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First Things First

Before you leave home

A few things you need to know about before you have your first croissant:

Bateau MoucheYou will have checked with your cell phone service provider about how (or if) your phone works abroad. One thing to keep in mind is that data transfers—such as for email, apps on a smart phone, in short anything that is not a phone conversation—are astronomically expensive abroad unless you have a plan specifically for that. (And most phones will access email, for example, even when you're not aware they are doing so.) Before you get on the plane, disable the cellular data feature of your smartphone. If you don't, you'll get a nasty surprise when you get your next cell phone bill. Most people are pretty hooked on their phones, though, so check with your carrier about buying a short-term data package for your time abroad. There's also more and more free wifi in Paris, so with a little ingenuity you can be connected all the time.

By the way, did you know that French land lines can call pretty much any other land line anywhere in the world and it's a local call?

Pariscope

There's also this great little publication called "Pariscope," which you absolutely have to have. It comes out once a week, on Wednesday, and it only costs .70 euros, so let loose with some coin and pick the thing up. It has listings of absolutely everything going on in the city during the week—from movies, theater, and opera, to museum hours and special exhibits, to nightclub scenes, to massage parlors, to you name it. So get it. Just go to a kiosk (the one below is on the boulevard St. Michel) and ask for "unh periscope" (get it?).

Kiosk

Getting into the city from the airport

Taxis from any of the airports are always available, of course, but be forewarned: they’re rather expensive (they've recently adopted a flat-rate charge of 55 euros) and not much faster than the methods described below—in fact, if you’re traveling at rush hour, taxis will definitely be significantly slower than public transportation. Paris rush hour traffic going into the city is absolutely crazy, and it will be bumper to bumper the whole way, with an occasional parking lot situation. Basically, if you're arriving in Paris on a weekday morning, I strongly advise you to take the RER, which will get you into the city in about 35-40 minutes, depending on the train (express or local) you're on. Tom's record from the plane touching down on the runway to his apartment in Paris is 60 minutes. Beat that. (You should know, however, that if you travel with a great deal of luggage, the RER might not be the best option for you, and if you have a difficult time with steps this might not be your best bet, either.) If you're in reasonable shape, a little game for a very slight adventure, and not over-burdened with luggage, this is your best bet.


From Charles De Gaulle (Roissy):

Paris by trainTo take the RER, follow the signs such as those you see here for "Paris par train/ Paris by Train" with the symbol RER and the letter "B" in a circle (B is the name of the line you're going to take) or ask directions for the RER (which stands for Réseau Express Régional—the regional express network)—there are handy info booths in the airport everywhere, and the people who staff them are quite friendly. The RER is a fast and pleasant commuter railroad that runs into and through Paris like spokes on a wheel. When you get to the RER station, go to the green ticket machines and punch the button for a ticket to Paris (there's an option on screen for instructions in English). Look for a newer machine if possible—those will usually take American credit or debit cards. If you happen to RER ticket machinehave Euro coins on you, they'll take those, too. Right now it's 10 euros to go from the airport to the city. If you find the machine won't take your card, try another. Often they're just moody.

If you can’t get the machines to work— sometimes they just won't—you can simply stand in the short line at the ticket window off to the side, say "un billet pour Paris, s’il vous plaît" [unh beeyay poor Paree seel voo play], pony up 10 €, and you’re set.

[By the way, life is dramatically easier in Europe if your credit card has the chip in it. If it doesn't, call your bank and scream at them for being cheap luddites and threaten to take your business elsewhere. There are some things you won't be able to do without the chip in the credit card.]

Now look for the signs that say RER off to the side, and head over to the turnstiles (Tom thinks this word should be spelled "turnstyles.") Insert the ticket into the slot and make sure to take your ticket from the top of the machine. Hold on to it: you will need it to exit! (You'll put it through a similar turnstile when you exit the system. This is unique to the RER—you do not need to do this in the metro.) You will also need it for the rare circumstance of having a conductor ask to see it. Now, clutching the ticket in your hot little hands, go down the escalator to the platorm. All the trains leaving from here go to Paris (and they even say so for disbelieving tourists), so you can’t get on the wrong one—just get on.

