After finishing the 600km brevet and the requisite post-ride victory celebration (it was a spectacular finish, with our three "mini-team" members completing the course with 1-hour, 30 minutes and a nail-biting 5 minutes to spare), but that's another story… I roped Rich "Big Dog" Bruner into giving me a lift to the airport for an early morning (10am) international departure (2hrs for check-in meant we had to be there for 8am after completing the 40-hour, 360-mile brevet (plus beers).
With a five hour lay-over in Philly, I had lots of time to wander around the airport and get into trouble. Checking out the newspapers I was pleasantly surprised to find the local paper not only ran an article about a race, but featured a color photo on page ONE! Hey, maybe there's hope for the USA after all? The article "From Center City to Manayunk" related the tale of the USPro Championship and the nail-biting finish to the nearly 6-hour 250km race came down to a literal photo-finish of about 2 centimeters!
Finally around 4:30pm, Air France flight 379 was ready to board. Nice big
wide (2+4+2 seats per row) Airbus 330. Cool piano jazz flooding the cabin,
lot's of "Bon soire, Msr" and a full menu for the in-flight meal. There seemed
to be one group of semi-rowdy…or just exuberant, group of jocks chatting
excitedly in Italian…the big fellow sported a "Red Sox" jacket, but the guy
next to me pulled off his jacket briefly revealing a small "Saeco"
logo modestly embossed on his shirt.
"Saeco"? Wait a minute! (I dig through my carry on bag and pull
the article I'd ripped from the paper…could it be? I make sure he sees me
reading it and looking back at him and he gives a little nod. I shoot him
a grin and a thumbs up and he explains something to the guy behind me who then
tells me that the 1st place finisher,
Stefano Zanini, is just around the aisle!
I jump up and dash around the service area upsetting a
couple of stewardesses to get his autograph and wish later that I'd raised
a big hullabuloo getting the whole team to sign the article.
I hope they got a hero's welcome back in Italy.
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle International, I find my jump to Valencia is scheduled to depart from Terminal "D", so I jump the shuttle bus from "A" and when the door opens at "B", I'm just a bit nervous about the one hour lay-over and happen to check with a fellow passenger—which proved to be great luck because oddly enough "D" is not past "C", "D" is an off-shoot of "B" and to get there you have to get off the bus…NOW! No time to go around the loop and figure it out!
I stop to get my passport stamped with two Spaniards behind me, one of whom gets his stamped and the other blows off the process because we're running a tight connection. Nice the way language differences can help blow away the beaurocracy! I would have missed the connection still, except that there was some kind of strike going on (seems to happen a LOT in France) that delayed the plane by an hour or two (no clocks in the terminal?!?) This isn't easy—English isn't cutting it here, French is too difficult and Spanish is barely getting me by. It doesn't help me any that Air France staff keep saying "Valence" instead of "Valencia" leaving me hoping there isn't another town called "Valence"…
Finally we board and fly down to Valencia. A Swede I met at CDG explained that European customs is "the opposite of U.S."—i.e. you go through customs at your *final* destination instead of the point of entry. I went down to pick up my checked bags, but they didn't show up. An attendant looked at my ticket and explained I had to pick mine up at customs, being a non-European, but there was no bags there either, so they issued me a "Your baggage is 'retarde'" packet and promised to find it in 24 hours. The difficulty was I didn't yet know what hotel I was expected at, much less the phone number. But the immediate challenge was to figure out where to get a bike and some food.
I stopped at the ATM machine and withdrew 150 bright and shiny euros, bought a soft drink to make change for the bus, which wasn't necessary because the bus drivers make change here! Took the bus into town expecting to get off in Bario del Carmen—the happening spot, according to the "Lonely Planet Guide to Valencia". Riding through the picturesque town, I wasn't having any luck seeing the street names from the bus, so I got off in what looked like a pretty dense but nice area—it turned out I was still in the town of Manises, not yet in Valencia. I found a tourist information office where a young lady set me up with several great maps, marked the bike store on one of them and pointed me in the right direction.
