Crepes, churros, and Place de la Concorde make for a perfect day in Paris.
What does it take to make a tour guide double back and change his plans? Apparently nothing more than 5 people who caught a glimpse of delicious Parisian crepes! As we cycled through the Place de la Concorde, the smell of crepes, waffles, and churros from the Christmas market was deliciously overwhelming and it wasn't long before the great crepe coup d’état was launched! Fortunately, tour guide Bill didn't take much persuading and promised we’d double back on our return trip to indulge in some yummy treats.
This easygoing flexibility is just one of the reasons that we absolutely loved our cycling tour of Paris with Fat Tire Bike Tours. Our small group allowed for personal attention and lots of camaraderie between the participants. Our bike tour was just one of dozens of unique experiences we had on our round the world trip but even when we completed our visits to Belgium, Turkey, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, and Australia, we were still looking back on our Parisian tour as one of the most enjoyable days of the trip.
Paris is famous for its cantankerous traffic and I was admittedly worried about it. Luckily for my anti-adventurist spirit we stuck to quiet side streets and parks for the majority of the tour and, on those occasions when we did have to venture onto busy streets, Bill made sure we all got across safely. We only encountered one hill, which was moderately steep and very short, and the flat, easy cycling makes this an easy tour for those of all ages and fitness levels.
The logistics for the tour couldn’t have been easier. We were given an easy meeting place –a pillar of the Eiffel Tower – and Bill was holding a large sign to advertise the tour. A short walk back to the office followed and the huge selection of bikes meant that we were easily fitted with one that matched our height. There’s a small washroom on site, free wi-fi, and the office sells water, candy bars, and mini-gloves. The mini-gloves were a great deal. At just 3 Euros a pair they turned out to be one of my most valuable items throughout chilly Europe.
We set off at a very gentle pace, stopping frequently to learn more about local streets, parks, monuments, and memorials. We passed some of Paris’ most illustrious sites, such as Les Invalides and the Louvre, but there was also significant focus on smaller neighbourhood attractions, like a statue honoring Louis Pasteur. It felt like we were getting to know the real Paris and, despite taking in so many famous sites and learning so much, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.
My only complaint about the experience relates to our lunch break at the Welcome Café on Rue de Rivoli (near the Louvre, beside the Tulieries Garden). I ordered onion soup and the special of the day, (small panfried chicken filet and a small serving of pasta with tomato sauce) from the “formule” menu, while Ryan ordered the chicken sandwich. The chicken sandwich was large, fresh, and flavorful and, at 7 Euros, it represented fairly good value. Ryan’s 5 Euro coffee, however, was average at best and certainly wasn’t worth the price. My onion soup was respectable, if not spectacular, but the chicken and pasta special was a disappointment. It was reminiscent of a meal I’d toss together based on what was left in my fridge as opposed to something on offer as a special in a Parisian café.
When the bill came we went from having full bellies to a sour taste in our mouth. We were charged about 7 Euros more than I was expecting. I was charged the full menu price for the soup and chicken special as opposed to the “formule” price. A “formule” is like a table d’hote –you choose from a preset selection of main dishes and appetizers (or desserts) to save money. Apparently since I didn’t SAY I wanted to order from the formule but instead simply pointed at it and said “I want onion soup. I want the chicken special” I was going to be charged the a la cart prices. The penalty for not saying the magic word “formule” I was 7 Euros! Some additional arguing in French ensued and I was finally given a new bill.
This, of course, is not in any way the fault of tour group and in fact Bill backed me up and helped me resolve the issue. But upon further reflection I wonder why the company would patronize an touristy café in an area notorious for ordinary food and unreasonable prices when the group travels through so many different, diverse neighbourhoods.
Even taking lunch into account I would still highly recommend the Fat Tire Bike Tours. They offered fantastic service, a great tour itinerary, and a truly unique look at the city. Prices start at 30 Euros for a 3.5 hour tour and, at that price; I wouldn’t hesitate to take a bike tour over a bus tour. I think this experience would be perfect for a solo traveller looking to make some new friends, anyone in Paris for the first time who wants a good overview of the city, as well as people like Ryan and myself who felt like we knew the city well and were treated to an entirely new side of it!
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