Friday, October 19, 2007

Now THAT was An Adventure!

So I Vélib'ed for the first time this morning... And although there were a few small hiccups along the way, I had a great time! At least those darn strikes were good for something in the end! (and I so wish I could bicycle to work like that more often...) Now here's just hoping they don't last, because I'd like to return home and sleep in my own bed for once... Apparently the rugby game tonight may have a temporary hand in preventing further extension of the strikes, but who knows how long that will last.

The last few days have seen me trekking around the city, sleeping in friends' and colleagues' spare beds, depending therefore on their kindness and generosity, and traveling to work in the morning by bike or by foot. Wednesday night I had dinner with a friend, who generously allowed me to stay with her and her husband in their adorable apartment in the 11th. I thought I would have to walk from there (between Bastille and the Gare de Lyon) to work near the Parc Monceau on Thursday morning, but as it turns out Line 14 was working perfectly (again, automatic lines like that one seem to be the best solution for avoiding strikes in the future, if you ask me!) and there weren't even that many crowds. I think a lot of people must have ended up staying home to avoid the craziness. But there were also quite a few people on the streets, either hoofing it or cycling away. It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning, the sun was shining, and I must say that I didn't mind the walk from St. Lazare to rue de Courcelles at all... I even had time to stop for coffee and a piece of carrot cake, so I treated myself!

Last night one of my colleagues, who lives on the Left Bank near Denfert-Rochereau, told me I could stay at her place, and it worked out perfectly. I did have to walk to her apartment -- and to be honest with you, once again, I didn't really mind, because even though it was a long walk, it was a pleasant one because it wasn't raining and it wasn't that cold. It took me about an hour and a half, even though she had said it would be less -- but my colleague is a first-class athlete, participating in marathons on a regular basis and walking, running or cycling to work pretty much every day. I was stopped for directions by several befuddled people, either tourists or those who were not used to walking around the city. One poor lady stopped me at the edge of the boulevard St. Germain, just as it hits the Pont de la Concorde, and asked in a daze, "Odéon? Where's Odéon?" I explained that she must have passed it a ways back, because it was in the direction she had been walking from -- and she nodded and mumbled that she had come all the way from Duroc... Yikes! As I passed the crossroads of boulevard Raspail and rue de Rennes, a young guy who appeared to be from Eastern Europe (he had an accent, but I couldn't recognize it) asked me in broken French, "République? Je cherche République..." I was stunned, because République is all the way on the other end of the city, across the Seine, in the northeast -- I tried to explain this to him, and he just looked at me disbelievingly. I think he must have mixed up names or something...

When I got to my colleague's place, we all had couscous for dinner -- she said I was really lucky, because usually during the week she and her husband don't do much cooking (who really has time for it?!), but they had decided ahead of time to have couscous together because she's prepping for a marathon this weekend. So it was nice to enjoy the meal and chat about the strikes, our work situation, and other various and sundry everyday matters.

My colleague loves to Vélib' in to work in the morning, so after dinner she asked me if I was up for it -- and I thought, of course, why not? I had been wanting to have the chance to try out the system for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity -- even if the strikes had crowded up the traffic in the streets, requiring us to be even more vigilant on the bikes. Of course, that's a necessity in any normal circumstances, but we just had to be extra careful. After nabbing two bikes near her building (we were really lucky in this case, because I think we arrived just in the nick of time -- several bikes were damaged, and we got the last two good ones), we set out, but about 25 minutes later we tried to switch them out at another station. For some reason the machine wouldn't accept my card identification code, and after having already locked in the other bike, I needed a new one. The check-in process was pretty simple, but I still needed another bike to make it the rest of the way to work... As luck would have it, two Vélib' employees were stacking damaged bikes on a sort of truck nearby, and we asked them for some help. They were super-friendly, but neither one of them could figure out why the machine wouldn't accept my code. Finally, one of them (a younger chap, with a friendly smile) just swiped his Carte Intégrale on the machine and told me to take one of the bikes -- I couldn't believe it! I was a bit taken aback, and didn't know what to do, because obviously I wanted to use the bike, but I didn't want him to get into any trouble. He insisted that it was okay, and just made me "promise" to return the bike once I got to work! Of course, I said -- that was the plan. Apparently my colleague later explained to me that some people have actually been STEALING the bikes! I couldn't believe that, but then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised...