They don't put up street signs on poles in this town, instead the street names are written on tiles placed in the sides of the buildings on corner lots. At Maldonez bikes I managed to communicate my desire to rent (alquilar) a bici and the lady asked me to come back after 5:30pm when her brother would be in. I went to the bar next door—about every fifth business here is bar but they're much nicer than bars in the U.S.—surprisingly clean, not smoke filled or smelly. I had a large plate covered with a tortillia and an assortment of tapas, including an appetizer of marinated vegetables, a bottle of red wine (tinto) and a bottle of mineral water to mix with the wine as is the custom. All this came to about eight euros!
I walked the streets marveling at how the architecture resembled New Orleans with the fancy brick, stucco and ornamental iron, except that everything was well maintained here in contrast to New Orleans thorough decadence and decay. The streets seemed to be too narrow for bikes to share with cars (mostly Renaults, Citreons and some Fords), but I did see a few bicis and watched how they did it. They simply rode to the right and the motorists were polite and patient! There's quite a large number of "Driving Schools" too.
I see shopkeeps sending kids outside to water the streetside plantings and lots of people painting and repairing the masonry. No litter and the only graffitti: "No Guerra".
Back to the aeropuerto to see if my luggage arrived on the next flight. Apparently not, though it was difficult to communicate with the attendant. I took the bus all the way into Valencia this time and sought what the guide book told me was the *only* bike store in all Valencia. The streets were wide and busy here, but there was way *more* bikes sharing the road with the cars. Even more scooters, mopeds and motorcycles. Gas here was nearly one euro per liter ( about $ 4 / gal ). A guy who looked like a messenger tried to point me to another bike shop, but I didn't find it. I did find the one listed in the guide though it had changed names and was closed for the day.
Back to the bike shop to meet with the owner—we had a nice time talking about bikes, them teaching me the Spanish words for various bike parts and clothes. The prices were good on the cycling clothes, and mine were in my lost luggage, so I bought a new Giordana sleeve less jersey and bibbers, then set out to find the University where my wife, Padmini, was giving a paper. I requested a bici carreterra (road bike) and the lady told me she'd bring one from home in the morning, but her brother looked over my plans and suggested I'd do better with an MTB ("BTT" here—Bici de Todas Terras)—he pointed out some exceptionally beautiful areas on my route, but the roads weren't all paved.
I caught the commuter rail (Renfe). I was glad to see there were a couple of mountain bikes in my rail car and noted how they were stored so that I could bring a bike aboard later. The conductor came around to collect the fare and helped me out with some questions—she sat down and recited to me a half dozen languages she could speak—unfortunately for me, none of those were "English", so we resorted to Spanish.
Renfe took me into the big station in Valencia—a
cavernous quansonhutte shaped building with shops, eateries and craft vendors
inside and a large plaza in front adjoining the giant bull-fighting arena.
Across the street was the metro which took me north across town to the point where I was to transfer to a street car. I walked around for awhile before finding the street car running down the middle of a large boulevard into the Polytechnica campus. There was also a greenway, which the pedestrians used and cyclists here shared pavement with the paved area with the streetcars. When a streetcar approached along one track, the cyclists simply move over to the other track. Still no helmets or lycra to be seen. I followed signs on campus to the conference, closed for the day by now and used a telephone to call home to the states for messages, got the name for the hotel and proceeded to Hotel Renasa. Padmini had the room ready and had even arranged for a hotel employee to bring in a bike for me! And what a bike! It was Peugeot ten-speed lugged frame with down tube shifters and, I think, the lightest steel bike I've ever held.
The next morning I walked it back to the train station to get back to the shop in Manises (tires needed air, and I still needed to pick up replacement parts and tools that were lost with my luggage). My plan was to follow one of the routes I'd found on a nice internet site maintained by a Valencia/Godella-area club: Peña Ciclista El Cantonet (Cyclists of the Rock) Getting the right train out of Valencia was more of a challenge than coming in because now I had to find the right line ("via"), instead of just the right direction, so I didn't really hit the road until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
Struck out toward "Riba Roja"—this would give a choice of either going west toward the town of Buñol (famous for the giant annual tomato food fight in the streets) or east into the mountains. The road was straight and flat, but industrial with fast traffic until I crossed the highway, then it calmed down as I rode through groves of orange trees. I think the soil here is poor, but the climate is very favorable for agriculture and they grow nearly everything but especially oranges, olives and almonds. It looked a lot like southern California but not so dry. When the road curved up hill there was a fantastic panoramic view of the Renfe train rushing across a distant ridge through Spanish villages.
