12 Hours In Paris
The clock ticks quarter past midnight. The dinner from 3 hours ago is no longer weighing him down, he made sure not to eat much anyways. Tonight was gonna be a good night. He didn’t want to disturb his roommate, now probably sleeping, so passed the last few hours walking and sitting, and walking along the canal. Paris certainly wasn’t sleeping. It had just slipped on its evening dress, a melting kaleidoscope of lights, sounds, and people, all of it flowing and fluttering with the warm, balmy breeze. As traffic, including that on two wheels and two feet, begins to thin, the time has come to pump the tires, turn on the lights, clip in and head out.
The first few pedal strokes bring an instant relief from the smothering heat that just a few hours ago was almost unbearable. Things start casual, it’s still too easy to sweat at this point, plus the eyes and other senses need to become accustomed to their new nocturnal setting. A run of greens, and the pace picks up a little as the bike paths disappear and then reappear as separate from the two-lane road to the left. Even further to the left is the canal and it’s many chattering, colourful inhabitants. This is something he’d been looking forward to for a while, since the first time he had the discipline to stay up for a late ride. It’s worth the effort, it has always been, but before he can amuse himself with the thought any longer the Seine appears straight ahead and a decision needs to be made, left, or right? He makes a left, sees the bridge over the river just up ahead and pulls off over it to take in the surroundings.
Looking back to where he made the turn he sees the brightly lit, almost sparkling, Eiffel tower shine its beacon across the sky, no more than 30 min of riding along river. It was always going to be a right it seems. The air was noticeably cooler along the water, and the bike path almost all his to enjoy. On both sides of the Seine the architectural splendour was well lit, forming a corridor of wonder for one to explore. Museums, cathedrals, theatres and palaces littered up and down the river as far as one could see. Of course, they were all closed at the hour, but eye candy to take in none the less and he was out for the ride anyhow. Along the way he lost sight of the shining tower. Someone had shut the lights off, the tower but a maze and lattice of steel as black as the night sky behind it.
“Leave a little earlier next time”, he thought to himself, at the same time glancing at his watch to see the hands at ten past one. A quick look at the Garmin and a different way back to the hotel pops out from the screen, and more things to see await. Back in the room, his roommate was not sleeping. His belongings were spread out on the bed, two duffel bags lay open on the floor besides, and his riding gear hanging on a chair. Tomorrow was going to be good day.
Despite the forecast, Sunday morning had brought with it nothing but blue sunny skies. If there’s a better time than midnight to bike ride in Paris, it certainly must be Sunday morning. The city was having a late start, it obviously didn’t recover from last night’s activity as quickly. As a few paper bags tumbled through the empty streets, the group of cyclists was making its way past the same canal where the lively and raucous crowd had kept many of them up later than intended.
First stop, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. They line up for their first group photo in the long shadow of the Gothic colossus, watched closely by dozens of saints and gargoyles perched on the walls behind. There was no place to safely leave the bikes for this quick stop, so they remain in hand. A conspicuous numbered plastic card, “Paris to Varna”, now secured to the handlebars, a symbol of their adventure, and at this point the one thing they surely have in common. Along the Seine the small newspaper and gift vendors are slowly beginning to set up shop. As if foreshadowing the next stop, small glittering “Eiffels” hang from the shelves of the gift stands or simply lay in piles on the ground in front of the less industrious vendors. After a few roundabouts, a few potholes, countless broken bottles swerved around and one jumped curb, they arrive in front of the real deal, the Eiffel tower standing proudly against the blue summer backdrop.
A perfect spot to celebrate the beginning of a month long cycling adventure. A perfect spot to make it feel official. A quick break and a few photos, and they set off again, but it’s hard to go far in Paris without stumbling into yet another monument. An hour of riding and the legs were finally warmed up, a very good thing if you’re planning to jostle with 8 lanes of traffic in the world’s most famous roundabout.
Luckily things were relatively quiet on the Champs Elysees and no one broke a sweat riding around the Arc de Triomphe, one of many testaments to be found in Paris to the legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte. Splattered here and there are signs that in less than a month’s time the Champs Elysees will be the setting for another cycling event, the final stage of the Tour de France.
At the end of the boulevard, one last stop is made in front of the Louvre. The futuristic pyramids offer a stark contrast to the ancient palace towering behind, a reminder that Paris is driven by the “new” just as much as it is permeated by the “old”. Just past noon, as the sun’s heat began to intensify and as the sleepy Parisians were finally stirring out of their homes and into the city, the small group of adventurers was merrily making its way out into the countryside.