So we made it to work, on-time even, and after returning our bikes we dashed into the office. I had been wearing two sweaters and a jacket, so you can imagine how sweaty I was at that point! And my colleague had been patiently waiting for me, looking back and making sure I was following closely the whole time. I know I slowed her down, but we both had a good time in the end. Like I said, a real adventure -- and the brighter side of the strikes for me. But the terrible thing is, I read about a horrible accident today on-line, and this did send chills down my spine... Please, all Vélib' riders out there, soyez vigilants ! It only takes a few seconds...

12 comments:

Emily said...

Boo about the strikes, but what a great opportunity for you to try out Velib'! I think the idea is fabulous and I wish we had something like it in my little corner of France. I read an article from a few months ago about how Velib' (am I spelling it right?) is now a great way to meet people. Ah, Paris, the city of love...

The Late Bloomer said...

Yes, there have been a lot of articles about the Vélib' phenomenon... I photocopied some articles (several included in a full spread) in the Figaroscope for one of my colleagues, and I'm often getting questions at work from the diplomats, who are very curious about the whole system. If I lived in the city, I'm sure I'd use it all the time, because I really love to cycle!

I've heard about the "rencontres à Vélib'" as well, and it's true that it can be a fun way to help people, because guys can help out gals, and vice versa... 'Course, strike-time is probably not the best time to try to meet other people, though, because everyone is kinda stressed out -- it depends, because there is a certain solidarity, but then you have people fighting over the available bikes -- it's kinda crazy!

Aralena said...

Good for you, Alice! I'm impressed. Although when I think about my fear of biking in Paris, it occurs to me that the few times when I've almost been run over, it's been by cyclists - so maybe I shouldn't worry so much about the cars.

And you really are a gracious guest, so mi casa es su casa.

Yansor said...

just to say hi, have been away as yoy know :)

Amy H said...

Isn't Velib' so much fun??? That's really scary about the woman getting killed by a truck on one, though. Vigilance is definitely called for when riding next to those crazy city drivers.

And it's so weird to read about the strike on your blog. Because here in the countryside, you wouldn't even know it was happening.

simon said...

Biking is fantastic, either for recreation or transport to work!

I have 2 bikes, both Cannondales. One a mountain the other a road bike..

This week I will ride to work (about 80k)

I was going to bike ride in PAris but it took me a few visits to get confident with the traffic. :o)

Destination Metz said...

I was wondering how the strikes would affected use of the velib, I had the feeling they would all be in use and there would be queues of people waiting for them! That's really sad about the fatality, I'm going to get a bike really soon and I'm pretty nervous about it to tell the truth.

Imaginair' said...

Welcome to the club of the bikers in Paris.
My bike :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/imaginair/136587714/

Poppy Fields said...

They've started the bike thing in Marseille, too, but it's so hilly I wouldn't want to ride one anywhere except along the corniche/beach areas.

Scribbit said...

Velib is relating to biking I'm assuming? I'm going to have to Google that one, I'm so out of it!

L said...

You have to check out this French blog now: http://www.penelope-jolicoeur.com/

Her post today and yesterday were about her Vélib experience/mishap.

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks all for your comments... Been a bit out of it lately, sorry for the lack of posting...

Thanks again, Aralena, for your words and for your generosity. It really meant a lot. I hope we can get together again soon.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by -- Tatiana, Amy, Simon, D. Metz, Meredith, Michelle and L.! One of these days I'll get back on track again...