I went to Paris. It was lovely. Although Parisians can be as stereotypically rude as advertised, they are not all and I managed to have a wonderful time.
One of the things that makes Paris so fun to visit is their system of municipally subsidized bicycles. Known as “Vélib”, these bikes are found all over the city and are free for trips under 30 minutes, 2 euros per half hour over 30 minutes. Unlike Ottawa’s Bixi bikes, which are aimed at tourists, the Vélib system is very much used by Parisians and visitors alike. The idea is to ”check out” your bike, pedal to your next stop and “check it” back in. The bikes are not sexy but the seats are adjustable, each is equipped with lights and a lock and is kept in good working order. Although you can bring a helmet, they are not mandatory.
To be honest, I found it safer biking around the busy streets of Paris than I ever have in Ottawa: drivers are used to cyclists, the bike lanes are generally respected and motorists drive more slowly. In Canada, I find drivers resent cyclists and are almost universally aggressive; in Paris, there is a lot of weaving in and out of traffic but automobile drivers accept cyclists as having the right to be on the streets alongside them.
In the three days that I was in Paris, I used the system to visit the Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, hear the new bells at Notre Dame Cathedral and to generally enjoy the lovely spring days along the banks of the Seine. Despite the tank-like maneuverability, there was something distinctly reminiscent of an Audrey Hepburn movie about bicycling down the Jardins de Luxembourg, scarf flying in the wind, a bottle of wine and a baguette in my basket.
Which brings me to the Wine Wednesday part of this post. Wine is openly consumed in public in Paris: you can buy it in the grocery store in convenient lunch-sized bottles of 200mL and you can sit in a park and enjoy it with your picnic of yummy raw-milk cheeses and charcuteries. I remember a few years ago, sitting on the pedestrian Pont des Arts, filling our plastic wine glasses from a bottle of good Champagne as the sun set over l’Île de la Cité. The most wonderful part of the evening were the Parisians all around us picnicked on couscous and saussicons, each with their own bottle of wine; this was not a tourist activity but part of the locals’ nightlight.
The point I am making is that wine is part of the every day in Paris and I enjoyed the freedom while I was there.
My 375mL bottle of pink Charles Courance champagne was not a well-known brand and was purchased at Carefour, a grocery store chain. It cost 13 Euros (approximately $16). Carefour is not the sexist of stores but it seemed a fitting place to buy it: an ordinary store for an everyday purchase. It was a little bubble-gummy in its taste, with strong hints of strawberry, almost like a ready-made Kir Royale, but not unpleasant for a warm spring afternoon. Despite my best efforts I could find no information on Charles de Courance champagne house so one must assume it’s Carefour’s equivalent to President’s Choice, made under that name for their grocery store chain.
I was ostensibly in Paris on business but I enjoyed my few days of freedom: no plans, no fixed destinations, no appointments. And I enjoyed my champagne, sitting on a bench with a view of the Eiffel tower and watching the people go by.
If you have a chance to visit Paris, I highly recommend using the Vélib system for getting around. No need to book ahead, just follow the instructions on the machine present at every bike station: use a credit or bank card to make a security deposit, take your daily or weekly pass, and check out a bike. Remember to fill your basket with wine and a picnic and away you go!