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Paris à Pied - Part II
Pedestrians Have the Right-of-Way in Paris

An article by Joe Wiebe © All rights reserved.

Paris à Pied - Part I

Another successful pedestrian-only experiment is the Rue Mouffetard, directly south of Notre-Dame.  While Montorgueil is mainly about food, Mouffetard offers a more diverse range of wares to window-shoppers and those who actually want to part with some euros.  Clothing stores, cafés, hotels, tourist shops, and even a bowling alley all vie for attention as you descend this slightly winding street.  Tall buildings jostle right up to the edge of the single lane of cobblestones, creating a canyon whose walls cascade with flowers bursting out of windowboxes on intricate wrought-iron balconies, all above colourful awnings that shopkeepers roll out as the sun progresses through the day.

If shopping makes you hungry, there are fruit and vegetable vendors here, too, along with a store that sells dozens of different kinds of paté.  To solve your thirst, peruse the bottles offered at Le Repaire de Bacchus, a wine store whose wares are displayed in baskets right out on the sidewalk — ahh, vive la différence

After an afternoon of shopping and browsing, reward yourself with dinner at La Méthode (2 rue Descartes, which is what Mouffetard changes its name into north of Place de la Contrescarpe), an innocuous restaurant, small and homey, which serves exceptional food at reasonable prices.  The green beans alone are worth the flight — they taste like they were grown in butter.

While hordes of tourists march along the banks of the Seine year-round, locals choose the more secluded Canal Saint-Martin in the northeast of the city, built under Napoleon to bring drinking water to central Paris.  Whether walking north from Place de la République or south from the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad, this is a pleasant stroll, especially on summer Sundays when the roads along the canal are closed to motorized traffic. 

The Canal Saint-Martin is a romantic spot — the mature trees lining its banks shelter metal foot bridges (fans of Amélie will spot the one where she skipped stones in the film) with serene views of water slowly spilling over locks as it makes its way into the centre of the city.  It is an extended park, with areas to play pétanque, long stretches of smooth pavement for rollerblading or cycling, and even some all-weather ping-pong tables permanently installed alongside the waterway.   

The neighbourhood lining the canal is a mix of residential and retail, along with more of the city’s ever-present cafés and brasseries, of course.  One can easily while away a sunny afternoon here without hearing an English speaker demanding a “chocolate bun” (at least until Rick Steves discovers it).  That might sound harsh, but in a city as heavily touristed as Paris, it can be rewarding and relaxing to live like the locals and enjoy some freedom from the tour buses, even if only for part of a day. 

It is surprisingly easy to walk around Paris; many of its major attractions are close enough to avoid blisters.  And from the cobblestones and sidewalks, you are often rewarded with the most memorable sights and experiences — that restaurant you would never have stopped in if it weren’t for the rain that sent you looking for shelter, or the boutique where you found that special item.  These three neighbourhoods are a good place to start your walking tour, and there are bound to be more pedestrian-only streets waiting to be discovered by footloose travelers.

Joe Wiebe is a Vancouver freelance writer. 
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