It’s Saturday morning, a bit humid, and I finished a somewhat-tired 8 miler, seeing JT’s significant-other JS en route and then JT herself (color-coordinated I might add) and JS again. I wish I had the smoothness/relaxation of form that he displays. Time to sum up my trip.

La Villa Paris, at dusk

La Villa Paris, at dusk

We flew over at 10:05 last Friday, an uneventful flight in which I got a couple of hours sleep. There is new phenomenon born of the web: urban B&Bs. My wife found La Villa Paris in the 13th arrondisement of Paris. The key is that TripAdvisor gives user feedback on the places so you’re not buying a pig in a poke, and La Villa Paris had no bad ones.

We’d been to Paris thrice before, but this was the first time we stayed outside the central area. Were Paris a clock, the 13th is from 4:30 to 6:00 on the dial, at the outer edge. It is largely residential, and once we learned the lay of the land — the secret was the multi-day transit pass and connecting to the 67 Bus across the street from La Villa Paris.

Aboard the 67 Bus, crossing the Seine

Aboard the 67 Bus, crossing the Seine

Paris is not a great city for running. This trip, however, found loads and loads of runners. On our first day, I found a local park with a 0.9 mile or so loop, involving slaloming in and out of strolling people. The big problem with it, however, was that it had a brutal (although not steep) climb each lap. Day one, after arrival: 4.65 miles @ 30:00. I tend to get excited when I arrive after traveling and so ran harder than I wanted.

May 2, 2009: Parc Monsouris, Paris

May 2, 2009: Parc Monsouris, Paris

Sunday we got our sea legs and did some exploring, to a flea market and then to St. Germain and through Ile de St. Louis. Back to La Villa and a run through the streets. I’m sure I am quite the site. I had selected my t-shirts with care — a Warren Street, Manhattanville XC/Track, Healthy Kidney 10K, and Reach-the-Beach — and I ran through the neighborhoods of the 13th saying “Scusi” (the Italian being easier to get out than “Excusez-moi”).

Now it is hilly in the 13th, and La Villa is at the bottom of one. So it was not so easy. The benefit of being away from the center was that you have long blocks that make running not so bad. I got in just over 8 on Sunday. Dinner: discovering that many or most restaurants don’t open until 7:30, we went to a small French restaurant and had something simple but very good. At the adjoining table was one of the few attractive women we saw. As with Dublin, the paucity of attractive women, at least in comparison to the plethora in New York, was disappointing.

Monday was another day of wandering. This time, we were directed by Marie, owner of La Villa, to the Promenade Plantée, which is a park that sits on an abandoned elevated train track. There are thoughts about doing something similar along the abandoned High Line in Manhattan, and it would be a great thing.

A Velolib station, outside La Villa Paris

A Velolib station, outside La Villa Paris

One new thing in Paris is the Velolib. Simply put, it is a system of easy bicycle usage. You pay an annual fee — something like $40 — and you have unlimited use of the bikes for half-an-our but pay a nominal amount for usage beyond that. There are Velolib stations everywhere. Here’s one outside our first room at La Villa. It would be virtually empty during the day and completely full at night.

The process is simple. A rider checks to make sure the bike was OK. The seat-height is adjustable. She puts a card against the docking mechanism, and, voilà, she’s off. About 30 seconds. When finished, it takes about 10 seconds to re-lock the bike at the destination. Each bike has a large basket in front, a headlamp, and a taillight, both of which worked automatically. I think tourists can use them, but we didn’t. Parisians generally don’t wear helmets, but they should.

I kept thinking of how they’d work in New York (it is discussed on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC), and apparently some thought to that effect has been given to the idea. It’s brilliant, and the more people ride, the more motorists get used to them.

That afternoon, I attempted to run to Bois de Vincennes to the east, but was thwarted when a bridge I hoped to use to cross the Seine turned out to be for cars only. I got across a bit farther north, but never got to the park. On the other hand, I finished by the Stade Sébastien Charléty, which was just up the hill from La Villa. I could not get into the stadium itself, but there is a strange practice track next door — strange in that one turn can only fit two lanes — and finished my run with some strides there.

Tuesday was the day for a run at Bois de Boulogne. This is generally known as the best place to run in Paris. I left my wife at Galleries Lafayette and took the Metro west. After asking for directions (including from a Californian visiting in-laws), I got myself into the Bois and found a number of runners, going at good clips, at lunchtime. I followed some paths, and then found myself next to the racetrack, along a non-paved stretch that seemed to be popular among the locals. So I did a couple of laps of that before heading out.

Bois de Boulougne, May 5, 2009

May 5, 2009: Bois de Boulougne

This would be my long-run, and a highlight, of the week, at just under 12 miles. I intended to go for 1:15, but kept it up and finished in 1:22:27, before heading off to meet my wife at Galleries Lafayette. Dinner: Take-out Chinese. There are dotted throughout the city small shops in which you pick what you’d like, not quite the way we do it here. We took our food back to La Villa and had a nice meal in the common area.

I should note that one of the highlights of staying at La Villa is the breakfasts. Unlike visits past when we’d struggle to find a local place for coffee and a croissant, each morning there’d be coffee, croissants, cereal, yogurt, bread, ham and cheese, and juice. This would easily keep up for much of the day, so lunch was generally just ham and cheese or the like on a baggette.

After that take-out meal, we hopped the 67 bus and took it into the heart of Paris. We got a bit lost trying to get back, but the other bus we took (before picking up the 67 to take us home) brought us right through the Louvre, past the Pyramid and across the Pont Neuf.

Musee Rodin

Musee Rodin

Wednesday, the Musée Rodin. We’re not museum-goers, but we visited this one on our first trip to Paris in 1982, and went back. It is a sublime spot.

From there, some more wandering, back to La Villa and an easy 5 miler. Here was a revelation. The Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris was up the hill from La Villa, across from the Stade Charléty. Behind its walls was a loop of just under one-mile, mostly cinder or dirt with some pavement. It was largely under trees, but it was deceptive in that there was a slight uphill stretch that was a bit of a test. So a five-miler there. Dinner: Very good local Italian.

Thursday, last full day. We took the trusty 67 into Paris, but it did not go its full length, so we wandered via a couple of Metros to Montmartre, which is a really hilly part of the city, to its north. Then the 82 bus back into the city center for yet more wandering and back. Having discovered that Cité Universitaire path, I was determined to do 8 laps. With that uphill stretch — and there was a corresponding downhill — it was quite the struggle, but I hung on and got my nine miles in.

Eight Laps, Cité Universitaire, Paris, May 7, 2009

May 7, 2009: Eight Laps, Cité Universitaire, Paris

You can see the Stade in the map. CH once asked about even splits. For the miles within the Universitaire, they were 6:36, 6:37, 6:38, 6:35, 6:40, 6:38, 6:36 even though the run felt strained over the last few. I think such evenness is the product of having done this for a long time.

We took a late — 5:50 — flight home on Friday, so we had the morning to explore a bit more. This was a national holiday in France, celebrating the end of WWII in Europe on May 8, 1945, so things were eerily quiet. We had lunch, finished packing our bags, and headed by train to Charles de Gaule, from which we had an eight-hour flight home, a flight interrupted with about 50 minutes to go by heavy turbulence, which was quite unsettling, as was the flight-attendants racing up and down the aisles. But it passed, and we arrived home late on Friday, about twelve hours after leaving La Villa Paris.

I have long felt that Parisians are the most underrated people I’ve encountered. From prior trips, it also seems that English is more common than in the past. But although smoking is forbidden inside, on the sidewalks people smoke everywhere. It’s as if they never got the memo.