There is no better way to really feel and experience Paris than on a bicycle. And the only time to do it without getting run over is during the summer months when most Parisians have left the city.
I had been to Paris several times before but I wanted to get down and dirty with the city. I had a good friend who lived in the 17th arrondissement (district of Paris). I used her house as my expedition base and set off on a wild artistic, gastronomic and intellectual discovery.
I used the city’s “velib” public bike rental program and would hop on and off rented bikes at my pleasure.
The first thing that impressed me the most was Parisians’ authentic display of love, in all its forms and shapes. You could see couples holding hands and kissing everywhere. There were spontaneous dance gatherings (a group of middle-aged people had gotten together and where doing Tango on the front steps of the Opera; lots of small groups of younger kids could be seen along the river Seine dancing to all types of music, etc.) And single men and women where enjoying themselves (loving themselves) in the various parks and outdoor plazas of the city.
The next thing that blew me away was the quality of food and Parisians’ ability to stop time and make love to their food. On prior trips, I had experienced semi-decent food at restaurants in the city’s touristic areas (food anywhere else in France was always good). But it’s night and day when a local takes you to local hangouts. For 13 to 20 euros, I was having gastronomic experiences. I wouldn’t say I’m a food connoisseur but I have a discerning palate and I was floored. Granted, Japanese do a much better job with display and presentation of food, but taste and texture of food I had in Paris was memorable. And when the day languishes to dusk, you park your bike, sit in an outdoor patio and sip a glass of wine while shooting breeze with local Parisians, that is truly love-making’s after-play.
What also surprised me in this city of light and love was Parisians’ love for books. While in the U.S., mom and pop and even big box physical bookstores have mostly closed down, you can see tons of little bookstores everywhere. Just walk down the Seine, and you’ll see really tiny second-hand book-sellers dating back to 16th century. I finally got a chance to ride my bike up the sloped streets of Seine’s south bank –Rive Gauche– (where the old and famous educational establishments still are) and couldn’t stop adoring and enjoying the creatively-named bookstores and their wares.
Back then, I was in my poetry-writing phase. Anywhere I was (whether resting by a fountain, or at the Pantheon or seeing the reflection of lamp posts in the Seine) some poem wanted to jump out of me. I wrote quite a few.
No wonder that throughout the centuries, artists from all over the world flocked to Paris. All their senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, love) were being tickled and expanded in this city.
After a week of crisscrossing the city on my bike, my friend and I headed to Burgundy for a week to try Bourgogne’s famous red wines (that story for another day).
Having said all of this, I also have to say that some Parisians can’t wait to leave the city on weekends as the human congestion of the city (specially millions of tourists hogging everything, me not included) wears them down (like probably any other big city).