Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fat Tire Bike Tour - NOT named after the beer...

Today was the only day I had actually made a plan for prior to arriving in Paris. Krista had told me about the Fat Tire Bike Tour that they did while in Paris and suggested doing it early on in my time in Paris because they did it late and unfortunately did not have time left to go and see some of the things more in depth that they had learned about on the bike tour. So I signed up online for both the day and the night tours since I couldn't really choose between them and they both offered different views of the city. Plus I also got in about 14 miles of biking total that day along with it.

Apple Store - Opera
The tour starts by meeting at the Eiffel Tower and I had to be there by 11. After eating my free breakfast of coffee, bread with Nutella spread, and corn flakes, I decided I had enough time to stop by the Apple Store near the Opera that I had heard about from Dan. I wanted to get an additional European outlet anyway - one of the ones I bought prior to my trip doesn't actually fit in the outlet. So I made my way via the metro to the opera. The Opera House itself is an incredible piece of architecture and I didn't take me long to find the nearby Apple Store. This is probably the coolest and most unique Apple Store I have ever been to. It  maintains the building's beautiful architecture and so does not look like regular Apple Stores. It is a two story store with all of the lovely Apple gadgets spread out between the two floors. I found my universal adaptor and realized that I was definitely running short on time to make to the tour by 11. I had to switch metro lines as well and ended up running from the metro stop to the Eiffel Tower - an addition to my workout. I actually made it in plenty of time because although they suggest getting there 5-10 minutes early, we actually stood around for at least 20 minutes waiting for people to come (you don't need to make a reservation for the tour) and getting some information. We then headed as a group to the Fat Tire Bike Tour office to get our bikes and start the tour.

On the walk over to the office, I met another single traveler from Canada. We talked all the way to the office. His wife had been to Paris recently, but he had been unable to go due to work and so was now taking about 10 days to travel some throughout Europe. Paris was the last stop on his trip before heading back to Canada. We ended up in different tour groups for the bike tour. 

One of the first things I learned was that the Bike Tour was named after the type of bike we were using - a California Beach Cruiser that has fat tires...for whatever reason I had assumed it was named for the beer. These bikes are heavy and not the easiest to ride through the city. And we definitely had a range of biking ability within our group from experienced bikers from Holland to people who had maybe been on a bike once or twice in their lifetime. People were from all over the world and the tour was conducted in English which was very helpful for me. 

The tour was great to get a sense of the layout of the city as well as to snap photos of some of the major tourist attractions in Paris with some of its history. It also gave me some ideas for things I would like to spend more time at later on. In addition, it gave me confidence in being able to bike through Paris. It is a very bike friendly city with a bike-share program called Vélib'. There are stations located within every 300 meter radius throughout the city as well as bike lanes throughout the city as well.
1. Eiffel Tower - built for the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. Very controversial - Parisians did not like it but the temporary structure is now one of the most famous icons of Paris.
2. Napoléon's Tomb - by his instructions, he is buried below the viewing gallery forcing people to bow to him even in his death
3. Musèe d'Orsay - impressionist art museum of Paris within an old train station - houses a collection including VanGogh, Monet, Manet, Rodin, and many others
Napoléon's Tomb
4. The Louvre - the left eye of a statue in front of the Louvre is the start of a line of symmetry that runs all the way to the Arc de Triomphe
5. Tuileries Garden - UNESCO World Heritage site - stopped at an outdoor café for lunch and ate with a couple from Holland and our tour guide
6. Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk - this is the site where the guillotine was placed during the French Revolution. Obelisk is one of four obelisks in the world created by the Egyptians and is over 3000 years old!
7. Ecole Militaire - military school where Napoléon was educated
8. Rodin Museum - home of some of the famous Rodin sculptures
9. Grand and Petit Palais - built for World's Fair in 1900
10. Les Invalides - hospital for wounded military
11. many beautiful bridges
12. plus everything in Paris in between biking to all these sites!

Obelisk at Place de la Concorde
After the tour was done, we headed back to the office where I again met my Canadian friend. It was his first full day in Paris and he did not really have plans for the afternoon. Since we didn't get to see the Arc de Triomphe or Champs-Èlysèes up close, I decided to head up that way. My Canadian friend joined me and we spent a few hours that afternoon visiting the massive and impressive Arc de Triomphe. It was built by the order of Napoléon who wanted a triumphant arch for his army to march through upon their return from one of their many conquests in Europe. When it became apparent that this arch would not be completed in time for the army's return, a smaller arch - the Arc de Triomphe de Carousel in front of the Louvre was constructed for the army to walk through. Eventually the Arc de Triomphe was completed. Underneath it lies a tomb of an unknown soldier that always has a flame burning by it, much like the one in Washington DC. After walking down the Champs-Èlysèes, my new friend and I stopped and had some dinner then headed back to the Fat Tire Bike Tour office to join the night tour.

Arc de Triomphe
We met the group at the office since the metro took much longer than expected. This time we were in the same group and headed out on the night bike ride. There were a couple of girls on this tour who had actually never ridden on a bike before so my friend and I hung out at the back of the tour to make sure they did not get left behind or hurt (as I figured I was likely the one with the most medical knowledge and experience of our group). This meant that we missed out on some of the information provided by the tour guide, but still got to enjoy a beautiful ride through the city at night. We saw a few of the same things as during the day tour but also several new sights.
1. Islands - one of which houses the Notre Dame. Also stopped for Berthillon ice cream. Apparently several famous American actors have multi-million dollar homes on these islands
2. Pont des Arts - the bridge in front of this building contains many locks. People come to the bridge with their names in a lock, lock the lock onto the bridge, throw the keys in the Seine and share a kiss to lock away their love for eternity. One of these lock bridges is also the setting of Big and Carrie's kiss in the final episode of the series Sex and the City
Bridge of Love Locks
Notre Dame from the Seine
3. Academie Française - the place where a group of individuals works on preserving the French language. Because there are more words in English and new words are created in English frequently without a French equivalent, this group works on the French language so that it will not be overtaken by English.
4. Boat cruise down the Seine with wine - saw the Eiffel Tower light, crossed under many amazing bridges (including one made with the bricks from the Bastille prison), several museums, the Notre Dame
Louvre - quiet and beautiful at night
After the night tour was finished, we made our way back to the office and I headed to the metro to go back to my hostel for the night. It was an incredible day and I now had some ideas set out for the rest of my time in Paris.

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