I chose eastward, toward the mountains, crossing the highway at San Antonio de Benagéber and through Béterra—stopping for water at every town. After S Ant de Benageber traffic died down considerably. I saw one BTT (Mountain bike) heading the other way. I hit a rock riding on the shoulder and flatted my rear tire—I was very glad to have purchased a pump and two tubes at the store in Manises and was able to use some washers I found along the guard-rail as tire levers. As I changed the tire, a road bike passed—the first other person I saw wearing lycra. Then another and one more before I finished. The riding was fun though the weather was hot and on either side of the road were usually groves of low orange trees—sometimes some other trees that were a little larger and had bluish leaves—perhaps olive trees? Sometimes there were walls of cement and stone keeping the orange groves level were the road dipped. Occasionally there'd be grandious walls marking the entrance to a proud ranch / farm.
Entering the next village, Béterra, was like watching a travel show—the streets were narrow, the attached dwellings of light stucco colors and everything so CLEAN and neat. On a travel show, I'd think they hand picked an uncharacteristically scrubbed tourist section, but it wasn't so, these places were just that nice throughout. I pulled into some kind of castle-shaped monument, found shade behind a wall and spread out my maps and water bottle for a few minutes, repacked and headed on.
The staffer back at the visitor center had said that you can find very inexpensive accommodations in these rural areas and the government was beginning to promote them as vacation spots. It was disappointing to see a golf course and then two new subdivisions outside of Náquera with English names (e.g. "Náquera Hills"). I stopped again for water as the road steepened. The lady at the counter balked at having to break the 20 euro note I offered, then I remembered the coins in my pocket—when you're used to coins being only "pocket change", it's easy to forget that just a few 2-euro coins adds up to real money.
From just before Náquera to the peak at l'Oronet the road climbs nicely and the scenery is just fantastic. Heading out of Náquera I stopped along the beautiful tree-lined street and phoned back to my son in the U.S. to tell him how nice it was here.
By the time I reached the village of Serra, I'd seen a lot of lycra guys go by. I was probably a sight—riding that Peugeot in my lycra with a helmet, yellow book-sack and house slippers (my SPD sandals were in my lost luggage). Even these villages of Náquera and Serra have hourly bus service into Valencia.
As I entered Serra, I took pictures of the old castle ruins on a high mountain peak. Exiting onto the road that led to castle, after crossing the bridge there was a sign that seemed to indicate the road was private, so I went back to the main road. A little farther up, another exit tempted me with a sign that there was a fountain spring to see. I went up that road and when it turned to dirt with some large gravel I walked because I didn't want to risk another pinch flat. The fountain spring was capped with a well with faucets on either side in something that looked like a stone and cement jacuzzi. Signs warned that the water was not potable. Unfortunately the area was well littered as the public trash can didn't seem to get emptied often enough.
I didn't see another soul on bike car or foot after exiting the main road. Ancient low stone terraces created slight ledges in the hills here where those bluish-green leaved trees (olives?) were growing far below the castle. Eventually it dawned on me that this road ALSO led to the castle I saw from Serra. Where the road peaked just below the castle, I finished the last of my water at a picnic table where someone had outlined parking spaces using rounded "river" stones. I readied my camera, slung the the Peugeot over my shoulder and started climbing to the castle. The trail steepened and I enjoyed the climb though there must have been a more accessible route on the other side, I thought. Getting to the top, I saw that wasn't true. I brought the bike up thinking what a great shot it would be to photograph the Peugeot against the castle—and how appropriately respectful it would be to the bike, but the castle was so scenic I quickly finished off my second whole roll of film.
It was embarrassing to see that some American kid had spray painted some graffiti on one side—thankfully it wasn't much—I say "American" because the names sounded American to me. I payed some repitance by picking up what little litter there was, strapping it to the bike rack and carrying it back to town.
Leaving the castle and returning to the main road I continued the climb toward l'Oronet. At another spring a family was filling water bottles. I saw quite a few cyclists heading the other way, but only one passed me, a few meters from the peak. I really enjoyed being the old gray bearded hombre crossing the mountain in my house slippers! I felt good and it didn't seem all that steep—maybe because I was riding without a cyclecomputer? Because it was getting late and I still had about 70km to go I did not take the steep side road to the lookout point and after the freewheeling descent I skipped the northern loop through Soneja and Azuébar. It helped that I saw so many cyclists going the other direction—helped me to stay on course and know which exit to take in the roundabouts.
