Some of you may have noticed my radio silence the past few days. It’s because the first draft of this post was composed at the airport in Toronto, waiting for my flight to Paris!!!
The year end financial reporting deadline was yesterday so it’s been a dramatic race to the finish and a big push to finish work in Vancouver rather than in Paris. So, you poor people, I will have plenty of time over the next two weeks to harangue you with tales of my travel adventures, whether you want to hear them or not 🙂
For those of you who haven’t taken the Métro, the header refers to the very first words I uttered en français on my very first trip to Paris, way back in 1989.
We were travelling on $50/day and, like all the other backpackers, had a Eurorail Pass, so my first stop in Paris was Gare du Nord. Back then, you could watch a drug deal go down practically inside the station and you had to be on high alert. The main thing you wanted to do when you arrived in Gare du Nord was get the hell outta there as fast as possible!
Paris has – hands down – the best public transit system in the world. So, if you had read your guidebook in advance like a smart girl, you just followed the signs to the Métro and asked for “un carnet, síl vous plait.”
If you got the accent right, the grumpy dude in the Métro ticket booth mumbled some price in French, you handed over some francs and walked away with 10 tickets for the Métro and whatever change you were due.
Now you can buy your carnet from a machine using your credit card. It’s a lot easier but much less romantic. And Parisians have become a lot nicer to tourists. Some even speak a few words of English!
This was only the third time I arrived in Paris by airplane. Normally I arrive on the train. The train is far superior. I love being able to sneak up on an iconic city. Stretch out the pleasure. When you arrive by train, you first see the banlieue. You could be anywhere. But as you get into the proper arrondissements, the movie Paris starts to emerge.
And, because you will arrive in the center of the city, you can afford to take a taxi to your final destination. Depending on your route, you might catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or one of the many iconic bridges that divide the Seine into the Left and Right Banks. You will know you couldn’t be anywhere but Paris and it will be as magnificent as you have imagined. Paris is what all North Americans imagine Europe to be – but only Paris really is…
Knowing what a carnet is – and that you take the RER from Charles de Gaulle, not the Métro – makes you feel like a local, not a tourist. It’s like the Oyster card I keep at home in its blue pouch and reload at Heathrow every time I arrive in London. It was Gavin and Justin who supervised me through the purchase of my first Oyster card after they explained to me it was a far cheaper way to navigate the Underground – and having one would secure my status as a “non-tourist”. They just checked in again as part of my birthday celebrations. I’ll have to catch up with them in person the next time I am in London.
How we met a great story. My team around the world is slowly expanding. Knowing people in the cities that I visit really enhances the experience. But every time I fall in love with a city, I start trying to understand it like I would a new lover. Figure out what makes it tick. Unearth its quirky charms. Revel in the special qualities that seduce me. It’s how you end up feeling like a local.
And get the best travel stories… you have been warned… only I would go out for a quiet, jet-lagged dinner my first night in Paris and end up running down Boulevard Montparnasse at 2am…