Sunday 13 September 2009

Paris à Vélo, C'est Sympa!

July 2009. Once again I found myself back in Paris with my bike. It was a repeat trip, just like I had done in September of last year.

This time I was with Fred, and this time we managed to get all the way into central Paris (and beyond) on two wheels.

As before, there was wall to wall sunshine and very little traffic on the roads up until the Western suburbs of Paris.

We stuck to D and C roads for most of the ride so they were very quiet. It was after we crossed through the St Germain en Laye forest and we came out at Maisons Lafitte that we noticed a certain hustle and bustle. As it was early evening the Parisians were probably rushing out to meet their mates for an aperitif. Some may have been rushing back from their day's shopping. Others were probably just rushing because that's what people do in Paris!

Satrouville, La Garenne Colombes, Maisons Lafitte. All pretty sounding names, but in fact these areas were just a haphazard mass of engines, concrete, traffic lights and roadworks! Weaving through the traffic around these 'burbs was testing. Weaving around the ring roads and dodging the road closures of La Défense was torturous! And for all the time spent in La Défense we still failed to see La Grande Arche, as it was directly on top of us, on the other side of the asphalt! At least the motorists were quite amenable towards us.

After crossing the final bridge at Puteaux, to make our entrance into Paris through the Bois de Boulogne and Porte Maillot, I could feel the excitement building up. As the Arc de Triomphe came slowly and surely into view, this was the culmination of our day of cycling through northern France. It was a great feeling to have arrived in Paris.

Last time I rode on the Champs Elysées I was going uphill away from the centre. Although there were so many sets of traffic lights it still didn't stop the vehicles from accelerating wildly up to....25mph only to come to a halt at the next set of lights! This time around we were going down the famous avenue to reach the centre. The cars, buses, scooters, taxis and Fred thought nothing of roaring up to 40mph for all of 100yards and then screeching to a halt at the next set of lights!

Despite all the craziness of the traffic, for me, riding through the centre of Paris is still really exciting. We made our way down to Concorde, along the rue St Honoré, on to Chatelet and then along the river to reach Bastille, where our hotel was.

We dumped our road bikes in the hotel bike store for the rest of our stay and then used Vélib bikes to travel around Paris. These were definitely a fun experience.

The best bit about using Velib bikes is that you can hire them at any moment of the day from wherever you like in Paris. There are loads of Velib stations so you just drop it off whenever you like as well.
Our first foray into Velib biking was when we hired bikes at one o'clock in the morning from a station just out Ledru Rollin tube station, near Bastille. After a few practice runs up and down the road, and adjusting the saddle etc we were ready to go on our nocturnal 2 wheel adventure.

We set off down rue du Faubourg St Antoine, across Place de la Bastille where all the party animals were hanging out. Our ride continued through the Marais and then on to Chatelet where we crossed over onto the left bank towards the Latin quarter - St Michel, Odeon, St Germain. It might have been a Sunday night, but there were lots of folks in the cafes just as if it were 8pm on a Friday night. As this was a holiday weekend though, to celebrate the upcoming 14th July national celebrations, everyone was getting into the groove.

We'd also gotten into the groove of things in a few bars and the alcohol was getting to me a little. We ended up spinning round a few times around Odeon before we got our bearings and found the river road. After a few minutes we were whizzing along the side of the River Seine, passing the various bridges and landmarks to get to the Eiffel Tower - pont Neuf, Musee d'Orsay, les Invalides, pont Alexander III, Place de l'Alma, with all the scribbled messages to Diana Princess of Wales. It's surprising how quickly you can get across Paris on a bicycle. At this time of night the traffic was very civilised too!

Once we arrived at Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower we admired this iron masterpiece in all its splendour. Even at night Gustave Eiffel's marvel was beautiful. It was probably decorated that bit more in anticipation of Bastille Day, and also for the arrival of that icon of French culture, Johnny Halliday!

After a photo opportunity, we were back on our bikes whizzing along the right bank to get back home. Once again we passed Place de la Concorde, Chatelet and then on to Place des Vosges and Bastille. We felt like we were being a bit crazy riding around Paris at 2 o'clock in the morning just for the fun of it. In fact, it was just the most normal thing in the world. No one batted an eyelid. In fact there were quite a few people around doing the same thing. In fact when we picked up bikes again at St Germain we even had to queue at the Velib station.
Cycling around Paris is fun - whether on a Velib or just a conventional bicycle, your experience of Paris is alot more pleasurable.

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