Torres-Torres (that's "Towers", not "Bulls", twice) was another beautiful Spanish town. I used the pay-phone here to check in at the hotel and disposed the rubbish I'd lashed to the rear rack.
I took a wrong turn, turned left where I should've gone straight near "Estivella" and crossed a dry riverbed. The river (Turia) that runs through Valencia was diverted out of town years ago to prevent flooding. Now the town has this wide green tract running throughout. They've built parks, gardens, ballfields and other public spaces in the old river bed.
Around here I begin noticing some of the "exits" were actually marking were a "long distance" hiking trail was crossing the road.
Doubling back when I realized I'd gone the wrong way and then rejoining the main road I came across the only wrecked auto that I saw in the whole week. A car had gone off the road or overturned and was about to be placed on a flatbed by something that looked more like logging equipment than a wrecker. Maybe they don't have wreckers here? It certainly doesn't seem like they ever tow cars for double parking or parking in unauthorized spots (e.g. the sidewalk!). Even though people appear to drive too fast for conditions, there seem to be pretty few accidents—maybe all those driving schools? Maybe cars are too expensive to wreck?
By the time I reached Gilet the route was following a service road along the N-234 highway. Flat lands and Orange groves again. Before reaching Puzcol I was facing the option of either crossing the overpass over the highway or continuing straight were the service road seemed to deteriorate to be unsuitable for cars. I went straight—and didn't see anymore cyclists until rejoining the better service road north of Puzcol.
At Puzcol I found the Renfe station and bought a ticket for Manises. This was a larger train and I'd be changing to the local train at the Valencia station, but I was an old pro at that now!
The attendant at the Manises station appeared to be closing up shop which concerned me because the plan was that Padmini and I would take the train back to Valencia. After much patient explaining on her part, I understood that while the station was closing there would still be more trains that evening. This made sense when I realized there were two stops in Valencia. What I didn't realize until later was that what she was trying to tell me was that while the station-house was closing, I could still catch the train from the platform.
I found Padmini and we shared a Horchata (a local icy sweet drink made from the "Tiger Nut" which must be something like a coconut). I stayed outside while Padmini went in to order food at a bar/restaurant. I struck up conversation with the man who came out and stood on the sidewalk by asking him "Es su tienda (store) ?"
He replied, "…Si…pero es un 'bar', no es una 'tienda'".
"A 'bar' no es una 'tienda'?"
"No. Ese (pointing across the street) es una 'tienda'—ellos vende cosas. Ese (pointing at his establishment) es un 'bar'—nosotros vendemos comidas y…"
"Ah! Ellos venden 'cosas' y Ustedes venden 'Felicidad'!"
Padmini came back out and we talked with the owner about food. The one that seemed to stump him for quite a while was "radish"—I guess they maybe don't use them much here?
He directed us back to the train station to catch the last train back to Valencia. Through some confusion regarding the train schedule, Padmini ended up picking up drinks for the two of us at the bar just around the corner when the train arrived—I grabbed the bags and my bike and jumped on hoping she'd understand that she could take the bus back, but I'd be stuck not being able to bring the bike aboard the bus. I got back to Valencia and had fun riding north through town at night with no lights. The streets where well lit and the motorists quite used to sharing the road with bikes. I overshot the hotel and had to circle around a bit to find it.
I tried riding in the street car area as I'd seen the other cyclists do, but realized I was scared to cross the tracks should a trolley come along. In the U.S. we are always warned to cross rail tracks at 90 degrees. I usually object to a strict interpretation of this, prefering NOT to swerve dangerously left or right just to get a 90 degree angle, but I wasn't prepared to cross those rails at the low angle I would've need to avoid a street car, so I got back on the road where I at least felt safer. I'd have liked to have watched again to see how the locals manage it.
Rejoining Padmini at the Ranasta, we had a couple of drinks at the hotel bar before retiring for the night to get up early the next morning to catch the train up the coast to Barcelona.
