One of the first things you should know about Paris is that it’s a walking city. Cars are everywhere and at times you think there are ten of them for every parking spot. So getting places on foot whenever possible is probably the way many Parisians like to go.
As I said earlier, either here or in a Facebook post, the French not only walk a lot, they walk FAST! People of all ages seem to walk this way, unless they’re extremely old or in some way disabled. Or if they happen to be these two particular Americans who happen to be in their sixties.
Another characteristic of French walkers is that they don’t move aside. You get out of their way. Actually, I think it’s some kind of game of ‘chicken’ to see who needs to move when people finally get close to each other; and since I’m from the Midwest, I always get out of the way just like my mother taught me.
Sidewalks in our neighborhood tend to be narrow, and while we can walk side-by-side, we often find ourselves walking in single file, either to let other side-by-side pairs of people pass undisturbed. And single file works well for all those 90% of walkers who breeze effortlessly up behind and past us as they head to work or home or the market.
If you’re thinking of coming to Paris and spending time here, good feet and good shoes are essential things to have. If you’re preparing for a trip to Europe, the one place you should never scrimp on spending money is on a really good pair of comfortable shoes that support your feet and let you feel like you’re walking on air. And make sure they’re broken in before you come here.
Now if we could just go out and buy an ideal pair of feet to go along with the shoes, everything would be just perfect. Unfortunately though, our feet aren’t all that replaceable, and we make do with what we have.
My feet seem to be stable, and while they get tired after a day of walking, they hold up pretty well. My shoes are awfully darned expensive, but I think they do the job (though I secretly wonder if Merrells would be better. I have a pair I wear around the house that are just like slippers. I may try those the next time we travel abroad). But my feet seem up to the task. If only Mary Ann’s feet were like mine.
It seems that many women have trouble with their feet. At least the women in my life have. (Don’t’ get me going on women’s shoes, though). But Mary Ann has had problems with her toes that were corrected surgically in two procedures some years ago. Or so we thought. The surgery seems to have left her worse off.
As a walker who wants to see as much of Paris as I do, Mary Ann has been bravely treading off to one place or another with me, but her feet, with all the bandages and orthopedic devices taped to them, have a point after which things get downright painful and really hard to bear.
So we try to build in breaks along the way, taking cabs to places we might be able to walk to, and ditto for train and subway rides. But still, three or four hours at the D’Orsay or the Louvre can start to wear on anyone, and on one with damaged feet, it’s even worse. And sometimes it’s just too much to attempt, as in our decision to not attempt the hilly streets in Montmartre.
The sidewalks and streets of Paris are actually much better than in Italy when we were making our way through the historic cores of cities that all seemed to be paved with really big rounded (and sometimes jagged) cobblestones. That was truly challenging and at times miserable. Think of walking up a rocky creek for mile after mile. While Paris isn’t without its cobblestones, most of the time we’re on concrete sidewalks or pavement treatments that are much more merciful. So that’s a plus.
But really, if you’re thinking of coming to the great historic cities of Europe, think about your feet and what you’re going to do to protect them when you’re here. Don’t skimp on the cost. If you have foot issues, consider seeing a specialist to get whatever orthotics that might be helpful for your particular situation. Over here, feet are one of your most important assets!