International Adventure Guide 2013: Paris, France

An adventure guide to Paris? Yes.

At first glance, Paris probably isn’t the go-to city for outdoor enthusiasts. Metros, brasseries and the Champs Elysées don’t really make the top of the list of an adventurer’s itinerary. But being the diverse and ever-changing big city that it is, there are plenty of opportunities for those travelers that like to blend their urban tours with a little bit of adventure. There are parks to explore, bike paths to navigate and even a beach to walk on barefoot in the summertime. If you thought Paris was only for the urbanite, think again.

The other benefit to exploring the City of Light through the adventure lens is that in a city that’s known for being fairly expensive, Paris’ outdoor options are actually all very budget friendly, meaning that you end up with a city visit that’s both fun and also easy on the wallet.

Ready to explore a Paris that goes beyond croissants and red wine? Allons-y!

Activities

Bike
There’s no better way to explore Paris than by bicycle. It’s not for the faint of heart though; navigating between pedestrians, Parisian traffic and adrenaline-seeking inline skaters, the urban biker has to pay sharp attention. You can plan your own route and rent a bike through the now-famous Parisian bikeshare system Vélib (read our guide on How to Ride Bike in Paris for more details, including payment options as the Vélib automated machines can be tricky with American debit and credit cards), or your can get on a guided tour. Check out the following operators, which offer a variety of tour options, as well as bike rentals if you want a more long-term bike rental than Velib allows for as the bikeshare system is intended for short distance trips.

Fat Bike Tours– American owned and operated, Fat Bike Tours was created with the English speaker in mind. If you are looking to get outside of Paris you can take them up on their Monet Garden tour. Tours start at 30€. http://fattirebiketours.com/paris

Blue Bike Tours – Blue Bike Tours is run by a French-American family, and their Hidden Paris tour will take you to all the places locals go in the neighborhoods of Saint Germain and the Marais. A true insider’s guide to the city. Tours start at 29€. http://www.bluebiketours-paris.com/

Paris Bike Tour – Paris Bike Tour offers a Seine-specific guided tour, learning about monuments and bridges along the way. Tours start at 32€.
http://www.parisbiketour.net/uk/

Run
Running has become the sport of active minded urbanites, and if you’re the kind of traveler that always packs a pair of running shoes, Paris will have plenty of options for you. A couple of tips for running in the city:

  1. Get up early. You’ll find that morning runs around 6 or 7 can be relatively quiet compared with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the day. Parisians aren’t crazy enough to get up at the crack of dawn, so if you enjoy morning runs, the city is yours.
  2. Find a park. There are plenty of parks in the city that are great for running. Don’t be afraid to get out of the city center: parks like Parc Monceau, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes are excellent for running adventures.
  3. Hit the Seine. There’s nothing quite like a long run along the iconic Seine. Plus it makes that dinner of wine and cheese later in the day so well deserved. On Sundays some of the quays are completely closed off to cars, which attracts a lot of locals out for walks, runs and roller blading. The city has put a lot of effort into making more and more of the riverside pathways car-free, so expect to see more of this in the future.

Don’t want to plan your own route? There are running tour operators for that. Check out the following groups who can help you coordinate a complete running tour of Paris, no matter what your running level. Because these running tours are guided by experienced athletes, you’ll find the prices a little higher than regular bike or walking tours.

Paris Running Tour: Going with a group is better as it will lower your price, so grab some friends. 55-85€ per person. http://www.parisrunningtour.com/

Paris Running Tours: Tours starting at 50€. http://parisrunningtours.com/

Wellicient: Along with running tours, Wellicient also do walking, fitness and stretching tours. http://www.wellicient.com/

Roller Blading
Make all the fun you want, but rollerblading is one of this city’s favorite pastimes, and if you want a truly Parisian experience, you’ll don a set of inline skates. There’s a popular weekly nighttime roller blade excursion hosted by Pari-Roller that takes place every Friday from 10pm to 1am. It starts at Place Raoul Dutry in Montparnasse and takes a different route every week. This gives you the chance to see the city in not only a different medium of transportation, but at night as well.

