My typical Parisian day generally involves the metro. Efficient though it is, when given the opportunity to take a tour in a vintage motorcycle sidecar, I was thrilled to be exploring Paris from above. This was my chance to break free from the subterranean shackles of old and see Paris in a whole new light.
My guide was Simon Burke of Txango Tours, a motorcycle afficionado and Parisian history buff. Our trusty steed was a beautiful Royal Enfield bike with a Watsonian sidecar. Whilst I may not have quite cut the Peter Fonda shaped figure I had hoped for, the rest of the picture was impeccable. The scene was set for a glorious day out.
Opting for the Vice and Violence tour, I was taken through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter through the Marais, and onwards to Montmartre. I learned all about Paris’s sordid and gruesome history along the way. Stopping for a coffee outside a bistro near Hotel Amour, I enjoyed listening to how various streets got their names, as well as stories too salacious to print here!
Seeing Paris this way gives a unique insight into the layout of the city and Simon’s colorful commentary puts you at the center of a journey through the annals of Parisian history.
After the tour, I asked Simon a few questions about his background, his business and life in Paris.
Where are you from originally and how did you end up in Paris?
I was born and raised on the outskirts of New York City. My mom is French and dad half French. We moved to Paris where I attended and graduated from a bilingual high school. I went to university in the US and then moved to Paris in 2008, like so many others, for love. We have been happily married now for almost ten years and have two wonderful daughters!
You are both American and French. Which culture do you relate to more?
This one’s tricky. For the general fabric of society—definitely French. For the food I love both sides of the pond. My humor and comfort with the informal is definitely more American.
What is the biggest difference you see between life in the two countries?
Compared to France the US is a country of extremes. Food portions are larger, people drink faster —they wake up and go to bed earlier. Although not to the same degree as the Spanish or Italians, the French do tend to pace their days and activities a notch or two slower than Americans.
Also, generally, the French are keen to learn before doing, whereas I think Americans like to learn by doing. In this regard, I am totally American.
What was the inspiration for Txango tours? Why now ?
In spring 2021, during COVD, I was staying with family in the Basque Region of France, lamenting about going back to Paris and a job I no longer enjoyed..
Suddenly I was struck with the idea of starting a tour business in Biarritz. I had a motorcycle license and by using a sidecar I could accept guests who are not licensed motorcyclists. I could not get this idea out of my head!
Txango is a Basque word meaning “excursion”. My friends and I all found it catchy, and who cares if no one knows what it means or how to pronounce it. That’s part of the fun!
Then came my chance; due to the covid related down-turn, I lost my job as HR Director for Fat Tire Tours a few months later in July 2021, and decided it was “now or never”. My professional network being well established in Paris, and not wanting to uproot my family on a gamble, I decided to launch my business in Paris, and kept the name as a homage to the region that inspired me to do so.
What is the part of Paris you love to share most with your clients?
Most visitors who go to Montmartre, hike up the hill to see Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre, and then are so tuckered out, they turn around and go back down the way they came missing so much of what makes Montmartre special.
I love showing my guests the lesser known and quieter north side of Montmartre. For anyone wanting to visit Montmartre on your own, take the metro to Lamarck-Caulaincourt and make your way up to the top of the hill – it’s SOOOOOO much nicer.
Where is your special place just for you?
La Cuisine de Chez Moi in the 9th. It’s the ONLY place in which I gladly eat a full plate of tripes. Even though it’s a Chinese restaurant, they do fabulous tripe and frogs legs.
Alternate answer: My special place is being alone on my motorcycle (no side-car), on an empty country road.
Do you have a favorite restaurant for a long lunch? A romantic dinner?
For a long lunch, I really like Milagro in the 7th. Also an Italian place in the 15th called Pichetto on Avenue de la Motte-Picquet. When the weather is nice, their terrace is hard to leave. For a romantic dinner with my wife, Poulette in the 1st is a nice small restaurant with friendly staff, and simple, elegant food. It’s in a wonderfully preserved late 19th century locale with art nouveau styling.
Where do you go in Paris to relax?
Since I work outside all day, and have children at home, I need a sort of man-cave to relax! The closest equivalent is a cozy pub.
A few favorites around the city:
- Au Dernier Metro in the 15th
- Le Bombardier in the 5th
- Little Red Door in the 3rd (ok this one’s a cocktail bar, but they do an excellent Gin & Tonic)
- Le Mazet in the 6th
How do you stay fit/healthy in Paris?
I bring my daughters to school with my long-tail bicycle, and always use the stairs to get to my apartment (up 4 flights). I also practice Japanese jiu jitsu twice weekly.
What is your go-to boulangerie treat?
I may be criticized for this, but I don’t have much of a taste for sweets. I love slicing open a croissant, spreading some cream cheese (but even better is chèvre frais), and tossing in a couple fried eggs. I think it’s the American in me that butchers a croissant so happily.
On the rare occasion that I want something sweet, I’m a total sucker for a chausson aux pommes with home-made apple purée and plenty of cinnamon. Fresh from the oven and still warm = heaven on earth.
What’s your favorite time of year in Paris and why?
Late summer/early autumn or “l’arrière-saison” as we say. There are less crowds and weather is still nice enough for picnics and other outdoor activities. The weather is usually great, the atmosphere tends to be very festive, almost like the summer’s last hurrah before the cold & damp Parisian winter rears its head.
Where do you see yourself professionally, and living in 5 years? 10?
Good question! In 5 years I see myself expanding— sidecar tours in Paris is just the beginning.
In 10 years, I may sell my business and remain on in an executive role, or sell and move on to something else. There’s plenty of opportunities out there for optimists like me!
- Interested in motorcycles? Check out where Simon goes for his motorcyclist needs at Tendance Roadster
- Need somewhere to stay in Paris for your next trip? Check out these rentals.
- Here’s your guide for how to dress like a Parisian when visiting Paris.
Written by Matthew Hillier for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person (when possible)? Check out new marketplace shop and experiences.
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