A Wild Ride

And finally, the Rickshaw Ride. When I last wrote about our trip to Paris last year, we were at the Louvre. We needed to get to Gare du Nord to return to our Chateau near Calais. Neither of us was up to the Metro after our ramble through the rabbit warren that is the Louvre. Taxis are very expensive (80 Euros to get from Gare du Nord to the Eiffel Tower that morning). Rickshaws are not quite so expensive and a lot more fun.

So, we found Jonathan and his rickshaw near Rue de Rivoli and negotiated a price. Once we were safely on board, he crossed  the road, went up onto a sidewalk and began weaving in and around pedestrians in a crazy way. We laughed. I think he was testing us to see how far we would let him go in crazy.

Warning in advance: sometimes he did tell us what we were looking at, but I was so busy holding on between photographs that in some cases, I have no idea what I was taking a picture of. I’ve tried to replicate our route on a map of Paris and it was quite a tour that took us south and east before going north and west, then back north again. We saw things we would never have seen otherwise.

Paris is well set up for cyclists, with bicycle lanes separated from car and bus lanes by kerbs. As we continued along Rue de Rivoli past the Louvre, we crossed the traffic in both directions before finally settling into one of the bike lanes. Well, we didn’t really settle into it. Rather, our driver put the bike in the bike lane while the rickshaw itself straddled the kerb separating bikes from cars. Taxis blew by us, honking and at least one driver waved his fist out the window at Jonathan’s tactics. At one point, he cheekily grabbed hold of the back of a bus which dragged us along for a few hundred feet!

We made the turn onto Rue du Louvre with no incidents and made a quick stop so that we could take pictures of L’Église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. First founded in the 7th century, this church has been built and rebuilt many times, resulting in an interesting mix of Roman, Gothic and Renaissance styles that is quite bewildering to behold.

Turning left onto Quai du Louvre on the north bank of the Seine, we passed La Samaritaine at Pont-Neuf on the corner of Quai de la Mégisserie. La Samaritaine was a department store founded in the back room of the Café Samaritaine in 1870. The building that would come to house the department store was constructed in 1905, with an incredible mix of Art Nouveau and Art Deco features. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1991 and is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment to be completed in 2018.

We continued along Quai de la Mégisserie, past the art vendors that have become an iconic part of Paris. The Palais de Justice, housed in the infamous Bastille, rests on the island in the centre of the Seine at this point. Further along, we came to a fountain at Place du Chatelet. The Fontaine du Palmier (or Fontaine de la Victoire) was one of 15 commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to provide drinking water to the citizens of Paris. The fountain commemorates Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, but also several other victories between 1796 and 1807. Here we turned north once more past the Restaurant Sarah Bernhardt at Avenue Victoria. Just before we crossed Rue de Rivoli once more, we passed la Tour Saint-Jacque, the last remains of a 16th century Gothic Church that once stood on the corner but was destroyed during the French Revolution.

We turned up rue des Halles … OK, specifically, we turned up the sidewalk on rue des Halles … past Theatre Show Girls (your imagination will fill in the type of show there). You can’t quite see the expressions of consternation on the faces of the pedestrians coming toward us in the photo, but those expressions quickly turned to expletives and the ever useful waved fist from diners at the café as we flew by. Jonathan’s goal on this leg of our trip was rue de la Ferronnerie, but once we got there it took a moment to realise what he was actually showing us. On the pavement near the Banana Cafe is a small, dark square which purports to mark the exact spot where Henri IV, first of the Bourbon Kings and a promoter of religious tolerance, was stabbed to death by a Catholic fanatic name Ravaillac on May 14, 1610. It is said that Henri’s coach was stuck in a traffic jam, which allowed the assassin to gain access.

We turned up rue Saint-Denis then again onto rue Aubry le Boucher, then onto rue Saint-Martin. Here, by the Centre de Pompidou were a fair number of independent artists set up across from a series of shops selling art, cards and other souvenirs. Rue Saint-Martin is quite narrow at this point and I know that at least one toddler was pulled out of our path by the skin of his teeth and I have a vague memory of someone on crutches hurtling herself to safety!! It was like being in a cartoon or a Laurel and Hardy film!

