Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday 3/12/12: Bicycle Ride to the Left Bank, Sacre Coeur

We rented the “Velib” bikes that are all over town.  We needed to do this online and our hotel seemed to give us ½ hour free slow internet access every two days, which was barely enough time to get that done. 
This is a system of rental bicycles primarily for transportation.  You get an account, and then you check a bike out from a station and check it back in at a station near your destination.  Americans need to sign up online because our credit cards with the magnetic stripe cannot be read by the machine.  The fee for visitors is 1.70 euros per day, and bikes are free for the first ½ hour and about 1 euro for every ½ hour after that until they are returned.  

For the most part, the bikes worked well.  However, we found many stations to be out of order, and/or without vacant spaces to return bikes.  We realized that since many people use them to commute, in some areas there are plenty of bikes and no stalls to return, and in others there are no bikes at various times of the day.

Our hotel was ideally situated to rent velib bikes because there is a station across the street, and there are bike paths on either side of the canal.  We rode along the canal de Villette and continued all the way to the Seine.  I had a bike map of Paris but we soon realized that many of the paths on the map were actually bus lanes, and we found ourselves along with many other riders darting in and out of traffic.
We crossed the river to the left bank (5th) and tried to return the bikes to a station, but the station screen had the blue screen of death and was in need of a rebooting.  I later realized I didn't need the screen and probably could have just returned it there, but I didn't realize that at the time, so anyways we kept riding.  We happened to find the bridge of locks, which we had seen on the Late Late Show when they filmed in Paris.

 The next several stations we found were all full of bikes with no spaces to return.  Finally we found a station where some people were checking bikes out, so we could put ours there. 
After returning the bikes we walked around the 5th in the student area, stopped at a crepe stand for lunch and ate our crepes in a churchyard/park nearby.  Then we walked further south to the Jardin de Luxembourg, which was partially under construction.  However, it was the first beautiful and sunny day in Paris since we got there, and probably in quite a while, so there were many people enjoying the sunshine.

We observed that Parisians are big readers.  Almost everyone there was either reading a book or doing some kind of writing in a notebook, in full sunlight.  We saw no gadgets such as Ipads or Kindles.  (Lots of people have iphones and blackberries, but they did not use them for things like reading as far as we could tell.)

At that point we thought we might ride up to the Marais again to walk around some more.  We checked out some bikes and found ourselves riding through the middle of rush hour, and it was very harrowing.  We gave up and walked through the 3rd and 4th areas, past the Pompidou center, and then decided to take the metro up to Sacre Coeur.

We got off the metro down the hill from Sacre Coeur and Nancy finally found a clothing store she could sink her teeth into.

This was about a million miles from les Champs Elysees.  As far as I could tell, it looked like piles of peoples’ laundry with price tags on top.  However she didn’t buy anything.  It even took too long for her to hunt for anything.  I would have taken more pictures but some of these people clearly didn’t want their pictures taken there.

Then we walked up the hill and nancy waited about 40 minutes to use one of the automatic restrooms.  They are great if nobody is ahead of you, but each cycle of using the bathroom, washing, and cleaning takes about 5 minutes.  So with 7 people ahead of her, it took a while.

Took the funicular up the hill.  Sacre Coeur was a nice view but there were a bunch of teenagers there listening to folk music and we didn’t stay long.  We walked north from there along Rue Clignancourt, intending to catch the bus along Rue Ordener back to our hotel.  Clearly this was a part of Paris that doesn’t make the guidebook. 

We were hungry and cold so we stopped in Chez Fille a la Peau de Lune ("The House of a girl with skin of the moon"?), a West African restaurant with about 2 visible tables (more in the back) for dinner.  A woman who seemed to be the owner of the restaurant was from Gabon and sat right at our table while she chatted with her other clients.  We couldn’t communicate well with anyone there, since nobody spoke English and I was limited to my high school level French, but people were perfectly nice to us.  Nancy got chicken wings, which were delicious, and I got pork ribs, which were good but was the kind of food I can’t eat very much of, so I helped nancy with her wings.  We both got plantains on the side, although I later wished I had ordered fufu, which my old roommate Ricardo used to make, and she said they served.

At the restaurant I ordered a beer, which featured this warning label:

At Rue Ordener, we caught the bus back to our hotel.  While on the bus, we saw someone outside chasing another person and yelling at him.  It was pretty apparent that the person being chased had just pickpocketed the person doing the chasing.  Nobody on the bus seemed to care very much.

Got home and were tired.  Hit the sack.

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