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Paris The Small City

May 9, 2009

When you think of Paris, one of the first things that comes to mind is  “metropolitan area”. No one doubts the size of the French capital, it’s got to be one of the biggest cities in Europe, and probably one of the biggest cities in the entire world.

Surprisingly, though, if you take into consideration the entire urban area surrounding the city, the total population is around 10 million habitants. That would not even place it in the top 20 cities world-wide. Moreover, if you look count what is the “city” without the suburbs, then the total population is a mare 2.1 million! That means there are more people in my part of Cairo, the all of main Paris combined. Shocking, huh?

When people refer to the city Paris, they tend to be talking about the 20 arrondissements:

parismap

That cover the entire area inside the surrounding ring road, also known as the peripherique.

Despite it’s relatively small size and belittled population, the more time you spend here, the bigger it seems. I went out for a walk earlier today, and started heading in different directions in an attempt to cover new areas that I hadn’t previously visited. I’ve been thinking about this topic recently, and today’s walk made me confirm my theory: Paris seems like a gigantic city because practically EVERYWHERE you go, you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bus stops, metro stations, benches with people sitting on them, creperies, fast food chains, and the list goes on. That’s what makes this place so special, anywhere you chose to go, you’re in for an adventure, you will be embarking on a journey to a beautiful lively area with endless possibilities.

I’ve lived my whole life in Cairo, and have become intolerant to small cities and towns. In fact, any place with less than a million habitants is too small for me to spend a long time at. But that is always based on the assumption that the interesting part is only a small portion of the overall size of the city. Cairo, for me, is the best city in the world, but the majority of the city does not offer anything of special interest to any visitor. But since it’s gigantic, there are several areas one can visit.

Madrid is another example. With a population around 5 million, the Spanish capital seems a lot smaller than Paris, even though it’s twice its size. That’s because, as beautiful as it may be, the area where you can spend time in Madrid are probably in the region of 30% of the overall size of the city (a percentage that I would say is considerably high). Otherwise you’re in residential areas, boring neighborhoods, quiet streets, etc.

Here’s the map of Madrid with the same om level and image size of that of Paris. Even though with Paris we could see the entire city and beyond, with Madrid, there’s a significant portion that you can’t see at all.

madridmap

Paris, on the other hand, is completely different. I would say that based on my short time here, close to 90% of the area inside the peripherique would be considered as nice areas to walk around, eat, have a drink, or just sit on a bench and observe. It’s rare to come across areas that don’t offer anything of interest. In fact, that is yet to happen to me (bare in mind, however, that nothing would scare me here. If anything, people might be scared of me – I’m the young Arab male).

When you take a path, a part of you feels guilty for leaving out the other, because it’s at least as beautiful as the current one. You never feel comfortable enough to claim that you know a certain area, because there’s got to be a few blocks knocked off your radar, and that would potentially mean intriguing hotspots that are left undiscovered.

That’s the beauty of this place. That’s the real magic of Paris.

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One Response to “Paris The Small City”

  1. Ruth says:

    Im sorry, but I dont agree with you at this point:

    “…the area where you can spend time in Madrid are probably in the region of 30% of the overall size of the city (a percentage that I would say is considerably high). Otherwise you’re in residential areas, boring neighborhoods, quiet streets, etc.”

    Im not saying that you are wrong. Maybe, as an insider, I dont get that point of view. Please, give me some examples. I’ll think about it and we’ll talk in person about it in a couple of weeks, isa.

    Bisous

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