In Paris, I think it’s fair to say that using public transport is the best way to get around. When the weather is lovely, feel free to saunter down the Champs Elysees to Place de la Concorde, but be prepared for the 2km trek that you’re about to endure. On the map, the Jardin des Tuileries by the Louvre art gallery may look like a leisurely stroll from Notre Dame Cathedral, but 3km later and in the scorching summer holiday sun you too will want to hide in the bell tower like Quasimodo himself.
The Paris Metro system is pretty much parallel to that of the London Underground (and probably every other subway network around the capital cities of the world), but there are certain nuances that make it just that little bit out of the ordinary for an accustomed tube user like myself.
To begin with – not only do you have to know the colour and the number of the line you want to use but also the destination of the train. In London it’s simple; you’re either going North, South, East or West bound. In Paris you have to know whether the train you’re planning to catch is heading towards Pont de Levallois or Gallieni. If you’re planning on travelling somewhere in a hurry (like Gare du Nord, because you’ve spent too much time in Virgin Megastores, and have realised there’s only 20mins before your main line train leaves), make sure you consult the far corners of your tube map first.
Also don’t expect to get a seat. I find it easier just to stand by the door rather than try and race an old lady with her shopping bag, a guy with huge Beats headphones and a man in a suit to the one recently-vacated seat in the middle of the train. Even when people get off at one of the stations it’s a first-come, first-served, musical chairs style game for the rest of us still left on board. A teenager will happily sit down in a free seat rather than allow the elderly gentleman next to him to take it. This is la vie Parisienne.
It’s even more important to try and pinpoint your chosen Metro station on a map beforehand if possible too. I suggest using Google Streetview to almost literally walk down the street first, especially if you’re off to visit somewhere new. Some of the stations are clearly marked at street level with elaborate, green or red iron ‘Metropolitan’ signs that look like they’ve been there since time began. Easy to spot. Yet a lot of the underground stations are not marked at all, or simply have the word ‘metro’ engraved into a bit of building work. I think the general rule is: staircase descending into darkness in the middle of the pavement = Paris Metro. Franklin D Roosevelt station on the Champs Elysees is a prime example of this.
Oh and if you’re planning on listening to your iPod – don’t bother. Violinists, opera singers, pop singers, drummers, tambourine players… you name it, they’ll be there in your train carriage trying to earn their share of baguette money. Voila, la France.