Paris has so much to offer, it is difficult to see everything you want in only four days, but since my tour is about movement, I had to be on the road by Friday to stay on track. That being said, I left Paris the other morning with a richer experience than I could have ever planned, and with new friends that were willing to share a piece of their culture with me.
As I sat in a small campsite 50 miles East of Paris, I finally had a moment to collect my thoughts from the past several days. I want to thank again those that made this possible. The Rio Salado Foundation for providing me with the Sean Murphy Memorial Travel Scholarship, Dan and Dawn Horvat for their generous travel scholarship, my employer Regroup Coffee and Bikes for helping me with gear, and of course my parents for everything else. Without this support, I could have never planned such an extensive tour. I am eager to share my experiences over the course of the next 1250 miles that lay ahead.
I chose to begin my tour in Paris for several reasons, some pragmatic, and others more based on traditions. Historically, it became the departure point for those embarking on the classical Grand Tour, and it was also where the bicycle tour first became popularized. Even then, just considering the culture and the architecture, it just seemed right. And after exploring Paris for the last few days, I realize now that moving throughout the city will be unlike anything else I experience on this trip.
After landing at Roissy, France’s monument to vehicular travel, and getting settled in at what would been 2am in Phoenix, I immediately set out walking towards the Pompidou Centre to try to understand how to ride a bike in Paris. Compared to Phoenix with wide, straight roads, traffic already began to seem pretty overwhelming after just a few minutes of walking, and as if on cue, I began to question my ambitions.
The next morning, I set out with to intentions of a short morning ride to find Villa Planeix by Le Corbusier, but as I began to find my rhythm in the choreography of chaos that is Parisian traffic, I would end up having riding 30 miles by the end of day. Connecting my spreadsheet of projects from the South of Paris to the North, I weaved my way through the 6-story blocks to find the gems scattered throughout the urban fabric.
A few observations about navigating the streets of Paris:
- You can ride your bike pretty much anywhere, and it’s typically one of the fastest alternatives other than the Metro for longer excursions. Scooter riders are the fastest and most dominate on the streets, but another story on their own. I saw some wild scooter antics during my stay.
- Primary boulevards will have either a protected bike lane, or shared bike/bus/taxi lane. You may have to rub elbows with a bus during rush hour to get by on the outside.
- Smaller, tertiary roads don’t have bike lanes, but the flow of traffic is slow enough to move through comfortably.
- The biggest advantage of cycling is the ability to ride either direction on a one-way road. The majority one-ways have a “Sauf Cyclistes,” or Except Cyclists sign. Scooters must obey one-ways.
- You have to be wary not to block the traffic signal at intersections, which have a smaller signal located just outside the passenger window for drivers in the front of the queue.
- Paris is old, so bike lanes are frequently forfeited for construction workers fixing underground utilities. My alarm clock was a jackhammer outside of my window each morning.
- A lot is left up to the rider’s interpretations when riding in Paris, when in tricky situations I could usually find someone to follow as they casually navigated the sea of hatchbacks and box vans.
On Wednesday, I tackled the touristy destinations before meeting some new acquaintances later that evening. After trying to see Notre Dame the day before, I was determined to make it there before the other tourists began their swarm, so at 7:45am I was able to marvel at the master work with the morning light creeping in. On a quiet morning, you would be hard pressed to not feel some kind of spiritual response of the space. I sat in wonder at the acoustics and shear scale of the space as the priests performed their morning prayers. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Louvre, it was incredible and exhausting simultaneously.
That evening the streets filled with people and musicians as Paris celebrated the Festive de Musique, which happens every year on the summer solstice. The previous day I got connected with a local bike shop and was invited their celebration that included a ride and after-party at the shop. After being told it would be a “chill” ride, we tore through the streets, making our way through the satellite neighborhoods outside of the main loop. Afterwards we recovered and shared stories with their beverages and music of choice. I was thankful I was still alive to see Villa Savoye the next day.
I spent my last day in Paris visiting Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. Still recovering from the night before, and not really feeling the 20 mile ride out to Poissy, I decided to take the metro and rail for the day. The contrast between Poissy and Paris was stark. Already accustomed to the speed and noise of the city, it was weird to be in the quiet little community. With the context laid out, everything made sense as Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture materialized from the dense garden approach. An excellent way to conclude my non-stop exploration of Paris, I quietly admired the details of the space, before hopping back on the rail to Paris, and like a true Parisian, napped all the way back into the city.