You’ve heard of Russian Roulette, haven’t you? You know, one bullet in the chamber, spin, point the gun at your own head and pull the trigger. One chance in 6 you’ll be dead. We’ll, French Roulette is when a tourist rides around the Arc de Triomphe…
I started my first full day in Paris full of enthusiasm and loose plans to get things done. But by the time I’d posted the blog, had breakfast, found somewhere which said they could wash my clothes (luggage limits meant this wasn’t an option for me) and had wasted time trying to buy a French SIM for my phone (“It does not work. I do not know why,” was the comment from the sales guy. He wasn’t going to try too hard to make it work) it was well past 10.
So I set up a video chat with the family which was a lot of fun (the look on Damien’s face when I told him I’d eaten escargo the night before was priceless), then confirmed with Yamaha the bike I was borrowing would be ready… it was, so into the riding gear and onto the train…
Two trains, one bus and three hours later, having walked so far in my motorcycle boots I’d generated and burst a blister, I was happily in the saddle of a TDM900GT, the GT giving me small panniers, a top box and a lower fairing in addition to the bike we get in Australia. Close to half of the walking was through massive train stations: indeed at one point where a machine would sell me a 5 euro ticket (I didn’t have change, it didn’t take notes and my credit card wasn’t acceptable) I had to walk back at least half a kilometre to find a machine which would take notes… and back again. That’s frustrating.
I then got lost.
I knew this would happen and I didn’t really care, indeed, I was treating it as a tour. There was no hurry and plenty to see, so I just tried to go in the general direction of the city. At one stage I found myself motoring slowly through sections of Paris where the poor people live, with tight streets, run-down housing and kids who could use new shoes… and then minutes later it was mansions on large (by Parisian standards) blocks of land. Indeed, these houses looked like they had been built on a park a long time ago. In typical Paris style they were tall rather than sprawling, but I think if you buy a free-standing house in Paris, you’re rich. Not Packer style rich, but so far in front of other Parisians it’s not funny.
My accidental tour ended at the Arc de Triomphe. By this time I was getting tired of riding, but I was well-attuned to the attitudes of French riders and drivers. Basically, everyone wants to get where they’re going with the least amount of fuss, so no-one bats an eyelid at anyone on two wheels carving up the traffic. Indeed, you’re considered a little strange if you don’t.
I can’t say I ever really felt comfortable pulling over into lane of on-coming traffic and shooting up beside the line of stopped cars on my right, pulling back into the lane as vehicles started coming toward me. But locals do it all the time.
Anyway, back to the Arc. It’s a roundabout where 10 or 11 roads come together. Seriously. And what you end up with is about five lanes of traffic on the roundabout all happily carving up their compatriots in an effort to get where they’re going.
And with no linemarkings, it’s a free-for all which works. People look out for each other because they don’t want to crash. No one I saw was going very fast and it’s becomes just a tangle of vehicles all making their way.
I loved it. With no linemarkings and the only rule being ‘don’t collide’, the car drivers just steadily go where they want and the two wheelers go around them.
If this roundabout were in Australia it would be covered in lanes, signs and traffic lights. It would take 10 times longer to get through and wouldn’t prevent any accidents.
Being May 7, there was also a commemoration of the unknown soldier going on under the Arc, so there were cops everywhere, tourists watching from the outside rim, but there was no way Paris was going to stop motorists using the roundabout: I reckon gridlock would happen pretty quickly if they ever did.
I stopped and walked around the roundabout (not allowed on it today…) and it’s certainly an impressive structure.
From there it was back to the hotel, shower and back on the metro and into town for dinner: French Onion Soup followed by boeuf bourguignon (French beef casserole). It was so good I ate too much.