Cab. Metro. Velib. RER. Bus. Walking. When one needs to go somewhere in Paris, the first tough decision one has to take is how one is going to arrive to the destination. "Should I take a cab, which would be faster? Or the metro, which is cheaper? Do I want to walk or bike and enjoy the weather? Or maybe the bus cause its raining? Or am I going to the suburbs and need the RER?" One has the freedom to choose from an immense amount of ways to move from place to place. As a result, getting bored is very difficult.
The Parisian Gares are an important vein of transport for France and all of Europe. Perhaps the most important is la Gare du Nord, which is the third most frequented station in the world, after two in Japan. Interestingly, we encountered an exposition consisting of a video camera that recorded travelers in the station and projected the image on a large screen with a lag of several seconds. Passengers and Mme Levet stopped and amused themselves with this simple but entertaining exposition.
Les lignes et les stations de métro
The Métropolitain (metro) in Paris is very well spread and easily accessible. With sixteen lines, it is unlikely to walk for more than ten minutes without seeing a metro stop. These lines create a winding and complicated grid over the map of Paris. Each line has is unique color and range from having old, worn cars to new, speed trains. In addition to the lines, many of the metro stops, particularly closer to the center of the city, have their own personality. Such as the stop "Arts et Métiers" which has a submarine theme and "Louvre-Rivoli" had replicas of statues from the Louvre Museum.
Vélib’ is a combination of two French words “vélo liberté” which in English means bicycle freedom. This is a relatively new initiative in Paris of public bicycle renting. Bicycle stations of Vélib’ can be seen all around the city and are created to be user-friendly. While we did not have the opportunity to ride on this mode, which is quite popular in Paris, I had the opportunity of helping Mme. Levet take out a bicycle. To a nice surprise, I was really impressed with the ease as well as security built in to the system (to prevent others from stealing someone’s password or smartcard). While initially I was quite anxious to ride on Vélib’, after seeing the wild and courageous attitude of other riders who would overtake cars and make turns out of order, I realized I was too afraid to take on this city …on a bicycle, that is.
One time, as we rushed to get on the metro, I saw a man who had just missed the train. As we moved past him, I saw him do an “oh well” gesture, and I thought, “wow, he’s not even pissed off.”
I realized that Parisians have a knack for balancing in the metro, and most people I saw, when no seats were available, favored leaning on the sides of the train by the doors or against the sides of seats over standing in the middle of the aisles with the poles or holding on to the overhead rails. There are folding seats closest to the doors and it's convention for people sitting in those seats to stand up to make more room when there's a large rush of people, which I thought was really nice (and a clever idea by the train engineers). Also, no one seems to eat or drink on the metro, which is apparently 'tres Parisien' according to Prof. Levet. I guess the concept of drinking coffee on the go is much our thing as Americans and would probably run much against the longstanding cafe tradition here in Paris. Probably the thing that struck me the most about the metro was how quiet it was most of the time. People don't talk as much, and there are times when everyone seems to ride a few stops in total silence. When people do talk, it's usually in much softer, quieter tones than in the Green Line in Boston for example. That is, the Green Line even without a Red Sox game involved.
We were once in the metro on our way to La Défense and a lady noticed that there was a hat next to her that did not belong to her. She immediately called the woman that had sat next to her who was getting off the metro. The hat did not belong to her. When the metro starts accelerating, a man knocks on the door and signals that the hat is his, but it was too late. The doors had already closed. At that point I thought "Bummer, that sucks. That's a really bad way to loose a hat". When we got to the next stop, however, another man offered to go back to the previous station to return the hat. I had never seen something like that happen.
I had an interesting look at the Parisian transportation system after our soiree Kiss Touch. As I left the club, I asked a group waiting outside whether the metro was still running. It was 2:20am and the metro had closed. I begun to walk towards the hotel and ran into a bus stop. Luckily, the bus system was still running! What was curious is that nobody seemed to know how it worked! Over a over, people would come onboard just to ask if it would stop at a certain place and often end up leaving in disappointment. I was fortunate enough to find a bus that took me to Châtelet, which was about 15 minute-walk from our hotel.
Fun Facts: First of all, fortunately for us, we stayed at a hotel that was located virtually in the city center.
Consider the walk from the Student Center to Sloan takes fifteen minutes--that is how long it took us to reach the Louvre Museum.
Consider the walk down Dorm Row, the Avenue of Champs-Elysées extends four to five times longer.
Consider our 4,000 student undergraduate population; the Paris Métro carries over 4 million people every day.
Faire un aller-retour à Versailles (to go to Versailles and back):
RER-C taken from Invalides: around 30 minutes
Friday morning around 10am
St. Paul to La Défense: 23.4 min
Traveling from Filles du Calvaire to Opéra
Average time traveling between consecutive stops: 52.6 sec
Average time spent at each stop (opening and closing of doors): 12.8 sec
Filles de la Concorde to République: 56.7 sec
République to Strasbourg St. Denis: 1.34 min. Stopped for 13.6 sec
Strasbourg St. Denis to Bonne Nouvelle: 28.8 sec. Stopped for 11.3 sec
Bonne Nouvelle to Grands Boulevards: 33.3 sec. Stopped for 11.6 sec
Grands Boulevards to Richelieu-Drouot: 49.14 sec. Stopped for 14.8 sec
Richelieu-Drouot to Opéra: 51.25 sec.