Maggie and I recently did an electric bike tour of the extraordinary and unique city of Paris. It was called the Paris Charms and Secrets Electric Bike Tour, and it turned out to be the highlight of our entire Paris trip. Best of all, this tour is possible for most people, thanks to the smoothly running ebikes that make it easy for 50-year-olds to cycle with 20-year-olds! The ebike is a great equalizer, but you still get exercise while being educated and entertained. This video presents a taste of the tour.
Our guide was Fabien, an energetic man with impeccable English, and acting skills reminiscent of the French mime Marcel Marceau. Except of course he was not a mime – he told us fascinating stories all afternoon. He was unfailingly enthusiastic and cheerful as he showed us less traveled places, and unveiled some of the secrets of Parisian history to us.
Although it was a hot day, I never broke a sweat, and Maggie and I were easily able to keep up with a group of people who were much younger than us. In fact, to be honest, we were at the front of the pack most of the day. After all, we know bikes! Plus, we cannot resist showing that we can still hold our own with people young enough to be our kids.
Of course we went by the Louvre, and I have to say it felt quite surreal to be cycling past the most iconic museum in the world.
A highlight was visiting Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris. We stopped for a truly great beer, but that was not the highlight. Fabien took us upstairs to show us something few people even know exists: a tiny collection of mind boggling history, including the final letter that Marie Antoinette wrote to her children on the day she was beheaded. Experts have confirmed it was her letter, based on the DNA of the tears she shed as she was writing. Then there were the solid metal desks of Voltaire and Descartes. Yes, their actual desks, just standing in a room on the way to the washrooms.
In the entrance to Le Procope there is an interesting hat behind glass. Turns out it belonged to General Napoleon Bonaparte. He dined at this restaurant a long time ago, and happened to have no money on him. So he offered his hat as surety that he would return to pay … and the restaurant is still waiting. No doubt burned by this experience, they no longer accept hats as surety! On the plus side, if they really wanted to, they could sell the hat. One of Napoleon’s hats was sold recently, and fetched a price of $2.4 million. At that rate, I suspect Le Procope is not shedding any tears over the fact that Napoleon never did return to pay for his dinner. From our point of view, it was like looking into the well of history to see a hat that was actually worn by Napoleon. Judging by the hat, it seems that he had quite a small head.
After a delicious draft beer at Le Procope, we cycled on to enjoy another highlight: visiting an ancient Roman amphitheater, the oldest arena still existing in Paris. The Arènes de Lutèce was constructed in the 1st century AD. It could once seat 15,000 people at gladiatorial combats. We stood besides the gates that once were used to let lions into the arena. That was eerie. In those ancient times, this arena was also used to simulate sea battles, by flooding the arena using water from an artesian well below the ground. Now, the arena is used by local kids to play soccer!
The bikes were basic, solid electric bikes in a semi-cruiser style – relaxed and easy to ride. They had a basic boost and an enhanced boost mode, and we used the latter to climb the hills in the Latin Quarter. It was also handy that each bike has a basic lock, so we could lock them up while we went for a walk-about with Fabien.
Yes, they were electric bikes, but ebikes require riding skills, especially in the sometimes quite intimidating traffic of Paris. The closest we came to a problem was when a young man in our group almost fell over on a pull-off, bumping into Maggie. Luckily she is a skilled and experienced cyclist, and she managed to stay upright.
I highly recommend this electric bike tour if you are fortunate enough to be in the ancient, splendid city of Paris. It is called Paris Charms & Secrets. It’s not just a a bike ride, it’s an experience. They are not paying me for this recommendation – I just want you to enjoy it! Just one caveat – we sometimes cycled through quite a lot of traffic, so if you are not comfortable with that, this tour would not work for you. On the other hand, we learned from Fabien that in Paris, cyclists are treated with the same respect as pedestrians, and have the right to go wherever they like. We certainly felt very safe, and were never intimidated by angry motorists – not during this tour, and not during the extensive cycling we did on our own while we were in Paris. Even in the most hectic traffic, motorists were extremely careful not to hurt us, intimidate us, or insult us. Viva la difference!
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