Roll up for a skating tour of Paris
Forget tour buses and river cruises – for sheer thrills and spills nothing beats seeing the City of Light from a pair of skates, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
AS CITY TOURS go Pari Roller’s Friday Night Fever is unconventional. It offers the opportunity to explore one of the world’s most beautiful cities at night – on a pair of skates. If you love the wind in your hair and sightseeing at a speed of 20 miles an hour, this will thrill you to your bones.
The rollathon attracts all sorts of wheelers and scene stealers – cyclists, skateboarders, snakeboarders and scooters are all welcome as are rollerbladers and all other manner of skaters. The non-skaters are asked to stick to the back of the procession to minimise accidents. The event is free but you will need to hire skates before joining the party at Place Raoul Dautry in Montparnasse at 10pm.
While free in theory, you need to become a member of Pari Roller to ensure you are covered insurance-wise. Do this before joining the crowd. And ask about hand signals. As in cycling you raise your hands to indicate that you’re slowing down or stopping. It is not cool to try and outrace the leaders. And rain will make the tour impossible, so pray for dry weather.
This is not an activity for beginners. The routes include crossing swathes of cobblestones, and take you down steeply gradiented hills. Your fellow wheelies clip along at a speed that will have you catching your breath. You need to be able to brake successfully. If you can’t, don’t waste your time or money – there are easier ways to humiliate yourself.
The route covers some 30 kilometres of the city, meeting on the Left Bank and crossing the city en masse. In high season the numbers taking part can reach 15,000. The tour takes approximately three hours.
Like everything else in the City of Light, the bladers are more beautiful and coolly attired that you can ever be, but don’t let that stop you trying. Parisians expect you to have a certain pride in the way you look. Just don’t try to look too cool. Wrist guards are essential. Kneepads are not and will make you look like Niles Crane from Frasier. Someone will probably offer you a Segway.
Wear less clothing that you think you need. You will be overheating and out of breath in no time. A windcheater tied around your waist should suffice. And wear trousers – skating in a skirt is only cool if you can stay upright and in control. Grabbing onto to fellow bladers to stop yourself falling is a real no-no, and repetition of this action is likely to have you asked to leave the tour.
For the non- beginner it is an amazing way to exercise and people watch at the same time. The tour attracts amateurs and adrenalin junkies alike, from the teens, umbilically tied together by pairs of earphones, to the show-off septuagenarians and weekend acrobats who skate backwards and do tricks just to unsettle.
This is the city that invented Parkour, so park your competitive instincts. It is better to be a tortoise than an upside down hare. Everyone is going to be faster, more elegant, agile and able than you are. Fellow bladers will interrupt your concentration with offers of advice in perfect English. Their exasperation at your inability is blatantly evident.
But your biggest worry is not what they think but staying upright. Don’t get concerned about the traffic. Someone braver and more mobile than you will brazen out the French capital’s drivers. Pari Roller has the complete co-operation of the Paris police, which keeps accidents and traffic jams to a minimum, but French drivers can’t help themselves. They conform to their national stereotype by honking horns and shouting from the safety of their reinforced cars.
Much of Paris is cobbled. Be afraid in these parts. They will shake you to your bones. If it feels like it’s too much, stop, find a cafe, sit down and sip a pression. This is an experience that is all about participation – there is no winning and losing.
And if you stay the distance you should celebrate in style, by dancing till the sun comes up, if your legs will let you. Just don’t leave your hired skates behind, as this writer once did – it can make for a very expensive night.
And if this sounds more like hell than heavenly, then why not sign up for the more sedate Boulevard Bourdon blade? Designed for beginners, it takes place on Sunday afternoons, starting at 2:30pm at Place de La Bastille/Boulevard Bourdon.
You can, of course, also explore the city solo by renting skates and taking to its wide open green spaces such as Bois de Boulogne, but where’s the fun in that? This is a pack sport.
There are many ways to see Paris, from the top of the Eiffel Tower at lighting-up time to exploring the bridges aboard a bateau mouche on the Seine. Even the grittier side can be seen from the seat of an RER commuter train. But for sheer thrills and spills nothing beats seeing the city from a pair of skates.