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September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
What else can be said about Paris that hasn't already consumed untold numbers of guide books?
But despite being one of the most visited cities on earth, it nonetheless comes as something of a welcome surprise to spend a few days there during August, when Paris decamps to the beach - even though they have constructed their own ”Paris Plages.”
The August effect may be something of a cliche, but it is genuinely noticeable how much less busy the cafes and restaurants are, not to mention the notoriously congested roads.
Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, has been waging a campaign for some time to try and persuade his citizens to continue with August-like levels of traffic for the whole, year, but has met with considerable opposition.
Figures from the mayor's office however, suggest that he may be winning the war in persuading Parisians to forgo their cars for public transport. Some 3% less journeys were made by car in Paris last year and that in addition to the 20% reduction since 2001.
Extra cycle lanes have been created, much to the irritation of Paris' 15,000 taxi drivers - a breed whose irrasicibility levels are on the high side anyway, while 123,000 parking places out of the existing 145,000 paid for places, have been free during August - an almost unthinkable development for Londoners.
The dreaded words ”congestion charge” have however, been whispered and Paris - along with several other European cities - has been watching the London scheme closely - but as yet has not come up with anything definitive.
But the Mayor has come up with a genuinely innovative wheeze ”Velib” in a bid to get the city moving. Velib, born out of the French delight in creating new - and exclusively French - words, from Velo and Liberte - involves up to 20,000 bikes scattered around 700 points in Paris.
Free for the first 30 minutes - ample for most cycle journeys in the city - a modest progressive charge of a few Euros for following half hours is added - and the idea appears to have been taken up with great enthusiasm by town dwellers fed up with sitting in traffic jams.
Parisians - in common with their London counterparts - are just tired of crawling along at a snail's pace and have embraced the Velib with gusto. But, as in London, cyclists are now fighting for road position and there is a genuine safety question ” helmets in Paris are not compulsory and it will take a talented stylist indeed to persuade Parisians to don protective headgear.
The city of course has its renowned Metro and although some of the cars are looking a little their age, the almost 300-strong stations are easy enough and far cheaper to use than across the Channel. It pays of course to keep an eye on valuables and possessions - especially in major interchanges such as Chatelet-Les-Halles - the equivalent of Piccadilly Circus - where the enormous volume of people and different lines make for a chaotic but manageable experience.
Paris' Metro runs until 02:15 every Saturday evening and from November this year until the same time every Friday night, a welcome improvement. Normal hours are from 06:00 to 00:30 although there are less frequencies on Sundays and public holidays - of which France has plentiful amounts.
Chatelet happens to be an interchange for the city's double decker and rapid RER - Reseau Express Regional - service that very quickly links all points of the Parisian compass, including Eurostar at Gare du Nord and Charles de Gaulle Airport. Metro ticket prices are extremely good value - at EUR1.50 they allow access to all bus, Metro, tramway and RER systems within zones one and two, although only for one and half hours.
Londoners are gradually becoming used to the Oyster Card - a pre-payable card that is significantly cheaper than buying traditional travel cards and which is valid on bus routes as well. As an incentive to use it, a single conventional tube ticket from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square would cost an eye-watering £4, but with Oyster, just £1.50.
For those wishing to travel to Orly - Paris' often forgotten airport but one that is closer to the city centre - take the blue RER B4 line and change at Antony for either a bus or Metro connection. For Charles de Gaulle, the service is direct - take the blue RER B3 line - but be careful not to confuse it with the B5 - a line that is home to some of Paris' less savoury areas and where tourists or business travellers can be an easy target.
A frequent sight is the distinctive green Parisian bus, although thankfully there seem to be far fewer of the ”bendy” type so beloved of London's Mayor. What appeal these monstrous buses have in London is unclear, apart from appearing mainly to clog up the city”s streets and pose a hazard to cyclists. There is a tramway, but which is currently limited in coverage.
A great way to see the sights of Paris is of course by taking one of the numerous Bateaux Mouches that ply the Seine, but for those more business-minded, there is the Batobus that stops at numerous points along the river.
Parisian taxi drivers seem to be a breed apart and aside from having one of the shortest patience spans on the planet, tend to offer some fairly jaundiced views of the world - and of the city”s transport policy in particular. They are however, as valuable a guide as anywhere with up-to-date tips, although it tends to be delivered in rapid-fire French.
The traveller also needs to be wary of Paris' ubiquitous and seemingly multiplying small motorbike riders, who weave and dodge their way between cars and pedestrians, as well as the ever-present rollerbladers.
The French capital offers as many ways to circulate as London, but it does it far more cheaply and generally, for longer hours. Certainly the Metro could do with a wash and brush up, but its value for money makes it a sure-fire winner compared to the tube.
Just one aspect to be aware of however: the French enthusiasm for walking out on strike on any one of numerous pretexts is not a myth and public transport is a favourite mechanism to voice disapproval.
Simon Warburton stayed at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe Paris