Long train ride to Barcelona—we take rear facing seats as I watch some of the stations I'd been through yesterday race by in reverse order with the sun in the east this time. Then it's new scenery…or…well…more orange groves, until finally we get close enough to see the coast, the Mediterranean and flashes of the early tourists of the season with their umbrellas on the beach. At Barcelona station we get in line to buy a ticket for the "hotel" train to Paris, but the (American?) chick in front of us tells us she's been loitering in the station for 18 hours with nothing but filthy laundry hoping for a cancellation to make a seat available. She's ready to give up and take the bus, so we cut out the misery and head straight for the bus terminal were college students staffing the counter for the Summer break / tourist season set us up and then we catch a tour bus to see the sights of Barcelona.
We stop at a giant art museum atop a high mountain overlooking Barcelona. There's some kind of tower on the mountain across the city—reminds me of pictures of the "Christ of the Andes". Even at this elevation the heat is just a bit too intense. No live music at the museum so we head back into town—statues of Christopher Columbus, yawn, hey—the Museum of Erotica! THAT has possibilities! Back on the bus the German tourists behind us are commenting on the trees—the guy says something about "Weeping Willows" but his companion knows THAT can't be correct. "I think these are Sycamores", I offer—after working out my accent they understand—"Der Sycamores!" We stop off for Tapas and the waiter treats us marvelously, catering to our annoying vegetarian idiosynchrosis and shouting out orders to the kitchen.
The biggest crowds of pedestrians I've ever seen—reminiscent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge—I'm still taking pictures of random bikes and we locate the Museum of Erotica. Is it nice? or seedy? or both? We buy tickets standing on the transparent floor and ascend that narrow stairwell to…the foyer…centered around…(go ahead and guess) …a giant statue of a penis. Of course, every group of tourists coming through gets the requisite photo of the ladies hugging 5-foot penis. (Second largest I've EVER seen!) Overall the exhibit is nicely done.
We catch the tour bus back to the train station and board the bus for Paris. I'm looking forward to seeing the Pyranees but the sun sets too soon. The driver arranges for us to get a seat together. There's an interesting looking guy sitting next across the aisle with a long Christian monk—looking shirt and large steel cross hanging around his neck. I cut on my A/C to get some fresh air and he trades seats to escape the chill. ZZZZZzzzz…
In the morning we wake to watch rolling French farmland from the bus window. I guess this is what we'll see on PBP. Gilbert says there's climbs like in the Uwharries—except MUCH longer…I hope there's some nice rock outcroppings. Pastures are nice, but I don't want 1200km of the same thing.
Paris—from the bus it looks like any big city and we pull into a large underground garage, check email at a kiosk and then make our way to Vicky's hotel. The Parisian subway is great! Same fare, about 1.30 euro, no matter where you're going. It goes EVERYWHERE. What luck, we think, to have a hotel so close to the metro stop, but in Paris, EVERYTHING is close to a Metro stop. It does NOT mean you can get around with no walking though—each train stop connects to a maze of twisting underground tunnels with several "Sorties" (exits) each. Lots of stairs, few elevators.
Vicky insists we take a room there at the same hotel and graciously shows us around Paris—in particular the Eiffel Tower—it doesn't look that much bigger than the replica at the amusement park, but the view from the top IS spectacular. The most surreal artifact being "Sacre Coeur"—the white stone domes and towers on the north horizon.
The three of us take a boat tour along the Seine. This is great, we have earpieces that let us listen to the narration in our choice of languages. Large greenways on either side of the river with people walking, cycling or just sitting.
In all the excitement we misplace the passports this night causing much anxiety. Finally in the morning after going through EVERYTHING for the n-th time they fall out of a rolled up coat (Coat?!? It's been far too hot for coats!). We breathe again. I head off to wash some laundry—down the Rue through an area that seemed a bit "scary" the night before, but quite pleasant now. There's an oriental gentleman hanging out at the coin laundry taking care of things, so I go off in search of nourishment, cycling magazines and sights after starting the wash. At a bookstore, I purchase a French-English dictionary and some French texts to practice translating.
I stop in the Brasserie (Note the "i" is after the "er"!), which apparently means "coffee shop that also pours beer". One of the neon-green clad street sweepers steps in and the bartender greets him heartily, hands him the newspaper and pours him a beer. This could be a lot of fun; I just wish I could speak some French. As in Spain, there's plenty of bars, but no drunks—and the bars don't have that foul stench of bars in the U.S..
