Like a lover in waiting
Retro Tour in The City of Light
"...the Paris that we know, the one that is full of life, and laughter, and good times.”
Remi: Stylish, Jovial, Raconteur | 32 years old
Charlie: Debonair, Roguish, Epicurean | 33 years old
Best friends since the age of ten, Charlie and Remi have embarked on many adventures together, but they agree that creating the Retro Tour Company is their greatest. They grew up in the south of Paris in the 12th and 13th districts respectively. As young lads, they explored the streets of Paris like only the young can master, intimate with every alley, twist, turn and sweeping vista. This familiarity evolved over the years to include where to get the best baguette, the coldest pint, the hippest bars, all things fashionable, and the whereabouts of artisans of every flavor. They have collected tales and historical anecdotes to amuse and enthrall even the most austere of constitutions. It is this joviality of spirit that makes Retro Tour company like no other.
“We are stronger together than apart, we are very different, but we hold the same values for quality of life. We are like brothers.”
For seven years Remi and Charlie worked together in a shoe franchise business. The stores were bringing in decent money, but they began to wake up in the morning and dread the day ahead. There wasn’t any fire in it, no passion, no creation, just the same everyday grind, and neither wanted to waste another year on something that wasn’t launching them out of bed with an eagerness to begin the new days' adventures. Fans of traveling by motorcycle, Remi and Charlie fondly recall motoring through San Francisco and Yosemite before they started the shoe franchise. When you ride a motorbike, you are a part of a community, and it lends an opportunity to meet people on the road. Each new encounter was full of camaraderie, but they were somewhat dismayed by the narrow view of Parisians from the people that they met. People would say, ‘Oh, I like Paris, but Parisians are so snobby. You two are very different; I would not have guessed you were from Paris.’ This misconception of their beloved city and her people stuck with Charlie and Remi and slowly an idea began to form. They had a desire to show off the welcoming face of Paris, the warmth that beats under the surface like a lover in waiting.
“We want to make a difference; we want people to discover the real Paris.”
“The sensory experience of exploring the city on a moto and in a sidecar is like no other.” The views are more open and extreme, the smells, the feel of the sun and the wind on your skin, all of this combines to make a unique, unforgettable memory. It connects you to the place more deeply than if you were to be shut away in the back of a taxi or a bus. “We want to offer people the best way to discover Paris… on a moto-bike, in a sidecar, you become a part of the city, there is no separation.” And it is in the storytelling, the secret side streets and the discoveries that truly make Paris yours; her secrets divulged in delicious nibbles along cobblestoned streets that she becomes a part of you.
“It was a risk, but we go, we take the chance.”
All good business ventures begin with a story that sparks the imagination and fuels the dreams of others, and so it is with Retro Tour. Remi and Charlie set off to procure the perfect sidecar, something with a history and tale of its own that would fit the feel of the company. This quest brought them to the town of Irbit located on the fringe of Siberia in the Ural mountains. Irbit is well known for its manufacturing of heavy duty Ural sidecar motorcycles modeled after the late 1930’s BMW sidecar bike called the R71. “Stepping into Irbit was like stepping back in time 60 years.” The rustic town holds a mystery and stark romanticism forged from cold winters and people with a grit and mind for hard work and innovation. It was the perfect vehicle to share the romance of Paris, but impeccable style and engineering comes with a price,
“We could buy less expensive sidecars, but then we wouldn’t have the story.”
Charlie and Remi began the trip home to Paris in their new Ural sidecar motorcycle. “We forgot about the break in period. You can’t drive very fast when you are breaking in a moto. It is 5,000Km to Paris from Irbit. We would take turns, one driving and one in the sidecar.” Long days through rural landscapes stretched before them without any of the locals speaking French or English, but everyone was helpful even if the looks on their faces said, ‘Who are these crazy men in a sidecar riding through long stretches of nothing?’ Gestures and smiles saw them through, and seven days later they were home in the City of Light.
The Retro Tour adventure had begun and in keeping with the authentic nature of their dream Remi and Charlie set out to do what no one else has, tailor a unique tour for each customer based on their knowledge and interests. Mad about fashion? Remi is on top of the hottest Parisian fashion and can show you the best haute couture, outlet shops, and secondhand stores. Nightlife and fine dining more your thing? Charlie has you covered. Both will regale you with tales along the way, each revealing a juicy secret sure to shock or bring a smile.
My husband and I got to experience this first hand in mid-January of 2016 just weeks after the terrorist attacks. On our way out of the train station from Reims a man behind me, that I had stopped to hold the door open for, was grabbed by the police thrown into a van, and driven away. It happened so fast, I could have been on a movie set. But this was the climate of Paris, on alert, and a little on edge, with rain coming intermittently it seemed perhaps an unlikely time to go exploring through the streets in a sidecar. I called Retro Tour company; ‘Were we still on for tomorrow? Would it be okay in the rain?’ “Yes, yes, all will be good.” Was the reassuring reply.
The next morning Charlie and Remi met us at our hotel with big smiles and an air of adventure. Blankets, gloves, and goggles were offered, the sidecars have a windscreen, and the helmets have Bluetooth so that you can easily have a conversation with the group. It was all very cozy and immediately any trepidation I had slipped away. We were off! It’s hard not to have a big grin on your face when you ride in a Retro sidecar. The experience is excitingly unique, and you quickly become the envy of onlookers. “We are the first in Paris like this, and everyone wants to take our picture,” Charlie says as we wind up the road to the Montmarte to take in the view of the city. And for a while, we are in a fairytale, and all the worries of the world have fallen away.
We nestle into a café off a quiet street and settle in for some refreshment, glasses of Champagne for Dylan and I, and espresso for Remi and Charlie. It is the perfect environment for them to spin their tale. They present me with a beautiful map created by an artist Remi met in the summer. She took a sidecar with Charlie and when they saw her work on Instagram they knew they needed her to create a map of ‘their Paris.' “Whenever we start a tour the guest gives us the same map of Paris from the hotel. It is no good. We wanted a beautiful map, one that shows the real Paris.” It is a map one wishes to dive into, one that feeds the imagination and inspires adventure, a map to compliment Retro Tour. Remi and Charlie are jolly ambassadors of the City of Light, sharing the secrets of the Paris we long for. “...the Paris that we know, the one that is full of life, and laughter, and good times. And the Parisians that are full of love, a love for quality, friendship and the simple delights that are at the core of a happy life.” Paris, she is waiting for you, and Retro Tour is waiting to show you her secrets.