Vespa parade of Paris & city scooter tour | FEATURE
Ghost Photography were recently invited to take part in the annual Paris Vespa Parade. Although George, the man behind Ghost has shot plenty of stunning scooter images in his time, this would be the first time he’d actually ridden a scooter (other than a quick wobble around at home) and what better place to ‘have a go’ than in one of the busiest cities in Europe.
Read on as George takes part in the parade, shooting from the back of an Ape three-wheeler and be sure to check out his stunning photos in the gallery at the end. He also gets to ride the city himself the following day as a guest of Ride ‘n’ Smile Vespa Tours.
Way back in June I received a message on my photography page that really pricked my ears up. It read…
“Hello, I’m a member of Vulcan Scooter Club France & Vespa Club Paris IIe-de-France, in charge of partnerships and events. In September, we organize the annual Vespa Parade in Paris. I follow your FB page and I am always amazed by your photos. If you would like a continental view on your page you are more than welcome to photo shoot our event. Last year 120 scooters attended and this year we are hoping for more. Regards Oliver”.
Well you can imagine my excitement after reading this, I had covered a lot of the English scooter scene but never overseas, let alone the amazing city of Paris!
Oliver sent me all the links and the next few weeks consisted of doing some research on the club and event, also finding the best mode of transport to get there and accommodation etc. A task I can thank my girlfriend Dawn for as she found us some amazing deals online.
The best option was to board the Eurostar from London to Paris as it allowed us to take more hand luggage than flying and came with great discounts on hotels and attractions. The only downside being we had to drive to London as the equivalent train fare from Stoke was more than double the Eurostar price. We hired a private driveway very close to St Pancras station through the yourparkingspace.co.uk online app.
September soon came around and we found ourselves sat aboard the Eurostar after a pretty easy drive down with no real traffic issues. Our first time using the Eurostar and for the money you get a reasonable travel experience with reclined seating and a good amount of space for luggage storage, although in the dining cart I started to realise how weak our pound is against the euro. We opted for two coffees and two ham and cheese sandwiches… nothing spectacular with not much change from a twenty euro note.
The journey takes about 2hrs 20 minutes and we arrived in Paris around 3pm local time, knowing our hotel was some distance away we sought out the nearest Metro. The district we were staying in was Montparnasse which was home to the second largest skyscraper in Paris, so it was quite easy to find.
Another reason we went on the Eurostar rather than fly was huge discounts on accommodation in Paris and we managed to get a double room with breakfast right in the centre of Paris for 180 euros for two nights. Hotel Orchidee is a three star establishment in a really nice area of Paris and I was impressed with the room, which included a juliette balcony overlooking the front street and but for a large tree, views of the Eiffel Tower.
Lili et Riton
Before our journey I had asked our host, Oliver if he was free to meet up later that night to break the ice before the parade on Saturday. He recommended we meet at a bar not far from our hotel, a place called Lili et Riton.
He had told me a few days before it was a pretty cool bar with Punk, Ska, Soul and Britpop record sleeves adorning the walls and the chef himself was an avid scooterist. Having a few hours to kill and having not eaten since dinner we decided to head down there early and we were automatically recognised as English by the staff, maybe something to do with the fact we had T-shirts on, whilst everyone else was wearing scarves and some kind of coat or jumper. I mean it was 60 degrees and that is a normal summer’s day in the UK .
We ordered two pints of lager and found a seat inside so we could check out the interior, a large mod scooter poster adorned the wall behind the bar and the record sleeves were a nice touch.
Luckily for us it was happy hour and a pint was now 5 euros although they served a pretty strong Czech beer “Bernard” which you can pay as much for over here. Two pints later and feeling it, we decided not to go for the English menu as we had seen some people from Yorkshire eating from a Tapas board which looked amazing, so we ordered the same.
Meet ‘n’ greet
Not long after, our hosts arrived, Oliver had brought a friend, Tom who did the Ride ’n’ Smile Vespa tours around Paris. We spent most of the night sharing scooter stories and experiences, mainly due to the fact their English was a lot better than our French. Tom from Ride ‘n’ Smile had an American twang to his accent as he spent a lot of time with Americans on tours.
