Walking along the edge of the River Seine is one of my favourite things to do in Paris; past the Notre Dame, crowded with tourists; past the lover’s bridge, littered with graffiti-ridden padlocks; past the Musee d’Orsay, a stellar example of contemporary art, all the while delving in and out of pockets of Parisian life. A busy café on the left soaks up the afternoon atmosphere, providing refreshments and social entertainment for its visitors. Every now and again, a brightly coloured tour bus whizzes past with disjointed arms waving cameras into the air, trying to capture the perfect shot, whilst tourists casually amble down the sidewalk, stopping here and there to peak down at the river and wave at the passing boats. Below the road, young couples cuddle together, feet hanging over the edge of the river, enjoying a picnic; cyclists weave their way through the slow-moving crowds; and families push buggies along, pointing out landmarks to potentially sleeping children. The edge of the River Seine, in my mind, truly emphasises the Parisian way of life.
Whilst I do enjoy the snippets of different people enjoying their very own Paris, my favourite part of this journey are the cute, convenient pop-up art stores that line the river wall. My first sighting of these was at night, when they were all ambiguously locked up. I didn’t know what they were and, quite honestly, I didn’t really care. That was, until I saw them the next day open for business and offering a slice of local Parisian culture. The hundreds of clunky, green boxes that clung to the wall the previous night were now opened out into little stalls that stretched along the parameter of the river. And what treasures they held! Each store sold a completely different medium to the next, each one promising a better selection of goodies than its neighbour.
Pedestrians stopped and gazed at the array of beautiful works, generating annoyed slurs from passing locals and causing hold ups in foot traffic. But I was with them, I had stopped in awe, not knowing where to begin on this surprise arty adventure. I walked all the way back to the start and began right from the beginning. I browsed through atmospheric watercolours depicting the Eiffel Tower and other significant Parisian monuments, charcoal sketches of rainy Paris streets, and portraits of smart looking pets and people, whilst the owners lazed in wicker chairs to the side of their stall chattering incessantly to anyone who would listen.
I knew I had to buy something. But, with so much variety, choosing one bold piece over another was near impossible. Then I stumbled across a stall that was quite different from the rest. Instead of the standard canvas paintings hanging from the walls and stacked high on the shelves, this stall was offering something I couldn’t say no to: vintage maps. Hundreds of vintage maps were dotted all over the back wall, casually pinned as if without thought. Unlike the other pop up stalls, there were no gawping passersby gazing needily at the pieces. In fact, I seemed to be the only person taking an interest. Even the owner didn’t seem to care who was or wasn’t swinging by.
It felt like I spent hours trailing through all the maps, trying to decide which one I needed the most. Because, of course, I needed all of them. After a while, the owner started pacing and checking his watch, and I realised he was itching to pack up like the rest of his fellow stall-owners. So, I haphazardly picked the next map; not necessarily the best, but the nearest, and handed over my money.
Paris is famous for its selection of high-class European museums, ranging from the world-famous Louvre, to the spectacular Musee d’Orsay, to the contemporary works in the Pompidou Centre. But, if I’m honest, this snippet of local art life seemed to be a much better way to spend my day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only owner of that viewpoint.
Author's Bio: Since a young age, Beth has been interested in travel and, after being bitten by the travel bug, has been to numerous countries spanning three continents. When she is travelling, Beth likes to immerse herself in local culture and explore the arts and crafts that are unique to each location. You can read more of her stories on her blog World Art & Travel Blog and follow her on Twitter.