France Diary 2009: Getting around Paris and Bordeaux

This bus plies the routes of Talence, in Bordeaux

Even for someone who’s not had extensive travel to her credit, I would be so bold as to say that the system of transport in France is probably the best in the world, in terms of easy access and affordability. There is a metro that services just about any place in Paris, and they crisscross all over town, underground, overground, and practically everybody rides the metro—from the men in tuxedos to women in stilettos–so much so that the avenue des Champs Elysees, a major artery in the heart of Paris, can be without cars in the middle of a business day.

 As is true of train stations in the Third World, some stations of the metro are icky too, and smell of urine and something nastier, but the trains arrive regularly and are not as packed as our LRTs/MRT. (Even inside a cramped train, the Parisiens, habituated to using the metro, will maintain a cordial distance; they will forever be seared in my brain as, in Ezra Pound’s “In the Station of the Metro,” “apparitions” more than as “petals.”)

To walk avenue des Champs Elysees has got to be on everyone’s bucket list.

Parisian taxi drivers, when you have use for them, can be very honest fellows. At Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, weary from over 13 hours of flying, (12h and 20m of non-stop flight from NAIA to Schiphol in Amsterdam, and another hour from Schiphol to CDG in Paris), we were just too happy to be taken to a Holiday Inn near the airport. Upon learning that we expect to be taken to Holiday Inn at Roissy-en-France, Parisian taxi driver courteously unloaded our huge luggage he had only seconds before took great pains to load, and in his halting English, told us to wait for the Holiday Inn shuttle that periodically rounds up passengers and taken there. (Compare this with our recent experience with our very own Filipino taxi driver at Terminal 3 of NAIA’s Centennial airport. Coming in from a domestic flight, we were told by a barker that the flat rate of airport taxis to Katipunan, Quezon City is PhP1250.00! The blasted manong did not even blink.)

Here’s another instance why I said Parisian drivers are honest chaps. The next morning, after an overnight stay at Holiday Inn CDG (EUR180; 2009 prices), we took the hotel shuttle back to the airport to catch an RER train that would get us to our Paris flat, at 11 rue Malher, near the area of bustling Bastille. Getting off at Saint-Paul, we emerged from that station and found taxis parked at the curb. My husband walked up to one taxi, gave him that address, whereupon that taxi driver kindly refused us, and advised us to walk instead. It turned out that 11 rue Malher  was only two blocks down from where we were standing and my husband was only too happy for that extra opportunity to hold on to his euro much longer, humongous luggage notwithstanding.

Why were we there in the first place? My husband had been granted a two-month Erasmus Mundus scholarship in Engineering at the University of Bordeaux, in the south of France. Naturally, he was “prevailed upon” to bring his wife (and his wife’s sister).

Knowing Paris is Paris, we had, prior to coming, armed ourselves with knowledge of how to get around the place, being Third World euro-saving, savvy tourists. At Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, one can purchase cards that allow tourists unlimited use of all OPTILE networks of transport, including RATP and SNCF bus, coach, metro and RER, as well as SNCF Transilien trains. We each got a Paris Visite 5-day ticket (EUR 48,40; 2009 prices) whose validity included Zones 1-6 which meant we can use it to head back to CDG airport, or to Orly airport using RER trains, RATP buses and the ORLYVAL light rail, as well as all over Paris and its suburbs which included Versailles, Disneyland Resort Paris, Saint Germain-en-Laye and at Villepinte, Rambouillet, Provins and Fontainebleau.

This ticket takes you anywhere in Paris and suburbs

EUR50 may be too much to cough up for fare, but wait til you learn how much taxis in Paris cost! Luckily, we had never needed one. (My sister Jan, who needed to be in Orly airport very early in the morning to catch a plane back to Barcelona, had to engage the services of one, simply because the metro does not open till late in the morning; and she told us how much it had cost her: roughly similar to yielding an arm ^_^.)

 Bordeaux, in the southwest part of France, is the capital of the Aquitaine region, and is nearly synonymous with the word `wine.’ The University of Bordeaux in Talence is also found here.

Travel to Bordeaux takes roughly an hour from Roissy or Orly. You know you have arrived in Mérignac airport when you find a huge wine bottle at luggage claim.

Navigating the city is a breeze if you know where to find the correct information, especially as regards transportation. Tickets to the tram or bus may be purchased per journey, per day, per week or, if you are a student, per month. A ticket that’s good for one journey, at EUR 1,15 (again, 2009 prices) may be purchased from vending machines or from drivers inside buses. A very economical choice for hopping from one tram to another purely for sight-seeing but without intending to linger, this one euro ticket had to be validated in the space of only an hour, after which it expires. (Validating a ticket means inserting it in a device found inside a tram or a bus which records journey time; when a ticket is spat back out without printing, it means it has expired.)

A 7-day “tickarte,” a wee steep at EUR10,40, spells unlimited travel for a week on buses and trams and is best for shopping, sightseeing and lingering, (but not too much lingering, as buses “retire” at 6pm, and one has to use the same mode of transport to go back home.) Trams, on the other hand, stop service at 12 am. Buses arrive every 15 minutes on weekdays, every hour on a saturday, and on sundays, not only are there no trams and buses, everyone, even most shops, “sleeps in”! (McDonald’s in Victoire and Sunday flea markets in St. Michel near Place de la Bourse are exceptions.) 

This ticket allows tourists unlimited access to trams and buses.

A one-day ticket is also available and is good for people who are only passing through. Without the pressure of needing to use up your ticket before the hour is over, the ticket is a cost-effective way of enjoying Bordeaux for a day.

Bordeaux expects its citizens to be honest. A commuter hops on to a tram and inserts his ticket, and nobody, certainly not the driver of the tram seated at the front, minds if you “forgot” your ticket at home. But woe to the commuter who “fails” to validate his ticket and an inspector unexpectedly drops in and comes checking. Not only do you face humiliation from a French who’d thumb his nose at your petty efforts of swindling his government of a few euros, but your punishment is very precise, especially if you are a student: you will be reported to your university, or if you are a regular commuter, face paying the entire run of the trams.

A tram pulls into a station in Grand Theatre

5 thoughts on “France Diary 2009: Getting around Paris and Bordeaux

  1. WOW! a very detailed and informative blog of course, plus Jen humor of writing…kaya it’s fun and not boring to read in. Hopefully by 2013 maka visit din ako dyan;)…to be continued ba to?.wheres the other pic of you roaming around Paris and other must to see tourist spot there? kelangan i-post mo yan:)) x

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