It doesn’t pay to be around the Rue Saint Didier in the early morning; the lorries which supply the market and shops of the area tend to blast on the airbrakes and stop, blocking the narrow streets, dropping the tail lifts and taking as long as it takes to drop 20 pallets of food. Scooters, mopeds and cyclists take to the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, stressed businessmen in their Mercs and Peugeots honk and fume; that’s all they can do – some of those trucker dudes look pretty rough!
Didier is close to the Place du Trocadero, from where there’s a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower.
Gustave Eiffel was the engineer who built it for the 1889 World Exhibition; it was meant to be a temporary structure, but now, Paris wouldn’t be Paris without it.
Even the most cynical riders get butterflies when they see the Tower in the distance as they ride in to the capital on the last stage of the Grande Boucle.
Talking of Gustave Eiffel, he’s also the man behind the Statue of Liberty and the big girl’s little sister – a perfect replica, stands on an island in the Seine.
One of the other sights synonymous with Paris, is the Arc de Triomphe.
It stands at the top of the Champs Йlysйes, the last stage of the Tour doesn’t actually go around it, the riders execute a ‘U’ turn just short of it.
Napoleon was the man who commissioned it and 12 avenues radiate off from it. Circumnavigating it in a car is best described as: “interesting.”
[Try that by bike like I did in ’86 – Pez.]
The Champs Йlysйes drops to meet the River Seine at the Place de la Concorde, that’s the big sea of cobbles that the riders stream across just after the red kite, on the final stage of the Tour.
Close by are some of the City’s art museums; Picasso is the “must see” exhibition of the moment.
Across the Seine from the Place de la Concorde is the golden dome of Les Invalides, once a home for wounded soldiers, but now a museum.
East of Les Invalides is the St. Germain de Pres area, where it’s; “if you have to ask the price then you can’t afford it,” territory.
Armani and Dior stores sit beside art galleries, which offer giant Lacoste style crocodiles for your external house wall.
On a corner on the Boulevard St. Germain sit two of the world’s most famous cafйs, Cafй de Flore and Les Deux Magots.
Back between the wars, the likes of Fitzgerald, Joyce and Hemingway would drink, pontificate and pronounce within their hallowed walls.
The two cafйs sit cheek by jowl and whilst nowadays there’s more people watching and posing than philosophising done, ‘back in the day’ the two places represented different ends of the intellectual scale.
To relate it in cycling terms; the Deux Magots clientiele would have had Ricco garroted and buried in an unmarked grave by now. But across the street at Flore they’d be giving him some counseling whilst awaiting background reports.
Laurent Fignon was – and perhaps still is – a Flore regular, as befits a man known in the bunch as, “The Professor.” This despite having a penchant for bashing photographers – I guess that Laurent would argue that he was merely fighting for his personal freedoms, in true Liberal fashion?
Across the boulevard is Brasserie Lipp, which has fed the rich and famous for a hundred years and more.
Fast forward to the future and whilst old Paris is beautiful, there’s also a new, stunning Paris to behold.
In a straight line west from the Arc de Triomphe sits another huge arch – La Defense, a space age hollow cube in white marble and glass, standing among a clutch of other hi-tech structures.
It’s as much a statement and a dream as a building.
Between 1977 and 1995, Jacques Chirac was mayor of Paris, and was determined to leave his mark on the capital. The arch of La Defense, along with the Centre Georges Pompidou and several others are his “Great Projects,” but they’ll have to wait until Paris gets another Pezzing.