Paris Night bike tour

Edit : This was really a post from a week ago, but lack of decent internet prevented me uploading the video. Now I’m in Copenhagen at a hotel with awesome internet I’ve finally been able to upload it.

Two years ago I did a day bike tour with electric bikes around Paris and it was a totally amazing experience. I was tempted to do the same tour all over again, however when I checked their website I noticed they also did a night tour. I jumped at the chance to do this one and see some of the famous Paris sites by night. As its the middle of summer being outdoors late at night should be fine. As it turned out it was a glorious evening.

The tour start at the Palace Vendôme, a square full of very very expensive jewellery and watch stores. The square contains a column erected by Napoleon the celebrate the French victory at the battle of Austerlitz. Our tour guide, Xavier, is a very nice witty passionate Frenchman who just loved telling us the history of France. We were told how Napoleon was the greatest military strategist who ever lived. I do think Wellington and Nelson would probably dispute that…

Once we had all been introduced and shown the basics of how the bicycle works, we went to an underground car park where the bikes are stored and were fitted with one. My first bike had brakes that didn’t work well so I swapped for a different one. Reminded again that in countries that drive on the right, the brakes on bikes are back to front. Back brake is on the right…

There were a few teenagers on the tour and they were having a ton of fun on the electric bikes. I think some of them would have even just been happy riding around the car park.

Some of the key areas we visited was :-

  • The Louvre. We were given some secret tips on how locals avoid the queues to enter
  • Cour du Commerce Saint Andre. This street has some fantastic looking restaurants and the oldest coffee house in Paris.
  • Pantheon. Cycled by and were given a short lesson on the importance of the building to the French Republic
  • The Sein River. Cycling along this was spectacular
  • Eiffel Tower. At night this was lit up and amazing. Also throngs of people everywhere.
  • Royal Palace Gardens. A wonderful spot to sit by the fountain on a warm day. This history on this place is very interesting. Was the party place in its day.

Here is a video I’ve put together with the included GoPro Quick software. A note on the music for any French people watching (Xavier …?), I know Plastic Bertrand  and the song Ca plane pour moi is actually Belgian, however for children of the 70s and 80s this song is quintessentially French for us Anglophiles

Au Revoir Charlie

Today is a relocation day. We are leaving Paris and heading back to London for a night so Sharon and Emma can get their flight back to Sydney tomorrow night, and I can get my flight to Copenhagen.

We had mostly packed yesterday afternoon so we would be ready early. We had to checkout by 11 and our train wasn’t till 3 so we had a few hours to look around. We used to find somewhere near Gare Du Nord to keep our luggage for a few hours whilst we looked around. I’d been super stressed about our ability to get across Paris on Bastille Day, but need not of worried as the traffic was less than normal. Apparently it doesn’t get crazy until sun down. It will also be insanely crazy on Sunday with France in the final for the World Cup. I expected to see tri-colours everywhere but it seemed quite subdued and really just felt like a normal Saturday morning.

Gare Du Nord was its usual eclectic mix of grimy streets, strange smells, throngs of people, back packers, dodgy characters, beggars and shite souvenir peddlers. One dodgy looking bloke was just hanging around the subway entrance looking to push past someone and get through on their subway ticket for free. I’d seen a few people do that over the past week and could spot their MO getting close to people and trying to follow them through. I blocked him from trying this as Emma went through.

As soon as we had dumped the luggage we got a train back to Gare Saint Lazare to check out the Primtemps Haussmann department store. The less time I spend at Gare du Nord the happier I’ll be.

This department store (Primtemps Haussmann) is wonderful. The true Parisian shopping experience and prices to match. They have a roof garden with a great view but unfortunately it’s closed today. We settled on coffee and a cake. Again sigh….. this was a commercial Nespresso machine. Ok and consistent as Nespresso always is, but not worth €5 a pop.

