A virtual (and somewhat crazed) tour of the Paris underground continued
The doors close with a monotone beep, and the train lurches forward. There aren't any lights in the tunnel, but the train is brightly lit with fluorescent light so it really doesn't matter. However, if you take the 7 train (pink), somewhere near Pont Marie and Sully Morland there's a chance that the train lights dim and even at times turn off. The next stop is Richelieu Drouot, nowhere in particular. There's no announcement, however, so people have to keep an eye out for the tiled blue signs that declare what station one is currently at. Most stations have tiled walls: it keeps graffiti and posters off the walls.
Some stations are immediately recognisable by their interior decoration. Concorde station has walls decorated with lettered tiles; Franklin D. Roosevelt station has a low ceiling and metallic square tiles; Palais Royal Musée de Louvre has glass encased museum exhibits standing on the platform, etcetera.
Next stop, Strasbourg Saint-Denis. According to the miniature subway map there's two stations until Strasbourg Saint-Denis, but they're under renovation, so the train just sidles past the darkened stations while anxious passengers wonder how to walk back. A half a dozen more stations are labelled as closed for renovation, but luckily the subway system in Paris is almost redundant when it comes to short distances: from one station, you can peer to either direction and in some cases see the next station by the lights. Thus, you can safely assume that from any location in urban Paris, a Métro station is no more than a five minute walk away.
Getting off at Strasbourg Saint-Denis would be a nice idea if you were looking for the more down to earth and messier part of Paris. Of course it's also notorious for its prostitutes, but then again, everyone can't help but suffer a culture shock when passing through the streets of Paris. The crowded cafes and the restaurants are often found here.
From Strasbourg Saint-Denis you change onto the 4 (violet) line. If you appreciate art, then you'd probably head north towards Porte de Clignancourt, so that you can get off at Barbes Rochechouart (it's not me who named them) to go up Montmartre, the famous hill where artists from around the world made their dwelling. There are countless art galleries here, such as one of Salvador Dali, and on Sundays you can browse through the market where amateurs sell their paintings of the Eiffel Tower and ask you if you want a charcoal portrait done for 10 euros. (They're awfully well done) Or you can enjoy a crepe for 3 euros from one of the open-air stands.
However, most tourists might appreciate heading south towards Porte d'Orleans instead, to get off at Cité. You'll find yourself getting out the Métro station to see the Notre-Dame cathedral, made notorious by Victor Hugo's book, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame". Cité itself is a short version of Ile de la Cité, or "Island of the City", which is literally what the strip of land sandwiched between the banks of the Seine is called. Notre-Dame happens to be located on this small island.
If you've already visited the Notre-Dame before, then stop at Les Halles, where those who want to do some good shopping could go. It's an underground shopping mall, in its bluntest description. The younger people might prefer visiting Centre Pompidou, a modern youth-oriented structure with some equally modern exhibits, located five minutes by foot from Les Halles. The interesting part of the building is that everything that's usually kept inside and hidden (like the ventilation pipes) is located outside, and they're all painted in bright colours, so it's interesting going around the block and taking a few pictures.
After having visited any of the three things mentioned above, just hop back on the 4 line and head to Châtelet, the infamous station. Forgive my mistake of having mentioned that you wouldn't need to pass through Châtelet. I was wrong. (Note, a "carnet" (pack of ten tickets) is suggested, because a ticket cannot be reused once you've left the Métro)
A few observations regarding the ticket given to you once you've purchased them. It's purple, with "Ticket", a large lowercase "t" and a few logos printed in black ink on the front, and a brown magnetic strip on the reverse. Once you've inserted the ticket through the machine in the turnstile, it prints something completely illegible with dark purple ink on it, but at least it serves as an indication that the ticket is used. Going out of the station doesn't require you to take the ticket out again, but it's good to keep the ticket in case there's an inspector standing at the door to the stairs leading outside. If you don't have a ticket, a fine of about 100 euros is implemented on place with no further charges. If you're a minor, your parents are called. There's a multitude of rules plasted on the walls of the platform, but most people don't care, because if they see an inspector they can just hop on another train and get off at another station.
At Châtelet, take the 1 (yellow) line towards La Défense. You'll be riding the more modern "swishswish" trains with automatic doors. Getting to the platform won't be a problem for most people, but be prepared to break a few sweat beads during the 10 minutes it'll take you to get to the platform. It's certainly good exercise with all those stairs.
Once again there's a stop for each of the three types of tourists: the shopper, the artist, and the conventional tourist. The artist should get off at Palais Royal Musée du Louvre to visit the Louvre museum. Going there on the first Sunday of the month will get you in free, but along with a crowded group and a few hundred camera-frenzy Japanese tourists as well. At least if you can push hard enough you'll be able to jostle your way through to get a glimpse at the Mona Lisa, although not without a few digital cameras (and cellphones now) bumping into your face. (Note: don't take a picture of the Mona Lisa with flash, because it's encased in glass and all you'll get is a photo with a bright spot and half a dozen reflections of tourists). Going inside the museum is a trick in itself. The first time I went I didn't know where to go until I found out the main entrance was the giant glass pyramid in the middle of the castle-like structure of the museum. That's really famous too, and once you're in you head down the stairs into several atriums, each heading to different sections of the museum.
