Lately I’ve been crossing out my “To Do” list in this busy city with my new international friends, but I felt like I’m missing out on what taking a walk with an authentic local is like. My typical plan would include consulting “secret” or “must visit” lists, then tapping in start and end points on the RATP app, and an efficient itinerary is formed. But here in Paris where people are known for their joie de vivre, and there are plenty of petite rues to get lost in, I feel like I’m committing a major faux pas.
From a quick google search, I was delighted to find there’s actually a program that connects people who love their city so much that they want to share it to visitors (and it’s free!).The way the Global Greeter program works is you sign up, select the date along with some areas of interest such as history, gastronomy, architecture, etc, but it’s up to the volunteer to propose a location and walk. The online sign-up form for Paris required a lot of information, so I ended up signing up by myself instead of also inviting my friends.
Initially I was a bit uncertain about the idea of a one on one stroll with a stranger, but I immediately felt at ease with my guide Patrick. As per our agreed rendez vous point, I sought out a statue in the Jardins de Plantes, and was quickly spotted out by a stout, grey- mustached French gentleman with lively eyes and a warm smile. With his Paris Greeters Badge resting on his chest and a portfolio of printed sheets of maps and photos held in his arm, he looked ready for his tour and I was looking forward to his guide of the Latin Quarter of Paris.
He apologized for his accented English, so in turn I laughed and apologized for my heavy Anglophone accented French. I took the opportunity to take what I realized was my first tour en francais. I learned from him that like many other volunteers, he was retired, but enjoyed taking walks connecting with visitors from all over the world, conducting an average of 2-3 tours each week. He may be retired, but during his proposed 3-hour walk, it was him turning around and asking me if I needed a rest when I straggled behind.
When beginning our walk passing through the Jardins de Plantes, he shared that he actually used to walk through in his university days. He pointed out the zoo, as well as the significance of several statues, and happily hummed to himself whenever there were pauses as I took photos. We stepped in Paris’ Mosque tearoom and restaurant to take a quick look, then continued down the market streets of Rue Moufftard then passed the Pantheon. I’ve actually visited part of the Latin Quarter walking along the very same street multiple times before, but never noticed that it was the one of the previous living quarters of Ernest Hemingway!
Paris certainly has a long history, he showed me a piece of France’s fortified wall from medieval ages then climbed up old stone steps to what used to be a Roman arena, and then turned into a little park.
I haven’t yet visited the Jardin de Luxembourg, so we slightly strayed from his itinerary to see La fontaine Médicis, then appreciate the cuteness of small baby ducks in the pond, as well as see children steer their rented remote control boats.
Our walk went by the Arab world institute, across the Seine river to Île Saint-Louis, detoured down the bank with artists drawing, then passed the busy area of Mont St Michel where Patrick ventured a little further to point out a sundial art piece by Dali!
With a large group sometimes often I feel like I’m shuttled from place to place without enough time to absorb in my surroundings. And there’s the awful herd mentality- locals have to watch out as the disruptive tourist herd stampedes through. With just Patrick and I, there was a much more relaxed pace and we were able to maneuver and blend in. He was very helpful when translating any French words I wasn’t familiar with, and was patient whenever there were things like cat postcards that caught my eye.
Since it was past noon time and we had a good promenade to work up our appetites, we decided to stop at a café for lunch just past the Place Michel. Not only did I get to take a walk with a local, but also was able to enjoy a meal with good conversation while getting to know more about my greeter and his family and interests. I’m thankful that there are people like Patrick who take the time to share their city with others, and already am searching global greeters tours in the next cities that I’m planning to visit.