This store also has a pretty spectacular food and grocery area which we wandered and oogled all the nice looking food products for a bit. For lunch we grabbed some packaged sandwiches from the local carrefor supermarket to take on the train and avoid paying Eurostar prices for substandard food, and also to avoid joining the expected far-queue at the restaurant car on the train.

Cookie kit in a glass jar!

Not sure I’d want to explain “happy plants” to the guys at customs in Sydney.

View from the cafe

Inside Gare Du Nord looking down from the Eurostar check in area.

We started the check in process just before 2pm. Took a while to get though but thankfully not as bad as the trip to Paris. For some reason our seats were reassigned and we lost the table seat we had and were across from each other on the train. Eurostar experience overall is down on my expectations given the great trips I had last year and in 2016.

Bastille Day M&M’s for sale today

Just in time for the World Cup….

I picked up my copy of Charlie Hebdo from the station to browse through on the train back to London. I do wish they would do an English version, oh well some entertainment for the next few days over coffee with google translate to fully appreciate it

Train arrived in London on time but they screwed a few people around by not stopping at one of the designated stops (Ashford) and had to organise other transport for them. London has it all over Paris as far as arrivals go, St Pancras is clean and well maintained. We took the tube from St Pancras (Kings Cross technically as that’s the tube station attached to St Pancras international) to Paddington where we have a hotel so we don’t have to relocate across London in the afternoon tomorrow to get to Heathrow. Just jump on the Heathrow express.

Our hotel in London is right on the “CS3” cycle super highway where it’s mostly separated from traffic and crosses London. I wish Sydney could do something like this.

Our room has a mezzanine level

Café Procope and a Cruise

On Friday night, our last night in Paris, we had dinner at Café Procope which first opened as a coffee house in 1686. It’s billed as the oldest continually running restaurant in Paris. It has lots of historical items on display, including one of Napoleon’s famous hats which he left once as guarantee of future payment for a meal he had there. They are obviously still waiting.

Most walking and cycle tours will go past here as the street is on is equally famous as it’s where the guillotine was first tested on sheep. There used to be steel markers in the road where it stood but they have been removed with recent road work.

Voltaire, Franklin & Jefferson all drank at the Cafe here and some of the first drafts of the US Declaration of Independence were written here. As well as Napoleon’s hat they also have Voltaire’s desk.

I was thus keen to have dinner there to try it out and take in some of the historical ambience. It’s more expensive than the other restaurants around it. The food was nice but not as amazing as some of the other dishes we have had elsewhere and overall I was a little disappointed in the experience, perhaps I’d overhyped how good it would be. Service was certainly on the galacially slow side.

After dinner we grabbed a uber over to the Eiffel Tower to get on a night tour of the Seine. The tour lasts about an hour and to make the most of the night cruise we aimed for the 10.30pm boat to see Paris all light up. This was a fantastic cruise, well worth the €13 tickets. They take the boat under 22 bridges where everyone makes as much noise as possible when passing under. This got annoying very quickly. Once the cruise was over we took the Metro back to the apartment. It was quite a long day, didn’t get back till close to 1am.

Coffee with Napoleon

A weird experience this morning, in Paris and literally could not find a croissant to buy. We normally grab one from just near the station and both shops there had sold out! Had to wait until we got to our destination to find a cafe that was open to get one. Finally found one and kept moving to our destination which was Invalides (pronounced on-ver-lay).

Following on the theme of coffee with dead military leaders, last year it was Wellington and Nelson, today it was with their arch nemesis Napoleon.

We headed over to the Hôtel national des Invalides which is where he is buried, or rather entombed in a massive marble sarcophagus. The building would roughly be equivalent to our war memorial in terms of how the French treat it. The building is gigantic and his tomb quite imposing. It’s said there are 6 coffins within the sarcophagus, kind of like a Russian doll.

The coffee for today was from a commercial Nespresso machine. Fine for Nespresso but really no better than the ones you get at home. Nespresso is a Swiss product, have the French surrendered their coffee culture to the Swiss?

