Sunday, October 11, 2009

City Walks

Today was a long day. A long, long, walking filled day. The type I have not had in quite some time, and compounded with the half-filled walking days, it's getting to the point that I will need to take some time off. We'll see how that works out.

It should be said that this was the last day of use my 5-day metro pass had. From here on out, I'll need to buy tickets for every single journey I take. And the prospect of that does not appeal to me. Careful planning, and awareness of such things as, what walk will lead into another walk – thus allowing me to finish a final walk, before a precious ticket is used – these are not my strengths. But they are about to be put to the test.

Today I finally broke out my deck of City Walks: Paris (adventures on foot). What is a deck of City Walks: Paris (adventures on foot) you may ask? Well, I shall tell you. It is a collection of cards, each with a different walking tour on it. Each deck has fifty cards. On one side of the card is the text describing what sights you shall see, and on the other is a detailed map of the area with your journey all marked out on it. Why is this fantastic? Because rather than carrying around a book, you need have only one card in hand. And with the map turned towards you, you can prevent yourself from sticking out as an easy target (read: tourist.) For the record these cards are not the size of a deck of playing cards. They're about the length of a tarot card, and twice as wide. Unfamiliar with such measurements? Hmm – about the size of a paperback book cover, I'd wager.

Sound good to you? Fifty walking tours of a city – with a convenient fold out map, showing you the location of all the various tours, on a city overview (the back of which lists historical information and other neat stuff)? Wondering where you can pick them up? Well head on over to and I'm sure that the fine people at Hunter and Hunter Inc. will be more than happy to sell you a deck or two.

Now, before I go on, you might be wondering – how good are they? How worthwhile can a walking trip be, if a city has fifty within it? Are these well plotted journeys, or are they an attempt to keep up with the “fifty per deck” mandate?

Excellent question! The answer is... well the answer varies. I'll tell you about my day, referring to the cards, now and then, and you'll get an idea.

[authors note: the hostel wifi is, of course, down.]

My day started off with card 37 – which claimed to be a perfect Sunday walk (it was Saturday.) It began by walking down a street which would have an open air market flooding the passage. It then led past two stationary stores of note (both, it explained) were closed on Sundays. If you had a walk, that needs to be experienced on Sundays, why note things that are closed on Sundays? It didn't matter to me, though, as the stores were closed Saturday too. And I'd seen enough paper stores these past few days, that I didn't relish the idea of seeing any more. Walking past other things of note such as bakeries (each one seeing the best more perfect wares – if one is to fully trust the card) I ended up where I actually wanted to. Montparnasse Cemetery.

More tourism of the dead! There were only two stones of note that I really felt the need to check out in this place. One was Sartre, and the other Beckett. Both proved quite easy to find, and neither indulged in the unnecessary opulence of Wilde's. Which was slightly disappointing, though also refreshing. This cemetery is well marked, and not difficult to make your way around in. It seems things changed between the planning of the one I visited yesterday, and the one I visited today. Good for them.

I will say this for the French: they really know how to pack in their dead. I guess that all their practice from the catacombs really paid off. Though at least these people still have their own personal space. And all their bones are together. And they haven't been turned into art pieces. Which was then turned into a tourist attraction. Which was then vandalized.

Which brings me to an important point... the catacombs have been vandalized, and as such are currently closed to the public! Argh. One thing – one thing, I wanted to see in this city, and nope, sorry, no can do. Now I am told these catacombs extend much farther than tourists are allowed to look. I wonder where the camouflaged entrances to these forbidden passages can be located.

Card 35 took me from the catacomb entrance, outside of the tourist district. And though it only pointed out cafes, and other such things (every now and then mixing up its left and rights for the location of noted buildings) it was well worth the journey, if only to enter a part of Paris where English seemed to not be spoken at all. The Parisian's Paris, one could venture.

It was here I purchased a tiny little can of coke, as I only had 95 cents, and the large one cost 100. This 15cl can was a mere 60 cents by comparison. Ridiculous though it may have been, it would also mean my search for a bathroom would come much later in the day. So there's that for it. Arriving at Plaisance station, I hopped on the train and headed to the Musee d'Orsay. Right as I hit the street, I was reminded I was back in the land of tourists, and tourism.

