One of the best things about going running when travelling is that you learn many things about a new city that the average traveller misses. What I did not expect to learn when I went for a run in Paris was that French men practice safe sex. But I get ahead of myself …
I had flown into Paris early morning from Armenia for meetings with the other international financing institutions. One of the problems with Armenia is that most flights leave at the uncivilized hours of 04:00 – 05:00. I did an all nighter rather than have a few hours of interrupted sleep so by the time my flight for Prague left I was rather tired to say the least. I slept to Prague where, unfortunately, I missed my connection to Paris due to our late departure.
From June 1 2008 the world had adopted electronic tickets to improve the efficiency of travel. Right. The ticket agent in Prague could not change my ticket on the computer without the electronic ticket number, which fortunately I had on my computer. So it only took half an hour to get a new boarding pass.
Anyway, eventually I made it to Paris and to the hotel which was just off the Champs Elysee. The room was not ready so I availed myself of the beautiful early June weatther to explore Paris. I walked down the Seine, over to the Place de Concorde and the Louvre. It was amazing the number of tourists here compared to last September when I was in town. There were school groups everywhere, many of them Americans. Paris really is a grand city which is a delight to explore.
I decided to get a run in before dinner. I should have done about 30 km according to my training plan but could only find time for 16 km. I decided to run down to the Bois de Boulogne, a large park in Paris. As you can see from the Google Earth image below, it is quite close to the centre of the city and offers lots of opportunities for running away from traffic: especially important as it was approaching rush hour.
I ran along the Champs Elysee past some of the most expensive shopping fronts anywhere. I was surprised to see shops selling things like inflatable boats – how they can survive is beyond me. There were also more glamorous shops like car showrooms but it is amazing the range of shops.
When I reached the park I was pleased to find lots of paths to run on. I started off on a bridle path and even came across a horse and rider out for a canter. It was impossible to believe that I was so close to the centre of Paris. I encountered many rabbits and even a quail ran across my path. This definitely beat running in less salubrious places like Shiyan city in China where the only escape from the roads was to run down the local ‘river’ which was a concrete pad on either side of a polluted trickle of water.
By now you are probably wondering where the safe sex comes in – that is unless you have lived in Paris in which case you already know. Let me explain … I found some very interesting trails to run along which ran further into the forest. I then came across an area which was strewn with lots of square blue wrappers. Owing to my work on HIV/AIDS education in China I recognized them as condom wrappers. They were everywhere.
I then recalled the story a college Jan Leno told me how the forest was a haunt for prostitutes. Sure enough around the next bend I found a woman hanging around the forest. And she wasn’t a bird watcher. As I continued along the road they were regularly placed, but fortunately they knew that a sweaty runner was not a likely patron. Except for one of them who was over 6′ tall and I came across twice when I accidentally looped back. I pretended I didn’t understand French – very convenient, although with a Canadian running shirt on she probably knew I was ignoring her.
Later that night on our way to Montmartre for dinner I mentioned on the metro that I had gone for a run in the Bois de Boulogne to my colleagues. A woman on the metro gave this wry smile. Olivier then explained that many of the women I met there were actually men. That explains the size of some of them! At least next time I’ll be prepared for the unusual wild life of the Bois de Boulogne.