Thursday, 25 April 2013

Paris: Sightseeing by Bicycle


What to do and where to start when you are in Paris for the weekend? Why not rent a bicycle and explore the city from the surprisingly comfortable seat of a European bike! The Velib bicycles are available from numerous locations and with over 440 km of cycle paths throughout Paris, it’s the easiest and most affordable way to get around.



On the spur of the moment I decided to book a bicycle group tour with Blue Bike Tours to see the major sights and learn of their history. Luckily there was a (bicycle) seat available and at 2:15pm our tour guide, Hava, met our group at platform 20 at Gare d'Austerlitz. All seven of us received a blue bicycle with a French name and off we pedalled to explore the city.

The weather was crisp and the wind cold, but the sun shone warmly and the streets were crawling with tourists and locals wanting to make the most of the beautiful day.


Cathédrale Notre Dame


Our first stop was at the Notre Dame de Paris, French for “our lady of Paris”. The Notre Dame, which is currently celebrating its 850th year, is my favourite building in Paris. I love the grandeur of this church and the impeccable detail of the exterior with the gargoyles glaring down at the onlookers.


Cathédrale Notre Dame

 If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the three arches at the entrance are all different, with the right arch being the original Gothic-style entrance. The original gargoyles are the long-necked ones parallel to the ground, and not the little creatures sitting upright at the corners. The word “gargoyle” comes from the French word gargouille, “throat” in English, and was named as such because of the gargling noises their throats make as water whooshes through it. Yes, besides guarding the church from evil spirits, these gargoyles also serve as waterspouts!



Centre Pompidou


This building you either love or hate. When it comes to building design, I am not a creative, artistic visionary who understand the concepts of space and environment interaction. Therefore, the Pompidou Centre reminds me of a colourful hamster cage (that is in dire need of its weekly spring clean) with tunnels for the hamsters to scurry along on the outside.

However, I was fascinated by the atmosphere surrounding the Pompidou. People flocked to the area in hordes to enjoy the vibey music of street artists, wander through the streets and shops, or lay staring up at the hamsters scuttling around in the Pompidou tunnels. So I took a walk back the following day to where kids played and couples sat hand-in-hand around the pond with the moving sculptures. What a vibe - I loved it! I’ll also be visiting the Pompidou this week for an exhibition, so who knows – maybe the building will worm its way into my heart eventually.


At the pond outside Centre Pompidou


Musée du Louvre


You can spend a whole day in the Louvre and still not get to see everything, but it is definitely worth a visit. I was lucky enough to visit the Louvre back in 2006 and I managed to get a glimpse of the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa, and yes – I also thought the Mona Lisa would be a lot bigger :)

Musée du Louvre

We cycled past the green Jardin des Tuileries; past numerous joggers out for an afternoon run, past kids playing and people sitting in the shade, reading. Pure bliss.



Cleopatra's Needle


The Paris Needle, a gift from Egypt to France, is located at the Place de la Concorde. Its twin brother is still located at the Luxor Temple in Egypt, because in the 1800's it took years to transport the one 23 m needle to France.

The Place de la Concorde, where Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette were guillotined before the erection of Cleopatra's Needle, is one of two places in Paris where your insurance will have to pay 50% if you are in a car accident - whether you are the guilty party or not. The other, is the Champs Elysees (no surprise there!).


Cleopatra's Needle


La Tour Eiffel



The Eiffel Tower is the most well-known structure in Paris, as well as the tallest (320 m) and most visited. It received the title as the tallest man-made structure in the world in 1889, snatching the title from the Washington Monument, and held it for 41 years (the longest period this title was ever held) until it was given back to the USA for the construction of the Chrysler Building in 1930. The Eiffel Tower also serves a useful purpose and is the host of broadcasting antennas. Interestingly, because of this addition, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building.

At night the whole tower lights up and every half hour the lights dance over the structure in an impressive display.


La Tour Eiffel


L'Hotel des Invalides


We cycled through a park that was jointly occupied by young guys playing soccer and older ones enjoying a game of boules, and came to a halt in front of Les Invalides, where old war veterans were hospitalised. Napoleon's tomb is located under the golden dome, which is painted with 10 kg of actual gold. At night, this building is particular spectacular and its lights can be seen from the famous Pont Alexandre III bridge.


L'Hotel des Invalides


After stopping at a market for lunch, our bicycle tour came to and end - 4 wonderful hours and 18 km later. I will definitely recommend exploring Paris by bike. And, since I was the very first South African to go on a Blue Bike tour, you'll just have to take my word for it :)


Breaking New Grounds

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