Not Martha

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 3, The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup

my feet waiting for my very first ride on the Metro

On day three we took our museum passes and headed to the Musee D’Orsay. We walked a bit then decided to tackle the Metro as it was cold and sprinkling. Except, the nearest stop was actually for the RER which you can use Metro tickets for within Paris (more on this below).

a double decker RER train, underground, it was intimidating

Some of the RER trains are double decker!

At the Musee D’Orsay we waltzed past the ticket line, flashed our passes and had them dated, and we were inside.

the inside of the Musee DOrsay

The D’Orsay is inside a grand old railway station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. There is a restaurant on the upper level that has a great view, and a terrace in the summer. I didn’t take any pictures of the Impressionist artwork here, probably because there were so many people crushed around each painting and sculpture — when we were there the museum was being renovated so the paintings were displayed in rooms smaller than, I suspect, they normally would be.

At the end of the museum they have a model of the city under a glass floor. It’s scratched and hard to make out, but still fun to walk on. I think we’re standing on the opera house here.:

my feet standing over the model of Paris

Upstairs is more decorative art, as well as an entire room. I like the light swags here:

a grand ballroom recreated upstairs

a detail of the lit, gilded swag, something can be DIYed out of this for parties

Apparently I have trouble taking photos that are lined straight up and down. Forgive me, I suspect I view the world a little off kilter and it only really comes out when I try to hold a camera up straight.

These spoons and platters caught my eye as well:

two serving spoons, both silver and formed to be flowers

a large silver serving platter imprinted with the veins of a large leaf, it was striking

Scott and I felt a bit naughty taking this mirror pic:

Scott and I in the mirror of a dressing table display which was for a priest or cardinal

This painting kept my attention for a while while we were sitting on some stairs resting. I only took a few art history classes in college but it turns out I learned, and dimly remember, a lot more than I expected. I think the one figure in this painting that is looking straight out towards the viewer is an image of the artist himself, but I have not had time to properly research this:

a large painting of a Roman baccanalian feast

Back home for a while, where I took these photos of what the street in front of our apartment typically looked like:

the view from our apartment window, two narrow Parisian streets, lots of pedestrians

Most people in Paris wore black or dark coats that were belted or nipped in at the waist, I saw lots of boots, and the big scarves were there as had been reported. In fact, Scott has been inspired to start wearing larger, warmer scarves in the winter because he’s seen how they can be both warm, stylish and manly. I never really noticed anybody wearing jeans, which means they must have been really good jeans. Nearly everybody had across-the-body bags, all of them looked like they’d been carefully picked out. Umbrellas were common when it rained (which was the entire time we were there). Maggi and I cannot figure out how the Parisian women manage to wear heels so often. Perhaps they stop in cafes frequently for a little sit down?

We saw lots of rolling luggage both on the street and down in the Metro and RER. Later we took the Metro to get ourselves onboard the Eurostar and didn’t feel out of place at all. (Though again, I was never fooling anybody.)

After everybody had their feet up for a while we were off to dinner, and French onion soup, yum.

French onion soup, with a slice of bread hiding under melted cheese, so very yummy

Today (this is me speaking in the present, that being March 4th) I saw a Smart Car in my neighborhood and I was struck by how tiny it looked in context here. We saw lots and lots of Smart Cars in Paris and they really only looked slightly smaller, in a practical way, than the other cars there. In fact, we took notice when we saw a full sized car, or heard a particularly loud one.

Things I learned the hard way

The Metro: The Metro in Paris is no harder to use than the public transit in any other city. Once we became a little familiar with how the city is laid out and how to read the signs, we used it with ease. Within Paris Metro tickets can be used for the Metro, buses and the RER (regional train system) within Zone 1 (clearly marked on maps). You can use your ticket to transfer between systems for an hour and a half (but not re-enter, as we learned). The Metro runs until about 12:30 a.m., after which you have to catch a bus. We never ended up getting on a bus, opting instead to walk the few blocks to wherever we needed from the Metro stops. (Did I just tell the internet that we were always home and in bed by 11 p.m. when in Paris and therefore know nothing about how to get around after the Metro stops running? I blame the jet lag!)

Everybody uses the Metro and it was always busy and filled with all sorts of people. I never got that creepy, shouldn’t-be-here vibe that comes on some US public transit systems. The RER after 10 p.m. on a weekend is a different story.

The most useful thing I had with me on this trip was the free RATP (Paris public transit) iPhone app. The main component is simply the Metro map that you can zoom in and out of. You can also get route direction from stop to stop, though, you have to know which stations you want to start and at, something I never knew so I didn’t use this function.