RERYou will note that the scenery on the way into the city might not be what you expected. If this is the case, you're a hopeless romantic, but you won't be disappointed when you get into town. Once you get into Paris, the RER connects directly to the métro, so you can simply change trains and go directly to your destination without even buying another ticket (although you will have to put the same ticket you used at the airport through the turnstile again, whether it's to exit the RER or to transfer to the metro—it's really obvious and you'll understand it as soon as you see it, mainly because everyone in front of you is doing it). You can click here for a mini lesson on how to use the metro. You will find the metro very easy to use, and there are signs everywhere, and if you aren’t sure where to go, you can ask someone and they’ll explain to you how to do it (really; all this nonsense about Parisians being rude simply escapes Tom).

If you’re travelling at rush hour, taxis will definitely be significantly slower than public transportation.

Helmut reminds me that you can also take the RoissyBus, which is run by the RATP (which stands for "Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, and it's the Paris transportation network). It will take you from the airport to the Opéra, and from there you can grab other forms of public transportation anywhere. It's cheap (10 euros) and reasonably fast, depending on traffic (figure at least an hour, but probably more like an hour and a half). The last bus from the airport into the city is 11:00 pm; the first bus in the morning from Paris to the airport is at 5:45 am.

A word about CDG (Charles de Gaulle airport): it's insane. You won't notice too much on arrival, apart from a general sense of frenzy, since this airport seems not to be designed for the amount of traffic passing through, but departure is stressful and sometimes challenging. Every time I pass through CDG I get the impression that the events that happen thousands of times a day at a busy airport—such as checking in or showing your passport—are surprizing and even overwhelming to the airport personnel, who often gather and speak to one another in hushed and concerned tones. It's not reassuring, because you always get the sense that something's afoot or somehow strangely irregular. It's not, really, and everything always works, but the tone of the place is really unfortunate. Regardless, remember that you will have to pass through no fewer than 3 lines before you depart: your airline's check-in line (which may be the longest), the passport control line, and the security line. You'll get the impression that pretty much everything is ad hoc and that no one really knows what they're doing. The challenging part is that this all takes time, so really, do arrive at least two hours before your scheduled departure. Those who know CDG but haven't been there for a while will note some significant improvements both to the system and to the infrastructure. And—sigh!—the shopping.

Montmartre SkyFrom Orly:

From Orly you're going to want to take RER line C from the Port de Rungis, and there's a little shuttle (navette) that will take you from the airport to the station. This should cost about 8 euros. You can also take the Air France bus, which will dump you off either at Montparnasse or Invalides (7.50 euros); or the Orlybus, which is run by the RATP, I think, and that'll take you to the Denfer-Rochereau metro/RER station. It runs between 6:00 am and 11:00pm, and costs 9 euros. It will take you to Denfert-Rochereau, Châtelet, and/or the Gare du Nord.

From Beauvais:

Ted points out that "If you should happen to fly RyanAir into Paris you'll be in Beauvais, which is nearly 80 km/50 mi outside the city. Best/cheapest way is the bus. It's cheaper than a cab!" You can't beat the 15 euro price. Info in English can be found here. You can find a map here. Ted says you can also take the Blue Van, which is in the airport. "A bit more than the bus, but door to door service. My daughter used it stateside and swears by it, and sometimes at it."

Knowing where you are

Write down the name and address of your hotel and keep it with you at all times.
This will sound so obvious you'll think I'm crazy for putting it here, but let me tell you a little story and then you decide. Quite some time back I was walking home with a friend and it was very late at night—on the order of 2:30 am or so. We came across two young American women who were sobbing. We asked them what was wrong, and they said they didn't know where their hotel was. OK, no problem, we said, what's the address? "We don't know!" they sobbed. "What's the name of it?" The sobbing increased dramatically. They were so excited about being in Paris that they dumped their bags in their room and bolted out the door, into the night, and out into the city without the first idea where they were staying—they didn't even have their passports with them. After a lot of quizzing about what was in the vicinity of their hotel (a big arch, but not the Arc de Triomphe), we hailed a cab for them and directed the driver to what we figured was the appropriate neighborhood. I have no idea what ever happened to them.

The moral of this little cautionary tale? Write down the name and address of your hotel and keep it with you at all times!



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Tom's Guide to Paris. Copyright 2017 by Thomas DiPiero. All rights reserved.