Thursday, January 26, 2006

Paris Metro - Romance and good advice

Romance of the Metro

Abbesses, photo by Ted Welch

More reminders of Paris ! While driving back from shopping this afternoon, I turned on the radio and on BBC Radio 4 a story was being read: "Channel 17". I was about to switch it off as I found the middle-class tones and attitudes a bit irritating. But then I realised that it was set in Paris, and the narrator said what I had thought while there, i.e. the names of many of the Metro stations sound so evocative and Romantic: Barbes Rochechouart; Sevres-Babylone; Arts et Metiers; Michel-Ange Auteuil; Porte des Lilas; etc. Somehow London tube station names don't tend to have the same ring: Bank; Wapping; Euston; Holborn; Goodge Street, etc.

An efficient system too

Not only is it Romantic, but it's a very efficient system, here's praise from Jim, an American, and advice, particularly for his fellow Americans:

Using Paris's great public transit system

"The Bottom Line You will go crazy driving a car in Paris. Avoid traffic vortices and motorist's madness by riding one of the world's best public transit systems. Millions do it every day.

For many Americans, a typical vacation consists of flying somewhere, picking up a rental car at the airport, and using it as the basic means of local transportation. If you value your sanity, you must not do this when you visit Paris. As a typical American driver, you'll be way out of your league [unless your name is Jason Bourne, see my blog entry on The Bourne Identity]. You'll face excellent but impatient and aggressive drivers, many narrow and one-way streets, streets whose names change every half mile, tiny and dim traffic lights and nearly invisible street name signs, few lane markings, chaotic traffic circles, bizarre "traffic vortices" that seem to make it impossible for you to reach your destination even when you know exactly how to get there, and a dearth of parking among the worst in the world.

You could take taxis everywhere, but they're relatively expensive, not always easy to come by, and you wouldn't get to mix with Parisians and other tourists.


Fortunately, Paris has one of the world's best urban and regional transportation systems, and it's managed by an organization called RATP (English speakers often find this amusing, but the French pronounce it uh-rah-tay-pay). RATP (you can call it "rat pee") runs an extensive, highly integrated, and efficient network of metro (M) lines (this is a subway or underground system), city center to suburb rail lines (RER), daytime and evening buses (BUS), late night busses (Noctambus), trams (T), buses to de Gaulle and Orly airports, a funicular on Montparnasse, and a few other specialized services.

Using this system, you can go just about anywhere you choose in Paris proper or the Ile-de-France region.

Don't be Alarmed, But...

There are pickpockets in the metro, as well as around every significant tourist destination. I have been pickpocketed myself, brought down by professional predators like an antelope on the Sarengeti, as my partner put it, but I'll never stop riding the metro. Stay alert, watch your companion's back, keep your true valuables under your clothes, not in your pockets. You are most vulnerable when you are tired, as when you first arrive and are lugging your suitcases. Beware of anyone trying to distract you, as by dropping something on or near you. That's it. You may be pickpocketed in the Paris metro, but you won't be knifed or shot. That's the good news."

The page has lots of useful advice about the Metro, buses, etc. and Jim has also provided some other very useful pages of advice linked from this page:


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