I know you. You try to shop and eat local. You love farmers’ markets and Fair Trade coffee roasted by a tattoed guy in a garage. You crave 70% dark chocolate. I know you as I know myself. Shopping local means that more dollars stay in the community and support businesses and farmers in the area.
Why not do the same when visiting Paris? [Or, now that we have left Paris, every other place you visit on your journey through life.] Everything in Paris is famous for some reason or other. And with a little squinting and creative thinking, you can come to see the interest value in almost everything in almost every place on this planet. It’s just that some will speak to you more than others. That’s why some people plan road trips to visit famous cathedrals, some to follow the trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder and yet others to find the best pit barbecue in the Carolinas.
The 18th arrondissement, which was our home for a month, has Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, Pigalle, Place du Tertre and Marché aux Puces de St. Ouen – the largest flea market in Europe. It also has many famous cafés like the Café des deux Moulins (made famous by the cult film Amélie) and Le Consulat (used in several films including one by Woody Allen). These parts are full of tourists and pickpockets. But the north side of Montmartre has a village-like feel to it with no tourists.
Wherever you find yourself – big or small – touristy or in the sticks – the more you look around you, the more you discover. Two doors down from us on a non-descript apartment, is a plaque commemorating Jews who were seized from their home in June 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. Albert Camus, one of my favourite authors, wrote L’Étranger (The Outsider) in this arrondissement when he first come to Paris from Algeria. Wow. I love that book. And he wrote it right here. Vincent Van Gogh lived here with his brother. There is a Salvador Dali museum here. Yes, right here in the 18th. A short stroll from our place is the Clos du Montmartre, a working vineyard right in Paris! Walk a bit more and you come to the Montmartre cemetery.
Walking the other way from our place, you might come across the historic Métro Barbès-Rochechouart and the Luxor cinema. Both are entwined with cinematic history. We were regulars at this cinema and loved the variety of movies it plays and the great atmosphere in the theatre.
Now that we have left Paris and become nomadic, we’ve overcome the temptation of the “A” autoroutes – superfast, toll highways – and have settled into the slower, traffic-ier, way of the “routes nationales” (the old highways). You can pay many, many euros and get from Normandy to Lisbon lickety split (or in 15 hours 40 minutes) or you can take your sweet time (21 hours 8 minutes) moseying on down.
Yes – naysayer – we know. This could be a false economy. If you are driving many more kilometres to get to the same destination you will be burning more gas. True but the routes nationales don’t add very much in the way of distance, they just don’t allow for rushing. They go through towns instead of skirting them. Be prepared for A LOT of traffic circles.
But running the vehicle for extra hours will cost more. Yes. However, the tolls are really expensive. Just the France section of the Normandy to Lisbon trip has tolls equalling 35 euros ($55).
What about your sanity – how much is your time worth. Good point. That is why tolls are good for some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time!
There is merit in embracing the value in the little places along the way. You can have a wonderful holiday savouring the trip rather than the destination. And when you do that, you sprinkle your euros along the way like Hansel hoping to find his way back from the forest. All the little businesses along the way benefit from you doing that.
What I am saying is see less but look more. If you can put aside the need to visit the big destinations asap, you’ll benefit from a sense of relaxation, cheaper accommodation and free parking. And if you are lucky, blue slate roof tiles kissed by the sun.