Author Topic: 8-8-1994, Beginning bicycle tour in Paris and through 10 more countries.  (Read 3170 times)

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Offline Westinghouse





ALL VOICE TO TEXT, some errors.  My flight from New York to Paris touched down in Orly airport at 6:20 a.m.. the sky was dark gray. A moderate rain cooled the air fully wetting the tarmac around the jet. Customs and immigrations were a breeze. There was hardly a check or a question as we moved through the various lines and booths to the luggage area. The French did not even require a Visa which was surprising. In 1988 I had gone to France to enlist in the French foreign legion. Then the French required everyone to have a Visa because of terrorist threats they were keeping a close watch on everyone's comings and goings. There had been a waiting in line at a special office in London along with other people who had gotten themselves and Tangled in the Visa crunch. Now though it was just walk through and get it done. Two cardboard boxes weighted at baggage claim. One contained a chromoly touring bicycle and the other held the remainder of the gear. Because the other passengers had made off with all the baggage carts the best way to move them was by placing the smaller box on top of the box containing the bicycle and skidding them along the smooth tile floor. To some people it might have had an effect similar to screeching ones fingernails across a chalkboard but that was the only way. The immediate goal was getting into Paris to some discernible point from which to begin the journey. People at the airport said to take an Orly bus to somewhere in downtown Paris but where I did not know. With the two boxes loaded onto the bus it was necessary to hold them tightly as they swayed from side to side during the serpentine 20 minute ride into the City of lights. The first likely place was a rain drenched sidewalk in front of a city bus station in the small square d e n f e r t r o c h e r e a u. There was a clear plexiglass bus stop shelter there to keep out of the rain. The first plan was to unpack the bikes there assemble the bike and be ready to go when the rain stopped. However the shelter was so small and so many people kept coming and going from the buses that it was not possible. There was a small green park with an earthen footpath running through it just across the street that would make a good assembly point when the rain stopped.


Two young women from California were in the shelter. One was crying. She said their vacation had turned out miserably. She described their experience as a horror a nightmare. She said she and her friend were lost and penniless nearly late for their flight home and unable to speak French without a way to the airport. That did not seem to qualify as a genuine horror or a nightmare. It was more the case of the spoiled poor little rich girl who upon experiencing some minor inconveniences overreacts and blows they predicament completely out of perspective and proportion. But there was no use saying anything about that. however her words did bring back memories of August the 1st 1980 in buttevant Ireland when my train was derailed resulting in the worst railroad disaster in the history of Ireland with 18 people who were killed and more than 75 who were injured. Those injuries were truly horrible and appalling. For 6 months before that there were clear terrorists threats and warnings from soldiers in the United States army who were protected by the United States government. That was a horror and a nightmare. A few minutes later both of them were speaking French and boarding their bus to the airport. They made a quick recovery.


Hunger was setting in. The red neon lights of a pizza restaurant down the street to the left called out and made the stomach growl and set the juices to flowing. The questions were these. Was eating worth the trouble of carrying all that weight for a block? If not was it safe to leave everything unattended? The answer or the best answer to both questions was no. Had to besides that a frugal budget was necessary as usual and eating in Paris is notoriously expensive. The rain stopped in 2 hours and a dark gray sky remained.


It took only 30 minutes to move the boxes to the park and spread out everything on two benches. The ground was a drenched red clay that had splattered up on everything and stuck there. Moving carefully to avoid dropping any parts into the sticky clay it took about 2 hours to assemble the bike pack the panniers and then put everything together. A man and a woman two benches away we're smoking marijuana. The camping gear clothing and other items weighing about 60 lb were distributed in two large rear panniers two smaller front panners and a handlebar bag with the rest stacked onto a rack mounted over the rear wheel. The bike itself weighing about 32 lb seemed to wobble under the strain of body and gear.


When I pulled out for the first time onto the streets of Paris it must have been a site. Straddling the bike at some street corner to confer with a map of Paris, it was time to set out through the bustling City traffic following road signs to Led Halle, g a r e. du  nord, there was a right turn to parallel a quay at the S e i n e River and after that there was a canal. Somewhere in town was a McDonald's which charge $6.50 for hamburger Coke and fries. The streets of Paris were lined with apartment houses, businesses of all sorts, and sites of historic interest.


Mary ettinger and I had been tourists in Paris in the summer of 1982. We were on a one month rail pass in Western Europe and visiting in Paris many of the attractions to tourists go there to see. Now those places no longer held an allure. For this was the commencement of a major bicycling Odyssey whose first task required cycling successfully through the world's fourth most densely populated city with its more than 4,082 streets, 314 places, 8,016 intersections, and more than 2.2 million people distributed at more than 54,000 per square mile. That according to an encyclopedia. And already there were feelings of apprehension about what conditions might be encountered in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.