On Thursday, it was time to leave the house in Fourques and head north to Paris for the last stop of our visit. With the car loaded and our bags bulging from the wine and olive oil additions, we left early for the Avignon TGV station. After finding the carefully hidden location for the Sixt rental car return, we boarded the TGV in the modern new railroad station. The countryside flew by on the three-hour trip north.
We arrived in Paris at the venerable Gare Lyon shortly before 1 pm. We headed to the taxi stand where the taxi driver contemplated calling in heavy reinforcements when he saw our bulging bags of luggage. A short trip through the streets of Paris left us at Hotel du Petit Moulin (Hotel of the Small Mill, more or less) with much of the day left.
After a break, we headed about the streets of Paris, visiting the Notre Dame, passing by Rue du Chat Qui Peche (the street of the cat who fishes), strolling through the Latin Quarter, and stopping for the prerequisite beers along the way. The streets were packed with tourists enjoying the cool day. Eventually, we found a Guy Savoy outpost and had a nice dinner at the bar.
The older part of Paris, though large, is easy to get around. The Metro, whose trains run frequently, pretty much goes anywhere you’d want to go. Entrances to the Metro are easy to find, often marked by amazing Art Nouveau ironwork. On some entrances, looming, menacing red lights held in a green-painted iron framework look down at the entry steps like eyes out of a fifties’ alien invasion science fiction movie. The artwork on the subway entrances is one of my favorite things in Paris.
Walking is also easy. The streets are generally level and the distances are reasonably short. One challenge is the maps. The names of the streets change frequently and the smaller streets and alleyways that invariably seem to be the destination are often left off the map because there wasn’t enough space to print the name. It seems everywhere we looked, we saw tourists consulting their maps. Even our cab driver consulted his Tom Tom and his map book to find our hotel. Having a highly a detailed map is a must in Paris.
Of course, we could have always asked for directions from the locals. In our case, we didn’t have to ask. People would see us with the map out, and would come up and offer directions. It was an incredibly nice thing to do even if there was a bit of a language barrier.
In one case, a man, who spoke no English, asked us in French for directions! We gave him an answer. Somehow the interaction seemed to work, though we are not sure how. Hopefully we sent him in the right direction!
Another option for getting around Paris is the city bikes (named Velib’). The system is newly installed this summer. It is a more sophisticated version of the free bikes that are used in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and other places and instant rent-by-cell phone bikes in Berlin. In the Paris system, the bikes rest in a locked stand with a pay station. These
stations are located in numerous locations about the city and are usually well stocked with bikes. As near as we can tell, you pay a minimal fee for the ability to access the bikes (1 euro for a day, 29 euros for a year). After paying the fee, you can remove a bike and use it for free for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you start being charged for the time at a rate that increases with the duration of use. The fee starts at 1 euro/hour, so there is definitely an incentive for shorter duration use. When you are done, you return the bike to any stand. If the stand is full, your time is reset
and you are redirected to another stand nearby. The stylish bikes are built for city use and are clean and rugged with fenders, chain guards, and baskets. They have a hub driven light system to power lights on the front and rear of the bike. The bikes seem to be very popular. I’d guess that maybe 20 percent of the bicycles we saw on the road in Paris were Velib’s. It will be interesting to see how well this systems holds up over the coming years. (You can see examples of the bikes and the system in the Paris picture sets.)
After dinner, we meandered back to our room. The World Cup Rugby championship is ongoing in France, which will make Ross happy. Passing by the Hotel de Ville (town hall) in the evening, a very large projection screen was set up to show the broadcast event to a gathered mass of people.
Back in the room at the end of the day, we were finally able to get Internet connection. It turned out that the hotel’s system is unreliable in our room. We did find that we could get consistent access to another open WIFI system for free if we positioned the laptop at a particular spot on the bed and kept the heavy curtains open. More consistent than the hotel’s system and it saved us 45 euros!