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The Unofficial Guide to Paris
By David Applefield
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-4064-5
Chapter OneGetting around Paris
Visualizing the City
Paris possesses the quaint contradiction of being organized according to no specific system or grid, but at the same time it has been developed on a scale that makes aimless exploring pleasurable without the risk of getting too lost. In essence, streets can be small, mixed up, and obscure, but the city is user friendly. You can always situate yourself in Paris by using the closest Métro stop as your mental and geographic crutch. Everything in Paris is accessible by the Métro-the veins through which the life of the city flows-and the system will inevitably become your best friend. Find a Métro station and you'll never be lost or too far from anything. You'll quickly get to know your Métro stop and a few local cafés, which you'll keep coming back to each day. Comfort and pleasure in Paris builds as you settle into these little routines.
Using our arrondissement maps in the Introduction, memorize the key areas of Paris and where they are in relation to each other and your hotel. This way, you'll always have your bearings, wherever you are. Memorize your closest Métro stop, the line it's on, and the direction (the last station on the line heading in the direction of your hotel).
We've mentioned on several occasions how to find free city andMétro maps. These will help you get around, except when you're looking for an obscure shop in the 13th arrondissement or a little bistro that a friend raved about in the 12th arrondissement. With one of these handy map books, you'll be able to track down every street in Paris and its closest Métro stop. The cover is waterproof. And, as a tourist, you'll look like a local. You can find the Paris Pratique in all stationery shops, most newsstands, and department stores for about 19 [euro]. Michelin publishes a similar one for about 10 [euro]. Trust us, this is a great value-you'll get very attached to your map book very quickly and will keep it for return journeys.
To get the shape of Paris clear in your head, think of a large egg lying on its side. The RATP public transportation authority uses the shape of the city as its logo, with the path of the Seine river forming the profile of a face.
The arrondissements are organized clockwise in concentric circles starting in the city center. The street signs are posted on the corner of buildings and most of the time indicate the arrondissement as well as the street.
Spotting the Eiffel Tower
"Where's the Eiffel Tower?" How often do we hear this of arriving visitors? For many, you're not really in Paris until you've spotted the world's most famous monument. Go quench the urge right away. If this is your first time in Paris, the single most dominant image in your mind is surely this spectacular hunk of metal. Most visitors don't feel like going to the Louvre or the Picasso Museum until they've first laid eyes on this larger-than-life icon, situated on the Left Bank of the Seine on a long and elegant garden called the Champ de Mars, in the 15th arrondissement. Aside from climbing it, the absolute best viewing point during the day-and especially at night-is from the terrace at the Trocadéro on the Right Bank. To get to the Eiffel Tower, take either Line 6 of the Métro to the Bir-Hakeim station or Line C of the RER to the Champ-de-Mars/Tour Eiffel stop. For more information you can call 01 44 11 23 23.
Walking in Paris
The best way to experience Paris is by foot (à pied [ah pee ay]). The human scale of Paris permits you to move easily from the Latin Quarter, across the islands, into the Marais, along the rue de Rivoli, past the Louvre, along the Seine, over the Pont Neuf, and into the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area and back to your centrally located hotel without any problem at all. Pause for lunch and stop in at least once or twice for a coffee or glass of beer or wine in an inviting café.
Note: Traffic signals do not hang in the middle of intersections but are affixed to poles on the far side of intersections. Green and red have the usual universal meanings. Parisians are not a highly disciplined people, but they are not jaywalkers either. Don't cross in the middle of streets, and do not ignore street signs like New Yorkers do. Drivers are not used to irresponsible pedestrians and do not usually slow down for them.
In Paris, street signs are fixed to the sides of buildings, much higher than eye level. Traditional Parisian street signs are blue with a green trim. The arrondissement is often shown above the name.
With regard to street numbers, don't be surprised if odd and even numbers are not located opposite from each other on a street. Many Paris buildings have long and deep courtyards and passageways leading from the street. You'll often see numbers followed by bis or ter, like "37 bis" or "104 ter," simply indicating that this address is adjacent to number 37 or 104.
