Sunday, October 25, 2015

BUS STORY # 468 (Part Three: The Metro)

Even when they're coming to a stop, they come in fast! Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)

The Metro is a wonder. Construction began in 1898, and the system now has 133 miles of track and 303 stations, 62 of which have transfers among 16 lines. It is the second-busiest subway system in the world. (You might be thinking NYC is the busiest, but, no; the busiest is Moscow.)

For about $1.33 (at the exchange rate during our visit), you can ride to anywhere in the city, you can get there fast, and there’s very little waiting.

Wonder aside, there are also a couple of problems.

The first is the stations have absolutely no accommodations for the handicapped. (This is true for just about everywhere we went in Paris. It is a city for the able-bodied only.) Forget about a wheel chair! For anyone on crutches or a walker or just plain old -- or who are old and lugging a suitcase -- negotiating the extensive stairways is at best an ordeal. It was a problem for Mrs. B who had injured her knee a week before we were scheduled to fly out.

The second problem is the stations are a popular haunt for pickpockets. (This is also true of all the tourist hot spots -- the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and so forth.) I’d read three or four long articles and numerous personal accounts about the danger, how to recognize the various strategies most often used, and how best to protect yourself from being victimized. I confess other people’s stories made me uneasy about the threat.

Our second morning in Paris, we were changing Metro lines to go to the Montparnasse Tower. Mrs. B was climbing the stairs ahead of me when I saw a young guy appear just off her left shoulder. It quickly became obvious to me he was shadowing her. I was getting ready to call out to her when I felt a hand in my right pants pocket. I whirled around, and another guy moved quickly away from me. “Ce n’est pas bon!” -- “That is not good” -- just popped out of my mouth from some almost half-a-century-old college French class! He looked at me, gave the classic Gallic shrug, and quickly scampered ahead, joined by the guy who’d been shadowing Kathleen. They were a team! And I’d been successfully distracted by the guy in front of me!

I checked my pocket: still there were my hotel key and the old, dead iPhone I’d put there as my own distraction tactic. I was feeling pretty good about not losing anything until we got up to the street and I reached for my typed-out directions to the Montparnasse Tower and the Crêperie Josselin. The thief had lifted my directions!

Google maps on Mrs. B’s smart phone saved the day, but we also decided to experiment with the bus system. As a result, we abandoned the Metro for the remainder of our stay and used the bus. It was a good call; we would not otherwise have realized just how good the bus system in Paris really is.

A less-blurred photo from Wikipedia. The stations are not usually as empty as this photo suggests, but, as in Albuquerque, the crowds thin out considerably between rush hours.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

BUS STORY # 467 (Part Two: The Arrival)

Downloaded from Bianoti

Previous posts in this series: Part One (Paris 2015)

The photo at the top of the page is a good view of what our train from the airport -- the RER -- looked like. To see what it looked like the morning we boarded the RER B, see the photo below:

Downloaded from îledeFrance. When the doors open, people move quickly to get a seat! 

It was relatively easy to figure out how we were going to get from Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel: take the RER B train to the stop for Saint-Michel--Notre-Dame, switch to the Metro line 10, get off at the stop for Cardinal Lemoine, and walk 200 yards.

I will spare you the details of exactly how I figured out which train to take and where to transfer to the Metro and which direction to take and when to get off at the right stop. I will tell you it took a lot of time, but it gave me a very reassuring sense of knowing what to look for and when.

As it turned out, the ride from the airport to the stop by our hotel could not have gone any smoother.

Right after having our passports stamped, I saw a tourist information booth. I had a small cache of French phrases for finding out where we could buy tickets, catch the train, and so forth. (This amused Mrs. B to no end. “What are you going to do if they answer you?” Her point being they would assume I spoke French and therefore answer me in French, and then what would I do?) As it turned out, the young man at the information booth spoke very good English, was happy to be of service, and was able to sell us the train ticket plus two “carnets” -- ten-packs of discounted tickets good for any bus, tram, or metro line in the city. (The cost converted to around $1.33 per ticket.)

We walked to the train station where a young woman asked us in English where we were going, then pointed to one of the waiting trains. We left the station five minutes later.

I had the number of stops to our metro transfer written down, with the names of the station and the one preceding it. As it turned out, the train had an electronic map of the line and all its stations over the three doors of the car. When we began, each stop was lit up from the airport to the end of the line. Our stop was about midway, and we simply watched the lights go out for each station upon arrival. No counting in my head, no struggling to see the name of the stop outside somewhere, no trying to make sense of a garbled announcement. Brilliant!

