City of Lights? I think not. More like City of Stairs!
by Mike McCollum | For the Patterson Irrigator
Jul 17, 2014 | 887 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo By Mike McCollum.
Photo By Mike McCollum.
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Our maps of Paris and its underground Metro system were lovely but undecipherable—displaying what seemed to be a never-ending labyrinth of road and rail in print so small it could be read only by our daughter, Catherine, whose youthful eyesight remains keen. To even reach the nearest Metro station, we would have to navigate a maze of streets, stairs and platforms—so we kept our plans modest. Venturing away from our hotel on the outskirts of Paris for the first time, we sought only to get to the Eiffel Tower.

Nonetheless, our travels beneath La Ville-Lumiere (City of Lights) began badly. It was only after several false starts that we arrived at the iconic monolith.

It was worth the effort.

The view from the top of the tower—where we toasted the sunset with a glass of Champagne—was splendid. And our successful voyage left us feeling more confident about using the Metro to explore the city further—to the Arc de Triomphe, and later to ... somewhere else.

It has been said that the French are extremely rude. Our experiences on the Metro convinced me otherwise. The people I asked for directions were helpful and forgiving of the language barrier. I did find that the further we were from any tourist attraction, the friendlier everyone seemed— including myself. I did witness an older French woman shove herself on the train into a young woman, semi-crushing her, then saying “pardon,” just before sneezing right in her face, and then proceeded a friendly conversation like they had known each other for years. C’est la vie, such is life.

Late at night, the Metro itself becomes a destination. At one station, a vocalist—equipped with her microphone and boom box— sang an old romantic song. At another, two guys with accordions played. Everyone except me stared with disdain. I am no fan of accordions—I happen to believe they provide the background music in hell. But too tired to escape after a long day of climbing Paris stairs, I could only laugh.

After we had been using the Metro for a few days, we noticed the detailed— and easy to understand— maps displayed on station walls and inside train cars. Using them, we had a much easier time getting around.

Nonetheless, our Metro ride to the Chateau de Versailles (Palace of Versailles) proved challenging. It required three transfers, which turned out to be more than we could handle. What should have been a one-hour trip from our hotel instead took four hours. Along the way we met other groups of lost travelers. We wished them well and continued on our way. Only later did we realize where we went wrong: If you get on a train to Versailles, you might think you will end up at the palace. Wrong. The train to the palace has a totally different name.

One night, just before the Metro was due to close for the evening, we met an American couple.

The man explained that he had been pick-pocketed on their first day in Paris. Someone bumped into him on the train and lifted his wallet—and with it, $700 in cash. They asked us for directions. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help. As they left our train car, unsure of where to go, my wife, Carrie, asked me, “Do you think they will be lost?”

“This is the French Underground,” I replied.

“Losses are to be expected.”

Michael McCollum, gratis food and travel columnist for the Irrigator, is a writer and photographer living in Patterson. He can be reached at splatnews@yahoo.com, or on the web at recipesfortravel.com.
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