After one more day in Bordeaux and a rainy afternoon in Arcachon (a village near a protected beach on the Atlantic seaside), I boarded a TGV (“train grande vitesse”) last Friday direct to Paris.

My friend Lisa is American but has been living in Paris for three years already. She met me at Gare Montparnasse and spent the next four days showing me parts of Paris that tourists rarely see.

The Cat Café

On Saturday we met one of Lisa’s friends, Noliko, at the “Café des Chats” (Cat Café), a small restaurant where twelve abandoned cats have been rescued and keep company to the humans who come to have a meal or a drink.

The cats were surprisingly calm and we got to pet several before and after our lunch. A stop at a pâtisserie for dessert and a short walk around The Marais area followed. The spitting rain prevented me from taking many photos unfortunately.

Parc des Sceaux

The sun finally decided to come out on Sunday and we packed a small picninc to eat in a parc. This is what Parisians do on warm sunny days. Lisa picked a parc called Les Sceaux, which is apparently only known to locals. Located in the southern part of Paris, this huge parc includes a Chateaux (for exhibitions), a waterway, sprawling gardens, rows of carefully trimmed trees, and fountains. After eating we spent several hours just wandering around and taking pictures.

La coulée verte

La coulée verte is not a fancy French dessert, but rather an old elevated railway that has been converted into a paved path lined with luxuriant plants, flowers and benches. Walkers and joggers share the pathway that goes from Opera de la Bastille all the way to Bois de Vincennes, a distance of 4.5 kms. It is a nice escape from the busy city below.

Monday was another overcast drizzly day, so we only walked part of the path. Afterwards we headed out to Village Bercy, a string of old wine warehouses now occupied by shops and restaurants, right next door to a large cineplex. Lunch and a movie allowed us to escape the rain for most of the afternoon.

The neighbourhoods and the metro

During my stay in Paris I walked through many different neighbourhoods and rode several of the 16 metro lines that crisscross the city.

The areas we saw ranged from trendy neighbourhood such as the Marais (gay area in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements) to ultra modern districts such as the one around the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand in the southeastern part of town.

No matter where you are in Paris, the architecture is bound to catch your eye. Lisa showed me her favourite building, Edifice Lavirotte, an Art Nouveau construction from 1901, located not far from the American Library.

Buildings in the centre of Paris have six or seven floors and are built on a massive scale (as you can see on some of the photos below).

Despite the fact that I couldn’t help being impressed by the buildings, I was a lot less impressed by the metro. Many stations (including the major hub Les Châtelets) are falling into disrepair, are dirty, full of graffitis, and smell of urine (or who knows what else). The stations are busy, huge (especially interchanges) and charmless. Some look totally ancient, like relics from the 40s, while line 14 is modern (built in 1998) and fully automated.

The trains themselves are not air-conditioned and easily become hot and stuffy. We spent quite a bit of time in the metro. It is a huge underground network that covers every corner of the city. According to Wikipedia, it is the second-busiest metro in Europe after Moscow!

The food

Of course no visit to Paris would be complete without the food. From simple meals that Lisa and I prepared together (salads, pasta, cheeses, bread), to tartes salées (similar to quiches) and flammekuche (an Alsacian pizza), to a delicious 2-course  meal in a café-brasserie, to pastries and hot chocolate, I think we covered all our bases. 🙂

We even paid a visit to “La Grande Epicerie”, an upscale grocery store where you can find everything from Eiffel tower-shaped sugar cubes to giant crab legs.

Not only did I visit Paris off-the-beaten path, but also did so on a very small budget, thanks to my friend. My expenses were a 5-day pass on the public transit (about 35 Euros), some restaurant meals, and a movie. I didn’t pay a single entry fee!

(I am house and cat-sitting in Belgium right now! More on this in the next post.)

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