Oui, je t’aime Paris et je t’aime beaucoup – Si chaque ville est une couleur, Londres est gris, Rome est jaune canari, Mykonos est blanc brilliant, et Paris doit être couleurs multipastel ~ 😛
Getting around Paris with a challenge
Spring has come and Voici Le Mois de Mai! French May is an exciting time as the weather is fab (neither too hot nor cold), making it a great time to get around the city and experience the exciting cultural, art, and architectural places. One way you should consider is hopping on a bike and visiting one place right after the other.
Paris’s historic city center is packed with landmarks and attractions, making it quite inefficient to hop among places by subway because it takes time to walk from the platform to the surface; or by bus, because you will have to wait for the bus and the bus lines, bus stop are just too complicated for a tourist to navigate.
So, Paris’ city bike rental scheme, Velib’, was launched in 2007 and it’s a great way for tourists (now even locals) to have an alternative way to travel in Paris for short distances. Now that I found out about the system, I gave myself the challenge to travel around Paris in a day for free – how did it go? Read on.
Velib’ city bike rental in Paris
Vélib’ is not new in Paris as it was launched in 2007 – it is an extensive, self-service bike rental network all over the city of Paris!
Today, the system has over 20,000 bikes and 1,800 rental stations in Paris, and it’s getting popular among tourists (and even locals) with different passes and pricing packages. No matter you only stay in Paris for a few days (go for the 1-day pass!, or pay and go!) or a longer period of time (choose the monthly pass!), you will find something that suits you and the most wonderful thing is, you can opt for a bike easily anywhere, anytime.
Now there are two types of bikes available: Regular green bikes, and electric-assisted blue bikes (which you can connect with an app).
Pay and go
Velib’ is not completely free. To get a bike at the station, you need to register with a small subscription fee with a credit card, but the procedures are quite simple. At the station: Swipe your credit card at any bike rental station, register, and then grab a bike – and then you can travel by bike in Paris. However, I recommend pre-registering online, I have heard on different occasions that users had trouble working with the subscriptions at the stations; All in all, users will at least pay the subscription fee (€5 for a 24-hour pass, and €15 for a 7-day pass per bike), one pass allows rental of up to 5 bikes for small groups or a family to handle their bike rental under one account.
And… here is the brilliant twist: There are two fees involved for the rental. The fixed fee, I have just mentioned, is the amount that you need to pay upon registration; other than that, a bike rental fee will incur depending on the amount of time you use the bike (determined by the time you take the bike out of the dock until you return it by plugging it back in a dock at the station). The first 30 minutes for both green and blue bikes are free, with a fee of €1 for green bikes, and a fee of €2 for blue bikes for each additional 30 minutes. So – it is possible to travel around Parid on a bike the entire day without any additional charges, as long as you make each trip (or each bike use) in less than 30 minutes.
Visit Velib’s official site to check the entire map and locate the bike stations, keep it handy on your phone so you can easily travel from one station to another. Honestly, the stations are merely about 300 meters apart and you won’t be having trouble looking for a station. While I said some told me they had problems with registration with their credit card at the station, it worked for me just fine. I had a day when my friends had businesses to attend to, and so I got to explore the city by myself: My challenge here, was to get to see some of my favorite spots with a bike, and did I manage to do that for “free”?
Here, is how I tried to connect the dots, keeping each stop about 1 to 2 miles apart, leisurely cycling from one place spot to another, 30 minutes (and 200 calories) in between, here we go!
30 min! Lafayette – Le Louvre
My first check-out point was at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann (The Opera House) and then head to Le Louvre. With a few taps and clicks following the instructions, my journey started and I expected it will be an easy 30 minutes ride. Remember to check the bike before you start riding on the streets: make sure the wheels have air, the pedals, seat, and handlebars are firm, the brake works fine, and the seats are adjusted (as you know a lot of people used the bike and it’s important to make sure the bike that you choose is in good condition, and it’s adjusted to suit your preference.)
Le Louvre was originally built in the 12th century by Philippe Auguste as a fort. It was later converted by Charles V in 1360 as a royal residence. For over two centuries, Le Louvre was the political center in France until Versailles. It officially became an art museum after the French Revolution in 1793. The museum has a collection of 420,000 artworks that came from both the ancient (7,000BC) and the contemporary world (1858); while 13,000 pieces are on public display, they are all masterpieces from big names like Da Vinci, Theodore Gericault, Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and more. It has an impressive range of genres from Near Eastern Antiques, Egyptian Antiques, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiques, History of the Louvre and Medieval Louvre, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, and drawings, to Islamic art.
