In Part I of my post on Paris I spoke a little about the people, Part Deux covered food and in Part III – the Sites. This is a little of everything else and a wrap up.
The City that Never Sleeps versus The City of Lights –
Advice for getting around Paris for the first timers (especially us New Yorkers).
Not all train doors open automatically. Depending on the subway line, you may need to push a button on the door to exit or even enter the train car.
If on the RER (commuter line equivalent to NYC’s Metro North or LIRR), go topside in the morning to be a little warmer on a cool weather. If the weather is warmer, ride in the lower level, especially in the afternoon. Because hot air does what…?– rise. The top section warms up considerably on a sunny day in warmer weather. Unless you are right by an open window capturing a breeze, it can become unbearable even with air conditioning.
Oh, and you know that nasty little habit some of us have of holding subway doors open to wait for someone? Yeah, that nonsense is not going to work in Paris – because you cannot hold open those doors for anyone. My friends and I learned this the hard way when we were separated on the way back to our hotel after a day of site seeing. Their subway doors do not bounce open at the least little resistance the way ours do. Trust me, when you feel the serious pressure of those doors closing on your hands, your body will protect itself and get the hell out of its way. That train needs to be at the next station by XYZ time and by golly it will be there! And speaking of on time…
Lastly, when the public announcement in the station states that a train is the last train for the night, they are not playing. They do not mean the last train will leave its start point at 1 AM. They mean the last train will arrive at its endpoint by that time. All passengers using the stations before that endpoint must adjust their time accordingly. At 12:50 AM we missed the train with that announcement. We were caught off guard to realize the next one was not until 5AM. They literally shut down the stations. Trains cars are emptied, gates are pulled closed and locked shut until 5 AM. What would have been a fifteen-minute ride on the subway, was now a long wait and a long ride on a crowded bus in the middle of the night that taught us not to let that happen again.
The cool thing about Parisian bus lines, similar to their subways, they have an automated system in place that informs passengers which bus is coming and how many minutes until it arrives. In the middle of the night that is very helpful. The bad thing is in the middle of night and the subways have just closed, it is the only means of mass transit. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed. It felt very much like rush hour at home. Unfortunately, very much like home, a woman risks that some ass wipe will take advantage of the situation. If you read Part I of my posts on Paris then you know about young American women as targets. This is the bus ride I spoke of then.
So why didn’t we take a taxi? Glad you asked. It is not as if we did not try to …
It was our first night in Paris, after the non-stop plane ride and a day of running around, my right knee decided I had pushed it enough and had given out a good hour and a half before around 11:30. It was now one-something in morning and I was officially in pain. When we missed the train, it was partially because we were taking so much time for photos and partially because I could not move fast enough to catch it. It was a lovely night; I would I have happily agreed with the initial idea to walk home, were I not already limping in pain.
We spotted a taxi stand. Several people like us had missed the train and were waiting in front of us. Oddly enough though we saw empty taxis passing by, none were pulling up to pick up passengers. Naturally, being New Yorkers (with me trying hard to not lose it), split into teams and tried flagging cabs away from the stand and from across the street. We were attempting to flag down taxis for at least fifteen minutes when a taxi pulled up across the street from us to let a passenger out. One of us ran across, grabbed the door and tried to explain the situation (me). The driver refused to let us in explaining the rules. Taxi’s are only allowed to pick up passengers from designated stands. Those caught picking up passengers elsewhere risk such nasty fines that they do not take the chance. This at least explained why some passers-by (obviously locals), were looking at us as though we were crazy standing in the street trying to flag one down. I honestly cannot say if it was that we were obviously tourists, that there were nine us, because we were black or any combination there of, but no one was stopping. Only two people of the few in front of us were able to get rides. After another fifteen minutes or so of this, we gave up and got on the bus.
On the plus side, coming back from a dinner cruise, it was no more or less crazy/organized than some of our taxi stands here in NYC, but we were able to get taxis within a few minutes.
Note: If you call for a taxi service to meet you at a certain time, all in your party better be ready to leave at that designated time. A ride that should have cost less than ten Euros, cost us nearly triple the amount because of those who (granted unknowingly of the cost of waiting) dawdled. Their clock starts the moment you say be there in a minute. They will happily tell you it is not a problem. They do not tell you it is because they are going back to the taxi to start the clock and that you will literally pay for each minute idling away. Tourists – 0 / Taxis – 1.
Most of us living in a tourist city are very familiar with that annoying tourist with a map and a Duh, where do I go? Where do I go? expression, standing at the edge of curb, blocking the path to cross. It’s a very different thing when that tourist is you. Still, I was very conscious of not doing the things I have seen some tourists do that tend to annoy the locals. If I had to stop someone and ask for directions, I made sure I was not out of the flow of foot traffic and apologized profusely for any names of places I butchered in the process (ex. Pontoise is pronounced pon-TWA, not PON-toys).
We were brilliantly located in the Châtelet – Les Halles area of Paris on the East Bank of the Seine River. Châtelet – Les Halles and the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank are within walking distance of several major attractions and/or a quick train ride to most others. Like any metropolis, the key to walking around Paris is to stay with the general flow and watch the traffic lights. NYC has pedestrian crossing signals of a white walking figure for cross and a red hand for don’t walk. Paris has, what we dubbed Green Guy (walk) and Red Guy (don’t walk). Let me tell you when you see that Green Guy – you better hustle (no not the dance from the 70s). The lights change quickly in some areas and I do mean quickly. Luckily, they do have the countdown to let you know how many seconds you have before the light changes, so you know whether you have time to stroll or run to the other side before the cars come zooming.
Speaking of the cars, do not even think about jaywalking, especially in a heavy traffic area. They are tiny cars, but they move. When you have the light, they stop – completely, but when they have the light – they haul ass. Unless you are on a side street or at a turning corner, then it is different. It must be rendered a considerable lack of grace (or have one heck of a fine), to use your car horn in Paris. I saw one driver wait, what a New Yorker would consider, a ridiculous amount of time for pedestrians watching street performers to note he was there and move out of the way. The performers themselves finally saw the car and had to tell the people to move. So always check behind you; otherwise, you may be surprised how quickly and quietly a car can be up on you.
To paraphrase Gump – and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Three weeks ago today (three weeks!), this chick landed in Paris and had a marvelous few days there. I may have spent the first night in pain and the last night fighting off a nasty cold, but everything in between was simply splendid! Met some wonderful people, ate some fabulous food, finally saw in person some places I once only dreamed of and learned even in a foreign country, if they have mass transit and I have the map, I can get around pretty damn well. I have to say other than the history and architecture, it felt very much like home — just at a more relaxed pace.
Finally, let me send so much love and many, many, many thanks to Destinations by Danielle. D-Fab (the fabulous tour de force who organized this jaunt, one of my fellow travelers on this trip and a person I am happy to call friend), ma chérie, this first trip to Paris was magnifique. And I easily say the first because after this tiny but delectable taste of France, I know there are several more trips in my future. I’ll follow you anywhere my wallet will allow.
I loved visiting Paris and very much look forward to having another taste of it, but as the adage goes – there’s no place like home – and I am glad to be back.
Now to take most of what I’ve written in these four entries about Paris and post it to Trip Advisor. 😉