What a beautiful pairing - Grizzly Bear and the Red Balloon. I hope you find magic like this today.
After over 10 hours on a plane, I landed in Paris at the bright hour of 11am (2am according to my body, but they say you'll never get over jetlag if you think that way). Knowing that I would need to stay awake and simutaneously get my bearings in the City of Light, I booked a bike tour for the afternoon I arrived. A friend in Provence had recommended the Bike About Paris tour group as a great way to see the city in just a few hours and to discover some really magical places.
Bike About Paris was founded a few years ago and initially, their tours focused on covering all of the major Paris landmarks during a ride around town -- the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer, etc. Eventually the leaders realized that there were a good number of bike tour companies popping up, all doing the same thing -- leading tourists into deeper tourist traps. So Bike About decided to switch gears a bit (forgive the pun) and they moved their focus to "hidden Paris" in order to give riders a view into the Paris that only locals typically know. Their 3.5 hour tour covers most of the major arrondisements and focuses more on the magic and uniqueness of each neighborhood.
Our guide, Christian, led us to some of our favorite boulangeries, cafes and wine bars in the city. Among other things, he snuck us into secret courtyard gardens, helped us discover the best pain au chocolate in Paris and showed us how to spot the work of one of France's most famous (anonymous) graffiti artists.
Throughout the 16 days I spent in France, this bike tour (and Christian's amazing recommendations) came up multiple times each day. It was the best 30 euro I spent on this trip.
And I have to say - as I pedaled my little bike along the Seine as the sun set behind Notre Dame, I was the most awake I'd been in months.
The 3-hour adventure through my favorite neighborhood completely exceeded my expectations. We started the morning at Cafe Roma, where we learned how coffee is roasted and what prompted Italians to flock to Northern California at the beginning of the century. Later we moved on to a Ligurian bakery, we were snacked on fresh foccacia bread right out of a 135 year-old oven. We nibbled on homemade macaroons, dipped sour dough bread in local olive oils and savored salty mortadella at a family-run deli. In total, we went to over 10 local businesses, from truffle/chocolate shops to the cafe where Francis Ford Coppola wrote "The Godfather".
Almost all of the businesses we visited were family-owned and had been run by the same folks for decades. It was truly an honor to be allowed behind the scenes and get a glimpse into their world -- a world where food, drink and family are the priorities in life. This tour showed me a side of San Francisco I hadn't seen before - a side I'm going to seek out and cherish in the days ahead.