Public transportation in Paris is extensive, inexpensive, safe, and easy to use. Even if you've never used public transportation back home, or you're afraid you'll get lost or squeezed to death in crowds, in Paris, trust the RATP and use it-especially the Métro. The Métro will not only save you valuable time and lots of money, but it will quickly bring you to the heart of everyday Parisian life. The RATP also has an extensive public bus system with multiple lines crisscrossing the city that links neighborhoods between Métro stops. And you might also want to try the affiliated Bato-Bus, which hosts regular river traffic on the Seine.
The RATP has a 24-hour telephone hotline for all questions concerning rates, itineraries, and hours. To reach a human being who speaks some English call between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m; you may need to ask for an English-speaking agent (Tel. 08 92 68 77 14). Otherwise you'll only get recorded messages in French. You can also check their site at ratp.fr.
The backbone of the RATP network is the Métro, one of the world's greatest subway systems that was inaugurated in 1900 with the Porte de Vincennes-Porte Maillot "Métropolitan" line (hence the name "Métro"). Today the Métro includes 16 lines and a whopping 368 stations. Essentially every neighborhood in Paris is accessible by Métro. The Métro opens at 5:45 a.m. and closes around 1 a.m.-but don't cut it too close. Ask at the Métro station closest to your hotel when the last Métro runs. (Excusez-moi, c'est quand le dernier Métro ce soir si'l vous plaît? [Ex cu say mwa; say cahwn luh dare nyeh Métro suh swah, see voo play?])
Each Métro line has an assigned number and is commonly referred to by the last station at the end of its line or direction. Each line is also color-coded, but with 16 different lines, you'll find the numbers a better indicator. The colors help you follow a line across the map.
You'll want to pick up a map of the Métro and RER and keep it handy all the time. Free maps are available at all Métro and RER stations, as well as at the RATP information office in the massive Châtelet-Les Halles station, which acts as the central hub for the system and is the major intersection of numerous lines. You can also download a Métro map on the official RATP website at ratp.fr. In addition, the Galeries Lafayette and Samaritaine department stores print and distribute millions of copies of colorful city and Métro maps, which are distributed free in their stores and at hundreds of points of contact for tourists.
Distances in Time
To determine how long it will take you to get from one station to another, roughly count on between one and two minutes per station, and add five minutes for each change of line (correspondance) you need to make. The high-speed RER trains come less frequently than the Métros but are faster and stop less. You can get from the center of the city at Châtelet-Les Halles to the Arc de Triomphe in less than ten minutes by RER, which would take twice as long by Métro.
Buying Métro Tickets
Métro tickets will be one of your staple tools for navigating in Paris. You have several ticket options, depending largely on how long you are staying and how many times you think you'll be using the Métro, RER, or buses. Paris public transportation is organized into eight zones, each commanding its own fare, so a little calculating is necessary to make the best choice.
All public transportation (Métro, RER, and buses) within Paris city limits and all the Métro stops on all 16 lines (even those that go beyond the city limits) collectively constitute Zones 1 and 2 and require only one Métro ticket. Almost all of your travel, except perhaps to one of the airports or Disneyland Paris, will fall within these two zones. You can buy tickets one at a time as you go, in a packet of ten called a carnet, or as a special one-, two-, three-, or five-day visitors pass called the Paris Visite. Prices do change periodically, so they might be a little different from what is listed here, but changes will be minimal and proportional.
As you can quickly calculate, it is very advantageous to buy a Paris Visite in many cases. Not only will you save money, you won't have to spend time in lines, and you won't have to figure out how, when, or where to get tickets. And, best of all, you won't hesitate over how or if you should go somewhere. With the pass in hand, you're more likely to use it and really explore Paris.
Note: If you plan to use the RER between either airport and Paris, or to and from Disneyland Paris, it is definitely a good deal to buy a Paris Visite upon arrival. If you are not going to use public transportation to and from the airport or Disneyland Paris, you might consider simply buying a carnet of ten tickets at a time.
