Sunday, March 4, 2012

I remember visiting one of these “covered arcade” things in Milan, Italy, when I was in ninth grade. My father, our makeshift tour guide and an expert at making things up, smiled, gesturing at the sunlight streaming through the glass-paneled ceiling. “Don’t you wish our shopping malls were like this?”

    My answer to this, only reinforced by our experience in Paris, is yes! Though I was reasonably convinced that my feet were going to fall off at the ankles after several hours in the Louvre, I was immediately enchanted upon entering the covered arcade in Paris. Splotches of golden light dripped from the shop windows like raining stars (or possibly Christmas lights). White daylight from the overcast sky filled the tunnel of stores, perfectly accentuating the intricate, curvy designs on the walls.
    All in all, it did an exceptionally good job of making me notice things other than the fact that the items in the shop windows were more expensive than most of my belongings!
    The shops were adorable, though. I don’t remember them incredibly clearly, because we weren’t there for particularly long, but I know the tunnel was lined with everything from cafés to toy stores. The air was filled with polite conversation and the faint odor of cigarette smoke.
    It seemed like a typical Parisian sort of place. It was fun to wander around inside, staring at all of the displays. Time sort of slowed down; we leisurely made our way through the maze of businesses. It was a nice breather!

Friday, March 2, 2012

To conclude my somewhat long series of métro posts, I thought it be nice to demonstrate how to follow the maps planted throughout all of the stations. So, I'm going to flash back to the day that we visited the Pompidou Center of Modern Art.

There are two métro stops in the surrounding area, according to - Les Halles/Châtelet (line 4), which I've marked with a red star, and Hotel de Ville (line 11), which has a green star.

On that day, if the metro hadn't been so crowded, we would have taken it back to our hotel - which would have meant that we needed to get to the the station at Odéon, which I've marked with a blue star.

The most straightforward route would have been to get on an outbound train at Les Halles, because that stop is on the line that also goes to Odéon - the Porte d'Orléans line, or line 4. We'd have gotten on that one train, and taken it five stops.

We could also have started on the Hotel de Ville stop. We'd have gotten on that brown-line train and taken it only one stop, to where it intersects with the purple line, line 4, on the map. Then we'd have transferred to line 4 and taken it four stops to get to Porte d'Orléans.

All in all, the metro looks incredibly confusing, but it's really not that bad. The maps make a lot of sense once one understand how to use them, and, all and all, the metro makes transportation more quick and effective. Paris buses are great too, but the trains are better for speed!

Also, here is what a ticket looks like! Photo credit goes to

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The stunning beauty of the Notre Dame cathedral makes it hard to notice other things in the surrounding area - and, to be perfectly honest, when we descended into the Crypte Archéologique, I thought it was a glorified metro stop. As it turns out, though, it's a nifty little museum that holds all sorts of artifacts from as early as Roman times, back when Paris was called Lutece, or Lutecia.

In addition to artifacts owned by people that lived in the city long ago, the museum also featured tons of archeological remains from the villages. Here are a few images!

As you can probably tell, the ruins include all sorts of structures.

Walls, perhaps...
Some sort of entryway, I suppose?
I remember one part of the museum involved the remains of a cathedral. I don't exactly remember if that's what's in this picture, but still!
Again, I can't remember exactly what was in this picture, but the museum also contained a medieval hospital. Imagine!

Much of the architecture shows all sorts of things about the ancient culture, especially regarding the fact that life revolved around the river Seine. Some of the ruins include ramparts, giant walls that surrounded the river. It was both haunting and fascinating to wander around and see the remnants of life in the past. I also got to exercise my somewhat inadequate French skills to read the information about the exhibits, which featured quite a bit of obscure vocabulary. It was an incredible reminder of how long the city has been around!

Chris and me in front of the ruins!

Here is the promised video of the performer on the metro. The amount of interesting, unique people you can find on the train system is unlimited and positively mind-boggling!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

As I mentioned previously, I’ve noticed that things can go a little slower here - as far as meals go, at least. Yet, everything speeds up when you descend into a metro tunnel. It’s like an entirely different world. The temperature plummets, the air becomes stale, and the machine spits out a ticket. Suddenly, I'm in a part of Paris that’s a lot different than the looming buildings and graceful statues I've seen everywhere else.

That being said, it's an incredibly effective system. There are two different lines - one that stays within the city limits, and the RER, which travels outside of the city to the suburbs. The entrances to the stations vary quite a bit, but most of them have quirky architecture and look like this:

They're all different, though - for example, a few have an older design:

It's not too hard to find the correct line once one is inside - there are maps everywhere, and tables with estimated arrival times.
The RER trains look like this - and the regular trains are pretty much the same thing, but with only one floor.

RER trains are especially cool because they're nearly silent. Most trains squeal as they take off and stop, while the sound of the RER is more like the sound of a giant exhale. I guess that's a cool way to think of the trains - the lines run all over the place, kind of like veins that push trains through with a slightly erratic pulse.

I guess you can tell that I need some sleep.

The most interesting part is the fact that each of the stations are completely different. Some are tiled; some are simply chunks of cement. A few have multicolored, round chairs that remind me of the painfully bright Easter eggs I used to dye as a child; some have dull, silvery benches. Also, depending on the time of day, the people that fill these stations are interesting. On some particularly hellish days, the stations are filled with people who pack themselves into the trains like sardines, compelling me to grip my belongings so firmly that my knuckles turn white. On these occasions, the pea coats and scarves all blend together to create a mass of people that flows in and out of the various tunnels.

At times with lighter traffic, though, it's easier to notice the individual people. The sans-abris, homeless people, washing their few belongings in the rainwater dripping from one of the entrances. The woman that curses when she realizes she's missing an earring; the man with a weathered face that sits next to me. The jolly gypsy playing a trumpet (a video of whom will be uploaded when the internet gets better!); the children, clad with thick-framed glasses and coats that swallow them as they babble unintelligible French syllables.

The metro, when not stressful, is a fascinating place!

Friday, February 24, 2012

            The part I love the most about being in charge of this part of the blog is how open-ended the category is. “Paris Underground” will have some very obvious features – the metro, the underground “Crypte” museum – but underground can also mean a fascinating movement exploring new forms of lifestyle and art. 
            I was actually considering finding some way to write a “Paris Underground” blog entry when we were on the plane, because I thought the irony would be fabulous. Yet, there is little underground Parisian culture noticeable on any American plane, which I realized when the safety video showed at the beginning of the flight featured words in English only, spoken by a man with one of the thickest, Southern drawls I’ve ever heard.  Plus, I was too excited to really focus on anything, and all I really wanted to do was stare out of the window at the stars, pressing my nose onto the glass like a dog trapped in a hot parking lot in the middle of summer.
            But I digress!
            My pictures are kind of all over the place, so I’ll be posting a lot more once I get those figured out. In the meantime, though I just wanted to introduce this section. I also kind of wanted to mention two of the things I see and enjoy here. I don’t know if it counts as “underground culture,” but it’s definitely culture. Time seems to slow down here – though it’s still a bustling city, people take their time. It’s been so nice to spend hours eating meals, just getting to know everyone in our group. Also, I’m noticing a sort of flowing rhythm to the French language. I’m still kind of pitiful when it comes to speaking and understanding, but I’m definitely getting better. Eventually – hopefully – I’ll get to the point where people here don’t mercifully switch back to English for me after I attempt to order petit déjeuner (breakfast).
Oh yeah, and a random picture of a metro stop - the only one I can seem to find right now.

 More to come!