Margo comments that this is one of Chris’s “practical” posts, possibly useful to other tourers needing navigation or logistics tips and/or ending a bike journey in Paris:
In the densely populated areas of Europe, travelling on main roads is not advised — unless you like the thrill of regular near death experiences.
We find Google Maps can help plan a sensible route. We just enter our starting and ending points and tell it we are on bikes. Several routes are then normally suggested. I study these in detail and choose one that does not have extended travel on main roads.
We then carry our smart phone that has a GPS function, and use this with the Google Maps route to navigate on the route. In places like Germany we then quickly find we are on well posted bike routes and can turn off the phone. In rural France, however, it sometimes puts one onto unsigned routes more suitable for mountain bikes than touring bikes. In places like France, we switch on the GPS, commit the next few turns to memory, and then switch it off. This way we can complete a day’s ride without the battery running out. However, when passing through major cities we leave the phone on as the turns are too frequent.
Much has improved for cycling and walking in France since our last visit. We made our way into Paris on 30 km of dedicated bike path!
An end of journey task that can be more or less difficult to organize is boxing our bikes for air travel. To our delight, the first bike shop we went into offered the service of selling bike boxes, then lending tools (and a hand where necessary) so we could box our bikes. While we didn’t need the service, they will also phone the taxi company so a suitably large cab comes to take you to the airport. Given Paris prices, where an espresso can easily set you back 6 Euro, the 10 Euro per bike charge for this service seemed reasonable.
We noted changes since our last visit to the City of Light. For one thing, the Paris authorities have given up on trying get owners to train their dogs to do their business in the gutter: now they are attempting to train owners to stoop and pick up after their dogs. This approach has been somewhat more effective, and you can now walk around Paris and enjoy the sights rather than have to constantly watch your feet. (Margo notes: This morning we had to warn our mini-van driver “Attention aux crottes!!” as we loaded boxed bikes into the mini-van. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.) On the down side Paris, like much of Europe, is suffering from increased begging on the streets. Of course this is most prevalent in tourist areas (see note on this issue at bottom of post by Margo).
Below is a set of photos we took to show what it was like to cycle into Paris on a route proposed by Google Maps. During the last 300 m when we were moving through nearly stationary traffic as we approached Place de la Bastille, and we did not take any photos.
Margo writes: I think Chris is being a bit too careful and/or politically correct to be as brief as he was on the questions of the current “begging” situation in Paris..
The overwhelming majority of those now begging in the streets of central Paris, and living in shanty towns we saw in the suburbs, or in encampments along canals, are Roma (aka Gypsies) — fairly recently arrived from the new EU countries of Romania and Bulgaria. They are different group than the Gens de Voyage I remember from our years living in rural France (near Geneva, Switzerland) in the early 90s.
Individuals and family groups take up their stations near Place de la Bastille. Children sleep curled on the pavement. Near the Pantheon, we passed a mother cradling her disabled teenager. The same middle-aged man is always a few metres from the entrance to our hostess’ building, strategically positioning himself in front of a bank machine. He parks his wheelie bags, his cardboard, and his tattered blankets right by the solid wooden doorway with its big brass handle.
It’s not just an issue for France; it’s a pan-European concern. We even saw Roma begging in Kirkenes, northernmost Norway that has cruise ship traffic. The problem has no easy answers; I’ve just ploughed through several articles on the issue in Le Nouvel Observateur.
We speculated, among other things, where the desperate souls in question went at night. This morning, as we loaded ourselves into the airport-bound cab, the middle-aged man was asleep on the bank’s doorstep, his belongings still parked by “our” door.