We usually bought small paper Metro tickets in packs of 10, ask for one pack, “un carnet” (silent t), or just buy 10 from the ticket machine. We split our time in Paris in half though, and had we been there for the whole week we would have done as Maggi and Jeff and gotten a weekly pass which you just wave like a magic wand on your way through. You can buy tickets at the automated dispensers at Metro station, they have an English option. They don’t take US cards so you’ll have to have cash (one carne was, I think, 11,60 Euros). I have no idea how to buy a weekly pass, you’re on your own there. I do know you are supposed to put your picture on your pass, and there are photo booths in lots of the stations for this purpose. Maggi and Jeff didn’t have these (it’s not like the directions were clear on this point) and it was really only a minor, momentary problem when we were stopped by Metro security who set up a ticket checkpoint in a connection tunnel. Even then they only scolded one of them, and immediately figured out we were tourists so just waved us on. So, (oh dear please don’t take this advice) maybe you shouldn’t bother with the headshot on your weekly pass. (That said, I was constantly tempted to stop in one of these photo booths so I could have “official” French ID photos.)

You can also use a card to buy tickets at a window with a human, we only found these at larger stations near the RER entrances. The one we stopped at only opened at noon, as we discovered having arrived at the dreadfully early hour of 11:58 a.m.

Note: Keep your ticket with you. You’ll need it for transfers and for the occasional checks. We only had our tickets inspected once, in a hallway connecting two station.

More than once we entered a smaller station to find that the entry carousels wouldn’t take any tickets, but there was an unlocked gate you could slip through. We couldn’t understand the recorded message playing in a pleasant French voice so we just assumed it was saying “these gates aren’t working, just go on in”.

Metro lines are listed by number and color, and once you know which one you want all you have to do is figure out which way you need to head. The Metro has signs listing all the stops it’s headed towards, so you find your stop and head down that hallway. The RER, though, only lists the last destination for the line. This is where that iPhone app came in handy. There are maps all over the stations though, and it never took us too long to untangle where we needed to go. Even when we were faced with some closed stations or connections.

The French word for exit is “Sortie”, or you can just follow the crowds towards the way out. Some of the stations that connect to each other will have you traversing long blocks underground, and there are some moving sidewalks in the longer stretches. They dip down and back up, though, and I nearly always fell at the bottom of the dip so hold on.

I loved taking the Metro. It reminded me of the days when I’d figured out the NYC subway system and was able to give people directions. (In NYC, apparently, I’m the type of person who strangers feel comfortable asking for directions. Flattering, but really only fun when I could actually help.) A huge thanks to Maggi for being not only our French speaking restaurant orderer, but also the person able to get us down into the Metro tunnels and pointed in the right direction. And huge thanks to Jeff for all the knowledge on the iPhone apps and navigating an old version of Firefox in French. Paris would have been untangleable without you both.

Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag; Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee

Up Next: Day Four, dogs in paintings, startlingly large arches and towers

· comments [23] · 03-5-2010 · categories:travel ·

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen // Mar 5, 2010 at 5:34 am

    I love your detailed posts about your Paris visit. Just one note for the metro tickets…it’s a carnet. Even though we don’t pronounce the T. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

  • 2 Monique // Mar 5, 2010 at 5:38 am

    More great tips:) Thanks again..Some of my photos are just like yours..I have to really concentrate to get square angles..:)

  • 3 Brady // Mar 5, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Isn’t Paris amazing? My mom and I just rented an apartment in the Marais for two weeks too. I ate quiche every single day! I’m already ready to go back. Glad you got to go too.

  • 4 Laura // Mar 5, 2010 at 6:22 am

    I cannot tell you how timely your posts on Paris are for me–my husband and I are visiting in a few weeks. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to Paris and my French is non-existent. My husband has never traveled outside of the US and is a little nervous. I will be downloading the Lonely Planet app and some others that you mention ASAP. Thanks!!!

    Also, looks like you had a great time. :)

  • 5 Beth // Mar 5, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I always enjoy your blog, but I have to say, I have REALLY been enjoying your posts about Paris. It has been twenties years since I was there, and I have loved reliving the experience through your eyes. Thank you so much for sharing so many details!

    PS. I love the skirt/dress you are wearing in your “feet” picture at the Museo D’Orsay!! I’m sorry the museum was under construction while you were there. It is one of my favorite museums in the world!!

  • 6 megan // Mar 5, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Karen – Thank you, I only ever heard it spoken out loud and it’s just a recipe for me to get it wrong.

    Laura – I’m so pleased that I can help you and the others who have written saying these are going to be helpful to them as well. Later I’ll go over which phrases I used the most — I actually put them into my iPhone notes since I got tired of finding them in the phrasebook (or forgetting the phrasebook).

    Beth – Thanks, I’ll talk more about the skirt there in a while. Despite my protestations I ended up sewing three skirts for myself to wear in Paris. I wore boots, warm leggings and skirts nearly every day we were there.

  • 7 pulltaffy // Mar 5, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Can I just say how much I am loving reading your Paris posts? I will never, ever, be brave enough to go there, so I’m living vicariously through your adventures!

    (And your boots look super cute in all those pictures. Maybe I will get myself a pair so I can feel a bit Parisian too!)

  • 8 megan // Mar 5, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Pulltaffy – I was scared and overwhelmed going there, even with a traveling companion who’d lived there. But, once we were there it was no trouble at all, a huge number of people live there and there are shops, pharmacies, cafes on every block. It was very easy to get around, people were generally friendly and with a good guide book we were set.

