Although I really do love Paris, I have to agree that you often have to take your life into your hands to cross the road. It is true that there are hundreds of zebra crossings on the roads, however I think these literally are for zebras and not pedestrians. Very few motorists seem to take any notice whatsoever of someone walking across these crossings. Then again French motorists don’t seem to take much notice of anything at all when it comes to regulations. They are quite happy to park anywhere at all that they can nudge their cars into, even if it is in the middle of an intersection. They will drive the wrong way up a one way road, or even drive up the footpath if they can find a way to jump the kerb. Yesterday I saw three drivers in a row, all happily sending SMS messages while they were driving in peak hour traffic.
Pedestrians are also equally oblivious to most road rules. We have seen numerous Parisians simply step out into the traffic without even taking a cursory glance to check if any cars were coming. The weird thing is that somehow it seems to work. We have seen no examples of road rage and drivers generally seem quite philosophical when other road users do quite stupid things. I was certainly glad of this nonchalance when I was driving (probably quite incompetently) on their roads.
The apparent chaos of cars, motor bikes, bicycles and pedestrians can make it rather stressful when you are making your way from one part of Paris to another. Even in the narrowest streets you never feel free from the danger that you could get skittled at any moment by a speeding driver flying right through the crowd of pedestrians. You could therefore imagine our joy and relief to leave our apartment and find that the roads were clear of all cars. This was not just because it was Sunday morning, but because the police had blocked off huge areas of the city to everything apart from pedestrians and bicycles.
It was sheer bliss to be able to walk down the boulevards, surrounded by dozens of happy Parisian families all out enjoying the late autumn sunshine. There were also cyclists of all sorts – from the lycra clad racers right down to the casual weekend wobblers, all of them enjoying the car free streets. On the narrow streets of the Ile de La Cite and the Ile St Louis it was the same scene, without a car in sight. I could not help but think how glorious it would be if Melbourne could adopt a similar practice each Sunday.
Maggie and I happily wandered the car free streets in amazement. After the spell of wintry weather we had been through, it was also a lovely feeling to have warm sunshine on our faces again. After lunch in a lovely small cafe on the Ile St Louis we walked to the Promenade Plante. This was originally an elevated train line but it has now been converted to a beautiful tree lined walking and bicycle path. It was a strange feeling to be walking through the autumn trees with the city streets far below us.
After wandering for some time we were both feeling tired and in need of coffee. We found a convenient Starbucks Store and ordered two coffees. The young assistant asked Maggie for her name and wrote something on the side of her cup. It was only later that we noticed that he had written “NAGGIER” in bold letters on her cup. Obviously he had mistaken her name for her nature.
By mi afternoon we had walked so far that our legs were threatening to cease to function. We decided to catch the Metro instead, not realising that virtually every other person in Paris much have decided to catch the same train. I now know what a sardine in a tin feels like, but we did manage to safely escape with our wallets and phones intact. The final part of the sunny afternoon was spent sitting in the Tuileries Gardens watching the crowds go by. Even at this late stage of the season we were surprised at the huge crowd of tourists all making their way to the Louvre Musee (and yes, heaps of them were wielding the ridiculous selfie sticks that I have come to detest so much). It was even more ridiculous to see the upper desk of the Hop On Hop Off bus crammed with tourists with their selfie sticks pointing to the skies like a host of TV antennas,
It had been a wonderful day but we were glad when we got back to our apartment, even with if its low ceilings make me feel like Bilbo Baggins.