On Sundays you can take part in a group ride organized by Rollers & Coquillages. Gather close to the Bastille on Boulevard Bourbon and then take off with the hundreds of other skaters to enjoy the city. This group ride is a little better suited to beginners.

Hotspots

Bois de Boulogne
On weekends, this park of over 2,000 acres is a hotspot for locals, as there are trails to run and walk on, boats to row and horses to ride. Bois de Boulogneis on the western edge of the 16th arrondissement, so you are almost outside of Paris proper, but still have easy access via the Metro: Porte Dauphine or Porte d’Auteuil.

Promenade Plantée
This is your dose of green space right in the middle of the city. The extensive greenbelt is built on an old railway line, and is a gorgeous space of trees, plants and plenty of benches to sit down and have a picnic. At almost three miles long it makes for a good jogging route, as long as you hit it at a time of day when there aren’t too many people. Access the Promenade Plantée from the Bastille Metro station.

Bois de Vincennes
Bois de Vincennesis the largest public park in the city, with a velodrome for bike races, a horse racing track and four lakes. Bike lanes, trails for running and even a Buddhist Temple, this is the place to come when you need a break from the city. The park is to the west of the 12th arrondissement and is easily accessed by Metro: Porte-Dorée or Château de Vincennes.

Where to Stay

Paris Hostel
With shared and private rooms, Paris Hostel is a good option for those that want a budget accommodation that’s well located. The rooms are small, but breakfast is included and you are perfectly situated for a morning run up to Montmartre. From 26€/night with shared facilities, 28€/night with private facilities. 39 Rue Rodier.www.paris-hostel.biz

Hotel Campanile Bastille
A popular French budget hotel chain, Hotel Campanile puts you close to the Bastille and the Marais all with an inner courtyard in the hotel, meaning you can start every morning off with your coffee outside. You’re also within walking distance of the Promenade Plantee. From 100€/night. 9 Rue de Chemin Vert, www.campanile.com

Hi-Matic Hostel
Branded as an eco-hotel, the Hi-Matic is a clean and budget-friendly space that also serves up a 100% organic breakfast that is included in the room price. For the environmentally conscious, they also employ an eco-friendly taxi service and use natural materials whenever possible. They’re also big on health: a card with yoga poses is left in every room. From 109€/night. 71 Rue de Charonne. www.hi-matic.net

Logistics

Get Around
Paris is easy to navigate with public transportation. This easiest option is the Metro – but there are plenty of bus routes as well. You can buy a batch (carnet) of 10 one-way tickets for 13.30€ in machines in every metro station, which will get you a ride on both the Metro and buses. If you want to get yourself around, consider taking advantage of the Vélib bikeshare system. A one-day Vélib ticket runs 1.70€ or you can get a week pass for 8€ – the easiest wy to get a ticket is to buy one online and print out your subscription number that you then type in when you want to use a bike. You get the first 30 minutes of Vélib use for free, which makes the system ideal for doing short trips around the city; pick up a bike in one spot and drop it off in another.

Seasonality
For those looking to spend most of their time outdoors in Paris, late spring, summer and early fall are your best bets. Paris can get very cold in the winter, which puts a damper on your outdoor experiences. A popular city, there are always visitors in Paris, but if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try for spring or fall so you can avoid the summer tourists.

Safety
Much like any big metropolis, it’s important to always be vigilant in Paris, especially in crowded tourist areas and the Metro. That being said, Paris is a safe city, so just bring along a little street sense and you’ll be in good shape.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user TerryPresley]

How To Ride A Bike In Paris


Everywhere I travel, I try to ride a bike. It’s one of those weird obsessions that I have; the need to discover everything on two wheels. Be it Afghanistan or Amsterdam, game on.

Here’s the thing about riding a bicycle in new places: it’s like learning how to ride a bike all over again. No matter how used to the bicycle you are – at home in Portland I don’t even own a car – discovering a new city on two wheels makes you fall in love with cycling all over again. It’s a challenge. Navigating streets you have never walked down before, learning the ins and outs of local bike culture, figuring out how traffic works. There’s a flow to cycling, and each city has its own variation.

