No, it's not the perfect little B&B or even heavenly scented
croissants whispering a warm bonjour each morning.
Neither is it something that is uniquely French.
The simple truth is my feet hold the power to
make a personal connection with my adopted city or village.
The miracle of walking is as titanic as the world's biggest and
best monuments, a value too priceless to enumerate.
Life across the ocean doesn't have to feel foreign.
Walking, much like travel itself, breeds independence.
Our everyday strolls are perhaps the most important part of the journey.
My feet take me to a delightful mix of neighborhoods where I'm able
to plug into each distinct locale as it bubbles over with life.
I'm in charge of which road to take, which market to dally in,
which park, gallery or museum to ponder.
Putting one foot in front of the other is an escape from the techie world -- no
need for Wi-Fi, a gas engine or even a twitter account.
Better yet, it's one of the few things in the world where it doesn't
pay to be faster, smarter or better looking.
Often, slower is better, your brain free to roam and oh, isn't it
liberating to wear comfortable shoes after a lifetime of wearing heels?
I'm not talking Champs-Elysées or Avenue Montaigne here, but rather everyday
roads, perhaps one I've passed before without paying much attention.
The key is to walk deliberately -- where the footpath is the draw
rather than the preordained destination.
The rue des Ecoles* -- the appropriately named street of schools -- charmed
and filled me with joy the last time I was in Paris.
I had been there years ago to dine at Brasserie Balzar, the classic
Latin Quarter eatery dating back circa 1886.
For a taste of traditional brasserie service, check out
their chalkboard favorites and enjoy the view.
Thanks to their nostalgic old posters and charming wait staff,
it feels more like 1930 than today -- a trick that will have you feeling
like a Sorbonne professor of philosophy by the time you get to dessert.
*West of Boulevard Saint-Michel, it's named rue de l'Ecole de Medecine; actually, this is considered
a separate street but for purposes of this blog, I'm combining the two since they go hand in hand.
But this last trip, we walked on by because I had a new restaurant
in mind -- La Petite Perigourdine -- and I'm glad we did.
This time, my eyes were open to the magic of the street.
That's absolutely natural -- but the key here is to discover
MORE THAN WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR.
Break it down into smaller pieces and take it to the next level.
This is how opportunity strikes.
That's exactly how we turned a delightful lunch at La Petite Perigourdine
into a full blown discovery of some new favorites.
And really, isn't that the whole point of Paris?
"The secret to living long and well:
Eat half*, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure."
Well, they got most* of that right --
When in France, make sure you eat everything!
of that -- a few historical plaques, a classic art house cinema, a corner grocery,
and a number of spots to indulge in good eating, drinking, reading & conversation.
The Divine Miss Sarah -- Sarah Bernhardt, often referred to as the first
international stage star, was born on this unlikely street -- and it's only fitting.
This street is a stage for all lovers of true blue Paris, a city where, if you
dig deep enough, is as authentic and on the level as your own home town.
Look around, even the locals are soaking up the ambiance....
Getting to know a city is like breaking in a new pair of shoes; you've got
to walk around a bit before you know for sure they're the right ones for you.
rue des Ecoles and its sister street rue de l'Ecole de Médecine.
With architecture like this, you may be tempted to re-enroll.
This is home to the front entrance of the most famous school in Paris,
La Sorbonne also known as University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III.
Should you get admitted to La Sorbonne, you'd be in good company.
A few former scholars you might find familiar:
Marie & Pierre Curie, Elie Wiesel, Vera Wang, Dr. Ruth,
Simone de Beauvoir, Sam Waterston -- well, you get the picture...
Paris Descartes University -- also known as Université 5 Rene Descartes -- is
part of La Sorbonne's family.
Its School of Surgery is located in the beautiful
Ecole de Chirurgie on rue de l'Ecole de Médecine.
In front, Corinthian columns are its standout feature, perhaps topped by
an impressive oculus in the building, reminiscent of the Pantheon.
King Louis XV named the school out of respect for his own surgeon,
Premier Chirurgie (surgeon) Germain Pichault de la Martinière.
This is the heart of the Latin Quarter, a neighborhood held in high esteem
both in academic circles as well as traveler's circuits worldwide.
It's been the foundation of student life and intellectual curiosity in Paris
since the 13th century -- not to mention some of the greatest fashion hits & misses.
Walking real streets like these get you away from tourist choked targets
where too many day-trippers tend to swarm.
to the far reaches of the world.
Is walking an art form?
A definite yes, because the most ambitious discoveries in Paris can be favorably blended with the rural retreats of La France Profonde - Deep France.
A few years back, our "crew" of four took a idyllic journey on the Canal du Midi.
Escapism at its finest, proof that a good walk will lead you to places
even your wildest imagination couldn't begin to dream up.
I studied the pretty brochures for weeks, excited and restless with anticipation.
