Friday, 8 May 2009

Getting About

Paris is a large city: about 2,500,000 people by all accounts, which makes it roughly twice the size of Auckland. It is of course a very different city, in every conceivable way, from Auckland but one way in particular stands out today: in Paris it is quite easy to move about. Auckland is continually glugged up by traffic, buses are rare and slow and I think they have a train system or maybe they just think they have a train system. In Paris there is plenty of traffic but having it bogged into gridlock isn't the issue. Here, dodging the speedily moving cars is the issue. Now I know that Auckland suffers from its geography - all confined into a narrow isthmus while Paris is free to spluge out in every direction, but the real difference is the public transport system.

Paris has a system that takes a while to figure out because it is so big and complicated. Thre is the inner city Metro system with its 7 lines. Then there is a completely separate suburban train system, the RER, whose big double deckers run on another 4 lines (each with a number of sub lines). Each of the Metro lines intersects with all the others at some point, and most Metro lines also make contact with the RER, so that by careful planning and by using the cunning system of automatic gates and interconnected passageways it is possible to get quickly and easily from any point in the city to any other point and for a very reasonable price. There are also buses and an intercity train system, which operate in conjunction with the city trains. Trains are clean, quiet, and belt around their underground tunnels at impossible speeds. If you must take your car, there is a sensible motorway system which encourages cars to move around, not into the city. It's taken a week to figure it all out, and I need to carry a little map with me, but it is so ingeniously French, and so humanly scaled thaqt I love it. Auckland, in comparison, has addressed the problem of its traffic clogged streets by the brilliant strategy of building even more motorways to encourage even more cars into the middle of town. Go figure.

We have also used another wonderful Parisian means of transport: the Velib. This is a system of small, rugged, simple looking, but actually very hi-tec bikes, which are kept in little racks all over the city. Pop your credit card into a slot, press a button or two, and then for a ridiculously small fee, you can pedal all over the place, leaving the bike at any of the other racks, and picking up another whenever you wish. We had a great morning in the Bois de Vincennes winding through the many forest tracks, and picnicking by one of the lakes. They are great for those journeys which look very short on the map but very long when you set out to make them, such as moving from one end of the Champs Elysees to the other, or travelling from the Louvre to le Tour Eiffel.

This is a city that many people visit. The French have successfully ensured that the tourists and the locals can get about smartly (in both senses of the word) and have kept this vast commercial, cultural and artistic centre surprisingly human in scale and feel.

Tomorrow, too soon, we leave. We have had my son Nick and his fiancee Charmayne with us for the last couple of days but tomorrow we part company: they back to London on an evening Eurostar, us, on an early morning TGV to Bayonne and the start of the Camino de Santiago. Next time I am able to get to a computer will be in Spain somewhere, but I'll try and keep you informed.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buen Camino!
Kay and Graham

Anonymous said...

Go well dear Clem and Kel. Loving these blogs Kelvin - so great to keep in touch with your day to day travels and experiences. Can picture so much in your descriptions.
May God bless you and keep you in this next stage of your journey.
Lots of love from Bisset