I happened to be on the metro on the way home from work during rush hour yesterday. Onto the packed train climbed a young woman wearing an enormous backpack. Her travelling companion was similarly encumbered, and was also carrying an enormous, ornately embroidered, blue velvet sombrero.
Their backpacks took up at least as much space as two additional people would have. Furthermore, since they were wearing them on their backs, there was no way that they could move without smacking someone with 65 liters’ worth of stuff, and no way that they could maneuver out of anyone else’s way in those tight quarters.
You didn’t even have to be able to hear them to know what their nationality was–just by watching their mouths, it was pretty clear that they were Americans. (Yes, the mouths of American English speakers move quite differently from the mouths of French speakers.) They had probably read their Paris guide books closely–and they had been lead astray by them.
Any Paris guidebook will tell you that you can get from Charles de Gaulle Airport (or Roissy, as the locals call it) by taking the train into Paris, and then switching onto the subway. This is certainly true. What the guidebooks don’t tell you is that even though you can, you should not do this.
There are two basic problems with the take-the-train-to-the-subway plan, and I see those two problems raise their ugly heads all the time.
- There are a heck of a lot of stairs in some of those stations. I can’t tell you how often I have come across someone trying to struggle up–or down–a long flight of stairs in a Parisian metro station with a huge suitcase. (Oh, there really ARE nice people in the world, said one old lady with an absolutely enormous suitcase who I found almost in tears at the top of a loooong flight of stairs in a metro station. If I hadn’t recently been training to fight in Nationals, I don’t think that I could have carried that big honking thing down the stairs, either.) Even if your plan is to take the train to someplace from where you can catch a taxi, versus transferring to a subway, you are not going to escape the stairs in the train station.
- Trains and metro cars can both be absolutely packed with people. Want to get stared at with deep dislike? Try to squeeze your suitcase with a week’s worth of vacation wear into a subway wagon filled with people jammed [trying to think of a non-vulgar way to put this] together like sardines already. Enjoy the welcoming looks of all of the people on their way to/from work as they try to squeeze around your giant suitcase, which is now mostly blocking the door. Roll your 49-pound suitcase over the toes of some nice Parisian woman’s $835 asymmetric-strap Manolo Blahniks. Or, roll your 49-pound suitcase over the toes of some nice Parisian woman’s $10 Converse knock-offs after she’s just spent all day on her feet at her job as a cashier. Or…well, the possibilities for pissing off people on a crowded train or metro car are endless, really.
Is that really how you want to start (or end) your vacation? Probably not. I recommend that instead, you spring for a taxi. Due to a recently-passed law, the price of taxi rides from either Paris airport into Paris proper is fixed: 50 euros to the Right Bank, 55 euros to the Left Bank. You get in the taxi, the total price shows up on the meter, and that’s it. After a looong flight across the Atlantic, this is the only civilized way to start your Parisian adventure.
I ate my dinner last night while mulling over what the heck that kid could possibly have been doing with that giant sombrero. Using it to cover his eyes while he slept on the plane? Using it to cover his entire body while he slept on the plane? Bringing it as a present for some unsuspecting Parisian who couldn’t possibly have enough room in their tiny Parisian apartment for a Sombrero of Unusual Size? Hard to say…
- fourvoyer: to mislead; to lead astray. The American tourists with their giant backpacks (and their giant sombrero) were led astray by their guide books.
- se fourvoyer: to be mistaken, to get something completely wrong; to get lost, to stray from one’s path. I do this pretty much all the time.