Parking! Wow! In Spain people park wherever they want—here in Paris too. I watch as a guy comes out of an eatery honks his horn—two shorts, one long (is that signal for "Hey, you've double parked me!" ?) The guilty party emerges with obviously guilty body language and begins to move his car, meanwhile ANOTHER car races up behind him and signals his intent to acquire THAT spot! M. B frees M. A and then pulls up onto the sidewalk to park. Turning down a side road I marvel at the number of cars parked literally bumper-to-bumper—I'm talking FULL bumper contact!
This city, as was Barcelona, is nowhere near as clean as Valencia. (At least as clean as U.S. cities, though) In the morning they send out masses of city workers in neon yellow vests with brooms. They're pretty good with brooms, but just can't keep up. They also open water valves sending streams of water over the debris in the gutter— ensuring that the trash is dust-free apparently.
By the time I make it back to the hotel, Padmini has packed us up and vacated the room. We head into town to meet up with some contacts of hers. We have lunch in one of the Parisian eateries where the outdoor seating is actually sloped with all seats facing the street to watch the promenade. I split off in search of la Bibliotech with a tip on a book about cycling Paris. The National Bibliotech either isn't there anymore, or is only a Bibliotech in the "historical" sense. I've decided I need a hack saw or metal file because on every block there's MANY bikes that appear to have been locked up LONG, LONG ago—some even have those fantastic wing-nut axle nuts I've seen in photographs—I don't think anybody has used those since WWII!
Then approaching through the crowd from the other direction—a young couple, each carrying a pair of (mountain bike?) wheels strapped together with twine - what's going on? The rear wheel in his pair is horribly warped—surely beyond repair. I turn and follow. At an intersection she points and sends him off up the road for something. I hang back waiting for him to return. This isn't as awkward as it sounds because the streets are SO crowded they'll never notice me…wait…Low on blood sugar perhaps, my patience wears out and I approach her. I consult my dictionary and look up the word for " rent". "Where rent bicycle?" I ask, but she's got NO idea what I'm trying to say. He shows up and finally groks my meaning and tells me he doesn't know. Doh! I remember too late that "Where" ("ou" in French) is pronounced like the English "Where", without the "r" and I've been making a sound like an owl, PLUS the French pronounce "v" like we do and I was doing the Spanish thing and saying "Belo" instead of "Velo"!
So Padmini's French connection takes us to a book store and we get this French book on cycling Paris and another on Hosteling Paris. Padmini checks us in to a fabulous old building on the north side of town (Hotel Le Régent Montmartre; 37 Boulevard Rochechouart—75009) where the streets are alive with action. We check in with the Ukranian student at the front desk and then go for a walk, turn a corner and find ourselves right outside the gates of the splendid "Sacre Coeur"!
The next morning we rise late then head out in search of one of the bike shops. We have crepes from a roadside vendor (This is fantastic! He cooks them on a a hot dish and scrambles an egg right on top the crepe, then folds the whole thing up into a wax paper to-go assemblage!) We sit and watch children ride bumper cars while we eat.
Off in search of a bike shop. We take the Metro to "Les Halles" and walk south, crossing some kind of open air market into an especially nice part of town. On a side street I find a group of kids loading up gear on to bikes for some kind of trip—when I say "Anglais" they find the one who speaks some English and he directs me to the bike rental. It's getting a little late in the day, too warm, I'm starting to feel blood sugar get low. I can find "Rue Maramount", but not "Passage Maramount"—I think "Passage" must mean "Alley". I walk several blocks east before giving up and doubling back. When I find the bike shop, Padmini is already there, but they're out of bikes. To tell the truth, the bikes they were renting really didn't excite me anyway—some kind of balloon tire cruisers. I may have been spoiled by that Peugeot in Valencia.
