Two little Boston Terrier girls bring their Momo & Mr.Momo to Paris for a long stay. These are the tales of their very fine adventures.
L&P Present - A Tale of Duex Metros
Since the Metro is fairly clean, almost litter free, L&P think the Metro trains are merely adequate transportation to the next sidewalk buffet. However, no one said anything about the Metro stations and the underground. In the underground there is plenty of trash. Not as much as on the street, and less than the amount you would find in a parking garage. But there is some trash. L&P however, have learned that even trash in the Metro underground is not so savory and they tend to walk right on by. There is a lesson to be learned here my friends - if L&P are willing to skip it, well, ok, if P is willing to skip it, it ain't good. Hurry on by.
This is L&P with Dad on the Metro on the way to somewhere in Paris. They have learned what the word "train" means and they make such delightful faces when we say it. Almost as though they would rather exert the effort to snort a hairball than get on that noisy thing again. But they do it willingly because, well, because they are carried onto the trains. Willingly is a loose term here.
Don't order that silly $10 metro map from anywhere before you go. They give them away for free here and are much easier to read - the print is bigger. Second, don't try to memorize it before you get here. It is impossible and seriously, the maps make sense only after you try using it and get lost once or twice (says Momo, not Mr. Momo - who never apparently gets lost). And you will need several because they wear out. Seriously, they disintegrate from staring at them.
Then there is the RER, pronounced AIR (cough cough) AIR. Never RER. Don't do it. No one will know what you are talking about. The AIR/AIR is just another get around town train, but is not to be confused with the Metro, but you can use the same ticket for both. And the bus too. But a bus and the trains (RER and Metro) don't look anything alike. Well. Except for the #14 Metro which looks like a big springy bus on rails. High speed rails too. I love the 14. It is a high speed (ok, not like the TGV high speed, but speedy nonetheless) and automagic. If you get on in the absolute front of the very first car there is a giant picture window to watch the tunnels as you speed along. I feel like I am 8 years old again. I always go to the front. And I push the kids out of the way if they hog the window. The longest distance of nonstop travel is between Gare Lyon and whichever is next, although the map never indicates this. It feels like five minutes and 20 miles of zoom, ups, downs, curves. Ok, ok. Digressing again.
Our itty bitty apartment is near Gare Saint Lazar station (pronounced Salazer - try looking that one up!), one of those giant undergrounds that connect like a hub to many Metro and some AIR/AIR lines. You can even get a bus to CDG airport there among many other city buses. It is a big hub. It is two blocks away but we can go underground almost out our door and never come up again until we are on the other side of Paris. Ta Da. Magic. And it takes less than 30 minutes. Metros are the way to go around here. But if you want to Metro your way through Paris, here are some things that you will need to know.
1. Plan on getting lost and not worrying. There are plenty of maps everywhere. If I can find my way back, honestly, anyone, including L&P could. I am a very very bad map person. And in the worst case? They say Paris is a walking city for a reason. Just, at all times, make sure your footwear is comfy. You may have to walk back, and you can. It will just take some time. Stop at the cafe. Eat something, have some express. And walk some more. You will get back. I promise. And heck, if you can't, call me. I will try to read the map for you. Of course, you could end up in Belgium, but they have good chocolate.
2. Do not buy the stupid "Paris tourist" Metro tickets. They cost more than regular tickets because they give you a silly plastic sleeve for the ticket which is no good anyway - the ticket needs to be naked to go through the turnstiles. I think they also give you discount coupons for shopping in places that already give tourists discounts. Redundancy is not uncommon here. But tickets in groups or just a weekly or monthly ticket for two zones. If you go further than that you are in Versailles anyway. A carte orange is a good ticket to get.
3. Practice the terms you will need to use to get the tickets mentioned above over and over until you have memorized them in French. Or face the wrath of the RAPT ticket/information employee. We have experienced the wrath. It is not pretty. When you say bonjour and parlez vous anglais?, it is likely that the person in the window with say oui, shrug, motion a little bit with their fingers or say non. Be prepared. If they say oui, test it out. Like ask how their family is or compliment them on their choice of toothpaste. If they look puzzled or answer correctly, you have, my friend, hit the jackpot. I would suggest you buy all of your tickets for your entire trip right then. If you get a stupid answer back, you know they do not speak English. And here begins the fun. Use French - ask for the number of Jours you want, say for example, duex jours, duex zones, duex people. And then be prepared to pretend you are on a game show and use all your fingers to count and point until you get what you need. The ticket people are adept at not being very helpful and as Mr. Momo has noted, on purpose they like to play with you like the cat plays with little bitty mice. Just be prepared as they say. Mr. Momo often comes back with two tickets for one zone for one day going to Sweden when he had asked for 2 zones, 2 days and 2 tickets.