Oliver mentioned to Tom about giving us a tour on scooters on the Sunday, our last day. This seemed like a great idea, especially after a few pints of Dutch courage. I had only even ridden a scooter once before and never around a city like Paris. Dawn had agreed to ride pillion with Tom and we said we would confirm a time after the parade.
Oliver had been to quite a few UK scooter rallies in the 90s so he had experienced our scene as well, too many beers and many hours later we retired to our hotel. A Vespa Ape was coming for us at 9.30am sharp to drive us to the scooter shop which was some distance away in the eastern district.
The Paris Vespa Parade organised by Vespa Club IIe-de-France first started back in 2015 and was attended by about 60 scooters. News soon spread and by 2016 the number had grown to 110, this year they were hoping for more.
Right on time the Vespa Ape arrived at our hotel, a blue number sporting a beige fold down roof, five seats and nothing much else. The weather was fine, with some sunshine and all but a few clouds and as we drove to the Motorplex I figured the roof would come down, which was good as I could get full views to photograph the scooters.
Our first experience of the Paris streets consisted of, driving up a one-way street and a near miss with a large van. I later found out this is a common occurrence as people are generally crazy but it all seems to work out with not much road rage. I couldn’t imagine a similar situation in the UK, drivers growl at you for the slightest thing at home.
The city streets were very busy even at this early hour, people sat outside cafes, shoppers engrossed in the art markets, it was eventful but not the smoothest ride I have ever had, which added to the experience as it was our first time in an Ape, all good fun.
We arrived at the scooter shop, a very modern place ideally situated on a corner, which meant a good sized pavement area in which to park scooters. Still suffering from the night before we needed a coffee and I headed straight for the coffee machine, the shop was already full of people. A large coffee urn and the most exquisite pastries had been put out for refreshments.
Staff were busy putting up decorations, such as silver letter balloons spelling out Vespa and sponsors banners etc, we received a really nice welcome and everyone we met said ‘Bonjour’.
The coffee kicked in and I asked if we could fold the roof down on the Ape to get better shots, it folded pretty easily. The place was filling up by now with all sorts of Vespas arriving, I did notice a distinct lack of mod scooters turning up. Saying that, to get about on a scooter here you have to filter and weave in and out of traffic and mirrors I would imagine wouldn’t last two minutes.
A lot of the scooterists had green bomber jackets on with rally patches, some from England, some French although over here people generally wear scarves as well, the Parisian look I think. We also met a few fellow Brits, one from Huddersfield who was riding and also a woman from London who had ridden into Paris with their partners for the parade.
By this time French Transport Media had arrived and were filming from our Ape and a good variety of scooters had now turned up including three 70-year GTS anniversary models in Aqua Blue which looked the part.
We got the nod that we were off and we boarded the Ape and entered into the midst of about 150 scooterists, horns blowing all heading for a tour around Paris.
The 16km route was due to last 90 mins through Bastille Place (place of the 1789 Revolution), Vosges Place, Rivoli St and Le Louvres Museum, Concorde Place, the start of the Champs Elysees, Alexandre 3 Bridge, The Invalides, and the Eiffel Tower. Ending up aboard ‘Le Bal de la Marine’, a riverboat moored on the Seine at the foot of the Eiffel tower.
My first experience of Paris was one I will never forget, spent mainly trying to get the best shots from the back of the Ape and at some point stood balanced on top of the seat rails whilst holding on for dear life as the Ape followed the scooters.
Bridge on the Seine
The parade was well received, with bystanders cheering and videoing the event on their phones, amongst the madness and photography a few beautiful places stood out for me. The Pont Alexandre III a deck arch bridge we rode over that spans the Seine, it is widely regarded as the most ornate extravagant bridge in the city, on all four corners stand 17-meter-high pylons with gilt bronze sculptures of winged horses. The four representing the Arts, Sciences, Commerce and Industry.
Just over the Bridge the impressive Les Invalides with its golden dome, which housed the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The sights of this wonderful city are best appreciated on a ride like this.
Things didn’t go to plan towards the end of the parade, the road to the Eiffel tower had been closed by police who were obviously aware of our approach and then the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched – including my camera and lenses. Some scooters also suffered due to the weather, mainly cut outs from ignition problems. I missed the chance to get the Eiffel tower shots due to the road closure and my lenses fogged up which rendered my camera useless for a few hours afterwards.