I wasn’t planning to go inside Le Louvre that day, it will take at least half a day to explore the museum: learn how to plan your own art tour in Paris with a museum pass. What I did that day was have a walk in the square, and take photos of the I.M. Pei’s pyramid, and the surrounding architecture without a crowd (because that day the museum was closed… every Tuesday). Then, return the bike to the stations right outside Le Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries. Take a walk in the Gardens to the Place de la Concorde. One important monument you will find in the center of this busy plaza is the right-hand Luxor Obelisk that was transported from the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
Musée de l’Orangerie was reopened in 2006 and it is popular among art enthusiasts because of its collection and location. It’s located on the other end of Jardin de Tuileries from Le Louvre, and everyone comes here to visit the two oval halls on the 1st floor that showcase eight large-scale long paintings of Les Nympheas (Water Lilies) by Claude Monet.
30min! (But…) Place de la Concorde – Musée d’Orsay
It was a beautiful, quiet, lovely day to walk through the Jardin des Tuileries right in front of Le Louvre, to the busy Place de la Concorde. From there I could see the Arc de Triomphe all the way to the end of the Av. Des Champs-Élysées! Hop on the bike again and I rode along La Seine, heading to Le Pont Royal, going to my next stop – Musée d’Orsay. But then, Bammmmm. There were a few stations (as I remember) behind Orsay yet all the bike parking was full…. I had to wait for a spot, and it took me like 15-20 minutes and so I couldn’t make it in time. That means popular bike stations may be full that you won’t be able to return your bike on time!
Besides, it was a narrow road, and it was hard to reach the parking when someone grabbed a bike at the other end of the station, and other people just took the spot (there wasn’t exactly a queue).
There, I explored Musée d’Orsay, and to save time, you may consider adding the Museum Pass to your trip so you get to visit these places without queuing at the entrance.
Musée d’Orsay is a former train station that was wonderfully converted into an art museum designed by three architects including Laloux. The building was aimed to stay harmonious with Le Louvre and La Place de Concorde on the other side of the Seine. It is a great place to appreciate impressionist paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries because it houses impressionist works from the impressionist museum and Le Louvre in 1986 when the Paris authorities decided to transform Orsay into an art museum. Look out for masterpieces from artists including Eugene Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique, Jean-Francois Millet, Pierre Etienne Théodore Rousseau, and Gustave Courbet.
Pont des Arts
30min! From Orsay to Invalides
I had a nice time and a nice lunch in the museum, and time to wipe the unsuccessful memories in my storybook and hop on the bike to my next stop again. This time, it was easy – the entrance of the Invalides was close by but there were some slopes on the way.
The striking dome of Les Invalides is hard to miss from afar, and it’s an important landmark in the city because this is the burial place of many of France’s wat heroes, most notably Napoleon.
30+ min! Looking for Tour Eiffel
So there was always a time in a place when you have planned, but fate just didn’t seem to work out perfectly. After I had walked through Les Invalides I was in a stage of disorientation ~ Now I realized that I was on the Esplanade des Invalides / Pont Alexandre III and I knew my next stop is the Eiffel Tower. So I took my bike and decided just to go through the block heading in the right direction. Maybe, because the Eiffel tower was so tall and big, it looked so close but to me, it seemed forever. Unlike most cities in the United States, Paris’s layout is not in perfect regular grids. For one moment I felt like I was trapped in a maze….
I made it to the entrance of the Eiffel tower and of course, the queue was horrendous. I wasn’t planning to climb the tower that day either. But it is an incredible viewpoint of Paris. After admiring the tour from below and I had a walk in the garden, I return the bike (I think I missed it by a few minutes, another failure…) and just appreciated the beauty of the tower for a while from far, far away.
30min! Musée Rodin
I could say this is the surprise of my day. Following the signs along the road, I arrived at a small and elegant mansion right beside the Invalides. The garden is nicely cropped with Rodin’s masterpieces on display. I enjoy the ‘coziness’ of the museum very much 🙂
Musée Rodin is an intimate mansion with a compact yet artist garden. Originally a hotel, it is a small building yet it showcases one of the greatest sculptors in the world – Auguste Rodin. The art museum opened in 1919, and there is no better place to celebrate the artist’s work than a delicately trimmed garden. There are over one hundred sculptures in the museum, including Le Penseur (The Thinker).
40 min! 😛 Back to Notre Dame and explore Cité
Since I had dinner plans with my friends, I had to meet them at Le Centre Pompidou by 6! So it’s time for me to make one last stop and go all the way back to Notre Dame.
It was a bit ambitious, so I didn’t make it within 30 minutes. But what the hell, that was fun to ride along the Parisian streets and La Seine, go through the Pont des Arts (The bridge of love locks) again and return the bike in one piece – Still have time to see street performances outside Pompidou before my friends arrived.
p.s. Pompidou closes at 10 pm, so save it for last. Anyhooo… On the escalator up, I got to see a beautiful sunset!