Voila Le Velo!

A new bike service called Velib has over 20,000 bikes at over 1400 automated stations in Paris. The first half hour is free—after that a subscription for the day is 1 Euro. E-husband and I have seen the stations throughout Paris and today, while sitting at a cafe drinking un grand creme, we watched a group straddle their bikes and ride off. We could do that! We could ride to the Eiffel Tower!

Velib bicycles in Paris (photo credit Peter Bates)

Velib bicycles in Paris (photo credit Peter Bates)

The automated instructions were available in English. “Select subscription: day or week? Select PIN number, push V for enter. Your credit card will be charged a $150 deposit, select confirm.”

Fine, fine, it is all fine until the part where we are simply going to remove a bicycle from the rack. It won’t budge. We pull on it. Nothing. We pull harder. My credit card had just been charged $150 for a bicycle we can’t unlock. There would be no way to get a return receipt if we were not able to return the bike because we never actually removed the bike.

I had too many Grand Cremes today and now my hands are shaking.

A lovely young Swedish girl stops to look at her map. Parlez Vous Anglais? I ask.

Yes, a little, she says and smiles.

I feel badly about what is going to happen next. I know I am going to drain five minutes, if not more, from her morning. She has no idea what she is getting into–it would have been much better for her if she had said, “No, desolee.” But still I proceed. C’est la guerre.

For the next five minutes, she shows me how to take the ticket printout, enter the ticket number into the machine and then enter bike’s parking space number into the machine. When I accomplish this the bike is magically released. She tells me to make sure to get a receipt when we return the bikes or else I would have no proof that I returned the bikes if the charge showed up on my credit card. We thank her profusely and we are on our way.

On Sundays the streets along the Seine are closed to cars so that bikes, walkers and skaters rule the road. We pedal along the Seine, to the Eiffel Tower, to the Rodin Museum and return to the hotel five hours later. There are bike lanes, bike paths, and even bicycle friendly sidewalks that pedestrian don’t mind sharing. When we arrive back at the bike station, a young French man helps us put the bikes into their stands.

The Eiffel Tower from un velo

The Eiffel Tower from un velo

We stop at a café on the way back to the apartment, neither of us speaking as we think about our ride through Paris on a Sunday morning along the Seine.

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