However, this did not dampen our spirits as we are used to this in the UK and we thoroughly enjoyed being a part of that oneness you experience in a parade, especially in such a beautiful city. We arrived at our river boat and were warmly greeted by the staff and a glass of prosecco, everyone was glad for the cover of the boat as we were all drenched and a few jokes came our way about English weather.
The French language isn’t top of our skill set but we worked out that a raffle was taking place with some great prizes from the sponsors, SIP-Scootershop, Vulcanet, Piaggio/Vespa France, Esquad Jeans, Macna, KYT Helmets, Three stroke productions and Ride “n” Smile Vespa Tours Paris, along with Vespa Club Paris partners, La Clinique du Scooter and our boat “Le Bal de la Marine”. There was no custom show but I donated a trophy with an Anglo-French design and Vespa Club Paris IIe-de-France logo. A really nice red Vespa GTR caught my eye, owned by Christophe “Warboots” from Vulcan SC and he was over the moon when I presented him with it.
We had ordered the set meal at 25 euros a head which included a main, dessert and a drink. I remember at the time as I sat eating mussels aboard a boat on the Seine, drinking prosecco and comparing it to the beer and burger in the English scene, all very cosmopolitan which you would of course expect in Paris. After the event, we still had a lot of the afternoon left, saying our goodbyes we headed for the Eiffel Tower as we were only a 5-minute walk away.
We spent until dusk viewing Paris from the second level, only then could we appreciate just how big the city is from above, if you ever go to Paris it’s worth the 11 euro ticket price and extra security checks to see this amazing structure and the views that go with it.
Café Lile et Riton
We spent the last night back at the Café Lile et Riton, they had showed us such hospitality the night before and the place has a nice vibe about it. Arno and Coco the owners sat and dined with us and we chatted late into the night, joined by the bar staff after everyone had gone, we really were treated like friends and it will be one of the first places I visit when we go back to France.
I recommend anyone to visit as you will be made most welcome and there is ample parking for scooters should you decide to bring your own scooter, or hire one. We checked out of our hotel the following morning and stored our baggage there free of charge, which is another great service the hotel offered.
Ride ‘n’ Smile Vespa Tours
We were set to meet Tom at 1pm outside our hotel, in fact he had brought the yellow Vespa Sprint I had requested the night before and had locked it up outside our hotel. I picked the bright yellow one as I figured there was more chance of me not getting knocked off it. It had a Vespa Club Indonesia legshield banner on it when it arrived and I weighed it up for size. Obviously nerves were kicking in so I asked if we could we ride some side streets before hitting the main roads just to get used to the scooter.
Baptism of fire
Larger wheels made for a much more stable ride and soon I really had the feel for it, I followed Tom and Dawn out onto the main streets, we had asked to visit Notre Dame first as it was somewhere Dawn really wanted to visit. Expecting the roads to be quiet we soon found the opposite as there was some type of music festival going on, Tom was weaving in and out of the traffic and I had to follow suit just to keep up, this really was a baptism of fire.
Paris has mainly one way systems and I had bikes, scooters and cars all flying past me while I tried to figure out who to give way to. Cyclists ignored one way signs, people don’t look, they just step out in the road, it’s organised chaos but it all seemed to work. We stopped and parked just outside Notre Dame and found a café, Tom told us some of the history while we drank our coffee. We went into the Cathedral and was amazed by its design and architecture on the grandest scale.
The end is nigh
He suggested we visit the Louvre next and we headed back to the scooters, by now I was really enjoying riding and I could have ridden all day, although I knew this would be our last stop. I cannot think Tom enough for creating this experience for us and I recommend you take one of his tours as it’s the best way to see Paris especially if you are a scooter lover.
I’ll be back
It was a sad moment when we had to leave for the Eurostar but happy knowing we will soon go back and the Vespa Club IIe-de-Paris, I know they would welcome more English scooterists attending the parade next year. One to think about…
Fancy a visit yourself?
You can find the Vespa Club on Facebook at: Vespa Club Paris
If you’d like to see more of George’s photography visit his Facebook page.
Words and photos: George David Ellis
If you have an interesting scooter trip or experience to share with us get in touch at: editorial@ScooterLab.uk
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