  • 9 Maggi // Mar 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I saw jeans all over, actually–but they tended to be skinny jeans tucked into boots, or jeggings. On men they were equally skinny.

  • 10 Kate // Mar 5, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Just wanted to let you know how much I’m really enjoying these posts (looks like I’m not the only one)! My husband and I are still in the dreaming stage about our first trip to Paris and I will definitely refer back to these when we start making real plans. Thanks for all the details and keep them coming!

  • 11 Hannah // Mar 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I too find it hard to align my photos, and whenever people take photos of me I seem to be standing with ym head tilted or jutted out… so I must just be lopsided!

    More seriously, thank you so much for these posts and tips. I’m headed to Paris in a few weeks for the first time, and by myself, and I’m so grateful for your experiences and advice!

    Also, don’t worry about not being out after 11 – because I’m travelling alone, I’m almost always back in my hostel by 7pm :D

  • 12 Jessica // Mar 5, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I loved the D’Orsay! I went in the middle of the summer and spent the better part of a rainy day there. All the more famous Impressionist pieces hardly anyone was around (unlike the Louvre which was just a pain!) so we got to see everything at a nice pace. The bottom floor had a ton of Degas sketches of the ballerinas and things and after seeing the Van Gogh’s and things upstairs, all the tourists were leaving! Hardly anyone was going down there so we felt like we had the place all to ourselves!

    Loving reading about your adventures in Paris!

  • 13 jo-anne // Mar 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    What I’m finding the most overwhelming with my planning is figuring out what I want to do. My “Paris” list is very long and I’m sure a month would be enough to cover it all, but I’m only going for a week.

    The list all sorts of things like shops I want to visit, restaurants to try, historical locations, jazz clubs, dance clubs…My girlfriend’s take is that if it takes me a week to write it out, I won’t get it all done in a week. She’s a wing it kind of gal!

    Megan, did you go with a list of things you wanted to see or wing it?

    And thank you again for the amount of detail you’re sharing with us. We have a similar take on things and it’s ever so helpful in calming my nerves to read about your adventures.

  • 14 Aimee // Mar 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you SO much for this series. Paris is my favorite city, and I’m reliving it through you. The d’Orsay is my favorite art museum ever; I’m so glad you got to experience it.

  • 15 rebecca // Mar 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I’m also loving your travelogue! I’m going to Italy soon with some friends, and your advice it invaluable even though it’s a different place. Are you using the Canon S90 you mentioned to take these photos? I planning to get one for my trip — I’ve only had the regular point and shoots before.

  • 16 megan // Mar 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Rebecca – All these pictures are from the S90, most set on Auto, some on the low light setting. I worked through the manual before I left but found I didn’t want to spend time fiddling in the street. All I’ve done to these photos is to shrink and sharpen, I didn’t lighten them, though some could have used it.

  • 17 Christine // Mar 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I love all of your travel tips and the photos of the apartment. My boyfriend are trying to chose between Paris or Ireland in the fall. Your posts are tipping the scale towards Paris. Do you happen to have tips/ideas for Ireland?

  • 18 megan // Mar 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Christine – I’m afraid not, I’ve never been there. But I’d go in a heartbeat!

  • 19 megan // Mar 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Jo-anne – This trip was unusual for me. I’m normally a planner, but every time I got near a Paris guidebook it was so overwhelming my vision went blurry. Each map of Paris was completely indecipherable. We were traveling with a friend who had lived there and we were in a neighborhood that could have deserved it’s own 10 day exploration, so I wasn’t overly worried that I would get bored.

    On a day to day basis we sort of winged it, we would make plans for the day based on the weather — Eiffel Tower on a day it wasn’t pouring rain, Louvre on a drippy day. I do wish we’d planned better for dinners though, when we winged those we ended up with just ok experiences, or we didn’t leave enough of the day and ended up eating street food. It was good, mind you, but not cozy and memorable.

  • 20 Katie // Mar 6, 2010 at 2:33 am

    I’m leaving for Paris in a week and I have found your travelogue to be an invaluable resource!!! Thank you so much!

    So far I’ve learned to bring my ear plugs and eye mask on the plane, try the chorizo chips, keep an eye out for the public washrooms at notre dame and avoid les halles… I’ve learned so much more than this obviously, but thanks again!

    I can’t wait to read more. I’m also going to set up a travelogue!

  • 21 Erica // Mar 6, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Hi. One important note on the Metro and buying tickets, navigo etc – the automatic machines will not take American credit cards as we do not have the ‘puce’ like they do in Europe. So, you have to either use cash in the machines or find a Metro where there is a real person (becoming more difficult).

  • 22 Jessie // Mar 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I was in Paris in 2004 and I distinctly remember my friends and I oohing and aahing when we saw a Smart car. We seriously thought it was a toy and took a bunch of pictures of it. Lo and behold, now they’re everywhere!

  • 23 day six…getting lost in the D’Orsay, literally. « // Mar 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    [...] of his colorful ballerinas were there! After we passed the Opera and mini-city exhibit (another one of my favorites that Megan pictured well) and made our way up to Degas, Jeff stated that he was going on to the next level. I stayed put to [...]

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