“Free WiFi, Free Bikes and Flirtatious Parisian Waiters”
The first thing I did upon arrival, even before unpacking, was head to the corner café for lunch at an outdoor table and watch the world go by on rue de Bretagne. Le Café du Marché at the corner of rue Charlot has become a favorite spot for a great lunch special at a reasonable price, with a strong WiFi signal and plenty of electrical outlets for working on a computer. The young waiters there treat the female customers with special attention, flirting shamelessly, for which there are no complaints(!).
As I was reading a stack of mail from 12 days of absence and drinking a “noisette” (espresso with a dab of milk), it became apparent that the French style café life was blatantly missing on the American landscape. Even the New Orleans coffee houses that I love, such as “Café du Monde” and “Morning Call,” aren’t quite the same thing and Starbucks(!)…well, that’s a poor excuse, but comes closer than anything I can think of.
As of this past Monday, 105 new and free WiFi sites were launched in the city, thanks to a program initiated by Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, administered by Alcatel-Lucent. In the open air, you’ll now be able to connect your laptop at the Parvis of the Hôtel de Ville, at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc Monceau, the Jardin des Halles, Place des Vosges, Parc Georges Brassens and Parc Montsouris. In any one of 44 libraries, Espace des Blancs Manteaux, the Musée d’Art Moderne and the Maison de l’Emploi du 13ème Arrondissement are just a few of the municipal sites where you can surf away, free. For more complete information and a full list of sites, consult http://www.wifi.paris.fr
Let’s not forget, the first free WiFi in the city was provided by my neighborhood Mairie of the 3ème arrondissement thanks to Mayor Pierre Aidenbum…one of the many reasons the district has my devoted love and admiration.
Something else I just discovered is that the district has the highest share of the new “Vélib” (an abbreviation for “vélo” [bike] and “liberté”[freedom]) public bikes per inhabitant with 15 docking stations! A truck transporting a half-dozen or so stopped to let me take a photo as it passed in front of the café on rue de Bretagne and Mayor Aidenbaum was quoted in the International Herald Tribune on Monday as having said, “This is about revolutionizing urban culture.” (The article is online at http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/15/news/paris.php)
If you don’t already know about it, the new program is putting more than 10,000 rental bikes at 750 self-serving docking stations spotted all over the city every 300 meters. The plan is to have 1451 stations by the beginning of 2008. Saturday night, the stations were ready, willing and able to accept the new bikes and by Sunday morning, the slots were filled. One friend remarked that it was “like Christmas morning.”
American friends who tested it that first day had their photos taken by Agence Presse while trying to understand the system for paying and renting. They had trouble finding the instructions in English and difficulty
getting it to accept their foreign credit cards. Once they mastered it after much trial and error, they chuckled to themselves as they later assisted some French women having similar difficulties, realizing that it’s not just the foreigners who might need some time to become accustomed to it.
All in all, they were pleased with the concept and the bikes themselves, but felt that “foreigners will never get it.” The program isn’t meant for tourists necessarily, although that’s an obvious benefit to seeing the City of Light from a fresh perspective.
Will I ever use them? Likely not!…I’m more the “sit-in-the-café” type than the “get-killed-riding-a-bike” type. (For more information, visit http://www.velib.paris.fr)
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. The Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group is open all Summer long. Join us Tuesday nights at La Pierre du Marais on rue de Bretagne, Wednesday afternoons at Eurocentres and Saturday mornings at Lutèce Langue. It’s free the first time you come! Visit http://www.parlerparlor.com for more information.