garden you will see the Museum of Natural History. Walking through the garden was a relaxing way to end my whirlwind adventure.
The last thing I did in Paris was go to a café and have a drink before heading to the train station. I retrieved my backpack and found a small bar in the train station to have a drink while waiting for my train. Of course, my train was delayed by almost 30 minutes. However, once I was on the train, it was a smooth journey back to Tours.
On the train I began thinking about my next solo adventure. Stay tuned for an update on where I will be heading next. Hint: I’m basing my choice on the quality of Christmas markets in the town.