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We’ll always have Paris….

If I could ride 500km and I could ride 500 more….


By Jon Newey (retired Architect, Blood Bike rider, Adventure traveller) with Tigger (Triumph Tiger 800 XRX)


Here I am, hunkered down in an old cottage in Lusignac, south-western France. It has been raining on and off for several days. The temperature is very much on the chilly side. There are half a dozen houses here, a church, a small chateau and a bar. On Friday evening I find there’s a fish and chip van parked in the town square, the bar is playing some live jazz and the square is suddenly full of Brits, sitting at the outdoor tables wearing puffer jackets and overcoats and wrapped in blankets to keep warm. Normally there’s nobody here at all. It feels slightly surreal.


Saturday morning comes and it’s time for Tigger and I to move on. There’s a thick blanket of fog lying over the valley as I prepare Tigger for the next leg of the journey. At least the rain is holding off for now. My plan is to hoof it up the dual carriageway today, riding 500km up to Paris in one go. I have toyed with the idea of stopping in the Loire Valley to visit a few chateaux there, but I decide not to because a) I had to book accommodation in Paris quite a long way in advance and today’s the day for going there b) The weather report has ‘red’ warnings for thunderstorms over the Loire valley, continuing for the next few days and c) I’ve seen most of the chateaux there before, years ago. All packed up, Tigger bursts into life  - he’s probably the loudest noise there’s been in Lusignac for months – and we’re off.


The first hour takes us through the French countryside, past churches and farmsteads and in and out of pretty villages. After a while we join the dual carriageway which in turn leads to the toll road, the ‘peage’. Traffic is light. The sky is dark. I poke at the cruise-control button and Tigger settles into a steady burble at 110kmh. We pass Poitiers and Tours, stopping occasionally for coffee and fuel. We pass Angers and I consider turning off to ride through Chemille, a village where I spent some holidays as a teenager, but the weather is closing in now and I decide to keep going towards Paris.


As the signs indicate that we’re passing Le Mans the first cloudburst hits us. Traffic slows to a crawl. Hazard lights are on. My visor steams up. My glasses are covered in rain. I can feel cold water trickling down the inside of my trousers. Lightning cracks. Thunder rolls. Sacre Bleu! Let’s go back to the desert!


The weather clears but not for long. We endure four similar cloudbursts over the afternoon. Rain bounces up my trouser legs off the tarmac and soaks into my socks. Oh well, this is what motorcycling is all about. Facing the world head-on and coping with everything it can throw at you! As I ride along the peage there are toll stations a very now and then. At one of them I search in my pocket for the ticket that I was given at the previous one. All I find in my pocket is a soggy lump of pulp. There’s no way I can feed it into the payment machine. The barrier stays down and the light stays red. I have no choice but to press the emergency assistance button. The lady at the other end of the intercom is very helpful. A few minutes of mangled Franglais later I’ve paid, the light turns green and the barrier is lifted. Phew. Allez!


By 17:00 we’re on the outskirts of Paris. We’re not going into the city centre today, just to the suburb of Poissy. I have an Abnb booked there. There’s a metro station at Poissy where a train can take me into the city when I’m ready. Also in Poissy I can visit the Villa Savoye (more about that shortly) and I can go to the Chateau of Versailles. If you recall last year’s adventure, I had intended to visit Versailles then, but there was a period of civil unrest in this part of France at the time and the UK’s official advice was for all tourists to avoid the area. That’s partly why I went to see the German version of Versailles at Chiemsee last year instead. Well, this year I want to see the real thing.


My Abnb is on the fourth floor. It is a three-bedroom apartment and I’m the only guest. Nice. There are views of the sunset over the Seine.

Sunset over the Seine

There’s a gated car park for Tigger. A short stroll away there are pavement cafes and shops. I hang up all my wet clothes hoping they’ll get dry – again. After dinner at the Mouton Blanc Bistro I settle in to an evening of Netflix. Not a bad end to a rather trying day.


Next morning I have croissants and coffee for breakfast and then I set out on foot for my first excursion of the day. There’s a famous piece of modern architecture here in Poissy, the Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier in 1928. Back in the 1980s I toured Europe with some friends in a VW camper van, visiting as many famous examples of modern architecture as we could find. In those days the Villa Savoye was derelict and boarded up and we couldn’t get to see it. Since then, however, it has been fully restored, has become a national monument and is now also a World Heritage site, along with sixteen other buildings designed by Le Corbusier. Sixteen. Yup, he was that good!


It takes me twenty minutes to walk up the hill to where the Villa Savoye stands. When it was new it had panoramic views out over the Seine, but large trees have grown up all around it in the intervening years.  The Villa Savoye was designed as a country retreat for M. and Mme. Savoye and their son. Le Corbusier conceived it as a white box floating in the air above a lawn. It has full-length horizontal windows looking out at the views on all sides. Below the floating box there is space to park three cars – a luxurious novelty in the 1920’s.

Hidden underneath there’s also the house-keeper’s room and the chauffeur’s room. Going through the front door you get to choose either the spiral staircase or the zig-zag ramp to take you up to the main floor. On the main floor there’s a living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fitted kitchen. These rooms all surround a first-floor courtyard which sits in the middle of the box, for private sun-bathing. The zig-zag ramp continues up onto the roof where there’s another sun terrace.  

It is an amazing building. The apparent simplicity of the white box as seen from the outside disguises a complex three-dimensional puzzle on the inside. It is still shockingly modern despite being nearly 100 years old.


