London to Paris by bike in two days: Day in Paris

The alarm is set for 10:00 on our final day, allowing us a leisurely pace to explore Paris before catching our Eurostar back to London this evening. Breakfast is low-key, consisting of the remaining supplies we purchased in Newhaven on Saturday: blueberry muffins and bananas.

Somehow, it takes us right up until midday to gather our things together and we checkout with only a minute to spare. Strangely, our bikes have been moved out of the boiler room and we’re led to a vacant property a few doors down the road in order to collect them. We leave our bags at reception though, as there’s no need to cart them around.

We now have two options ahead of us: We can either cycle around Paris all day and allow a little extra time at the Gare du Nord to drop off our bikes before check-in. Or we can cycle straight to the station, leave the bikes there and explore Paris on foot, with the help of the Metro.

Gareth convinces me to opt for the latter, and off we head to the Gare du Nord. I’m impressed to find that our entire route from the hotel is on either contraflow cycle lanes or segregated paths. Cycling facilities are a long way ahead of those in London.

Amazingly, like our arrival at the Eiffel Tower last night, heavy rain starts just a few seconds before we reach the station, forcing us to cycle straight on to the concourse for shelter. After a little hesitation, we ask a member of staff to take our picture in front of some TGV locomotives. To our surprise, she is very obliging, and happy to break away from her conversation to line us up just right for the photo.

Then we trek over to the EuroDespatch office, a small company that provides transport for oversize baggage and sports equipment on Eurostar. Some comedian has placed this office at the furthest point of the entire station, a walk of several hundred metres in the rain.

Not much has changed in this office over the last five years. The staff are out back smoking when we enter and, although one of them acknowledges our presence, he tells us to wait a few minutes for service, constrained to his doorway by the cigarette in his hand.

We’re eventually presented with the paperwork and charged 58 EUR for the privilege, with the assurance that our bikes will travel ahead to London on the next available service, and should be ready for us to collect by the time we arrive this evening.

When I enquire about opening hours, explaining that our train is due to arrive there at around 22:30, I’m told that the office closes at 22:00, so we had better run to reach it. This seems rather optimistic and I’m unconvinced that we’ll be seeing our bikes again today.

Meanwhile, Gareth has announced that he’s trying to auction a grand oak table online and needs to finalise details with his friend this very morning. He desperately needs Wi-Fi to sort this out and we therefore visit McDonalds to get him online.

The McDonalds is unlike any other I’ve ever seen, with a McCafé section serving patisseries, such as croissants and pains au chocolat. I’m not sure whether that’s a uniquely French offering, but it all looks quite appealing, albeit feeling downright wrong.

While we’re in there, the sun comes out to shine and, after twenty minutes, I convince Gareth that there’s more to Paris than a McCafé. We take the Metro down to Notre Dame, to finally indulge in a restaurant meal and a much-anticipated post-ride pint.

I select a brasserie facing the cathedral, though Gareth insists on some price checks before reluctantly agreeing to eat there. I order a pasta carbonara, while Gareth opts for a burger and chips.

To my astonishment, Gareth refuses to purchase a beer, insisting that the 8 EUR price for a pint is just too steep. He won’t even let me buy one for him, out of principle. On the other hand, I am really impressed with the meal; I feel we’ve avoided the tourist traps and found a bit of a gem, right beside the cathedral.

The rain looks like it’ll be intermittent all afternoon, so we decide that we’ll focus on visiting two key sites, and then head to a café to wind down the evening. We’ll concentrate on the Louvre, which is very nearby, and the Champs-Élysées, which will require another Metro journey.

Gareth darts off to check how his internet auction is going while I head to the courtyard of the Louvre to admire the famous glass pyramid, which I never realised was flanked by several smaller pyramids. There’s an Asian couple in wedding attire on a pre-wedding photo shoot.

Once Gareth has returned, we jump on the Metro and head to the Champs-Élysées, to walk the length of this famous avenue, starting at Place de la Concorde. I’m surprised at how sparse the eastern end is, almost void of pedestrians and lined by parkland rather than the famous shop fronts.

This of course changes as we near the far more frequented western end. However, I struggle for inspiration among the French designer brands and American imports. The eight lanes of traffic effectively slice the road in two.

At the far western end, the Champs-Élysées terminates at the Place Charles de Gaulle, or Place de l’Étoile as I thought it was called (apparently the name was changed back in 1970). This is a somewhat terrifying road junction around the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a bit like a giant lawless roundabout and good for a few minutes of light entertainment.

From there, we hop back on the Metro and head back towards Bastille to collect our luggage from the hotel, stopping for a pancake and some beers (Gareth finally finds a “happy hour” deal at the right price).

Heavy rain prevents us from leaving the bar for a little while, instead forcing us to stay for another pint. However, we must then hurry back to the hotel and make the uncomfortable journey back to the Gare du Nord, carrying our awkward bicycle panniers through the evening peak.

Back at the Gare du Nord, all we have time for is a fast-food meal at Quick (soggy chips and a small, crumbling burger) and a dash to the local supermarket before checking-in to our Eurostar with just five minutes to spare.

As I attempt to down my bottle of water ahead of the security scan, a member of staff points out that, unlike at airports, there are no restrictions on taking liquids through here. With none of the drama of five years ago (when trains were operating ad-hoc following the Channel Tunnel fire), we board in comfort for an uneventful return to London.

Arriving in St Pancras, we follow the advice furnished to us by EuroDespatch and make haste to reach their offices, located in the undercroft of the station, about as far from the Eurostar terminal as they were in Paris. To our dismay, but not great surprise, the offices did indeed close at 22:00, and we’ll not be cycling anywhere tonight.

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