"The first thing that strikes a visitor to Paris is a taxi." - Fred Allen
I almost proved that point here today in Paris, having a close run in with a rapidly changing traffic light and its anxiously awaiting autos, ready to leap off the starting line as I dashed across the road. "We crossed that like Montrealers," said a colleague, but even the Montreal street bravado can't hold up to the aggressiveness of the Parisian driver; on bikes, strollers, scooters and everything in between. I decided to leave the driving to the professionals.
"So when is rush hour?" I asked my Citroen 2CV driver as we careened around the Arc de Triomphe, cars and motorcycles and scooter and bicycles and trucks hurtling past. That is, if "hurtling" and "careening" can be done at 15 kilometres an hour. It seems like, in Paris, it can. "Rush hour is all day," Cyril pronounced, with a slight pause "...and night." And in fact, driving in Paris is less about mobility and more about accident avoidance.
I decided I needed to surrender to his highly honed driving skills as we toured the city with "4 roues sous 1 parapluie," which literally translated means "four wheels under an umbrella," which is pretty much what it feels like to be in one of these classic vehicles, with its sardine-can-like soft roof rolled back to expose the beauty of the city of Paris.
Luckily, it didn't rain so we didn't have to test the umbrella-like qualities of the car. The Citroen 2CV is "deux chevaux" worth of horsepower and the slightly tinny quality is charming, if not a little fragile feeling next to some of the gigantic tour busses winding their way through the Parisian streets.
I asked about sneaking in a call or text if one were driving in Paris. "Oh no," said Cyril. "You take your eye off the road for one minute and you will hit a motorcyclist for sure." He said that had we an infant in tow, they would insist on a baby seat strapped in. (Of course if it were a French baby, it would also be extremely well behaved, as well, if popular opinion is to be believed.) So, all in all, lots of safety on the inside of the car, if not on the outside.
Taking it on foot, outside is where the biggest change has taken place getting around the streets of Paris, according to our Montmartre walking tour guide, Alex. The Velib bike system allows Parisians to rent a bike from one location, and return it to another. Unlike many cities who also offer this (Toronto's Bixi Bikes, for instance), Paris rewards its more stalwart cyclists by giving a percentage discount, or even a free ride, if the cycling is done uphill; quite common in the Montmartre area of town. I think they should be rewarded just for surviving the streets.
Montmartre is of course most famous for the Sacre Coeur, and home to Edith Piaf and Gerard Depardieu. The area is now known for its "BoBo" inhabitants; those defined as the "Bourgeois Bohemians," who were in full attendance with their own type of wheels, pushing their un-"proPros" (un-proletariat progenies) in expensive strollers through the streets. (Okay, I made the term un-"Pro-Pro's up; but it seems suitable.)
No matter what type of wheels get you around the Paris round-a-bouts, make sure you keep it at "vite" on the street to avoid an international run-in.
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