In any city in which there is a well-established mass-transit system there will be an enormous group of people going about their daily lives without clogging the streets with extra vehicles. This makes sense for our planet, for their pocketbooks, and for our traffic sanity.
Paris has an excellent system of buses, trams, and trains – when the dear people who operate them aren’t on strike. Now, mind you, they are not often on strike, but that kind of interruption, along with train breakdowns, station closures, or just plain crowded carriages are things that you need to factor in when planning your travel in Paris. Today I wanted to provide you with a few tips for traveling.
1. Don’t overly rely on the Metro
Paris, after all, is a city that deserves to be walked. The sights, sounds, smells – good and bad – inform your experience and sometimes tourists develop a point-to-point mentality of the Metro so that they get to know the cavernous (and not particularly attractive) underground of Paris and miss the lovely passages (alleys), rues (streets), and boulevards.
2. Buy books of 10 or 20 tickets or the Paris Visite Pass
For many tourists, the Paris Visite Pass might be a good deal, especially if you are very monument and site-driven. You can get anywhere you need to go and you don’t have to count your pennies. If you think you will be mostly walking, then buy the book of 10 or 20 (you can do that from the machines at the stations – some of them take credit cards, even). It will save you some euros from buying them one by one and unlike the Paris Visite Pass, your various tickets can be used by multiple people.
3. Be aware of Peak times
Some people say to avoid the Metro from 8-10am and from 5-8pm but may I suggest something counterintuitive? Make your plans and simply deal with the crowds if you need to be on the metro during those times. You will get some appreciation for what we experience as Parisians and you will definitely be “immersed” in the Paris experience. you’ll also push (or learn) your space boundaries of comfort.
4. Ask the Staff
Don’t be afraid to ask the kind person at the desk for help. Remember to always say, “S’il vous plait, parlez-vous anglais?” They will usually say at least a little – and you don’t need a discourse to get your answer, usually (as an aside it is part of the myth of the “rude French” that they all speak English but simply refuse to speak it with tourists. Many of them are perfectly capable of living their lives without knowing today’s linguafranca: English). If the answer is “Non” try to explain using a metro map (always free) and using gestures. You didn’t play all those games of Charade for nothing!
5. Be yourself, but be watchful
You don’t need to turn into a paranoid person because of fear of pickpockets. I remember my first visit to Barcelona, where I was informed by Rick Steves (usually a reliable guy, when he’s not blathering on about bad and inaccurate and biased history) that Las Ramblas was essentially a den of thieves. After being ultra-paranoid my first day, because of this advice, hardly enjoying myself as I took in that walk down one of the fun streets of Barcelona, I remembered that my relevant documents and devices were not in places where they could be snatched off my person in broad daylight. Be AWARE but don’t be paranoid. We have thieves here, as does any major city, but you’re certainly safe in most parts of Paris.
Enjoy this convenience which will whisk you around the City of Light infinitely faster and cheaper than private transport could dream of. Don’t forget the app which will make your life easier.
I have written this short piece with the assumption that the reader understands the principles of mass transit – which are the same in most major cities in the world – color coded and numbered/lettered lines with various stations where changes are made.