When I was in Paris last week, I ended up talking to my traveling companions about what travel is actually for. There’s a weird middle-class culture of tourism that says you need to do ‘cultural’ things like visiting churches and museums, even if you don’t like to do that when you’re home.
There’s also a culture of talking shit on the way other people travel. These philistines just want to lie on the beach! They didn’t even learn how to say ‘hello’ in the local language! They don’t know the culture!
I think we have an opportunity, as a generation, to redefine the institution. Personally, I think travel is for doing stuff you like, in a different place. If you’re not a museum guy, you don’t have to suddenly become one in Paris or Berlin. If you’re not a rainforest guy, you don’t have to be one in Brazil or Peru.
This was my fourth time in Paris, and I’m completely OK with skipping the Louvre and Notre Dame. I don’t like Renaissance painting (there I said it), and I don’t understand enough about the historical context of France to know why Notre Dame is significant. To me, it’s just a big-ass church, and I’ve seen heaps of those.
I like biking in big cities. I realized in Paris that, if it was up to me, I would spend at least three hours of every tourist-day cycling somewhere. Hopefully getting lost on the way. I’ve never thought of Paris as a bike city (usually it’s a ‘ow my feet’ city after the first few days), but since they installed the Velib bike stations everywhere, it’s really doable.
The city shrinks considerably when you bike. On a spotty Sunday morning, starting from Bastille, I managed to see all this:
The Eiffel Tower
Arc de Triomphe
It was like a little Paris for Beginners, all before breakfast.
Whenever I’m in Paris, I’m shocked at how foreign it feels. Thanks to the biking scheme, this time it felt a little closer to home.