Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips 1: Surviving Paris

I have been living in Paris for 3 months now so I consider myself what deaf, blind, newborns would accept as an expert on all things Parisian.  And how lucky are get to share in this naive sense of knowledge.  This may take more than one post, but to anyone coming to Paris, there are a few things that will make getting around easier.

City Layout:

As I quickly found out on arriving in Paris (or what I though was Paris anyway), Paris is actually quite a bit smaller than most people think it is.  When referring to Paris you should be aware that you are only referring to the central metropolitan area, surrounding Paris are a series of other cities that every Parisienne will tell you are certainly not the same as Paris.  In fact, the city I live in, Neuilly Sur Seine, is technically not Paris.  Neuilly is a separate city with its own mayor, services and even a different postal code (We live in the 92 Paris is in the 75). 99.99999% of people who are not Parisian never know or figure this out...and it annoys Parisians to no end :)

Beyond this, when in Paris, most people will refer to regions of Paris (called arrondissments) by their number.  There are 20 arrondissments and as shown in the image below, they make a snail shell pattern around the city.

Anything outside the different coloured areas is outside the city of Paris (Neuilly is on the north west side)
It's a good idea to at least be familiar with the main arrondissments so you know where the main attractions are:

The 1st: Home to the Louvre.
The 4th: In the historic heart of the city you will find Ile De Cite and Notre Dame.
The 7th:  Home to Invalides (where Napoleon is buried) and the Eiffel Tower.
The 8th:  Shopping on the Champs Elysee is in order here.
The 18th:  Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, and in my opinion some of the best views of Paris.

Public Transportation:

Paris has buses, trains, subways, taxis and even bicycles that can be employed to help you reach even the most hard to find creperies. Here is a breakdown of the services as I know them.

Paris Metro:  The Paris Metro is extensive. With 14 lines, you can get almost anywhere in Paris on the metro and to most connecting stations outside the city limits (The line 1 goes by my home in Neuilly for example).  Tickets cost 12 Euro for a pack of 10 and a single is good for as many transfers as you need to get where you are going.

RER:  The train system that adds to the coverage of the metros is also quite good and will get you to the "out of the way" places you need to go.  There are 5 lines (A-E) going places like both major airports, Versailles, and if you get off on hearing Mickey speak French...Euro Disney.

Buses:  I have actually never taken the bus in Paris but have heard they are quite good and have seen stops everywhere...if you take it let me know how it turns out...

For all three, (Metro, Bus and RER) tickets can be bought at any Tabac, or there are machines in every metro station where you can purchase them with a credit card.  If you know enough French we have found option two to be easier.   Also for all three, be aware that 8-10am and 5-8pm is rush hour in Paris and you will be sardine canned into whatever form you choose if you elect to travel at this time.

Yeah...Not For Me Thanks...
Taxis:  Just like any large city there are tons of cabs...and none are there when you need them.  That being said, Julia and I have had great luck pre-booking cabs and ordering them at off times.  It is good however to have an idea of where you are going as the cab driver will often ask for more info that simply the street address.  Keep in mind, Paris is big, and if you are going out of Paris (remember my talk earlier?) the driver has to have knowledge of a lot of streets.  And no, they don't all have GPS and they may not accept cards (they definitely won't take debt, so don't even try).

Bikes:  Paris, and every largeish French city I have been to, has bikes that can be rented very cheaply.  In Paris these are called Velibs.  Stands are all over Paris as well as the surrounding cities and for about 1.50 Euro you can rent a bike for 24 hours.  You need to have a credit card to do this and the system will take a 250 Euro deposit, but we have done this at least 10 times now and have never had any problems.  There is a velib app for the iPhone that shows the location of stands and I recommend downloading it if you are going to take a spin on the public bikes.

Well...that's it for the first installment...hopefully you will be able to get around now...good luck with everything else :)