Day four dawned grey and cloudy, but we bundled up and headed out to Notre Dame, where we were meeting for the start of our bike tour. Mum had recommended these guys for us – http://www.bikeabouttours.com/.
Under the greenish statue of Charlemagne we met, and were divided into groups. After walking a short distance [“the only walking in the whole tour, I promise!” joked our lovely tour guide Kim] we arrived at the garage where the custom green bikes were held.
After a quick reminder about Paris road rules, and promises of flat but cobbled paths, we set off. Now, I can’t promise to remember everything we did on the bike tour, or even the order of things, because it was a very long [over three hours] tour. But here are some things that stuck out.
One of our first stops was by an old house that had been one of the unfortunate victims of the July Revolution [took place over three days]. But unlike most victims of cannonball shots, it was still standing- albeit with an unseemly black spot embedded in it’s face! Kim suggested that the cannon shooter [is that the right word?] could have been aiming for a nearby window- but was drunk on a little something more than revolutionary spirit!
We paused by a part of the old wall that used to surround the city. It was interesting to see something a little older than usual. I believe that it was the wall built by Charles V and his son and successor Charles VI during 1356 to 1383. But I could be wrong- there have been quite a few walls built around Paris in it’s time! The wall was right next to a sports field, and there were a group of kids kicking a ball around. It was really amazing to think that kids could have been playing by and off this wall for hundreds and hundreds of years. We also saw a school named after Charlemagne, and heard a bit about him. There are quite a few schools and educational facilities named after him- he was passionate about education and learning, and is thought to be one of the catalysts for pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. Not only did he abandon the gold standard currency and put all of Europe on the same silver currency [thus regulating it/simplifying trade] but he actually passed a few laws that made it easier for the lower classes to have some agency. He personally never learnt to write [although he tried right up until he was on his deathbed] and whether or not he could read is a hazy matter.Around the same area we stopped and peered into a market set up into a little courtyard. We browsed among the little stalls [mostly second hand, clothes and bric-a-brac]. There were very few people there at a time, but more came when others left. Our little group then moved on.
We stopped by the house that Jim Morrison had lived in in Paris- the one where his body was found. There used to be a little plague there, saying that it was his house, but of course these days it’s still just an ordinary flat, and the residents got tired of people leaving tributes or trying to break in, and so it was removed.
One of our stops was a little alleyway, down which was a cafe called Cafe Procope. It’s the oldest cafe/restaurant in Paris still in continuous operation. Host of famous guests such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Robespierre, it was used as a meeting place by the latter and his friends to discuss ideas of social change [well, probably- they did a lot of that, and they met in this cafe a lot…]. It was refurbished in the 18th century, and apparently the waiters all wear quasi-revolutionary outfits.
We then stopped for a quick lunch [not in Procope!] After that, we cycled through the Louvre [the exterior!] getting a nice overview and story of it. It seemed like every monarch wanted to add his own little piece to the ex-home to the royal family, and that kind of explains the size of the place!
Afterwards we cycled back to the garage. Our lovely tour guides gave us a list of the best restaurants/cafes in Paris, all their own personal recommendations, and then after Richard left to catch his train, Ruth and I sat and decided what to do next. We decided that the Louvre was the obvious next stop, and made our way there.
Because the Louvre really is ridiculously large and crowded and just a lot in general, we decided to give ourselves two goals- the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and then just see where we went from there. Because Ruth already had a ticket [the Paris Museum Pass] and I was free, we could go straight in. The Lion’s Gate is a little known gate, and there were zero queues when we went there in the late afternoon. You do have to already have tickets though! It’s marked by two green lion statues, on the Quai des Tuileries. Fortunately, this gate is very close to the Mona Lisa, and we got there in roughly five minutes.
Ruth elected to stay at the back of room while I politely elbowed my way to the front. Actually no, that’s a little unfair of me- there was a surprisingly small crowd! I didn’t have to push [not that I would have, ahem], and everybody was very polite and let others go to the front when they had taken their pictures. There were two guards just in case, and large signs warning about pickpockets- I was paranoid about this my whole time in Paris, and kept my backpack clutched tight to my front. Let me tell you folks, paranoia works! Not one thing stolen…
Anyway, it was one of those slightly heady moments when you are actually seeing something so famous in real life for the first time and it’s kind of unbelievable and unreal but you just gotta take your selfie and then peel off to the side of the crowd.
After that we wandered through the rows of paintings until we reached the darling Venus de Milo, who was actually one of my favorite pieces of art in the whole museum. Not that I got to see everything, but then again, I doubt many people do!
We visited a few more places after that, but when the museum fatigue hit we decided it was time to move onto our next port of call- Victor Hugo!
I have to admit I didn’t really know a lot about him- the Notre Dame/Les Mis guy, right? But after visiting his rather eccentric yet well laid out house it was easy to garner a few facts.
Although really, the decor just overshadowed everything else. The most garish, patterned clashing carpets and curtains, the appropriative and definitely not accurate “Chinese” art in the living room, his dark red Gothic bedroom, and the writing desk he had made, embedded with the quills and letters from some famous writer friends of his, to sell and raise money for charity- but nobody wanted it!
We left just as the house was closing, and sat in the little park just outside while we decided where to go for dinner. We perused the list we had been given, and in the end decided to visit Chartier, which Ruth had previously suggested we visit. Probably best described as a real true Paris establishment, this rather humble restaurant had a queue and a red velvet rope to get in, but because we were rather luckily a group of two, we got in after about ten minutes. We were shown to a table with four chairs, and soon after two more people joined us. The waiter took our orders, writing them on the paper tablecloth, and then popping back to bring up bread and check what he had written. The food was very cheap for Paris, but delicious. Chartier had a very cool atmosphere- there were old drawers for the regular’s napkins and cutlery [I don’t think they’re still used!] and shelves for hats and coats. After the meal the waiter did the bill on the trusty old tablecloth, and I could just see Charlie working there some day.
If you ever get the chance to go I definitely recommend it!
And that was Sunday! We got a surprisingly early night, because the next day we planned to visit the most highly anticipated tourist trap of them all- la Tour Eiffel!