Not only could I eavesdrop on all number of conversations, I was also welcomed back into the world of my favourite locals. The ridiculous beggar-scamming culture. In front of me a woman dressed, as they all tend to dress, bent down and picked up a junk ring off the ground. It had clearly been dropped by someone who felt her tastes were far superior to such nonsense. But this woman, looking up, immediately, at me took a step forward and held it out, offering it for my purchase if I so desired. “Please,” she began. “I am so poor. Please.” I began to walk past. At this she switched tactics. “Please, it's gold! It's real gold.” I could not help but laugh. Though I attempted to cover this with a cough, with a relative degree of success.

It's gold. Please – I was right there. Right there when you picked the piece of garbage off the ground. Two steps quicker, and that seventy cent trinket could have been mine, were I not worried about the terrible diseases that it carried. It's gold. Go pawn it then! Remember folks, if someone on the street tells you something is gold, it is not.

Ahh back to the land of tourism. I quickly took a free advertising postcard out of my pack, and wrote a little note one it:

I am a traveller from
Canada – I have so little
money. Food n Paris is
so expensive. Please,
it's getting colder. Could
you help? Any donation
will do. Thanks!
-Sean Richtoff.

Now, next time I hear the words, “do you speak English?” I will be ready to take out said postcard, and launch my counter offensive. We shall see if they are a generous lot, or simply looking to take for themselves. That or they will gang up on me, raptor style, and steal my pack. Either way.

Now one might think that I am being heartless to the homeless. But keep in mind, these are not the homeless. To eat in Paris, for a day, costs only five euro. That's all. Five euro. Just be smart about it (and we're talking three meals here – not like I eat. I eat in Paris on two euro a day.) These are the scammers that make you dislike people you think of as “needy.” The real homeless here do not operate in the tourist districts. In fact, the ones I've come across have no game at all. They don't even have signs. They're just another part of the living city here.

Within moments card 21 ripped me from the Museum, and threw me down Rue du Bac. I am not a shopper. This area held nothing for me. If I see a line around the block for a bakery, I will not think it is a good tasty place, and join. I will assume a celebrity ate there once, and everyone wants in. In fact, if I see a bakery on the well to do street, I immediately think that they are more flash than substance. No thank you, I'll keep walking.

The best Chocolate Croissant I've ever had came from a bakery on a side street in the middle of nowhere in Paris (take that Don-Don!) Although, I'm thinking that North America invented the chocolate croissant, because people here don't seem to order them. They seem like a tourist only specialty.

I then wandered, wandered wandered, through the back streets following, kind of, card 22. It took me to the Hotel des Invalides. It was neat to look at. I have no desire to pay to see Napoleon's tomb though. I've seen enough graves for free this week, thank you very much. Still – I hear it's lovely. He was a crazy cat, that Napoleon. And not short at all. That was British propaganda that really managed to stick.

There were a number of canons here. Well over one hundred. So if you like to look at canons, then by all means, come to Hotel des Invalides (it's not a Hotel as we know it. It's a big ol' monument / museum / crypt / whatever else it wants to be.)

In the front lawn they were setting up for tomorrows military presentation. Perhaps I'll need to return? There are said to be paratroopers.

[author's note: the wifi is still down, but I've noticed the vending machine sells tarot cards for 4 euro. Tempting, tempting, tempting. I left my decks at home, for fear of loosing them. But six dollars is a steal, anyway you look at it.]

The walk ended up with me in front of the UNESCO building. If you travel you know UNESCO. In fact you can probably recount all the UNESCO sites, and objects, you've seen and all the ones you'd like to get to. Apparently it stands for United Nations Education Science Civilization Organization. Something to that effect anyway, it was in French, of course. And in french – where the headquarters are located – the letters do not properly connect.

On the plus side, I got a shot of the Eiffel tower in line with all the flags, so there's that.

