I found a gym that has me missing Active from across the Atlantic.
Arkose is a bouldering gym in the graffitied backstreets of Paris’s Montreuil suburb. Sista Fran and I have been traveling for a few weeks and hadn’t been able to climb. So when we got to Paris, we were psyched to hit up some polyurethane.
We googled something like “Paris climbing gym” and found a bunch, including behemoth Hardbloc (“LA PLUS GRANDE SALLE DE BLOC EN FRANCE”) and Arkose, a tinier establishment. We decided to try Arkose based on the fact that it was 12 minutes closer to our hostel than Hardbloc. We got lost anyway, but I’m glad we chose it.
I’ve decided that Arkose is like Active’s cool teenage cousin who lives in the city and gets to drink wine at dinner parties. Or something. It’s another little warehouse-y gym where space is scarce but creativity is not. There’s some slabby stuff, some steeper stuff, and a big fake top-out boulder. There’s a sweet play area by the traverse wall, and there are communal chalk buckets just sitting around.
Also, this: there’s a bar inside. Like, 10 feet from the climbing. You can fall off your project, turn around, and order a drink. Ha! Is this a thing? Europe.*
Oh, and you can get food too. Fancy-sounding food like “croques” and “tartines.” Ooh la la.**
I really dug the atmosphere at this place. It was quiet and cozy with friendly staff and chill vibes.
I wasn’t familiar with the grading system — I think it was based on the Fontainebleau bouldering grades, with seven levels of difficulty from “child” to something like “really freakin’ hard” (in French, of course). This was kind of freeing because we didn’t have any V-goals hanging over our heads. We just climbed until we burned out, and it was a good day.
Some things I noticed about the Arkose crew, which may not constitute any consistent differences between the American and French climbing cultures but, rather, are freestanding observations drawn from a single personal experience:
1. Nobody was “powering through.” Seriously. I didn’t get on a single climb that required me to blast off into space with the strength of a thousand flying oxen. Everything was tech-y.
Now, I didn’t try any of the hardest problems, and there’s a chance some hidden dynos got past me. But it really seemed like everybody at this gym had to use their beta-smarts.
2. Everybody used the changing room. Except for us. We were in cute tourist clothes for the morning, but we changed into quick-dry leggings and neon sports bras before getting on the metro because that’s what you wear to the gym. Well apparently, just 'cause you wear it at the wall doesn't mean you wear it to the wall.
Turns out these posh city dwellers wear real clothes in transit and save the gym attire for the gym. Oops. I had wondered about the conspicuous lack of Parisian norts…
3. People spoke French. Duh. I was a little bummed that the language barrier kept us from bonding with the Frenchfolk, but a little beta exchange did occur, and I got a couple of “Allez, allez”s. But also…
4. It was really quiet. Which was nice. Everybody was super calm. But it was kind of strange being surrounded by men and not hearing a single grunt. The closest I got were my own little struggle-squeaks.
I suppose some beta spraying may have occurred — in hushed voices, with minimal hand movements — but it was probably in French. Because, again, duh.
After leaving the gym, we put our tourist clothes back on and embarked on a quest for the perfect Eiffel Tower pic. During our journey, we discovered a little fitness area by the Seine River, complete with tiny rock walls. So cute! We played.
photo cred, as per yooj, to Mackenzie Taylor Photography So now we must be ready for Fontainebleau, right? I hope so, ‘cause we just got into Font proper, and we’re setting off at o’ dark thirty to beat some of the heat. We’ve got a guidebook, a new brush, and a rented crash pad — fingers chalked and crossed.
*Other unexpected alcohol sightings in Europe include shelves of liquor at like every gelatería ever, Parisian old ladies sipping beer at breakfast, and a kid drinking rosé from a bottle on the Paris metro.
**I actually heard a French lady say this yesterday. It was to me, about her little dog, whom she also called “très mignonne.” <3