Paris, France. Not Paris, Ontario, not Paris, Texas. Not Paris of the East, not Paris of the West. Paris, the real-McCoy. Paris, 48.85N 2.35E. Paris of the Bastille, Paris of the Seine, and much more to my interest, Paris of Velib.
I flew here from Ljubljana three days ago, to check out Velib, the mother-of-all bike-share programs. Velib is not where it all started of course, two other cities in France already had such programs before Paris. But with 20,000 bicycles and 1800 stations, Paris’ Velib is the largest in the western world (Wuhan and Hangzhou in China have much larger programs), and its success has given other cities around the world, including New York, the confidence to institute their own programs.
(OK, OK. NSF is watching, so I should tell the truth. I came to Paris to work with my colleague and friend Jean-Claude on some mathematical problems in telecommunication. Your tax dollars were well spent: the professional part of the visit was hugely productive. But let’s move on. 🙂 )
Having cut my teeth on Ljubljana’s bike-share program, Velib was not new to me at all. There are Velib stations within a half-kilometer of one another, and there was one less than 200 meters from my hotel. I got onto a bike almost as soon as I was done with work the first day.
This is not my first trip to Paris of course, and it is not even my first trip in the recent past. But this is the trip where I felt I got to know Paris. And it was all because of Velib. With Velib I would pick up a bike, ride at random till I found something interesting, examine it, then ride again at random till I found something else interesting, examine it too, and then, since this sort of thing can quickly build a powerful thirst, drop off the bike at some nearby station–there is always a nearby station–and find myself a cafe to sit outside and a pint of something on tap to help watch the world go by. You do this a few times, and pretty soon, you get to know the place quite well.
My hotel, situated right next to Telecom Paris Tech where I am visiting, is in the “13th Arrondissement,” which is an area where most tourist will not go. On a map, if you don’t pay attention to the scale, it would seem to be on the outskirts, with its southern extremity on the ring road that encircles Paris. But Paris is small, I discovered. On my very first ride from my hotel, for instance, I found myself in no time at all in the famed Latin Quarter on the left bank, home to several university campuses, the Sorbonne, the College de France, the original Ecole Polytechnic, etc. etc. It is in the 5th Arrondissement, and the area was hopping!
Paris is beautiful, there is no other word to describe it. I have been struck by its beauty on previous trips, but I am struck by it even more this visit as I ride around on a bicycle, whizzing along both the broad boulevards and the narrow alleys, stoping to examine every little thing of interest, which Paris has by the bucketful of course.
Enough of speaking in paragraphs, I leave you with some photographs:
Evening sun on Saint Anne’s church, at the end of an alley way by my hotel.
I found a long line on outside what seemed like a Greek take out place, the one with the sign that says Au’Ptit Grec, on Rue Mouffetard, a narrow happening alley that runs north-south through the Latin Quarter. I asked one of the persons in line what the excitement was all about. Turns out that this place is reputed to have the best crepes in Paris! Imagine that, crepes are to Paris what pizza is to Naples and dosa is to Madras, so to be known for the best crepes in this town must be something else! (But the best crepes in a Greek place?)
Church of St. Etienne du Mont. Didn’t know such a church existed till it showed up over my handlebars all of a sudden. Didn’t go in, but Jean-Claude told me later that I should have. Wikipedia tells me Pascal was buried here, I should have paid my respects.
The original Ecole Polytechnic, late evening. Some of the loftiest names in mathematics and physics graduated from this place. I sat in reverence at a cafe across the square from it, sipping a holy beer brewed by none less than monks of Belgium.
St. Etienne du Mont again. The view from over my beer glass, as I sat contemplating scientific history across from the Ecole Polytechnic.
Notre Dame, of course. I attended a fabulous concert at the cathedral by the Notre Dame singers, it was a concert of Gregorian chants. The singing was beautiful, the acoustics were brilliant.
View south from Pont Saint-Michel, dominated by Fountaine Saint-Michel. Me, I was looking at the bicyclists riding their Velibs!
A typical building along a typical Parisian boulevard you think? But look closely at the signs on the building! Do you see the dark desert highway? Do you feel the cool wind in your hair? Do you smell the warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air?
And now, Autolib! Paris has an electric car share program that works just like a bike-share program. Pick up a car at any station, and drop it off at any other station!