The shopper will have to get off at Champs Elysées Clemenceau, for far obvious reasons. Whether it be the vinyl handbags of Louis Vuitton or the jewels of Cartier, Hérmes or the shoes of Nike, you'll be sure to empty your wallets on this road. There's also a Virgin Megastore for your musical needs, although it'd be wiser to get off a few stops ahead if you don't want to walk the half a mile up the Champs. Want to see a movie? You have no less than four movie centres on the right hand side of the road (right when you're looking towards the Arc de Triomphe), and each centre has at least four different movies playing, so you'll be sure to have a wide selection of movies to choose from. Tickets are generally 25% more expensive than most areas, and are about 10 euros.
The modern tourist will get off at Charles de Gaulle Étoile to climb up the Arc de Triomphe, which was renovated relatively recently. The construction crews have taken off the disturbing scaffolding, so taking a picture of the Arc will look perfect. Taking a picture from the Arc should be phenomenal as well, and people younger than 18 get in free. (I think)
Wherever you are, just hop back onto the 1 line and get to Charles de Gaulle Étoile. (It's called Étoile because from the Arc de Triomphe, the biggest main streets of Paris spread out like a star (étoile in french) At Charles de Gaulle Étoile, take the 6 (bright green) line. Since it's a terminal station, it'll take about 10 minutes for a train to arrive unless you're lucky enough to catch it while it's there. The cool thing about this line is that from Passy station to around Pasteur station (long after you'd have gotten off the train), the train actually runs over the streets of Paris, supported by metal girders that remind one of the old New York subway. It's rare to have a train run on rails that are as high as the third storey of a townhouse, and it's an great sensation, especially when it's sunny.
Get off at Bir Hakim for the Tour Eiffel. Not much needs to be said here, because Paris wouldn't be Paris without the Tour Eiffel. There's also the American Library of Paris that can be reached from the station, but unless you're a member, it costs 8 euros just to get in and 22 to borrow books. Not a worthy investment, I'd say.
Milling around the Tour Eiffel are vendors with plastic windup birds, metallic key chains of the Eiffel Tower, Zippos, and the occasional handbag. Be wary of them, because if the police is seen anywhere in the vicinity, they take off really fast. In the winter the same men sell roasted chestnuts (roasted on a used oil drum that's placed in a supermarket trolley), and once I saw them pushing the trolley with a frenzy I could hardly believe. 10 chestnuts for about 1 euro, so it's nice to warm your frozen fingers during the winter.
Having exhausted the Tour Eiffel, get back into the Métro and ride the C (yellow yet again) line towards Massy-Palaseau, Versailles-Chantiers, Dourdan, or Saint-Martin-d'Étampes. This is the RER line, the more grandiose train that resembles the oversized Amtrak. I was quite frankly surprised that a train of such size could actually be running underneath the streets of Paris, but they do. (Once outside urban Paris, the trains emerge overground, and run like any other cross-city train). There's even the double deck carriage, although it's hardly worth going up the stairs because all you'll see is the tunnel, unless you somehow miss your station for about a half an hour. Off the train at Musée d'Orsay.
The Musée d'Orsay, which I visited just the past Sunday (the first Sunday of the month, hence free, hence a long line to get in), was great, if it weren't for the crowded masses. It was once a railway station, so it adds to the grandeur of the place, with the big round clock that must have once been a reference for countless travellers from around France. Curiously there's the ground floor, the first floor, the second, and the fifth, but nothing in between. I guess it's the structure of the building. You'd love it here if you like Gaugin, Gogh, Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Matisse, Renoir, Gaudi, or Degas. There's plenty besides.
If you've done all that in a single day, you merit the world's most phenomenally fast tourist award. I guess it'd be wiser to divide it into several sections each day, unless you're willing to travel around with this itinerary without leaving the station, just satisfied that right above you lies the structure(s)/monument(s) that I've described. As any tourist guide has to do, I have to bring you back to where you started, and thus you should get back to the Musée d'Orsay subway station, walk through the passages to the Assemblée Nationale station, and hop onto the 12 line towards Porte de la Chapelle, and get off at Haussmann Saint-Lazare, where (supposedly) your hotel awaits you. It wasn't too bad was it?
Looking back, there's a lot to compare with the other underground trains I've taken. Firstly, the name: In New York you won't get anywhere by asking for the Tube-- it's the subway. In Japan it's the "Metoro" or the "Chikatetsu". In London it's the famous "Tube" or the "Underground" (correct me if I'm wrong). The Paris "Métro" is surprisingly clean and odourless, unlike its New York counterpart. It's certainly less cluttered with signs compared to Tokyo, and it's got more leg space compared to London. And everywhere you go there's a tad bit of artistic design, a uniqueness that sets every station apart from each other. True, there's the 9-foot by 9-foot advertisement spanning the wall everywhere you go, but still, it's an interesting trip every time you ride the Métro. Unless, of course, you're a posh millionaire who's afraid of being mugged in the middle of Châtelet station.