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Friendly Paris: exploring the real Paris with a Greeter

Paris Greeter

Belleville is on a hill and offers a wonderful view of Paris.

I gained the typical tourist’s introduction to Paris on a free 3-hour walking tour.

Notre Dame de Paris, the Pont Neuf, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. None of it is to be missed but it is not the Paris that Parisians live.

To get a real sense of Paris – Paris from a local’s perspective – I went on a Paris Greeter tour. And my experience was way beyond that of a typical tourist.

My Parisian greeter, Christine and I.

My Parisian greeter, Christine and I.

Exploring the 20th Arrondisement

My Greeter, Christine, took me into her neighborhood of Belleville in the 20th arrondisement which lies a bit east of the city center. Located on the second highest hill in Paris, it was, historically, a working-class district that received wave after wave of immigrants from the late 19th century on.

Today it is in the process of gentrification. Working-class accommodation and artisan workshops have been transformed into beautiful apartments and townhouses. There are community gardens, a street market on Sundays, small alleys and extraordinary views of Paris as a whole. It was the birthplace of Edith Piaf and is the final resting place of many famous people in the Père Lachaise Cemetery including Chopin, Moliere, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

But I would have seen little of this if it wasn’t for Christine’s generosity as a volunteer Greeter.

The Greeter in Paris

Workers apartments gentrified

A Greeter in Paris

Artisan workshops transformed into homes.

Paris Greeter

Wandering a back lane I would never have found

My day with Christine, a Paris Greeter

I met Christine outside the Jourdain Metro station. Bright and charming she shares her enthusiasm for Paris and her neighborhood by taking visitors on a stroll and showing many of its unique features – pointing out things large and small that I might have missed if I had ever got to the 20th arrondissement in the first place.Paris Greeters

After brief hellos we set out on our journey. First stop was a doorway. Christine was hoping that someone would exit so that we could enter. It wasn’t long before someone did and we went in to discover a courtyard with beautifully groomed gardens. I was very surprised to learn that the apartments surrounding the courtyard that looked very expensive had been where the working-class of Paris had once lived. She took me behind many doors revealing homes and small communities – real life in Paris.

Of course, on Sunday morning, there's a line up at the bakery for bagettes.

Of course, on Sunday morning, there’s a line up at the bakery for baguettes.

Paris Greater

Positioned on a hill, Belleville offers a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

And a surprising invitation.

Christine had her route well-planned. After peeking behind the street facade into domestic scenes, we walked along the main streets of Belleville, saw the birthplace of Edith Piaf and then took a short-cut through a restaurant so that I could see a mural on the wall that showed Belleville when it was an independent village. Over to the Parc du Belleville that offers a wonderful lookout over Paris then through the small streets, past an artist commune and on to the community gardens – first one that is purely decorative featuring flowers and a rock garden, then a herb garden that in which everything is edible.

Along our route we ran into her husband who had just come from the market where he had bought fish for their lunch. It wasn’t long after that that I was invited to lunch as well.

Such a gracious invitation. And then we ran into an acquaintance of Christine’s, another Paris Greeter, and she was invited too. We shopped for a bit more food at the market. Christine bought fish, I bought cheese and our friend bought oysters. We then went to Christine’s where we met her husband and a cousin.

Now, I was not only peaking behind the street facade, I was in an apartment. Everything about it was interesting from the high ceilings and the book shelves that circled the walls just beneath them to the floorplan, furniture and decor. It was cozy and comfortable and French!

There were five of us for this spontaneous lunch. The conversation was lively and the food was excellent.

My Sunday with Christine was a day that has given me many fond memories and I thank her for her hospitality.

Étreintes, Christine. (Have I got that right?)

Paris Greeter

Belleville is the birthplace of Edith Piaf.

Community gardens.

Community gardens. Top left I’m sitting in the herb garden take a photo of myself in a mirror through the grasses. Top right, volunteers who work the decorative garden. Bottom right, their chicken that produces one egg per day that goes to the first child to arrive in the morning. Bottom left, entrance to the herb garden.

At the market buying fresh and delicious food for lunch.

At the market buying fresh and delicious food for lunch.

After lunch at Christine's

After lunch at Christine’s

Book a local Greeter

You can book a Paris Greeter by registering on their website and specifying the dates you’ll be in town, your language of choice and your interests. They also request a €1o contribution which is optional but I did it to support the system.

If you’re looking for a Greeter in another city, check out the Global Greeter Network to see if the city you’re visiting has one.

 

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  • Trisha Andrus

    I definitely plan to use this service when I get to go to Paris this December! I will be able to spend only a few days in Paris and want to see more than the usual “tourist sights”. I want to meet people, too. Thanks, Janice!

  • Stowaway Magazine

    Wow! I have never heard of the Global Greeter Network, but I think it’s an excellent idea. We always hear that it’s best to see a new city through the eyes of a local, but if you’re going to a place with no connections, that makes it difficult. Having spent a year and a half in France, I completely agree that while the big attractions are interesting, there is something about finding that perfect baguette from a small boulangerie on a back road or visiting a less-popular spot that makes you feel more connected to whatever city you’re in. I wish more people knew about this travel option.
    Great post!

  • Sara CardiganWeather

    Oh I LOVE THIS! Fantastic!!

  • Julio Peñalver

    Excellent resource (Global Greeters). Thanks from Venezuela!

  • Christine

    La vue est belle mais le quartier s’appelle Belleville. Merci pour ce bel article sur les greeters

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Oh my goodness. Thank you Jonathan. I guess my ears deceived me. My French is not quite as good as I thought. I have now made the correction.

  • Jonathan

    Did you mean Belleville ?

  • elite charters21

    great post.. wonderful experience.. thank you sharing.. i now it feels like visting Paris one in a life time

  • joannova

    What a wonderful experience — thanks for sharing! I wonder if other countries have “greeters”.

  • Ella

    Great post, its making me miss Paris!!

    Ella | http://www.towanderandtoroam.blogspot.com 

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

I'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>

Tracey Nesbitt I’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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