The Savoyes used the villa only occasionally, and only for eight years. War broke out, Paris was occupied. The Nazis commandeered the house to use it as a look-out post. By the end of the war it was trashed. The Savoyes chose not to repair it. By 1958 it was totally derelict and the local council forcibly purchased the site intending to knock the house down and build a school. Thankfully the house was saved by an international outcry. One architect literally lay down in front of the bulldozer on the day the villa was due to get flattened.


I stroll back to the flat. On the way I pass a bronze statue of Le Corbusier in the centre of Poissy. How many statues of Architects are there in the world?

Le Corbusier (he's on the right...)

Not many (Google says 19…). I grab a quick lunch and then set out on my second excursion of the day. This time I’m riding Tigger over to the Palace of Versailles. It is just 20km from Poissy. Garmin makes a meal of directing me through small backstreets in Versailles town, but suddenly we emerge onto a wide boulevard with the gold-topped palace directly ahead. It is huge. It is spectacular. It is shiny. It is crowded! I scout about for somewhere to park Tigger in amongst the hundreds of tour buses. Eventually I opt for a space next to a cycle rack. Then I trudge past more and more tour buses to find my way to the entrance.


I already know that I can’t get inside the palace itself because I checked the website before I set off and all the time-slot tickets are sold out for at least a week ahead of time (be warned if you want to visit Versailles yourself one day). Entry to the gardens is possible, though, on a pay-when-you-get-here basis. I squeeze past the huge queues of people waiting to go inside the palace (queue A here, queue B there, screaming kids here, bored teenagers there, men blowing whistles here, women waving flags there…...).

The Palace of Versailles

I find eight parallel queues of people wanting to go into the gardens. I join one of the lines and stand stationery for 30 minutes. The sun is hot now. I’m in my motorbike leathers. The queue is going nowhere. There’s no shade. Eventually I give up. Big crowded tourist destinations just don’t suit me. I find a relatively quiet and shady corner to sit and sketch one of the statues, I take a few photos through the railings and I head back past the tour buses to find Tigger. Enough already. Let’s get out of here!


This statue at Versialles is probably telling an important story, but I have no idea what...

I spend the evening back at the apartment. Next morning I have another excursion planned. This time I’m taking the train from Poissy station into the centre of Paris with the intention of visiting the Louvre. I’ve pre-booked a ticket with a fixed timeslot, so I know that I can get inside. Catching the train is relatively straightforward. An automatic ticket machine spits out a ticket and the automatic barriers suck it in, spit it out again and let me though. I’m not sure which station to get off at but eventually plump for Chatelet des Halles. It seems nearest to the Louvre. Chatelet des Halles station is quite deep underground, deep below a huge shopping complex. I’m completely disoriented by the time I reach daylight. Thank goodness for Google Maps. After a short stroll I’m outside the Louvre. I have allowed myself plenty of time so I’m too early for my booked slot. I calculate that I have time to stroll along the Seine as far as the Eiffel Tower and back. As I stroll along I see a blond woman leaning on a bridge parapet painting a picture. I pause for a chat. She’s English and paints watercolours in a small sketch book. I do the same thing! She’s too busy painting to chat for long, though. I stroll on. I reach the Eiffel Tower and take the obligatory photo. Then I stroll back. I stop for a quick lunch at a café beside the Seine. Then I get back to the Louvre.


What 30,000 people per day visiting the Louvre looks like....

Despite the booked timeslots on everyone’s tickets the queues are huge and chaotic. There are different queues for different timeslots but no-one knows where they are supposed to be. It is Bedlam. The biggest queue is for the pot-luck chancers who don’t have a prebooked ticket. That queue is huge and they allow maybe a dozen people in every hour. Despite my pre-booked ticket I stand for an hour and a half shuffling slowly forward (no shade from the sun, no shelter from the rain). Eventually I’m at the front. The famous glass pyramid (designed by IM Pei) is right in front of me. And then I’m in.


Wow. The Louvre is incredible. Never mind all the paintings and the sculptures, the building itself is beyond belief. It is huge and lavish and astonishing. Not only that, but the whole central courtyard, the size of a parade ground, is actually hollow underneath, housing conference rooms and shops and cafes. What a place. And it is crammed with tourists.

Just one of many similar galleries in the Louvre

At the information desk I ask how many visitors they get each day. The answer: They limit the number of visitors to 30,000 per day. Every day. Can you imagine?


Of course most people are only here to get a selfie in front of La Gioconda, the Mona Lisa. I make my way up to the relevant gallery. At one end there is a small, dark painting. I peer at it from a distance letting the seething throng do their ‘insta’ poses. You know what…… there are better paintings. There are better paintings in the same room! I wander off to look at some of the other classics. Gericault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is amazing. I had no idea it was so huge. It is at least 4m x 4m!  ‘Liberty leading the People’ by Delacroix is tremendous. And then there’s Joan of Arc by Ingres. Stunning.

As I wander round I see several people with sketch books busily drawing. Down in the basement I find the sculpture of Venus de Milo. My turn to get the sketch book out!


Venus de Milo, The Louvre, Paris

By the time I’m done at the Louvre it is nearly 5pm. Where did the day go? Back at Chatelet des Halles station I negotiate the various escalators and tunnels, find a platform labelled ‘Oest’ and hop onto a train heading to Poissy. Half an hour later I’m back at Poissy station.  Feeling exhausted now I duck into a nearby supermarket and buy form food to cook, some snacks and some beer. That way I don’t have to leave the apartment again until tomorrow. Those four flights of stairs seem longer every time…. That’s all for this visit to Paris. I’m sure I’ll be back. Tomorrow I’ll be heading north again, into Belgium.


Tigger miles in 2023 = 8,024

Tigger miles in 2024 so far = 5,475

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