Filed under Adventure, Body and Mind, Culture, Curiosities, Eco Travel
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Over the weekend, the husby and I spent two full days strolling around the city – what we have taken to calling flaneuring. In the past year living here, we have gotten to know Prague relatively well and, it being more of a small, historic town than a terribly cosmopolitan city, we’ve exhausted many of the more exciting culinary and drinking-related hot spots around town. And Prague is such an architectural wonder that it only makes sense to spend some time outside when good weather presents itself.

Prague - Tyn Church

Photo snapped while flaneuring through Letna Park.

A few years ago, I took a course in European cinema as part of my M.A. work, and it was then that I was first introduced to the concept of the flâneur. It was Baudelaire who coined the term as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” This description immediately rang a bell for me, and then watching Agnès Varda’s 1962 classic, Çléο de 5 à 7 – a wonderful black and white film about two hours in the life of a Parisian flâneuse (female flâneur) – I was hooked.

Flaneuring vs. Walking

The idea of flaneuring goes hand in hand with travel, because it encourages you to not just see a city, but to actively partake in it, slowly and carefully.

Photo by May Michaely

Photo by May Michaely

But being a flaneur isn’t just about walking. Anyone can walk, but can everyone be a flaneur? Is there even a difference?

I think so.

Walking is a simple method of getting from place to place, but flaneuring is an almost aimless stroll for the sheer purpose of taking in the city organically. When you flaneur, you let the city guide you through its little nooks and corners, and spit you out wherever it wants. Sometimes it is a frustrating experience, yes, and I know I probably sound like a bit of a dip right now. But sometimes – many times - it is an absolute marvel what you find when you stop trying to get somewhere.

The Traveling Flaneur

Flaneuring is much easier in your own city. This is because you already know more or less where you’re going and there is less room for getting into trouble, although in truth, getting lost/into trouble/mischief/odd experiences are basically the whole point of being a flaneur – to find something you wouldn’t ordinarily see. It is also perhaps the greenest way to see a city, because you aren’t using up public resources like trams or pollutants like buses, or even relying on the energy and resources it takes to produce a bicycle. It’s all about your two feet and where they can take you.

Photo by sookie

Photo by sookie

Even though flaneuring sounds really simple, in practice, it can be quite difficult. It’s not easy to give up our notions of “going somewhere” or having an ultimate destination in mind. It also isn’t easy when traveling to skip all the tourist sights and let the city lead you where it will – there is that impetus in the back of your mind to “see the sights”. In truth, by flaneuring, there is a good chance the city will lead you right to its main sights anyway.

As well, not all cities are designed for flaneuring. The sprawl of Los Angeles would be a flaneur’s nightmare, yes, but you can always explore specific neighborhoods one by one.

Why flaneur?

Photo by Jon Smith

Photo by Jon Smith

In my mind and my experience, being a flaneur is incredibly freeing, as well as rewarding. This past weekend, for example, the husby and I started off our day with brunch at one of our favorite French cafes (appropo, given that flaneuring is a French concept to begin with), and our intentions of grocery shopping and house cleaning were thrown out the window when we saw what a gloriously hot and sunny day it was.

We left the restaurant and followed the street down toward the river just to see what was there. This curiosity continued us right down the riverbank as far as we could go, and then back again. We saw a cop car zooming around, discovered a place to drink rosé right on the river, saw a lot of boats, wandered into an island park we’d never seen before, had beers on a small floating boat bar and eventually ended the day at a riverside beer garden we never knew existed. We could not have planned such a day if we’d tried – no amount of internet researching and Google Mapping would’ve rendered such a perfect itinerary.

So, let me assign you some homework, dear readers. On your next day off, skip the errands and the cleaning and the sightseeing and let your feet guide you somewhere around your city or wherever you might find yourself. It is good for body, mind and the planet.

Finally, let me leave you with a bit of inspiration: this clip from that wonderful Varda film, Çléο de 5 à 7, which is about a young singer who flaneurs around Paris while awaiting the results of a potentially ill-fated biopsy.

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  1. adenaNo Gravatar
    Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I think most travelers are flaneurs by design! :) Thanks for the great post.

  2. adenaNo Gravatar
    Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Let me rephrase – travel-lovers ;)

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