A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Posts Tagged ‘France’

Feeding a revolution

Posted by Alan on June 11, 2011

Having become rather engrossed in cycling in the last few weeks, I’ve missed out on all kinds of writing, including some about cycling. For a change, here’s a post about a highlight of our Paris trip: Versailles, specifically the palace. I can’t believe it’s been two months!

Feeding the revolution

Feeding the revolution / Let them eat ice cream

 About 40 minutes out of Paris on the RER train, it really isn’t Paris. Having learned a little of Versailles and it’s role in both French and world history, I don’t think I’d really seen any pictures before so the scale of the place was a bit of a shock. The gardens seem to go on for ever – actually in the shot below, the ‘official’ gardens (the bit you pay to get into) stop on the other side of the circular fountain pond in the middle of the photo. The long square lake is now outside of the grounds.

Down the garden - Versailles palace garden

Down the garden

Apart from being famed for being the home of many King Louis and where the blame for world war I was decided, it is home to some ‘musical fountains’. The musical bit is rather cheesy to be honest – recorded classical  music pumped through 3′ (1m) high speakers! I guess in the days of the French Kingdom, they were accompanied by live orchestra. Times have moved on, savings to be made etc etc.

Spinning water

Spinning water

The fountains themselves are very impressive.  All manner of shapes created just through spinning and adjusting water pressure, synchronised with the piped music.



Only one of the fountains runs all day – so you should probably plan a trip better than we did if you want to really make the most of it. Having arrived around lunchtime, we saw the huge queues for the palace and headed straight for the gardens. We’d pretty much arrived as they turned the fountains off a few hours! It did mean we could wander freely and get a chance to feel the scale of the gardens and by mid-afternoon we could easily get into the palace anyway – and come back to the fountains, knowing where the more impressive jets were likely to be. Each fountain is different and there are few hidden behind tall bushy hedges.

Marble arch

Marble arch - expensive stone carvings around a fountain

Having taken on the size of both the house and gardens, I could really empathise with the French revolutionaries – no bread, yet the King had musical fountains, vast tracts of land and gold everywhere.

Versailles Palace - Golden

Cash my gold!

The inside of the palace is just as ornate and golden. We didn’t bother with an audio guide which meant we missed some of the key information on which rooms were historically important – just guessing and appreciating whatever information we could take in. Still, it was well worth the trip out of Paris for and good to take in a different French atmosphere for a day.

Finally, a helpful tip – if you’re under 26 and an EU resident, the EU pays for a lot of these attractions and even where they don’t you usually get some kind of discount.

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Posted by Alan on May 5, 2011

Just before Easter we made a trip across the channel to Paris. Being a regular BorisBike user, trying a Vélib was on the to-do list.

Ruth a la Vélib

Ruth a la Vélib

First impressions were that these bikes are more flimsy. They don’t feel as heavy as the blue bikes of London and fixtures and fittings all seem a little smaller.

Velib: Basket not bag pouch

Basket not bag pouch

The first most striking difference is the basket, rather than the bag ‘pouch’ we have in London. This doesn’t make a lot of difference to me as I always carry some kind of bag, but I could see how if you didn’t how a basket could be much more useful. The gears and bell are exactly the same. Additionally you have a lock, so you can park anywhere if you need to – this means once you have a bike you can rely on it to be there. It is a source of frustration in London that the natural flow of bikes means that you’ll often find a city centre dock empty and have have to change your plans…

Saddle up

Saddle up

The saddle looks the same, though there are no helpful numbers on the seat post for quick adjustment. The docking mechanism is fitted to the side rather than the front – this felt a bit less solid than London, though it may mitigate against the idea of ‘hot-docking’ (riding into a dock without dismounting) for fear of leg injury!

Side dock

Side dock

During our days in Paris we saw many wrecked bikes in docking stations. According to wikipedia, many are vandalised as a backlash against the primary user group, the “bo-bos”: bourgeois-bohemians, the trendy middle class French. I haven’t yet seen this in London, despite the bikes being used primarily by a similar demographic. Towards the suburbs, the tyres and inner tubes seemed to be main target – many docking stations had multiple broken bikes in them.

Borked Bike

Borked Bike

Being a regular in London, I haven’t actually tried the casual hire process though I have been shown it. You put your card in and are given a receipt which you take to a docking station and key numbers in to the dock, using the 3 digit pad to the left of the wheel. Next time you want to take bike you put your card in again and it gives you a new receipt. It sounds onerous, but after Paris I can see how TfL came to that choice.

In Paris, you are given a card with a subscriber number on. This must be key in at the terminal where you then select your bike – if the only available bike happens to be 10 metres away at the other end of the dock so be it. Run! Push the button on the dock and the bike is released. I wasn’t too keen on this idea – at a nearly empty docking station it would be very easy for someone to take the bike you just rented and in the process lose you €150 in bike non-return fees…

Anyway I enjoyed the two circular trips I made and if I do go back to Paris I’ll certainly be using Vélib again.

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