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FROM THE VAULT: Vélib-ing in Paris

author: Sheila Trenholm 

from the vault

YOU HAVE TO BE A DAREDEVIL to ride a bike around Paris, but it’s the best way to see the City of Light. Almost a decade ago, Paris launched a system of bike rentals called “Vélib” that placed thousands of bikes at street corners, parks and national monuments. For a few Euros a week, you get as many half-hour rides as you’d like.

Last fall, my sister, my nieces and I arrived in Paris and embarked on our own Tour de France within the city limits. On our first day, we decided to poke around Le Marais. We picked up our Vélibs, started our tour in the Village St. Paul, followed the Rampart of Philippe Auguste past medieval mansions and Belle Époque cafés. We coasted in to Place des Vosges, leaned our bikes against a tree and set out a picnic lunch in the Renaissance Square…we were instant Parisians! While I read aloud about the illustrious tenants who had called Place des Vosges home over the centuries, my nieces served up charcuterie, Camembert and croissants and a bottle of burgundy. Every day we became bolder on our Vélibs. By day three we thought nothing of riding down the Rue de Rivoli in the bus lane.

One night, feeling a little bit “Je ne sais quoi”, we dressed up and peddled to dinner in our high heels. It was the perfect evening, Coq au Vin with chunks of baguette to soak up the rich sauce, all washed down with copious amounts of Bordeaux (which made us think riding home on the sidewalk would be the safest bet). Not so! My niece clipped a recycling bin et voilà, she found that the sidewalk was as hard as the road! An American woman sitting at a nearby café said to her husband in a loud voice, “And that is why WE aren’t renting bikes.” WE didn’t look back.

We did have a little trouble returning the bikes. Often there weren’t any vacant spots at the bike stations. And sadly, the condition of some of the bikes was a testament to the dangers of taking on Parisian drivers or consuming too much wine.

As we parked our Vélibs for the last time that week, I realized that thanks to the bikes I finally understood the layout of La Ville Lumière.

The machine spat out a receipt we hadn’t seen before. My sister pulled it out. “Mon Dieu…We may as well have bought the bikes,” she said. I glanced at the receipt and said, “I think we did.” “Operation Justification”…OK we should have read the fine print…but we only took two taxis, to and from the airport; we saw Paris with newfound enthusiasm, and as much as it was risky, and yes expensive, we had the time of our lives.

Tip…If you want to use a Vélib for longer than the half-hour limit, you can either check in your bike, wait five minutes and check it out again, or you can pay one euro for an extra half-hour and two euros for every half-hour after that…OOOPS. Would we do it again? “You better Vélib it!”

COQ AU VIN

1/2 lb. bacon, diced
25 chicken thighs
24 pearl onions, peeled
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 lb. mushrooms, quartered
2 c. baby carrots
4 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. Montreal steak spice
1 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. Ketchup
2 c. hearty red wine
1/4 c. brandy
11/2 c. chicken stock

Fry bacon until crisp. Remove. Mix flour and steak spice in a paper bag. Shake the chicken in the bag until coated. Save extra flour mixture in case you need to thicken the sauce later. Brown chicken in the hot bacon fat. Set aside. Add onions and cook over medium heat until they begin to brown. Add garlic and sauté for two minutes. Set aside. Sauté mushrooms. Slowly pour wine, brandy, and stock over mushrooms, stirring constantly. Add thyme, bay leaf, ketchup and mustard. Combine all ingredients and refrigerate overnight. Bake for 2 hours at 350°. Top with plenty of fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread. Bon Appétit!

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