That would be one of – oh, nearly forty – pictures of that blasted tower I would take before my day was at an end. Seriously. It's so hard to resist photographing it. Every angle, every backdrop – it's always different. How can you hate the tower? Only one group of people have ever hated that marvelous piece of construction. And, of course, it was the French. They wanted to tear it down a hundred and twenty years ago. Good for them.

I reckon the people who have to paint it aren't that fond of it either. But that's another matter entirely.

One of my final journeys would be to an island in the middle of the Seine. It's neither of the two built up ones. It's simply a strip of land with a walking path along it. Find yourself the statue of Liberty, and you'll have found yourself one of the nicest walks not listed in many guidebooks. Yeah, that's right – just look for the statue of Liberty.

It seems that this, like the odalisque, was given out in World Class City school. Except this time Tokyo was prepared, and made sure to show up early to receive its. But London was stuck home with the chicken pox. The doctors promised London if it had the pocks once, it would never have them again. So much for what doctors know. And lets not even get started on German Measles.

Near the statue of liberty you may find yourself walking through a tiny homeless tent city. It's nothing like the giant villages outside the Tokyo city limits, but with two or three tents set up, there's no denying that some sort of small community is coming together.

Do not worry. They will not throw themselves at your feet, whining, and crying for “some fruit, mister. Please, some fruit.” They will either be in their tents, sitting outside, or passed out on the ground. Either way, they wont bother you.

Best to go during the day though – just to be sure.

And from there, I walked to Trocadero to grab the tube to the Grand Passages to see the shopping arcade in all its glory. Located at Grand Boulevard how could they be anything but spectacular? Getting to Trocadero was not so easy a task.

There was a 20KM run set up, and it blocked all exits. With my feet throbbing, and my back aching, and me just being altogether tired, discovering that I had walked too far in, like some god awful lobster trapped at the back of a cage, I had to try and squirm my way back out again. This was not to be easy – but i made it – and I saw the best logo I've ever seen. It's for an African Race and it has the continent with five toes on top.

Just as I neared the metro station I passed – ohh good, a Tamil Tiger protest. Sure, they're not affiliated with the terrorist group, they say – but why are their two guns on the flag? If I was a country or an organization that wanted to be seen as peaceful, I would probably loose the automatic weapons from my official emblem. Just saying, is all. Still, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, it did make for a peachy picture.

Alright – last stop. The passages. Are they beautiful? Are they spectacular?! No! They are run down, unlit, full of pirated posters, dvds, and other junk. Most shops are boarded up, and the walls are covered in uninspired tags! Yay! Time to rush home.

And stop at the supermarket – where I prove that two euro is all you need for a good meal (well – a meal, at any rate.) I obtained 2L of orange drink (think McOrange crossed with Tang), 4 flans (like a piece of KFC chicken, the first was delicious – it was downhill from there), and a chicken salad sandwich. All for the sum of two euro. Fantastic!

Alright – that's it. Day over. Time to crash. Maybe enjoy some more Tom Clancy, or watch Resident Evil 3. Or maybe 2 again. I'll get to 1 when I'm good and ready for it. It's just so low budget by comparison. It's like “The Cube.” but with maybe three sets, instead of one.

I wonder if any fantastic new DS games have come out in the last month.

Two final points. In the basement someone is playing Stairway to Heaven in French, and that's fantastic! Second, I bough the tarot cards. It attempts to teach the “game of tarot” which is odd, because the actual game was lost some time ago. So I'm not sure who thought up these new rules. The audacity, one might cry, if one were prone to doing such things. The suits are clubs (wands), hearts (cups), spades (swords), and diamonds (coins) rather than their traditional suits. Which is mine. But the Major Arcana is void of names, and the images aren't related to the traditional tarot decks you've come to know. Which would be fine and well, if I could get the internet – as I'll just write them on. I believe I know them all by number – but I would be most embarrassed if I made a mistake. So I will wait. For the internet. Which, I know, is never going to come. Still – four euro. And I got myself a deck of cards now too – just have to remember to take out the four Pages. Now I return to my regularity scheduled Resident Evil 3 (which is fantastic for beginning the way it does.)

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