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Sunday, August 15, 2010

9 Days in Paris (Part 4) - Getting Around


I probably should have written about how to get around town before the whole tourist attraction part.

For the most part, I'm a big fan of public transportation. As long as it's, you know, doesn't completely suck. And to me, not completely sucking involves several things:

1.) Public transportation vehicles run in intervals of (at the very most) 10 minutes
2.) They run until at least midnight
3.) Preferably some sort of mix (e.g. Bus + something else, e.g. Tram/Train)

That's the basic list.

Paris easily meets these requirements. The Paris Métro has very tightly knit network of underground lines, you're basically always in a few hundred yards of another station, which makes crossing the city -- which is massive -- easier than you might think. With one caveat, but I'll get to that in a sec.

Like most of the main public transportation systems (at least the ones I've experienced), single trip tickets are more expensive than buying a bundle of tickets or (multi-)day tickets. A ticket for a week requires a passport photo, which we didn't have. So if you take a longer trip, you might want to consider bringing a passport photo.

As an aside, you can save money by skipping a photo booth or a passport photo studio by going to ePassportPhoto.com. It does passport photos for a bunch of different countries (different sizes and such). You just need a white wall, decent lighting and someone to take the picture or a timer. Then save the image and take it to one of those little drugstore photo kiosks and print it out. Voilà, you just spent like maybe 80 cents for a bunch of passport photos. And I know it works, because I've used it for my own U.S. passport and for my German visa.

But, like I said, this didn't occur to me, so we mixed a 5-day card with a 3-day card and then got a bundle of 10 individual tickets.

Other than walking, the next most inexpensive mode of transportation are the Vélib' city bikes that you can rent. They cost something like 1€ for an entire day ticket and 5€ for a week ticket (if I'm not mistaken). Or you can just ride and switch bikes from station to station, because the first 30 minutes are free. The catch here is that you'll have to ride a lot through Paris traffic, because there didn't seem to be that many bike paths. And when you see how they drive in Paris, then it's definitely something to take into consideration.

You can ride the bus with whatever Métro ticket you buy. This can be a better way to see the city (in comparison to the Métro, which is mostly underground). And if you're enterprising enough, then you can plan a bus tour of the city using only the public buses. There was a website explaining this, but I can't find it anymore. The hop on/hop off tour buses in Paris are incredibly expensive, ranging from 25-30€. So you'd definitely save some money if you use public transportation, but then you also don't have the benefit of some kind of guided tour voice telling you interesting facts.

If you do want to take a bus tour, then I'd recommend Foxity, which seems like it might be a relatively new outfit. It's a 1.5 hour tour through the city, available in a variety of different languages. They somehow managed to pack a lot of interesting info into the tour. It costs 10€ (if you're under 25 or over 65) and 12€ for everyone in the middle. And even less if you want to sit downstairs on the double-decker. It wasn't very full at all and I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality with respect to the price.

But back to the Métro. If you have to switch lines somewhere along the way, it can be a pain in the ass. It's sometimes a hike from one line to the next in the same station. Also, somehow the stations are so deep it feels like they're nuzzled right up against the Earth's core. Maybe my memory is off, but somehow I recall that most subway systems, well...once you go below ground it's cooler than above ground. The Paris Métro, regardless of the station, always felt like a freakin' sauna.

I've got nothing to say about the crowds of people in the trains or the summer B.O. emanating from a bunch of sweaty people. Frankly, it was the most normal part of the whole experience. I've been in a ton of packed, funky-smelling subway cars in my life and that's just how it is.

Overall, the buses are less crowded, tend to have A/C and you can just see more of the city. However, just for fun, you might want to consider taking one of the fully automated lines. There's only the one right now (I don't recall which line), but there's no driver and you'll feel like you're in the fucking future -- or a reaaaaally big airport.

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