Paris is no different, and a few days into taking the metro I knew that underground transportation wasn’t going to be a sustainable option for me. Cram yourself into a few too many metro cars during rush hour traffic and you’ll be sprinting for an above ground office as well. Biking is a welcome solution.

Fortunately, Paris is equipped with the Vélib system, a well designed, and much talked about, bike-share system that boasts over 20,000 bikes around the city. Launched in 2007, the Paris Vélib system is the largest bike-share system in the world, used by tourists and locals alike.There is something freeing about being on a bicycle, the fact that you and you alone are responsible for getting anywhere. There’s a sense of accomplishment unlike any other when you have made it from point A to point B, successfully navigating a maze of bike routes and busy city streets.

Admittedly, I was slightly nervous and a little scared, so my first foray into the world of Vélib was with a friend.

“Just make sure you tell me where to turn!” The worst part about biking in a new city is your lack of navigation skills. I trust my ability to keep an eye out for cars and scooters, but trying to identify the names on the blue signs on the corner of every old Parisian building is something else entirely.

But then it occurred to me: cycling, much like traveling in general, is about giving up control. Accepting the fact that you will get lost, and that that’s OK. In fact, there is beauty in those moments when you find yourself in a place you hadn’t planned on being, and there’s a pure sense of accomplishment when you miraculously end up at your final destination with no help but from anyone other than yourself.

So I went alone, mapping out my route before I left, but remaining open to a bit of serendipity. Those first few pedals were freeing. I have been cycling since before I can remember, but this was different – a new feeling. I was learning how to ride all over again, and the thrill of it was impressive.

I managed to work my way through a busy roundabout, navigating around cars, buses and other cyclists more familiar with the ways of Parisian velo life than myself. I took a deep breath and pushed through. This was no Portland, and that’s what made it fun. Then came the time to find a spot to park the bike. Station one was closed due to surrounding roadwork and the next two were full. The fourth time was a charm, a reminder that once again, when you travel, you are rarely in control, and all you can do is keep going until things go your way.

And so with my first solo Parisian bike tour, I was addicted.

I pedaled down from Montmartre in the moonlight. I cruised by the Moulin Rouge, dodging a couple of scooters along the way. I manoeuvred my way around the mess of roadwork surrounding Republique. I sat next to a policeman at a stoplight, the policeman looking at me and rubbing his hands together to ask if I was cold.

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This was the real Paris. As the Vélib card says “La ville est plus belle a velo.” The city is more beautiful by bike. La vie aussi.

Want to check out The City of Lights on two wheels? Here is a basic guide:

Buy a pass

If you have traveled in Europe before you will know the frustration with a lack of security chips that all European bank cards have. This makes it difficult to use your debit or credit card in the Velib machines. There are, however, a couple of simple solutions to this problem:

  1. Buy a one or seven-day pass online. You will be given a code that you will type in every time you want to access a bicycle.
  2. Buy a Navigo pass (just the card itself, not the full metro pass) and put your Velib one or seven-day pass on it. Buy a Navigo pass in a metro station, and then you can add your Velib pass to it by purchasing one online. This allows you to forgo typing in your pass every time you want to pick up your bike, and you can just swipe your Navigo pass at the bike station.
  3. Buy a Vélib pass. If you are staying in Paris for an extended period of time, consider getting a yearlong pass. For 29 euros, you get a yearlong pass that allows you up to 30 minutes of free bike use each time you ride. For 39 euros you get the same thing, but up to 45 minutes each time you ride. You can pick up a card at the Hotel de Ville and then pay for it online and activate it at a Velib station.

Keep a map on you

Whether you download the PDF of the main bike routes in the city, or keep an electronic version on your smartphone, the map provided by the City of Paris is useful for navigation. There are over 200 kilometers of bike routes, and most of them are well marked.

Learn to use your bell

Many of the protected bike lines are right next to pedestrian routes. Don’t assume that the pedestrians will see you, or move out of your way for that matter. Make yourself heard.

Check that your bike works

When you arrive at a Vélib station, do a basic check of the bike before you take it. Make sure you can pedal it, that the brakes and lights work and that there aren’t any other major problems. You will notice that often bikes will have the seat turned in the opposite direction – this is the local Parisians’ way of telling each other that the bike isn’t functioning.