Okay, Peugeot then! After restoring my blood sugar with a Crepe (let's see, how about a "Greek" crepe…what's this "Nutella and Banana"? I'll try that. I wish I'd gone with the Greek because "Nutella" is mostly chocolate.) I send Padmini off to meet with her friends and I strike out to find the bike rental which advertised as only carrying Peugeots! I take the Metro to the Bastille, walk up the stairs and there it is! Only…they switched from Peugeot to Giant a couple of years ago…bummer, but I'm not going to let anything get me down—I'll take it. This establishment is known as either "Velo Bastille" or «Paris à vélo», but is apparently unrelated to "Paris Velo". All the bikes include U-locks and generator lighting. I don my "ONCE" bibbers and jersey, stash my street clothes under a table, scoot around the block, whip out my pedal wrench and install my SPDs and I'm off!
I take the greenway trail along the Seine and head east. It's pretty, but just a bit too crowded to ride fast, and I feel like riding fast even if this bike wasn't really made for it, so I exit and make my way over to Champs Élysées. I'd been told (by Americans) that the French drive crazily through here but I don't see that at all and feel quite safe biking it. There's a forest (Bois de Boulogne) on the west side of town where cyclists go to ride, practice sprints, etc.. but I decide I don't really have time to get there and return the bike before closing, so I come up with a mission instead: ride up north from here to near the hotel and find the disposable camera and bottle of water that I forgot at the subway station.
When I realize I've turned the wrong way onto a one-way street, I take to the sidewalk, but it's narrow so as soon as I see a pedestrian I hop off and walk. It's a little old man dressed in full suit and coat and he looks at me and starts happily jabbering away excitedly in French. I smile and shake his hand. I think he points at my shorts and I don't know if he's a fan of cyclists or racing or team ONCE or maybe he's approving of my decision to walk instead of riding past him or maybe he just likes guys in tight shorts? Oh well, whatever it was, I'm glad he approved.
It's a challenge navigating across town with so many streets and the names keep changing and I'm never quite sure if I've taken the right exit out of the roundabouts. I somehow miss the hotel—I think I rode right past without recognizing it—and end up on the northeast side of town. I head south, back to the Seine, across and eastward on a road closed to motors on Sunday, then north to get back to the bike shop. I get lost one more time, go past the Indian markets, find "Chinatown" and eventually get back to «Paris à vélo» to return the bike. Lots of people seem to be renting rollerblades next door. I forgot to stop and change the pedals back before returning the bike, so I have to pull out my wrench and change them in front of everybody—not sure what they thought of me taking a wrench to their bike.
Later I read that rollerblading has become a huge thing in Paris. Every Friday night Parisians take to the streets on rollerblades en masse.
Satisfied that I got in my cycling fix, I pick up a drink and follow a sign indicating some kind of monument to Victor Hugo. I'd heard Padmini talking about Msr. Hugo earlier and thought I might happen to catch her here. I didn't know it at the time, but the buildings and square, "Place des Vosges", which I was admiring was "Paris' original attempt at urban planning" constructed in the early 1600s.
Not finding Padmini, I leave her a message on her friends voice mail, pick up a bottle of wine, take the Metro back to the hotel, move into a different room (one with a shower!) clean up, and open up the big windows to let in the air and sunlight and street sounds, watch some kids playing kick ball on a sidestreet, spy a produce vendor tucked into the middle of the block, head down there and pick up some great fruits and cheeses. I'm glad I caught him before closing, but he tells me he's open until 2a.m.! Great! No need to worry about running out of wine!
Padmini and I go out for a walk again. We stop at a Brasserie Kronenbourg where she discovers she likes something they make with beer and lemonade ("Radler"?). We walk in the direction of the red light district until things get too heavy and then turn back. We sit at a street-side bar for a little while and watch as three police officers arrest a hip-hop youngster walking down the street. The surprising level of politeness and lack of any hint of violence on the part of either party reminds me we're not in the U.S., but who knows what will happen when they're not in front of the tourists?
We go back to the hotel, check the mornings flights—I'm on the earlier one. The next morning we take the subway to the Stalingrad, walk to the larger train station at Gare du Nord and catch the TGV to Charles de Gaulle. Padmini and I become separated at Gare du Nord, but I've got the first flight out and am carrying the luggage so I push on. Two stops for CdG—I don't know which is mine so I get off at the first one—struggle again with the language, catch the shuttle to the other one, fly back to Philly then Raleigh, catch the TTA shuttle out of the airport and when we stop at Terminal A, Padmini steps on!
My bike pages.