Welcome back to French Fridays! You’re in Paris, and you want to know how to get around town. Even if you’ve never taken public transportation before, you absolutely must take le metro. The thrill of swaying from side to side as the train cars lurch over the underground rails, the ease of crossing the city in a matter of minutes for less than the cost of a bottle of Perrier at a sidewalk cafe, and the chance to actually rub elbows with real Parisians, something you won’t be doing much of if your agenda includes tourist hotspots, means that a ride on one of the best public transit systems in the world should be high on your to-do list. (Mind you, you won’t be able to navigate le metro if you are physically challenged – the only accessible stops are at ends of the line, and often include inoperable elevators. And be careful if you’ve got small children – that open track will hold a whirring metro car in moments.)
Start off by buying yourself a carnet (ten tickets), able to be purchased at the “billet” machines inside almost all of the metro stations. You can use that chip embedded ATM card you brought from home to make your purchase. And you can use these same tickets on the bus and the spiffy new above ground that runs in Paris’s Chinatown should you wish. Now you’ve got your tickets in hand and you’re ready to go. Not to state the obvious, but you will need to validate the ticket as you go through the turnstile and KEEP IT WITH YOU UNTIL YOU LEAVE THE STATION. Many a tourist has had an ugly surprise when confronted by the RATP officials in dark green uniforms – if you can’t produce your ticket, you’ve got an on the spot fine. That seems to happen most frequently at the Concorde station, which is very safe but which should have a soundtrack featuring “Oliver”‘s song “You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” playing – this is a hotspot for well-dressed pickpockets.
But I’m making the metro sound ominous when that’s the last impression I want to give. Le metro is colorful, provided you know which lines to ride. The one line is your main artery through the city, running east to west and connecting to all but a few of the other lines. Take it to reach the Louvre directly (thus skipping the above ground line) and Le Marais and a host of other center city destinations. But don’t for one minute think that this enormous rolling tube is indicative of the charming old lines.
For a quaint metro ride, you must take the six line. So here’s what you do: stroll up the Avenue-des-Champs-Elysees. At the top is the Arc de Triomphe, known as the Charles De Gaulle- Etoile (star) metro stop. It’s huge, but you’ll manage as it’s clearly marked. Take the six line in the direction of Nation – this will take you outside, on a bridge over the river Seine, and give you a view of the Eiffel Tower. (You’ll want to get off at Bir Hakeim and visit le tour Eiffel.) As you ride the six line, whose cars are small, intimate, and full of French men and women making their way around town you will often be entertained by accordion and guitar playing musicians as well as several puppeteers who will construct a quick screen between subway poles. Trust me, a ride on the six line is worth it – for years I took this route four times a day. The musicians smile a lot and the friendly vibe on the six line is contagious.
Now get out your guidebooks,cause Paris addresses always include a reference to the nearest metro station, which is nearly always no more than a few blocks away (except in the seventh arrondissement), and your smart phone. Because, yes, Virginie, there is an app for the Paris metro map. Or, if you prefer, go to the source: http://ratp.fr, the official Paris rapid map system.
I love public transportation and take it in a new destination whenever possible. What is your favorite mode of transportation in a new city?