Monday, July 19, 2010

Paris - Biking in Bois de Boulogne

Paris has an amazing bike rental system called "Velib" which allows you to rent a bicycle from hundreds of locations across Paris for just 1 Euro per day/5 Euros per week ** (See note at bottom). You buy a subscription card from the vending machine, take a bike from one location and return it at any other location. (http://www.velib.paris.fr/).

We rented bikes to ride in one of the largest parks in Paris, Bois de Bologne (twice the size of Central Park in New York). The bike trails took us past flower gardens, lakes, waterfalls, wooded areas and even a race track. We rode past two lakes called Lake Superior and Lake Inferior, but Superior was the significantly smaller one. Something obviously got lost in translation from French to English! We saw people out in rowboats on the lake, and I thought it would be a lovely idea for Rich to row me around while I trailed my hand in the water (while holding a parasol like the Victorian ladies used to do). Unfortunately Rich was less enamoured with the concept. We found a shaded and picturesque area where we could rest, read (Rich) and nap (me).

There was one area called "The Grand Cascades" which was a beautiful waterfall that you could also view from behind. It was very cool and eerie behind the falls. There was a gorgeous restaurant there, also called the Grand Cascades with an outdoor patio surrounded by flowers. But given that the waiter was in a tuxedo and we were sweaty and disheveled in our shorts and runners, we didn't think they would let us in. Also, the prices were daunting, at 38 Euros for a piece of cake.

It was an extremely hot day and the bike trails went on for ever, some times with very vague signage. We got lost several times and became quite parched and dehydrated, even though we had brought a water bottle and refilled every time we could find a fountain. By the time we finally found the Parc de Bagatelle which promised to have a cafe inside, we gladly paid the 5 Euro entrance fee to get in. We were so hot and tired that finding the concession stand that sold the ice cold Orangina seemed like an oasis in the desert. Drinking it while sitting at a patio table and resting our feet become one of the highlights of the day.

Parc de Bagatelle is known for its Rosarie (rose garden) although it was past the season so there were not that many roses remaining. Peacocks strutted around the gardens preening their feathers. There were some temporary exhibitions in the Parc de Bagatelle including displays about ecology and nature. One very unique experience was a patch of grass that was designed in a fashion such that if you viewed it from above at a certain angle, it become an optical illusion. Suddenly the flat patches of land turned into a 3 dimensional cube and you could appear to be standing on top of it or inside it. Apparently I was too short to see the effect properly, but Rich was able to capture it perfectly.

We had read that at night time, Bois de Boulogne is known as one of Paris' most prominent red light districts. We were not expecting to see so many "hooker vans" during the day. We spotted this woman scouting for business when we first rode by. Inside the van was a small mattress ready for action. Later on, we passed this van again, the door was closed and there was a long scarf tied to the side mirror, probably indicating that it and she were currently occupied with a customer. This must be a known signal since a man on a motor-scooter rode up to the van, looked at the scarf and drove away disappointedly.

** Update posted 3 weeks later after getting my Visa bill - so it turns out the 1 Euro per day bike rental sounded too good to be true because it was! I misread the details - although it said Day pass - 1 Euro, it elsewhere went on to say that this was just for the first 1/2 hour and the rate rose exponentially after that. Parisans keep the cost to 1 Euro by changing bicycles every 30 minutes since there is usually another Velib site enroute to wherever you are going. Unfortunately we were stuck in the vast nowhereland of Bois de Boulogne, so even if we had known the actual rates, we could not switch bikes. So we ended up paying 36 Euros each for the 6 hours! Oh well, it was still a really fun day that I would not have missed.

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