Sunday, July 4, 2010

Making It Work (France Trip series)

Just back from two week vacation in France celebrating Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary. I've got weeks worth of blog posts in my head, so I'm going to just start pounding them out in no particular order. Be advised that some posts may include roadie or non-biking content. Hang in there.

Scooters and motorcycles probably out number the cars in Paris. Add in the bicyles and the cars are definitely a minority. At least half of the scooters are driven by women, many in skirts and high heels. I don’t know how they do it, but they all look soooo cool while doing it. Stylish clothing, weaving through traffic, over sidewalks, between cars, and down one-way streets (the wrong way). The scooters and sometimes the small cars (there are virtually NO big ones) are driving down narrow city streets crowded with pedestrians. It’s just like a Borne Ultimatum movie. Really, that is how it is. In the US this would be a hands-down-goat-rodeo with women and children screaming and jumping out of the way in a panic. But here everyone - pedestrians, cyclists, drivers - work together to make it possible. No unpredictable moves, give people just enough space, don’t be a jerk.

And the cyclists are right there in the mix with the motorcycles, scooters, and cars. At the head of the left turn lane waiting for a green light and diving into / out of traffic circles. .And the beautiful thing is that ALL of the other drivers respect the cyclists. Totally. Basically they view you as an equal on the road.. Once you get accustomed to this, you can really tear it up in terms of getting around town efficiently by bike.

It gets better. In Paris they have this service called the “Velib.” For a nominal fee (in our case it was about 10 euros for the week) you get unlimited use of about 20,000 bikes in 30 minute chunks. You access them using any of about 2,000 automated vending stations scattered throughout the city (we consistently found them every couple of blocks). You simply punch in your account number, pick a bike, and off you go. When you have arrived at your destination you just check it into the closest Velib and go about your business. So basically you always have a bike handy wherever you go, but you are never burdened with locking it or remembering where you left it (easy to get disoriented in a medieval city like Paris).

Jeff and I were all over this Velib thing. Once we purchased our one week passes at a local Velib station, we struck out for nowhere in particular, wound up somewhere in the 9th or 10th arrondissement. We dropped the bikes at a nearby Velib station (they can be found every 100 yards or so), and did some exploring on foot. Then we found another Velib station, grabbed a pair of bikes and headed home to Risico.

In an bike-friendly city like Paris, a bicycle is just about the perfect way to get around (weather permitting of course). The freedom of being able to go anywhere in the city without having to worry about locking your bike or finding it again after exploring or walking for a few hours is really really liberating.

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