Monday, July 19, 2010

The Paris Metro - An Appreciation

I love Paris.  I loved Paris as a young girl, as a college student, and later as a career woman living and working there.  I love it still.

One of the delights of that city is the subway system - the Metro.  Of course, when I was first visiting the city as a teenager in the '70s, the Metro represented not only mobility, but also a uniquely French experience - the stink of unwashed (or at least non-deodorant using) humanity.  It was foul.   I was an old hat at subways.  I lived in one of the boroughs of New York City, where the experience was much less odorous, although just as crowded.  But the Paris Metro held magic.

Without even speaking the language, you can get from point A to point B...just look at the map.  It's an easy system to follow.  The ever-helpful and old-fashioned, directional maps at some stations are fantastic.  You indicate what station is your final destination, and the display lights up to indicate what train line(s) you need to take and where to change, if necessary.

Another great thing about the Metro is that it covers all of the city.  No matter where you are, you can get to any other point in the city via Metro.  Parisians use their Metro constantly because there's no faster way to get around.  The subways run on a consistent and timely schedule and are well-light.  It would be difficult to conceive of Paris without this wonder.

The Parisian subways are relatively quiet and safe.  And some of the stations are marvelous to look at - featuring museum-quality displays, or gorgeous tile designs.  And, when you enter via one of those beautifully ornate ironwork entrances, it makes you feel that you are descending into something wonderful.

Oh, and there has been a marked improvement in the odorous experience:  Entering a train for the last 15+ years has not been an unpleasant experience, thank goodness.

So, the next time you visit Paris, really look around and experience the Metro.  And, if you've yet to visit, don't underestimate the importance of the Metro - it's a vital part of the overall experience.  Some of my favorite Metro stations are:

St. Michel - Notre Dame:  Along the Seine.  Takes you to a postcard-ready Notre Dame Cathedral.  One of the truly great sites of the city.

Rue du Bac:  This is nostalgic for me because I used to work in this neighborhood... There are some chic, upscale boutiques.  You'll see how the other half shops.

Odeon:  Many movie houses near here; always full of life on weekends

Opera: For the architecture of the Opera House and the cafes along the boulevard

Sevres-Babylone: First, I love the name.  Second, nearby is Parisian department store Au Printemps - not to be missed

Place Monge:  A not-famous-to-tourists stop.  If  you can go on the days when the neighborhood outdoor market is open (usually three days of the week) you'll experience right there on the plaza outside the subway station one of the delights of the city:  A farmers' market brimming with all that is right about eating in Paris:  cheeses, breads,  beautiful produce, hams....fresh, beautifully presented, and at hand...

There are many other subway stops that will be worthy of visits.  Actually, a lifetime is not too long to spend getting to know the byways of Paris - via Metro.

'Til next time.

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