17: Champs-Élysées with Police Escort

Oh how sad, our last day. Up and at 'em very early to catch the 6:30 train to Paris - although I don't think either of us slept a wink. Once again very thankful that the hotel is across from the station.

Realizing that Werner had never really been IN Paris before (our rushed hour on the first day didn't really count) and since we had the entire day in front of us, I thought that a city tour by bike would be a fun idea.

We arrived in Paris shortly before 9am and had a great day touring the highlights of the city. First stop was at the Eiffel Tower where we spent considerable time admiring the structure from all angles. Then it was over the river and up the hill to the Arc de Triomphe (Paris is NOT flat) which was dramatically decked out with a gigantic Tricolor flying in the middle and flapping in the day's considerable breeze.

In the true spirit of the Tour de France (but without the doping) we naturally had to ride down the Champs Elysées to the Place de la Concorde. Fifty meters into the ride, at the first stoplight, we were joined by 5 Parisian bike police officers - the rest of the way to the obelisk we had "official" escort. It was very cool - people stared at us as though we were something special - or may they just thought "who are those idiots with fully-packed bikes on the Champs Elysées?".

After a picture stop on Place de la Concorde we headed toward the Tuileries. As it was approaching lunchtime we stopped at one of the outdoor restaurants even though we knew it was sure to be tourist-trap-expensive. At 10€ each, the hamburgers (yes, hamburgers in Paris - what can I say, we were in the mood) were somewhat overpriced. At a neighboring table someone was drinking a glass of beer and we decided that looked good, so without checking the price we ordered beer too. Well... the bill came and our jaws hit the table in unison - the beers had cost 9,50€ each! Holy hat - almost as much as a krug at Oktoberfest - which holds twice as much beer as we drank. The lesson from that was - when in France, order wine!

After our expensive beer adventure we pushed our bikes further toward the Louvre (no riding allowed in the Gardens). I was astonished at the sheer masses of people. Everywhere we looked it was just teeming with tourists. I don't recall ever seeing Paris so full.

The next destination was Notre Dame. Once again we navigated our heavily-loaded bikes along the busy boulevards. Thank goodness for Paris' well-marked bike lanes - in spite of the thick traffic we navigated our way fairly quickly to the Ile de la Cité.

I was again astonished by the throngs of people, this time waiting in a long line to get into the cathedral. While Werner walked up to get a closer look, I watched the bikes and snapped pictures.

After Notre Dame it was time to slowly make our way to the Gare de L'est. We made our way through narrow side streets, trying not to get hit by cars or run over careless tourists walking unthinkingly into our path.

Our last coffee in France was drunk at a cafe on a quiet little place - we took a few minutes to reflect on the multitude of impressions we'd accrued in the past two weeks.

From there we headed up Boulevard Magenta towards the train station, stopping on the way at a grocery store to pick up goods for our evening meal on the train. About 500 feet before the station the trip almost came to a spectacular end - I was riding in the bike lane when an idiot on a Vespa pulled into the lane in front of me. As I swerved to miss him I slammed full barrel into a lamp post. Fortunately, nothing was hurt except my pride, although poor Werner, who was riding behind me, had a huge shock.

The train ride back to Germany was also not without event. We stowed our bikes away and found the way to our assigned compartment, which we shared with 4 young German students on a Eurrail adventure. Shortly after the train left the station we discovered that our compartment, indeed the entire car was without electricity. It seems this was not a problem in France but in Germany it was considered unsafe and we would have to change cars when we reached the German border in Strasbourg.

We made the best of the situation and befriended the students and shared our picnic with them in the light of Werner's battery-operated bike light - it was quite amusing. Our stroke of really good luck was that somehow the conductor decided he liked the group of us and gave us favored treatment - in our new car, we got the only sleeping compartment available, which was terrific because we were all expecting to have to try to sit and sleep through the night (and none of us had paid the extra fare for a bed!). After a few rousing games of iPhone trivial pursuit we all hit the hay and were able to arrive home at least somewhat rested.

What a great trip. It was challenging and interesting and fun and exhausting. I think Werner was surprised that he enjoyed himself (and France) so much - not ever before having experienced "travel planned by Sara" he hadn't known what to expect. Most importantly, we had a great time as a couple and can't wait for the next long bike tour.

Day 17

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