Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Running in Paris - the good, bad, and ugly

After four blissful days in Provence, Noah and I took the train to Paris for the second part of our trip. For the rest of the trip, I pretty much did a half-marathon everyday, running and walking throughout the city. Yes, my legs were really dead, but "le footing," as the French call running, was an excellent way to explore Paris, especially its less touristy areas.


Whereas the streets of Paris are busy and loud, its parks are magnificent and calm, yet definitely urban. Below are the parks we ran in and the distinct impressions they left on me:

Jardin de Luxembourg – The most centrally located of the parks and one of the largest, meticulously manicured gardens, lots and lots of statues. We ran on the outer loop on a soft dirt surface. Noah found a secret men’s room while I circled the public tennis courts, watching some really good tennis. Not quite Roland Garros, but much better tennis than you’ll see in C-Hill.

Jardin des Plantes – The most enchanted of the gardens, featuring a gazillion types of plants and an exhibit on evolution, a calm place to sit and read, which I did.

Along the Seine River – Not a park, beautiful views of important buildings on both sides of the river, many bridges to look at, a good place to practice running on cobblestones

Parc Montsouris – Finally we see some real runners! Very neighborhoody, slightly hilly. On a Saturday, there’s a food market a block outside the park where you can fuel up before or after the run. On the southern border of Paris.

Cite International Universitaire – Not a park but a college dorm campus, a fun place to wander and people-watch, across the street from Parc Montsouris. I would've liked living here if I studied abroad.

Promenade Plante – Green and beautiful, if not also concrete and artificial, long skinny park, above ground (like a pedestrian overpass) with buildings on both sides, often just single track. A great place to take a walk.

Bois de Vicennes – Right outside of Paris on the east side, this huge park (compared to aforementioned destinations) features trails, roads, ponds, fields and fields, and a castle!

Canal Saint Martin and Parc de la Villette (I think that’s what it’s called) - Sketchier neighborhoods en route, felt a sense of discovery to run here because there were hardly any people in this area.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont – Whoa fast runners! It seemed like everyone was doing a tempo run on the same loop in the same direction. This park has a little of everything – hills, stairs, dirt surface, hanging bridge, caves, and awesome views of Paris from up top.


Running in Paris is generally hectic and resemble orienteering. People are out at all hours, and the streets are arranged randomly and there is a traffic light at every little intersection. These lights change from green to red without flashing first. At least we can jaywalk. In addition to cars, runners contend with motorcycles, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, and dogs, all possible on the sidewalk. And dogs in Paris are special – they are allowed leave poop all over the street. So, we watched out for these land mines.

So, we avoided the poop, hit a few green lights, and the whole block opens up ahead. Just as we find our rhythm, the street turns to cobblestones and then dirt and then slate and then concrete and then pavement. Instead of checking out the scenery, I was checking feet and hoping that I don’t fall. (I didn’t.)


The air quality in Paris is terrible. Too many vehicles, road side gas stations, and smokers.

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