À Paris: le flâneur
Paris is the spiritual home of theflâneur - the stroller, the saunterer, the idler on urban streets. And I do a lot of that - I am often an essentially aimless pedestrian. So I allowed myself time to wander across the city, all the way from Rambuteau to Alma, to soak up a feel for the place as I walked. I probably overdid the touristy bits to be honest, but I did also make sure to branch off along quieter backstreets to become at one with the city. I don't claim to have matched Baudelaire for insight, but here are ten things I observed on my flâneuring.
• le Louvre: I didn't venture inside Paris's most famous art museum. There wasn't time, and teenage me had been inside previously, before they slapped La Gioconda behind protective glass. But I did enjoy the atmosphere outside in the central courtyard, where dozens rested awhile on the edge of the water feature around around the glassy pyramidal entrance. I even managed not to get in the way of the group taking wedding photos.
• Centre Pompidou: I didn't get in here either, again for lack of time. And I hadn't heard of the big name artist being showcased inside, a certain Eileen Grey. But that's the second time I've walked past and wondered what it's like to ride the external escalators across the front, so next time I must.
• le graffiti: One bit of supposed street art caught my eye, the words "Super Boris" scrawled on a wall opposite Père-Lachaise in bold red letters. Has our mayor been making waves here too, I wondered, or is the acclamation sprayed alongside perhaps a bitter wisecrack?
• la Rive Gauche: That's the left bank of theSeine, a more intimate embankment than the right, and a fine place for a stroll. If the fliptop cabinets are unlocked you might well be able to pick up an old book or artwork from one of the many rivermarket traders.
• le traffic: Paris's traffic is so quiet in places, and relentless in others. I quickly got the hang of using Paris's pedestrian crossings, watching for the faintly green man, but without the additional safety paraphernalia that London throws at you. But blimey, some of those crossings are wiiiii-ide, notably the Champs-Élysées, and (sheesh) especially the Place de la Concorde.
• le Jardin des Tuileries: Perhaps not gardens in the way you'd expect, because a lot of them are gravel, this remains a favourite place to promenade because of its central location. It'll look greener when the brown trunks burst into leaf, but also a lot fuller. For now, in early March, there are even spare chairs around the boating pond.
• le Pont des Arts: A peculiar tradition has grown up on one, maybe two of the footbridges across the Seine. Loved-up couples bring a padlock, or maybe buy one off a conveniently-placed street vendor, and scratch their names or write a message on the side. The keys are then thrown into the water and the "love lock" is attached to the side of the bridge, creating a memorable mass metal mosaic. Civil authorities frown on the practice, but they don't stop it, and the lock-in continues.
• la place de l'Alma: It used to be an ordinary embankment-side road junction, apart from having a golden flame in one corner commemorating France's gift of the Statue of Liberty to New York. And then Princess Diana's chauffeur drove into the underpass, and didn't drive out again, and the flame suddenly became a place of pilgrimage. Even 14 years on the base of the memorial is scattered with bouquets, photos and scribbled tribute elegies, and curious onlookers still gather to remember.
• l'horizon: Planning rules in Paris (mostly) forbid the erection of buildings above seven storeys, whick keeps the central skyline generally picturesque. Architects and developers haven't been allowed to infill with ugly blocky modern stuff, or more likely haven't needed to due to lack of wartime bombing. Whatever, the end result has a relative uniformity and character long abandoned here in London, and that's our loss.
• le manger: Paris is known for its food and drink, and a pavement cafe culture that was thriving in Saturday's relatively mild weather. But did I stop and sit down for a coffee or a pastry or a light meal? No chance. I did grab a crêpe fried on a roadside stall, which dripped lemony sugar all over my jacket and left me with well-sticky hands. But dining is for wimps when there's a city to be explored and only ten hours to do so, especially when you're here without a companion, so I passed. I returned to Gare du Nord with my stomach underfed but my soul nourished, and that was the point of going, to be Frank.
If you fancy making a one day trip to Paris, my advice is to take the first Eurostar out and the last Eurostar back. On Saturdays that means leaving St Pancras at 0618 and arriving back at 2118, whereas on weekdays there's an 0540 with a 2218 return. These are often the cheapest trains too. Looking ahead to the edge of the booking window, Saturday 6th July can currently be done for £99 return, while Friday 12th July is only £69. You do have to get up very early. But l'oiseau tôt attrape le ver.