Our objective from rue Saint-Martin was completely unexpected. You might have heard of it through Dan Brown’s book ‘The Da Vinci Code’, or from that wonderful story, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by JK Rowling. Nicolas Flamel was born in France around 1340, and died March 22, 1418. He was a scribe and manuscript seller in Paris and nobody is really quite sure how, but some 200 hundred years after his death it was reported that once, when travelling to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, he met a Jewish mystic who taught him the secrets of Alchemy. The reports continue that he eventually broke the code of an ancient text and was able from the information in the book to create the Philosopher’s Stone, with which he could turn lead to gold. These are the stories that are taken as fact to this day by some. Flamel and his wife, Pernelle, who was a widow twice over when she met him, were known for their many good works. One of these was the house at 51 rue de Montmorency, a very narrow lane off rue Saint-Martin.  The house is the oldest stone house in Paris and was built by Nicolas Flamel in 1407 to house local poor labourers from whom the only rent collected was prayers for the dead.  The door and walls are covered in angels, words and symbols that had been plastered over at some point. In 1900, the City of Paris restored the walls to their original stone, revealing the carvings as they had been originally. Engraved at the door are these words:

“We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an ‘Our Father’ and an ‘Ave Maria’ praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners.”

Trying to photograph Nicolas Flamel’s house was complicated by one minor fact. Jonathan had to turn the rickshaw around in order to get us back on track. However, the lane was so narrow that he couldn’t accomplish this without what can only be termed a 50-point turn, with the final seconds done through panicked manhandling of the entire rig, with us in it (!!) up and onto the sidewalks as a truck, the tires of which just fit inside the parameters of the lane, came barrelling toward us with no sign that it was going to stop. Finally, and with an audible sigh of relief, we set off toward Gare du Nord once more.

But not without another slight detour. Although brothels and living off the avails of prostitution are against the law, prostitution itself, isn’t, Jonathan explained to us as he proceeded to take us down a lane absolutely lined with some of the toughest looking hookers I have ever seen. They were the stereotype Paris hooker with black pencil skirts slit up to their hips, striped skin-tight tops, cigarettes hanging off the corners of their mouths —  I didn’t dare take any pictures and really, was quite stunned. Not at seeing hookers, but at these women and the men who surrounded them, all absolute stereotypes of the 1940s/50s French ‘type’ in the movies. And you don’t want to stare, do you, because they know you’re staring at them and that’s uncomfortable, but you really really really want to because they’re so interesting.

By the time we got to boul. de Strasbourg, I felt like I’d had something of an education. Here he is, by the way. Working hard.

Up the Boulevard de Strasbourg I finally get a shot including our driver, Jonathan.

By the time we came up on Porte Saint-Denis so many people had flown out of our way that I expected pretty much anything. Porte Saint-Denis is a small triumphal arch raised by Louise XIV to celebrate his victories. Rulers used this entrance to the City of Paris after victory for centuries and it is said that the larger Arc de Triomphe is based on the Porte Saint-Denis.  Traffic is routed around the arch, creating a lovely pedestrian pass through. That day, sitting in the centre of the archway was an old man on a little three-legged stool feeding masses of pigeons. Given his antics up to that point, I fully expected Jonathan to blow straight through the pigeons, and had a momentary vision of the old man flying off to one side while pigeons created chaos in the air. I was more than a little relieved when our driver took us off to the right and used an almost legal passage around the arch to continue up rue Saint-Denis to Gare du Nord.

At this point, it became clear that Jonathan was struggling. I think he broke his bike back at Nicolas Flamel’s house, but he gamely continued on to our objective. But not before showing us one more bit of interest. The Saint-Quentin covered market was built in 1866, one of the new steel and glass constructions designed by Rabourdin. Apparently, from what I’ve read, the amount of light on the inside is amazing and it is generally considered a remarkable building of the style. It is one of the few remaining covered markets like it. Jonathan told us it was built because the women of Paris didn’t like being rained on whilst shopping.

Built in 1866, La Marche Saint-Quenton is one of the oldest covered markets in Paris.

And so, we came to Gare du Nord. Having had an incredible adventure en route, we even had time for a bite to eat before boarding our train. We fell in love with Paris, as have millions of others before us. One day, we’ll return. And yes, we have Jonathan’s phone number.

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