For years we fantasied about cruising around an idyllic canal in France in a
cute little self-drive boat until one day we finally worked up the nerve to do it.
None in our party were born with the sailing gene and even though
all the boat companies promise an easy time of it, we knew going
through the locks would be challenging for landlubbers like us.
I felt a bit apprehensive, distressed about the possibility of
feeling caged in such a tiny vessel.
The walker in me yearns to roam day in and day out so the pessimistic side of
my brain worried over how much time we would actually get to spend ashore.
Was it remotely possible floating would be as rewarding as strolling?
There were plenty of walking/cycling paths along the exquisite World Heritage
route, all attached to inviting villages that were made for a stroll.
Little did I suspect that boating life feels much like a walk in the woods.
With a maximum speed of just four or five miles per hour,
you might even say the boat "walks" on water.
Once we got into the swing of navigating the locks, we eased down
the beautiful canal admiring the view -- ducks and swans, dogs, horses,
vineyards & like-minded travelers surfaced at nearly every curve of our royal route.
The first lock we encountered was terrifying.
We did nearly everything wrong and almost tipped the boat over -- lots of
yelling at one other and second thoughts about making the trip....
Luckily, we were rescued by some young German kids and ended up
being great friends by the end of the day.
By the time we got through the third lock, we were pros.
There's always a new friend to be made and often times we would leave the boat to enjoy a local restaurant with someone we met inside the locks or canal-side.
In charming Marseillette, we stopped for the evening, walked down a trail
through a vineyard, past an ancient stone tower and found a fabulous little B&B/restaurant with cassoulet on their international menu.
Operation French Fantasy all systems go!
for pleasure-seeking travelers in search of a relaxed lifestyle.
With the Sun King's blessing in 1667, engineer-financier Pierre-Paul Riquet
began the prolonged, dogged process to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
With the help of over 12,000 workers -- many of whom were women(!) -- the
canal was finally opened for business in 1681, though it took another
couple of hundred years and a second canal (Canal de Garonne) to
make it all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
In those days, the Canal du Midi was all business,
although one of its earliest fans, Thomas Jefferson -- one of our
Founding Fathers -- discovered its many charms.
"Of all the methods of traveling I have ever tried, this is the pleasantest."
The future President made a trip similar to ours
and clearly enjoyed the wine just as much.
Praising the delicious reds and whites of the Languedoc, he remembered
as much detail as possible for future plantings at home in Monticello.
I love the thought of the future President gliding down the same waters
that we so casually enjoyed -- although we didn't have a carriage on top
of our boat (they had removed the wheels for the ride) as he did in 1787.
By the way, reportedly Jefferson doubled his normal wine intake
on his excursion --- I'm just sayin'.....
Discover new tastes from names you may have never heard of such as Fitou,
Cotes de Malepère, Corbières, Saint-Chinian, Pic St-Loup and many more.
It was this very canal that delivered the ambrosial nectar back when transportation
by slow boat was considered the best way to get it from producer to taster.
By the end of our journey, we joked that our little boat ran on
a mix of gasoline, paté and wine.
a fresh baguette and other provisions for the day.
At one pint-sized village, we bought bread and fruit from a roving truck -- of
course, this being France, it was amazingly good.
Further down the canal, we found a big Intermarché to stock up with all the essentials but had to carry the heavy boxes two miles back to the boat --
while our lazy-bones husbands dawdled waterside, likely enjoying a
mid-morning taste of the local red while admiring
the short-shorts-clad clientele on one of the fancy hotel-barges.
It's great fun getting to know people along the way, many of them
from a vast assortment of international destinations.
We met some crazy fools from Geneva who began drinking wine
at 9am, switching to whiskey by noon.
It wasn't long before we saw them literally swinging from tree branches
above until one poor soul finally fell into the muddy waters.
All day, we imagined they were twenty-year-olds on a bachelor party bender
but when we ran into them much later at dinner, we realized they were forty-year-
olds -- most of them bankers, no less, their poor wives probably just putting
the kids to bed .... while Tarzan and his apes lived la vie en rose....
Sometimes less is more and you wish you could bottle up the peace & quiet.
Our favorite stop was Le Somail, where we sat under the shade of the magnificent trees for two hours and simply enjoyed the scene around us.
And of course there was food -- memorable cheeses and olives as well as
sheep's milk ice cream in obscenely splendid flavors like violet, rose, fig & honey and gingerbread -- no wonder we love France!
Le Somail has a fantastic floating epicurie where we spied jars
of onion confit, a delicacy from the region.
And to beat all, the town boasts a vintage bookstore with hundred of titles
and pretty posters to keep the memories alive.
Truly a stop fit for the king.
Bill Bryson, author, from "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail"
So whatever you do, take care of your tootsies.
They'll open new worlds and make you feel at home wherever you walk.
From the grandest streets of Paris to the sweet smelling fields
that border the Canal du Midi, let your feet nudge you forward
and perhaps one day, even help change the world for the better....