Advantages of the Paris Visite
If you do opt for the Paris Visite you'll receive the following benefits:
Bateaux Parisiens 15 [euro] discount on two lunches purchased. Fifty percent off second ticket when purchasing two cruises.
Canauxrama One free canal trip ticket for every adult ticket purchased, except on weekend afternoons and public holidays.
Cité des Sciences Admission discounted 25%.
Disneyland Paris Discount of 10% at self-service restaurants.
Etoiles du Rex One free movie ticket for every adult ticket purchased.
Galeries Lafayette Discount of 10% on some items, plus free shopping bag with purchase of 30.49 [euro] or more.
Grande Arche de la Défense One free roof ticket for every adult ticket purchased.
Paris l'Open Tour Discount of 20% on tour tickets.
Montmartrain One free ticket for every adult ticket purchased.
Jacquemart André Museum One free ticket for every adult museum ticket purchased.
Louvre, Orsay, and Versailles museum boutiques Discount of 10% on merchandise other than books (minimum 40 [euro] purchase).
Stade de France One free "premiers Regards" ticket for every "premiers Regards" ticket purchased.
Tour Montparnasse One free ticket for every adult ticket purchased.
Where to Purchase a Paris Visite
It's simple. Just go to almost any Métro or RER station ticket window and ask for a Paris Visite for the number of days and number of zones you wish. In many stations you'll be able to pay with your credit card. You don't need a photo or any identification, and you can buy the card on any day and begin using it on any other day. It automatically activates the first time you insert it into the turnstile.
You can buy your card at the RER station at either airport, and you can even buy it from a ticket machine with your Visa or MasterCard, which will save you time.
How to Use the Métro
The Turnstile The Métro is very easy to use once you've mastered the symbols employed to indicate exits, transfers, and train directions. After you've bought your tickets or a pass, you slip the green ticket into the slot in the turnstile. The machine will grab it and spit it out in another slot. You grab it and proceed through the turnstile. Keep your ticket until you exit the Métro system because you may be asked to show it while you're in transit. In the case of the RER, you'll need to reinsert the ticket to get past the turnstile at your exit, so don't lose it. If you do, you'll either have to explain, beg, jump over the turnstile, or pay a fine.
You will observe a number of people "cheating"-climbing over the turnstile, going in the exit door, or squeezing through the turnstile with another passenger (often strangers). Someone may even squeeze in behind you without asking. The RATP has contrôleur dragnets set up periodically throughout the system, attempting to catch or deter cheaters.
If you lose your ticket and have the bad luck of being noticed by a contrôleur, try to explain what happened. Most likely you'll gain no sympathy and have to either pay the 26 [euro] fine on the spot, or show your passport and agree to have a 23 [euro] ticket mailed to you at home in addition to the fine, with a copy sent to your consulate. If you're caught going through a turnstile together on one ticket, be ready for a whopping 38 [euro] fine for each of you.
Follow Your Direction Métro lines are named after their endpoints, i.e., the Line 4 going north to Porte de Clignancourt is called Direction Porte de Clignancourt; the same line traveling in the opposite direction is called Direction Porte d'Orléans. Once you know which line your stop is located on, head in the direction of the last station on that line. White signs on the platform indicate direction.
Transferring from One Line to Another: Correspondance For transferring from one line to another, orange signs on the quai (platform) marked "Correspondance" indicate the path to other platform quais and other directions. This may be confusing because you sometimes need to follow the correspondance sign for your line through long corridors, moving sidewalks, and along platforms of other lines.
Make sure your direction is marked on the sign hanging above the platform at which you end up waiting. If you happen to get on a Métro going the wrong way, don't panic. Get off at the next stop and cross over to the platform marked with the correct direction.
Sortie (Exit)/Access aux Quais (Entrance) Blue signs marked "Sortie" point you in the direction of the exit, and often you'll have a choice of exits, all emerging onto different streets or different sides of the street.
Excerpted from The Unofficial Guide to Paris by David Applefield Excerpted by permission.
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