My favorite thing is to wander aimlessly around a densely packed city and take in the sights. That’s basically all I did in Buenos Aires from early in the morning til the wee hours of night: walk and gawk, walk and gawk, stop to sit in a park, walk and gawk, stop to eat steak (always, steak), walk and gawk, walk and gawk. I must have covered a forty square mile area by foot and every single block had something to be in awe of, whether animal, vegetable or mineral.
Apparently the French have a word for people like me: flâneur, or stroller. Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote a piece for this week’s Times travel section about strolling Paris on her own, and it perfectly captures the magic of solo travel. The way that being alone enhances the senses and imbues every experience with both grounding stillness and skin-prickling energy.
Paris, she convincingly writes, is a city that “deeply rewards the solo traveler”:
In a city that has been perfecting beauty since the reign of Napoleon III, there are innumerable sensual details — patterns, textures, colors, sounds — that can be diluted, even missed, when chattering with someone or collaborating on an itinerary. Alone one becomes acutely aware of the hollow clack of pétanque balls in a park; the patina of Maillol’s bronze “Baigneuse se Coiffant” that makes her look wet even on a cloudless day in the Tuileries; how each of the empty wine bottles beside sidewalk recycling bins is the embodiment of someone’s good time.
I have only spent a few days in Paris and that was years ago – but I remember it as gray, snobby and overrated. I’ve never felt the need to return until I read this article, which had me wanting to jump on the next plane. Instead I practiced my flânerie / joggerie along the Hudson River on a drop-dead gorgeous New York City day and was thankful to be living in the walkingest city in the world.
(Photo: I took this picture when I visited Paris in 2000. Everything about this elderly couple, from their classic dress, to their slow unhurried stroll, to their arm-in-arm charm, felt perfectly suited to the city.)