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Travel & Holidays in later life

France- Paris – Touring the City by Bike

Perhaps the idea of taking a cycle tour of a busy city like Paris seems unappealing and possibly even dangerous. Denis McCrossan, a one time Paris resident and keen cyclist, makes a return journey to some of his favourite haunts using the City’s Bike Hire Scheme.

When I lived in Paris back in the eighties the only cycling anyone did was the shortest route out of town, you only lingered on the main thoroughfares if you had a death wish. Having recently retired and revisiting as a tourist I discovered it had become cycle friendly. Many Parisians cycle regularly, for leisure or commuting to work. But the real success story is Vélib, the city bike scheme, with a highly visible and easily accessible bicycle stand on every street corner.

For a visitor, using these bikes is easy. Instructions are available in English and all major credit cards are accepted. There are a few things you need to know.
The first 30 minutes are free, thereafter you pay a modest fee. But you must return the bike to one of the stands within two hours. After that the fees rise steeply. But two hours will let you tour Paris and in any case you can simply return one bike then shortly after take another.

Paris has also gone to great lengths to make Paris bike friendly. Many of the things cyclists did anyway have now been legalized, like using bus lanes and pavements, and cycling up one-way streets the wrong way. On red lights the city is intransigent in requiring cyclists to stop and Parisian cyclists equally intransigent in ignoring them, not something I would advise.

Travel Facts


The British still talk of Paris traffic with a tremor in their voice but my view is that, unlike London, the drivers are not corralled into lanes all the time and there are fewer traffic lights, this leaves much more negotiation and decision making to the road users, which keeps them alert. If a 63 bus drives past 2 inches off your left ear on the Bd St Germain, its not because the driver hasn’t seen you, its because he knows he has only 2 inches either side.

I have used Vélib cycles before in Paris as a simple means of getting from A to B, on this occasion, I decided to make the most of the good weather to do a grand tour of some of my favourite monuments and boulevards in central Paris. I picked up a bike near the Ile St Louis and followed the Quai d’Anjou, a quiet tree-lined cobbled street, round the edge of the Ile St Louis all the way to the Brasserie de l’Ile St Louis. I remember this bar as a favoured watering hole of all Anglo Saxons in Paris in the eighties before the advent of the Irish Pubs. From there, I crossed the Pont St Louis onto the Ile de la Cité just behind Notre Dame. Following the outer edge of the island with the right bank of Paris profiled on the horizon, brings you past the flower market, onto the Quai de l’Horloge and past the Conciergerie, anti-chamber to the guillotine for Marie Antoinette, and finally, the Pont Neuf. I crossed that passing a forlorn looking Samaritaine department store and onto the busy Rue de Rivoli. Suddenly the traffic is loud and frantic after the calm of the islands, but you are protected from the traffic by a segregated cycle lane. I passed the magnificent façade of the Louvre which people often miss since the renovation of the central courtyard and installation of the pyramid. It is worth a detour to the central courtyard of the Louvre, impressive in its own right, before heading north past la Comédie-Française and Palais Royal and up the Avenue de l’Opéra.

I turned left in front of the Opéra Garnier past the opulence of the Café de La Paix and down Boulevard des Capucines towards la Madeleine. Then I circumnavigated la Madeleine past the flower stands and the two renowned Parisian delicatessens Fauchon on one side and Hediard on the other. Following Rue Chauveau-Lagarde and turning right took me onto Boulevard Malesherbes with a view of St Augustin an important landmark near St Lazare, then left at the church to Rue de Laborde, a short congested one way street onto the Boulevard Haussman in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe.

Ten minutes later I reached the apparent mayhem of the ten lane deep traffic on l’Etoile the most famous Parisian roundabout. Only two of the twelve streets disgorging traffic onto the l’Etoile are governed by traffic lights, the Champs Elysées and Avenue de la Grande Armée. These lights serve to pent up the traffic before launching it into the roundabout with even more ferocity. The secret in crossing l‘Etoile on a bike is to hold your nerve and remember the sacred rule of giving way to the right. That means giving way to traffic coming onto the roundabout, unlike the UK, but also applies to traffic already on the roundabout. As I had come on it from Avenue de Friedland I went almost full circle before reaching my desired exit Avenue Kléber. By then I was in the 16th arrondisement, the most bourgeois in Paris. I coasted down past Hotel Raphael on the left hand side. It’s a traditional Parisian meeting place for off the record conversations where a veritable who’s who in Paris business and politics can be seen having breakfast most days. My next landmark, Trocadéro, is a large airy junction where I veered left then saw, in the distance the Eiffel Tower, between the twin pavilions of the Palais de Chaillot. When it was originally built in 1899 it was planned to dismantle it after fifteen years. By journey continued down to the river to cross at the Pont d’Iéna, on the left, at the other side of the stairs that Roger Moore drove down in a Renault taxi in pursuit of Grace Jones in A View To A Kill.

Once I’d reached the Left Bank I had to turn right in front of the Eiffel tower and then left into Avenue de Suffren reaching the 7th arrondisement, the Whitehall of Paris, home to Hotel Matignon the Prime Minister’s residence and many ministerial offices. It often comes under siege when the populace is unhappy with the government.

Then I took a left turn off Avenue de Suffren to pass two Napoleonic monuments, the Ecole Militaire, where the French general trained and Les Invalides where he is buried. The wide expanse of Esplanade des Invalides returned me to the river bank at the Quai d’Orsay, the home of French diplomacy. It’s a short ride along to the Chambre des Deputés, with Place de la Concorde just across the bridge.

Continuing past the Chambre des Deputés I turned right into the Boulevard St Germain and the heart of the Parisian Left Bank. There are many famous landmarks along this Boulevard. Brasserie Lipp watering hole of the rich and famous, les Deux Magots home of the post war French literary scene, the church of Saint Germain des Prés, Odéon, and then the crossroads with Boulevard St Michel. I turned left into Saint Michel and down to the Place St Michel to end my trip by returning my bike to the stand in the Rue St Séverin. This is a wonderful way to visit most of the sights in central Paris in less than ninety minutes and beats the bus tour any day.

This is just one example of a tour of Paris by bike but there are many possible configurations facilitated by the large number of bike stands which make it possible to pick up and drop off bikes with ease. An excellent guide book Paris by Bike can be purchased at the Hotel de Ville detailing seven themed bike tours of the city complete with details of monuments, museums, art galleries, bars, restaurants and clubs.


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