Slow Travel Paris – A Weekend that Lasts for Ever
Paris may one of the busiest tourist capitals in the world but if you do it right it can also be a slow motion sunburst of culture and cafés. In this postI share my experience of my own slow, solo break in Paris.
What’s your Perfect Paris?
What is your idea of a perfect Paris evening? A breakneck tour of the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge with the Arc de Triomphe squeezed in on the way back to your hotel? Or a gentle stroll past dancing fountains and tango-ing locals before a sunset picnic on the Seine?
Even in a city like Paris, that fills bucket lists and travel guides, attracts year round crowds and has an unending appetite for good food and romance, slow travel is possible. And as I found out when I visited slowly and solo, it is sometimes only when you slow down that you really start to see the tourist icons.
A rare weekend alone
It’s not often I’m alone. Especially not in a capital city. So when I took to the streets of Paris solo I vowed to do it differently. No rushing around on the metro like a crazed Cumbrian chicken cramming in every last sight. I decided to walk. I decided to do less and notice more. I decided to slow it all down.
So I grabbed a map from my hotel and set out on foot for the nearest attraction; the Sacré Coeur. But I didn’t get there. Not for ages. The street art grabbed my attention and filled my lens. And on a street corner at The Moulin Rouge I paused to remember scenes from one of my favourite movies. At Le Petit Musee du Chocolate I spent a while admiring the giant sculptures and filling a pick and mix bag with smaller treats. I bought a snow globe, had a coffee and watched kids bob up and down on a carousel. And only then did I take in the whitewashed splendour of the basilica where I stumbled into a white wedding.
Slow travel Paris on the slow train
From there I took a train. But not the Metro. One of those tiny tourist trains on wheels. I grabbed a sangria with a straw from a stallholder and off we trundled down the hill. I had a stilted conversation with a German tourist and his 90 year old grandmother. I watched artists paint and the people of Paris go by. Once you make the commitment to do it slowly, a city unfolds before you in slow and satisfying technicolour. You don’t sweat, dash or panic. You might get lost, but that’s fine too.
The last in the queue
I headed off to Notre Dame, stopping to sunbathe on wooden sunbeds and splash in the fountains in front of Hôtel de Ville. I watched a jazz band pluck out tunes on a bridge. I was last in the queue for the bell tower at the famous cathedral before it closed. I hung around at the top as the crowds took a quick glance at the skyline and departed down the tight steps. I watched the sky turn to pink over the Eiffel Tower in the distance over the shoulders of the gargoyles and imagined being a lonely Quasimodo. The automatic bells that come on every time someone reaches the top of the tower were silenced as no one else came. I watched Paris leave work and start to begin its journey home. It was with some irritation that the security guard who was closing up discovered me some time later. But by then I’d seen enough. I was ready for afternoon tea.
The chill out art cafe
I wandered around till I found it. And I didn’t have to wander very far. Opposite Notre Dame, with a coveted postcode of district zero and a picture window view of the cathedral, two owners of gallery and Paris art collective Aux Arts Etc entertained me with discussion about art and coffee and some killer lemon tart. Their philosophy is all about hanging out and chatting and chilling and they are building a community of like minded locals to do the same. They heartily approved of my slow weekend. I’d have been happy to stop there forever but the Eiffel Tower called gently from across the city. You can’t do Paris without doing the Eiffel Tower.
I followed my nose, the tourists and the tower on the skyline, and lay on the grass underneath the tower contemplating the sky as the sky began to change. Then, as the sun went down, I went down to the Seine, and hopped on a Bateaux Mouche boat. And saw Paris turn dark blue. Slowly, of course.