A regrettably fuzzy detail of the electronic tracking system of the progress of our train from the airport into Paris.  Photo by Busboy.  Below is a much better detail from the blog Travelling With Nikki:

From the blog Travelling With Nikki.  The next stop is Châtalet-Les Halles.

The transfer from the train to the Metro went smoothly. (I should point out that the price for our train ticket included the transfer.) We simply followed the signs to the Metro line and the direction it was going. We caught our line about four minutes later, and got off at the second stop. Our biggest challenge was figuring out which direction to take from our stop to the hotel. It had taken us just over ninety minutes from landing to the hotel’s front door.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

BUS STORY # 466 (Part One: Paris 2015)

Photo by Busboy

Well, I’ve never been to Paris
But I’ve been to Oklahoma.
-- not exactly Three Dog Night, from not exactly “Never Been to Spain”

We had an invitation to join Mrs. Busboy’s sister and brother-in-law who are currently living in France. When Mrs. B was even younger than she is now, she went to Paris and loved it. I’d never been. So we spent three days in Paris on our own before joining them further south.

Both of us had places we wanted to go.

Mrs. B wanted to see the cathedral of Notre Dame again, walk along the Champs-Élysées (like she did when she was a free woman in Paris...) and go to the top of the Montparnasse Tower, a fifty-six story skyscraper that presents visitors with a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of all of Paris.

View from the Montparnasse Tower looking (as I recall) northwest. Photo by Busboy.

I wanted to see the second site of Shakespeare and Company, the bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach that became a hangout for Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound and James Joyce. It was here that Ms. Beach published Joyce’s landmark modern novel, “Ulysses,” when no one else would.

There is nothing there today but a small plaque on the second-story-level wall of 12 Rue de l’Odéon. Still, for the old guy who was an ardent Joyce fan half a century ago, it was something of a pilgrimage.

The modern novel's Bethlehem. This is where Sylvia Beach collaborated with James Joyce to publish "Ulysses." Photo by Busboy.

I also wanted to go to the Poilâne bakery after reading a wonderful article by Lauren Collins three years ago. I love bread. Poilâne is considered by many to be the best in the world. So, another pilgrimage, this time to the living.

How to get to all these places from our hotel? Do you really need to ask Busboy? We mapped out a rough itinerary, and I went to work planning our transportation.

This is the first of the six parts that make up the story. Bienvenue, as they say in Paris.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

BUS STORY # 465 (Portrait # 30: Humpty Dumpty)

Humpty Dumpty, by Barry Moser, from his Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass series; downloaded from the website for R. Michelson Galleries

He’s sitting on the bench seat behind the driver, wearing a gray homburg. You don’t see homburgs much these days. It’s an old man’s hat. He’s an old man, somewhere in his 70s. Gray hair curls out from under the back of the hat.

He’s also wearing oxygen, something more commonly seen than the homburg. The tubing is attached to a cylinder which is attached to a walker. It’s a four-wheel walker, with a bench seat and a basket. The oxygen tank sits in the basket, and is secured by an orange wire attached to the frame.

He’s wearing a bright orange, roomy sweatshirt, no logo, and a pair of dark blue slacks. Gray sneakers, white tennis socks, hairless splotchy ankles between the tops of the socks and the cuffs of his slacks.

He’s egg-shaped, the egg evenly divided between the orange on top and the dark blue of those high-waisted slacks on the bottom. Humpty Dumpty. I see how fragile he really is when, at a stop, he struggles to get up. He succeeds, but he isn’t exiting, He shuffles over to the bench seat opposite him, on the passenger side. He sits back down and twists forward, so he can see out the front window.

He’s taken his right hand off the walker handle to grasp the pole by his seat, but when the bus starts up, the walker starts to roll. He grabs it in time, but you can see his whole being go into panic mode. I watch his hands now, and they are fidgety, positioning and repositioning themselves on the handles while he struggles to keep watch out the window. A few stops later, he calls out to the driver the next stop is his.

The driver kneels the bus. But at the doorway, when the old man starts pushing the walker out onto the sidewalk, the angle is still too much for the weight of the tank, and the walker starts to tip over. He pulls back on it while several of us jump up to help. The driver is right there. He keeps the walker upright and gets all four wheels onto the sidewalk. The old man stands there for a minute, catching his breath.

The driver takes his seat, but he waits until the old man starts moving before he puts the bus back in gear. The winds outside are whipping and snapping the legs of his slacks, but the homburg stays on.