Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How NOT to get into Downtown Paris

Oh boy, y'all are in for a special treat. I am sharing a piece of my infinite wisdom with all of you!

This summer, I had a great opportunity to spend a week in Paris. If you ever get the chance, take it. Anyway, we were staying in a little town about 15 minutes from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). Therefore, I needed to find a way to get into downtown Paris. I had two choices:

1. Take the Air France "les cars" bus system
2. Take the RER Trains (subway)

Now, while option 2 is most economical, I was also told that it was ridden with lots of pickpockets preying on jet lagged, luggage laden, rich American tourists. After having a bad experience in Italy, I decided to stay pickpocket free and ride the comfortable, air conditioned tour busses that Air France uses. Now, the subway would have cost about $10, roundtrip. The bus was about $30 roundtrip, but the pros outweighed the cons. I've outlined the two journeys below, for your reading pleasure (this is where it gets good).

June 15, 2009 - Option 1

I woke up around 9am (this was later than planned; however I had had too many rum and cokes the previous evening... damn minibar!) I saw this outside of my hotel room window:

 It was rainy.

Not to mention, but it was also about 50 degrees Fahrenheit as well. It's what you would have called a 'pretty crappy day' for Paris in the summer. My hopes remained high that the weather would clear up. I got ready for the day then headed downstairs. After a few (about 10) chocolate au pains and a couple shots of espresso, I made my way to inquire about the weather. She confirmed my hopes that yes, the weather would get better. After I made my way to CDG (which, by the way, is the crappiest airport known to man), I set off to find the Air France bus stop.

Lo and behold, there it is!

Please ignore the nice weather, it was actually raining quite hard at this point (I had to borrow this picture from Google). Being very proud of myself that I had found the bus, and ready to start my adventure into Paris, I started to walk into the bus. However, the driver just sat there reading his "Le Figaro"-- a French newspaper. According to the Air France website, this is how they were supposed to look:

Notice the smile?

Instead, this is what I got:

No, he didn't actually say that.

I just stood there waiting for him to look up, but after a few awkward moments of silence, I said "Bonjour!" He looks up with an angry scowl scribbled across his face. I said: "Un billet aller-retour s'il vous plaît." I already knew my ticket would cost 18 Euro so I handed him my 20 Euro bill. He gave me a SINGLE Euro coin (I didn't realize he cheated me until after I got off) back and then gave me my ticket. He then told me (in French) that we would leave in 15 minutes. I made my way to the back of the bus (where the cool kids sit) and had my choice of seats. Sweet, I thought, this is great! There were only two other passengers on board so I had a whole row to myself. Life. Was. Good. I had my comfy seat, my own air vent, plenty of room to stretch out, and they were even showing CNN (in English!) on the TV's inside the bus. Even the rain was letting up! The bus driver got off to smoke a cancer stick with his fellow bus drivers and then we were off.

When we pulled out, I noticed we missed the exit of the airport-- the one that would lead us to Paris. Uh oh, I thought, he found out I was an American and was going to kick me off! Nope. We made no less than six other stops around CDG. Did I mention that CDG is the worst designed airport? That it was rush hour? That the French are terrible drivers? I did now. It took another 45 minutes before we even left the airport. By now, the bus was packed with people and I was now sharing my pair of seats with a person of size. It was starting to get extremely hot on the bus and the odors of my fellow passengers started to fill my nostrils. To make matters worse, the bus driver had turned off the air conditioning. Could it get worse? Yes. He also turned of my beloved CNN and replaced it with this awful (and somewhat creepy) Air France commercial that looped THE ENTIRE RIDE.

Creepy, no? Especially when the guy is scraping ice off the car. Can you say pedophile?

And yes. It. Got. Worse.

Check out that traffic.

After an agonizing 2 hour ride into Paris (I kid you not), we finally made it to L'Arc de Triomphe. But guess what: it was raining. A lot. Now, I want you to imagine this: an 18 year old gets off an Air France bus in flip flops, shorts, and a t-shirt. No jacket, no umbrella. It is raining heavily and is 45 degrees out. Yes, you could spot the American. I walked around the block (while getting rained on) and made my way into a cafe. I asked the bartender (she was really hot) where I could buy an umbrella and she sent me down to a corner store a block away. I thanked her in French and left. I found the store with ease and spend another $10 on a cheap, overpriced, piece of shit umbrella. Guess what? Made in America. I could tell that the storekeeper picked this one especially for me.

Sure spells quality!

No, that wasn't the exact umbrella, but it was pretty close. After walking around for a few more minutes, and getting splashed by a car, and becoming very depressed, I walked back to the bus stop. I waited in line and once the bus driver saw me, he started laughing. At me. He took my ticket, said some things in French (that I could not understand), and I walked back to my same seat. To my luck, the creepy commercial was back on. And, the air conditioning was back on too. Bless his heart, that bus driver was trying to dry me out and make my day better. However, because I was wet, and the air was cold, I became even colder and stayed wet. But it's the thought that counts, right?

We made our way back to CDG and guess what-- it only took 30 minutes. Great. Worst day in Paris? I think so.

June 19, 2009 - Option 2

The story begins like the last one, except that it was 70 degrees and the sun was shining. I made my way to the airport and went to the RER station. I purchased my ticket from the ticket lady, who was actually quite cheery.

She wished me a pleasant visit in Paris.

Again, that wasn't really her. But she looked pretty similar to the real lady. And she really did smile! I swiped my ticket through the über-cool machine and took the escalator down to the platform.

The helpful information screen.


The train itself.

Free entertainment-- the guy in the middle played the accordion.

Even the subway stations are nicely decorated.

The train wasn't that crowded and I didn't see any pickpockets. I did, however, see a French pimp. No joke. I, sadly, did not take a picture of him (I didn't want to look on Google Images either). The trip took a total of 45 minutes-- from getting in line to buy the ticket to stepping off the platform at Rue St. Michel. Which, by the way, is right near Le Tour d'Eiffel. And, it was MUCH cheaper. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, the RER is a great option to get into Paris.

What's the moral of the story? Don't believe what everyone says about the subways in Paris or Air France buses.

"Bon chance" on finals everyone.
Oh, and a shoutout to Kat: Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!



  1. I can see that you are still strange sir.
    ~Katherine Neawedde