4. And always be grateful for the times when you find someone helpful in the Metro stations. I once had the help of a very nice information person who took me to the ticket counter way below where we were, two giant escalators down. Where she had described to go was no where close to where we ended up. If I had followed her directions, between her poor English and my poor French, I would still be walking to NYC, underground from Paris.
5. There are fewer pick pockets than the printed material says there are. There is a greater police presence underground and therefore less crime. But you will still run into the drunks later on at night who get tossed out of the streets and into the Metro stations. They are pretty harmless, they just might smell a little bit and lurch a bit. But still, do be cautious. Don't fling your money around, and keep your purse in front of you and if you carry a pack, be aware that the more savvy nimble fingers can get those zippers open with nary a nudge. So don't put anything in your pack that you can't stand to lose.
6. Pay close attention to the signs. They will confound you for certain. For example, the number 14 goes only from St. Lazar to Bibliotheque and back again. However, the sign at St. Lazar offers you Olympiades and Bibliotheque for the number 14 making you think perhaps there are two trains. Not so. One train, and both stops are in the same direction, one after the other. Silly Metro map makers. They just wanted to keep you guessing.
7. And watch the arrows too. They often point in a direction and then double back or twist. Keep checking to make sure you are heading to the right train number or you will have a long walk back. And just for extra credit fun, sometimes the arrow tells you where to go and then disappears and you have to choose - left or right. That can be fun. You'd think it would be 50-50, but not here. More like 80-20, as in 80% of the time you will pick the wrong way. Remember, comfy comfy shoes!
8. Do not leave your ticket tucked in your purse, wallet or any other stupid place. You need it once the surge you are walking with pushes you to the turnstile. The French move though that thing like ballerinas. If you are from NYC, you shouldn't have any trouble, but if you are from, say, a tiny town with no subway, get used to keeping your ticket handy. Here you must be cautious and watch for the naughty thieves. Their best trick is to grab your bag as you get through the turnstile only to go in the opposite direction and leave you stranded.
9. Don't kill yourself getting to a train if you hear it or see it. Almost no one here ever runs to catch a train. They come very few minutes. Aside from the fact that over 50% of the women riding the metro wear stiletto heels- the French have lots of dignity. No one rushes anywhere. There is even a little digital readout above the platform that counts down the three minutes to the next train.
10. Talk quietly on the train. The French are pretty quiet people and often you can tell who are the tourists (aside from the white sneakers) by how loud they are. Conversations are actually not overheard. And on some cars, conversation is not possible because the train is too loud.
11. Don't bother with a stroller. There are stairs and more stairs everywhere and very few escalators. And many escalators act like stairs because they aren't running.
12. There are often musicians in the underground and some are very good. I think it is the acoustics. Violins can sound hauntingly wonderful or make you want to throw yourself on the 3rd rail.
13. Wear layers. It can get mighty toasty at times.
14. The train door don't open by themselves for the most part. You have to pop a lever or push a button. You will look very cool and un-touristy if you know that. If you just stand there waiting for the door to open, someone will invariably knock you over trying to get out.
15. Some of the operators running the trains are 12 years old. They like to go really really fast and lurch the train about on it's 300 year old rails. Think Harry Potter and that silly midnight bus ride.
Welcome to the underground where there is a whole other Paris.
L&P love the Metro so they rate the underground a big 8. The shortcoming is more about the lack of good pickings like the sidewalk buffet up above. For Momo and Mr. Momo, the Metro rates a good 7. It's those confusing sorties and idiotic methods of getting Metro tickets that keep the rating from being higher. But you cannot argue with the fact that you can be on the other side of Paris from where you are in less than 30 mostly hassle free minutes using the Metro. That is, if you can find your way back up to the top.