"Who would want to go to Curves while visiting Paris?" you might ask. I would--and I did, in April of 2006.
I'd joined a U.S. branch of the Curves women's fitness chain a few months earlier, since I didn't really like exercising (except for walking) and the Curves 30-minute workout seemed more doable than a normal gym routine. After every visit, I left feeling virtuous, since I knew that I was taking care of my body and strengthening my bones.
When my husband and I booked an apartment in Montmartre for the spring, I thought it would be fun to visit a Curves in Paris. I checked the Curves International Web site, and I discovered a Curves in the 15th Arrondissement, not far from the Montparnasse railroad station. All I'd need was the Curves traveling card, which would be valid for a month.
As the trip came closer, I had second thoughts. For one thing, I don't speak French: What problems would that cause? What if I felt out of place and not welcome?
I decided to give it a try; presumably the traveling card would speak for itself, and--since Curves is an international franchise--using the equipment wouldn't be any harder (and certainly would be healthier) than figuring out how to order at a French McDonald's.
So, on a sunny day in early April, I took the No. 12 Métro line from Pigalle to the Volontaires stop and walked the two blocks to Curves Paris.
The club was on a quiet side street, where it occupied a two-story storefront with big windows. I entered and was comforted by the sight of familiar lavender-blue walls.
A friendly young woman who spoke excellent English helped me through the inevitable legal forms and gave me a quick tour. First, the locker room. Wow! In my Curves back home, we change in the bathroom. The Paris Curves had a spacious changing room with lockers, benches, four private shower cubicles, and a light well that brought in daylight from above.
Then it was time to go upstairs, where the exercise equipment--and a group of Frenchwomen--awaited.
Getting fit with the French
Upstairs in the workout room, the familiar machines awaited. I loved the airy room--it wasn't a huge space, but it had high ceilings with big windows overlooking the street and the old brick wall of the building next door.
Twelve machines were sitting in the traditional Curves oval, with the spring jogging boards in between. (My local Curves branch in Uptown Minneapolis has 11 machines, so the "Pec Dec" was new to me.) Pounding rhythmic music was playing, and a soft voice was saying the French equivalent of "Change stations now" every 30 seconds.
Half a dozen Frenchwomen were working out when I came upstairs. Like the women at my Curves, they represented a range of ages and body types. They smiled at me. Did anyone make me feel inept or like an interloper? No, not at all.
Was it just like my Minneapolis Curves? Pretty much, with one obvious difference: The French aren't like Midwesterners in the U.S. who get up at the crack of dawn. None of this exercising at 6:30 a.m. In Paris, the earliest Curves opening time is 9:30 a.m. (my kind of hours).
In talking with the manager, I learned that Curves Paris had been open only two months. It caters mainly to women in the neighborhood (an area of apartment houses in the 15th arrondissement) and the occasional American traveler like me.
I could easily imagine myself making the trek to rue Mathurin Régnier three times a week if we lived in Paris. Would I be willing to try out other Curves while traveling? I think I would--it's a great way to meet the locals while keeping fit.
Advice for visitors:
To visit any Curves club away from home), you'll need a "traveling card" from your local branch.
Also, Curves clubs come and go. Before heading for a Curves location in Paris, check the listings here.
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