Here is a portrait of Napoleon, obviously upset and depressed with the state of coffee in the French Republic

The coffee was very small. Apparently Napoleon was rather short too. Is there a theme on this in the cafe maybe ?

After looking at his tomb we went and checked out a special exhibition on Napoleon that traces his military strategies. Very interesting, especially the section on his defeat and the battle of Waterloo. Whilst his downfall and defeat is covered, the battle of Waterloo is only mentioned briefly, certainly no dioramas that were heavily used for his victorious battles.

Here is were he rests

I gave Napoleon €2 and he gave me €0 back

We then went a few metro stations down the line to Cité where the conciergerie, which was used as a prison during the revolution and it where Marie Antionette was held before her head was liberated from her body. Very interesting little art work in the building where they have pumped part of the Seine is pumped through the building to remember how is flooded about 100 years ago. Lots of signs telling you not to touch or drink the water

After some time here, I took Emma down to the Arc de Triomphe, whilst Sharon wandered around Les Halles. The Arc is great and the view is spectacular, but there are a lot of stairs.

Markets and Coffee

This morning we caught the metro down to the Marche Bastille Markets, which are apparently some of the best open markets in Paris. I’d say a good 30-40% of the stalls are the usual dregs and dross you would find at any market, plastic toys, phone cases, t-shirts, fidget spinners, tourist shite etc.

There were some amazing produce stalls though and Sharon was in foodie heaven looking at everything. Meats, seafoods, breads, cakes, spices, produce. You name it, they probably had it.

The one thing conspicuously absent was coffee. At home a place like this would have had lots of coffee vans or stalls.

I found one place that looked promising, however on closer inspection it was just pod coffee dressed up. Coffee was disappointing and not even rateable. My Nespresso is many times better. I did find a second place that was doing espresso shots from all sorts of interesting beans. This was way better than the last one. Emma had a taste and thought it was “festy”. Straight espresso shots are obviously an acquired taste after a few more years…

A line of pod machines. Not worth €2.50

The decent espresso. Not going to bother showing you the other one. This was worth the €1

We had a crepe with Grand Marnier poured over it. This was scrumptious and only cost €2.60. From hot plate to our hands in less than a minute.

We bought some local French salt from a vendor who explained the differences between each salt offered, spices that were added and the region from where it was sourced. He was surprised to have Australians there at the market.

After the markets we headed over to the Centre Georges Pompidou, which is a modern art gallery that has all the workings of the building on the outside, not hidden behind a facade. Essentially the building is inside out. We didn’t go inside to the exhibition but did buy tickets for €5 each to go up to the roof for a fantastic view over Paris as the building is slightly over the height of most others. Interestingly if you are under 25 entry is completely free to the museum.

Lunch was had at a little cafe on the same square, not cheap, but quite good food and relaxing atmosphere under trees on the square. Emma’s lunch included the most delicious vanilla ice cream.

Not far from here is Saint Chapelle with some magnificent stained glass windows. Note though you need to go up a small flight of stairs on the corner to get to the second floor where the magnificent windows are. When I first walked in I was thinking “I paid €30 for this? What a rip off.” Then I went upstairs and the jaw dropped… pictures don’t really do it justice. Each individual glass pane is unique, they each tell a story in pictures from the Old Testament.

After a small break at the Apartment we were back up at Montmartre for some more shopping and then dinner. First time ever I’ve seen a French waiter come back to the table and take out order again as he forgot. Very unusual to see a waiter use pencil and paper here in France. It’s just not de rigueur. Here in Montmartre there is a square that’s closed off from traffic with lots of restaurants and artists drawing portraits. Most of the restaurants here will do a three course meal for €16.50 drinks extra. Wonderful atmosphere on a cool summers evening.

The area we had dinner tonight:-

Remember what I said on my bike share post that the French disrespect the shitty bike share bikes just as much as Australians do ?