I made it to Paris! And boy oh boy did I ever received a warm welcome.
First, my friend Melanie greeted me at the airport. She was on her way to Berlin but had a few minutes before her flight so she met me at arrivals and we toasted my arrival with a stealth bottle of champagne.
Second, I had one of those slow-mo moments with Christophe where our heads came together for a big smooch like on Days of Our Lives. I nearly bawled when I saw him but held back. I’m an ugly crier. Red face, scrunched, not exactly kiss material.
Third, my friend Huey (pictured above) helped me figure out the Velib bike situation. The Vélib is the biggest bike sharing system in the world. I remember watching Vélib users with Melanie but we never managed to figure out how to do it. So we let it go. But Huey was determined, so after half a day of sweating through Franglish with locals, he figured it out and shared his findings. Then we tooted around Paris for the day.
I discovered that the Vélib is the best way to get around Paris. I can’t believe how much I abused my feet before.
When you come to Paris, here’s the trick to Vélib:
1. You have to pay online for 1 or 7 days of use. That’s the first trick, see. There is no card that spits out of the Vélib kiosk vending-machine style. You have to do it online.
2. You’ll be given an 8 digit number. And you’ll have to create a password. Remember, you do this online.
3. Approach the row of Vélib bikes and choose one. You do this BEFORE you head to the kiosk, otherwise you’ll freak out at the kiosk when it asks you to give your bike number. Your bike will be locked up but it will be parked in a numbered spot. Remember the number. Pick a bike that has good tire pressure, not too many dings and a seat that is already adjusted to your level. You can adjust it yourself but you’ve got enough to think about on your first bike trip.
4. Approach the Vélib kiosk with confidence. And when you get there, search for the English option. You can learn French another day. For the first day, just use the English option. CAUTION: Not all kiosks offer a language option. You’ll know that on the front screen. You may instantly start sweating if it’s all in French. Try to stay calm. And maybe look for another station. They are everywhere.
5. Follow the instructions on the screen. You’ll have to input the number you received online, your password and the number that corresponds with the bike you choose. NOTE: There is no card you’ll receive. This confused me before because it appeared that some people had cards with scan codes on them. These are local people who can add Vélib use onto their monthly Metro subscription. These people are cool and confident. You’ll be slightly jealous that they have a card and you have a slip of paper.
6. Go get your bike. You’ll have to press a button to release the bike. It will slip out of the magnetic lock thingy. This is when you’ll want to do a dance of joy but you can’t because you’re holding a bike.
7. Ride your bike for 25 minutes FREE. Yes, every bike trip starts with 30 minutes free. After that, it’s a Euro, then after time, it’s another 2 Euros and so on. The trick is to ride the bike for 25 minutes, take 5 minutes to find and park it at another kiosk, walk around that area, then grab another bike and continue on. If you wanted to ride from my place in the 5th to the Eiffel Tower, it would take two or three bike swaps but it would be free. Sweet!
NOTE: You will easily find a kiosk. There are 20,000 bikes sitting at 1,800 bike stations located 300 meters apart. If you stop at a bike station and it’s full, you can score an extra 15 minutes at the kiosk to find another bike stand.
ANOTHER NOTE: You’re not being stealthy by riding for 30 minutes then doing a bike swap. The Vélib people want the bikes back so another person can use it for another 30 minutes. That’s how they roll here in Paris. It’s not all about making big bucks, people.
8. Park your bike at an open slot in the station. If you’ve insert your bike correctly, there is a a green light that will turn amber then flash green twice. If you haven’t inserted your bike correctly, the green light will turn red and you will instantly start to sweat. This happened to me but Huey gave my bike an extra push to park it in the slot correctly. There is no sweeter sight then when the light on the parking spot blinks green twice.
On my first day with the bike, I stopped at a mosque for tea. Parked the bike.
Took another bike to the Bastille area to find a place to eat. Parked the bike.
Took yet another bike to the Marais to… strangely, I didn’t eat or drink anything in the Marais. Parked the bike.
Took my final bike to the Pantheon to look at the Eiffel Tower AND the Pantheon at the same time because this town is laid out so well that one can do such things. Parked the bike over in my hood and stopped by the butcher shop for yet another slow-mo smooch with Christophe.
The best part of the Vélib is that you never have to go back to anywhere to retrieve it. Wherever you go, you can find another bike. It’s actually better than having your own bike. It costs less (even over time) and you’ll never have to retrieve it or worry about it being lost or stolen. Though you do need to have your wits about you when that light turns red. Such a judgmental little light. But once you figure out how to park the bike correctly, you’ll find that touring around on the bike is a nice way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time.
In two days, I kinda feel like a local. Bienvenue à Paris!