As we mentioned in our last post, we arrived on a lovely sunny afternoon just as the clouds started to roll in and made our first stop at the Eiffel Tower for a photo op. And we did it with only some minor scrapes and scratches from our bikes, but there were no serious injuries or accidents. Despite the heat wave of the past week, we completely avoided even mild dehydration or heat stroke. It almost seemed a miracle after so many kilometres travelled. Not only did we not have any injuries to speak of, our bikes had made the 5000+ kilometres without any issue. Christian had suffered the last of of his tire punctures back in Japan and my tires survived the whole journey without any flats at all! Definitely a miracle.
We still had to navigate the busy streets of Paris to get to our AirBnb and this was definitely nerve-wracking for me. Christian just soaked up all the sights and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely (we had decided to follow the Seine directly through the city as much as we could, which ended up being probably the busiest possible route we could’ve taken) while I felt overwhelmed, unaccustomed to cycling in such heavy traffic and constantly dumbfounded by how risky the other cyclists and scooters were being around us (not to mention the pedestrians: Parisians love to j-walk).
We made our first Parisian friend in a fellow cyclist who was interested in buying a bike like mine and we got chatting about our trip as we biked along Rue La Fayette. He invited us to the park to hang out with his friends and told us where we could find him, but we still had to find our apartment and were both pretty exhausted from what ended up being an 85km day when all was said and done. Eventually, we made it to the 19th arrondissement where we would be staying for 4 nights until Christian’s departure to Toronto. We were still unscathed despite the hazards of the streets of rush-hour Paris. We were met by Catherine, our lovely AirBnb host, who greeted us with “I am so impressed!” and left us in her quiet and cozy apartment. We were overjoyed to have made it and to have our own place for our remaining days in France.
Christian had only been to Paris once before – on an overnight layover as a flight attendant – and had only seen the Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel tower. The last time I had been in Paris was ten years earlier when I had popped over from Edinburgh to meet my mum there for a week, and then a year before that with my dear university friends Amy and Jo over the course of a long weekend.
Strapped for cash, we had walked everywhere and subsisted on cheap wine and baguettes for three days. This time would be a bit different. Although I still felt pretty strapped for cash, we were determined to enjoy the city to the fullest. We had a kitchen in the apartment where we would make all our meals to save money (including the red lentils we had been carrying around since the UK)…
…and got a Velolib membership so we could take advantage of the Paris public bike system and keep our own bikes safely locked up at the apartment.
Paris is probably the only large city in the world that I could actually imagine myself (happily) living in. The neighbourhood where we were staying had a great community feel and we found ourselves making acquaintances with everyone, from our neighbours to the friendly fruit and veg shop guy. I really don’t know why Parisians have such a reputation for being unfriendly because – au contraire – we found the exact opposite!
Random people in the streets would smile at us; on several occasions, fellow cyclists helped us out with the bike rental system and, in most of the shops we went to, there seemed to be at least one helpful clerk. It was definitely not what I was used in big cities and I found it terrifically refreshing. I think it probably helped that we were staying outside the busy and touristy centre of Paris and that we were speaking French as much as we could. I loved every moment we were there, and I am not a city person. Believe me.
For our first day of sightseeing, Christian and I decided to spend a day cruising the city and checking out Montmartre, the Saint Martin canal and the Jardin des Plantes, starting with a ride on the Metro to Lamarck-Caulaincourt station.
We enjoyed several hours wandering the sun-dappled streets, me trying to feel like Amelie herself while Christian humoured me. It’s my favourite film of all time, and I wanted to see all the key spots: the Cafe Deux Moulins, the neighbourhood she lived in with its greengrocer on the corner, the canal she skips stones in… Montmartre provided the local backdrop for all the whimsical wandering she does in the film. Unfortunately, the real-life Montmartre is a lot dirtier and louder and busier on the streets than its cinematic counterpart, but it was still fun to see the city through a different lens.
On the subject of films, we also wandered past the Moulin Rouge (the original had been burned down but is now rebuilt as a theatre and club) then headed up the Sacre Coeur to have lunch on the steps in its shadow.
In the course of our two full days of sightseeing (the rest would be preparing for Christian and Ray’s departure), we also saw the botanical gardens, biked along the canals, had dinner with Christian’s friend Heather and her husband (who had also just completed a bike tour of Europe), and spent several enjoyable hours at the Musée d’Orsay, enjoying the Impressionist and pre-modern painters of France and beyond.
Before we knew it, it was time for Christian to pack up his bike and get ready to return to Toronto. We tried a new method this time: bubble wrap and plastic cling wrap. It was a lot less of a hassle than finding a bike box and getting it somehow to the airport, and it seems to have worked pretty well.
Although it required less effort on Christian’s part to get the packing supplies to the airport, I opted to save money on metro fare and run the 3 kilometres from our apartment to the station alongside his bike.
Turns out my level of cardio is pretty good at the moment! After packing up the bike at the airport and leaving it in (rather expensive) overnight storage, we headed back into the city for our last night together.
We enjoyed our final evening in Paris drinking wine, eating cheese, and reminiscing about the trip. It has been an epic one, and we were both sad to see it draw to a close. But don’t despair, dearest blog readers: the posts will continue for a while as we ruminate with you on the trip as a whole and I finish up my own adventures. After visiting friends in London, I will be travelling alone for a bit in Denmark (posts to come on that soon!) while Christian and Ray are enjoying swimming in the pool in Markham and spending quality time with his family.
Hopefully Ray (and perhaps even Christian!) won’t be doing any more jet-setting any time soon. Not right away, at least.
Stay tuned for the next post (again by yours truly) on my adventures on an e-bike in Denmark!
Bonus Edith Piaf:
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.