Be aware

This may go without saying, but you have to be on guard for pedestrians, scooters, cars and buses at all times. If you are ever unsure of where to turn, find a place to stop and pull out your map. Or just keep riding and go with the flow of getting lost for a few. You might just discover something unintended.

Resources

Vélib – English site
G
éovélo - a site that uses Google Maps to help map your route
City of Paris Bike Route Map

Capital Bikeshare stations could be coming to the National Mall

Capital Bikeshare stations could be added to the national mallAnyone who has ever visited the National Mall in Washington, D.C. knows just how congested with traffic the area can be at times. In addition to the usual day-to-day commuters, of which there are plenty, there are always a large number of tourists milling about as well. Travelers often make the pilgrimage to visit the Washington and Lincoln Monuments, along with the host of other attractions that make up the Mall, and frequent traffic snarls can be the result. Now, the National Park Service has come up with a novel plan to help alleviate some of that traffic however, proposing the addition of Capital Bikeshare Stations throughout the area.

The Capital Bikeshare program has become a popular one in Washington, where 110 stations, with 1100 bikes, are spread out across the city. The service offers membership rates of just $7 per day, with additional options of 3 days ($15), 30 days ($25), or a full year ($75). The stations are well placed to allow drivers to park their cars for the day and use a bike to commute from point to point as needed. Until now however, the stations haven’t been allowed on land that is managed by the Park Service, so their addition to the Mall would be a benefit to a new audience.

The NPS has proposed adding the stations to five locations throughout the Mall, providing easy access to the bikes at all times. Those locations would include the Smithsonian Metro Station, as well as the Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, and FDR/MLK Monuments. The Park Service proposal says that those locations were selected due to their proximity to popular destinations on the Mall, as well as their access to local bike trails and other forms of transportation like the Metro rail.

As of now, adding the bikeshare stations is not a done deal, and the NPS is seeking input from the public concerning the matter. Personally, I think it would make for a great inclusion to the National Mall, but others may not agree. You can let your opinion be known by leaving a comment here.

Gadling Take FIVE: Week of Nov. 29-Dec. 5

Because I’m writing this from a town outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, these posts caught my attention right away while I was browsing through this week’s bounty. They have to do with money.

  • In general, Denmark is not a place for bargains. According to Josh, however, London and Seoul are becoming less expensive.
  • If you’re feeling generous–and it doesn’t take much money to feel generous, check out Anna’s post on the fundraiser Passports with a Purpose. Four powerhouse female travel bloggers thought up a way to raise money for Heifer International using the network of world travelers to do it. Yes, that means you.
  • Karen wrote a post about how to find a cheaper way to go to Obama’s inauguration. That seems mighty generous of her since she’s looking for a bargain to head to D.C. herself.
  • For anyone looking to maximize the money spend on a digital camera, Aaron has handy tips for turning one into a personal assistant.
  • If a trip to Hawaii is in your future, check out Brenda’s post on the bike sharing program. It will be in place in Honolulu by early summer, and from Brenda’s description of how it will work, it sounds like it will be an inexpensive way to stay in shape and see different parts of the city.

DC launches a bike-sharing program

I am a big ZipCar fan. I can guarantee that I would like a similar service using bicycles instead of cars, as well.

DC is launching a first extensive bike-sharing initiative in the US. Registered participants can access 120 “smart bikes” at 10 different locations in the downtown area. Retrieving the bike is easy.

  • Go to any bike station (see photo)
  • Wave your SmartBike DC user card in front of the card reader
  • Follow instructions on screen
  • Retrieve assigned bike from rack

Bike-sharing has been popular throughout Europe, with cities like Paris, Barcelona or Stockholm using them. Will it work in car-infatuated America? That’s a good question.

There are problems with the idea translating into this market. The US is a litigious society. People will sue if something happens to them. Helmets are not provided, yet they are required in many states. There are other liability issues. If they bike gets stolen, the customer pays.

I sincerely hope they can figure out how to make it work. It’s a great idea.