Paris is unquestionably beautiful, but like any big city there are some things about it that you just have to bear with; the Metro, for one. This rather grubby underground labyrinth of train lines, walkways, escalators and staircases is of course a godsend for getting about and I couldn’t do without it. It’s the second busiest underground system in Europe and somewhere between 7th and 10th in the world. About 4.5 million people (more than the entire population of New Zealand) travel on it every day; and that’s my grumble. Our corner of Paris is serviced by Line 13 and it is almost always packed full of people. It doesn’t matter if you are jammed in beside a young couple, hopelessly in love, whispering and nibbling each other, or a group of young firemen almost certainly on their way to a photo-shoot for the next Paris Firemen’s calendar; it’s uncomfortable, hot and unpleasant, (and honestly, where do you look?)
Line 13 runs between the densely populated communities of Chatillon-Montrouge at one end and, after bifurcating at La Fourche, out past Stade de France to St Denis/Universite, or to Asnieres-Gennevilliers on the other fork. All up it serves 32 stations and at 24.3km is the longest line, so goes some way to explain why it has so much traffic. We’ve been caught out on a Saturday when we couldn’t get on the train at all because of the crowds going to a 6-Nations rugby match at Stade de France. We walked home instead.
Line 1 is another busy line, usually full of tourists since part of its route is more or less under the Champs Elysee with stops at all the main tourist sites. Line 1 however, is modern looking with electronic signs indicating the next stop and how long to destination. You feel as though you are being whisked along, just like Line 14 which really does travel fast. Dear old Line 13 does not whisk anyone anywhere. Instead, with the sound effects you’d expect of an arthritic roller-coaster it rattles along, intermittently grinding to a halt and almost completely emptying its passengers out at main stations whereupon a whole new load of sardines dive in and succumb to the tiresome commute homewards or workwards.
On the positive side the Metro system is easy to use, it’s not terribly expensive, it operates from about 5.30am until 1am (ish) and within central Paris (inside the peripherique) you are never far from a Metro stop. There are many interesting history facts associated with various station names (Guy Moquet on Line 13) and you can admire the remaining Art Nouveau decoration at a few of the Metro entrances.
Really, the Metro is a good old workhorse, serving Paris since it opened for business in July 1900 and I am grateful it’s there for me to get me around all sorts of interesting sights. I grin and bear it, and there are a few things I do to make it a bit less irksome.
– I travel in the front or rear carriages – I’ve noticed these are almost always less crowded.
– I keep my wallet safe inside my closed handbag, and don’t flash it or my cell-phone about. There are definitely pickpockets about; my dearly beloved had his wallet taken on a crowded train.
– I carry a purse-sized pouch of hand wipes and some antibacterial gel to use if there isn’t anywhere to wash hands. That’s my laboratory science background for you! Public transport is a notorious place to catch colds and flu and you don’t want illness to ruin a holiday.