I'm currently sitting on a balcony in Paris overlooking a boulangerie, sipping on French wine and eating a fresh baguette that I bought for 1 Euro. I have to pinch myself every once in a while to remind myself that this is real life and I'm not dreaming - I really am in the middle of a "business trip" to Europe, with a weekend interlude to Paris. What a life!
Truth be told, Paris has never been on my bucket list of cities to visit, so when the conference in Stockholm was booked and my boss said "Let's make good use of our time in Europe and contact the account management teams to see who wants to talk with us," I was mildly excited. I was more excited to try and get to northern Sweden to do some backpacking, but then Paris got booked to visit some important customers, so now, here we are! The timing worked out such that after our week in Stockholm (for the conference), we flew to Paris on Friday evening and don't have work until Monday. We'll return to the states early on Tuesday morning.
So, with a whirlwind 48 hours to explore the City of Lights, I did what I do best, find a bicycle and explore!
Paris has a great bike sharing system Velib, which has over 1000 stations and nearly 24,000 bicycles. I'm traveling with my boss, who is turns out used to race road bikes in college. I told him of my plan to explore via 2 wheels and he said he was up for the adventure. From our hotel in the 16th arindossment early on Saturday morning, we walked to breakfast near the Arc de Triomph, where we quickly found bicycles and were off for the day!
From the Arc de Tromph, we pedaled 10 minutes and were at the Eiffel Tower. Did you know you can ride nearly undernearth it?! Holy amazeballs! So much better than being in a tourbus!
Our next intended destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral, but, if you've ever been to Paris, you're probably laughing at me right now. There are literally hundreds of amazing sights between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame- it was silly to think we would make it from one to the next in 30 minutes!
The Seine River has a beautiful bike and pedestrian path that leads you past many of the landmarks, including the Musee Orsay (didn't go in, but we got cool pictures) and the Lourve! Turns out, you can also bike right up to the Lourve pyramid and through the big buildings! (Sorry I'm not describing this well. Basically the Lourve is a big complex of buildings and when you're on a bike, you can basically go anywhere. It's a little strange how little you're restricted.)
It was right around the Lourve that we realized that we were close to the 30 minute time limite and needed to switch bikes. The app thankfully works on a limited basis without a data connection, so we could see the location of the stations, but not how many stations or bikes were available. There were a number of times when we got to docking stations to find them either all full and couldn't exchange, or empty and in need of rebalancing. I guess Pronto had that going for it.
Throughout the day we switched bikes 8 or 9 times, and eventually got good at navigating the system. It was relatively easy to use and had instructions in many languages, including English. The most frustrating thing was ending up with bikes that had low tires, bad gears, or seats with bad posts so your knees were in your face. Once I ended up with a bike that had a nearly flat back tire and couldn't find a station that wasn't full for nearly 2 hours. Lots of fun on those cobblestones.
The most fun/exciting/scary part of riding bikes around Paris is the hodgepodge of signage and bike streets. Often there will be lovely bike lanes that will just disappear into a giant traffic circle, such as the one at the Bastille. We took the lead of the people on bikes in front of us and just rode boldly into traffic, weaving in and out of taxis, buses, and scooters. I was frankly surprised to be alive on the other side.
Other times, the bike lane was shared with tour buses. While I wanted to gawk at the gorgeous buildings and historic surroundings, I was also a bit afraid for my life.
Today, I had the opportunity to ride a bike again, as we had another free day before work begins. While it was a great way to see the city, the frustration of finding open docks and fear for my life led to me to choose the metro.