Tag Archives: Paris

Paris Snippets: Transit



Warning: Rantage ahead.

It’s no coincidence that the only time we spent in a private car during the trip to Paris was back here at home, driving to and from the airport.  We had looked at non-driving options, but due to Tri-Met cutbacks the connections from our house to the airport just didn’t work for getting us to PDX in a timely manner.

It wasn’t like that in Europe.

On arrival at Schiphol, we went out to our hotel’s van.  Fairly standard for a lot of places, not that different from the US.  Except that, given the isolated location of the hotel from the downtown and from the train station, the hotel van operated on a regular shuffle from the hotel to the airport.

Schiphol is not just an airport, it’s a train station.  I didn’t do a very good job of photo-documenting this, except for one picture where I was really focusing on the Christmas decoration.


Schiphol’s train station has six platforms, two of which serve the European high-speed rail systems (i.e., bullet trains).  It’s possible to go directly from airplane to train either to downtown Amsterdam or immediately transfer to a train to travel to Brussels, Paris, or other European locations (we didn’t do that because we wanted at least some time to recuperate from jet lag).

We were able to, later on, take the hotel shuttle to Schiphol to hop a train to downtown Amsterdam for dinner.  Except the local run was down for maintenance.  A problem requiring a taxi?  No.  Bus service was provided to the closest train station not affected by the maintenance.  Once in town, we used the handy tram system that runs through Amsterdam (buy your tickets on the tram itself).

The next day we hopped in the shuttle, went to Schiphol, bought tickets for the Thalys high-speed rail, and headed for Paris.  Three and a half hours later, we were at Gare de Nord, hopped off, and got on the Metro, which deposited us five minutes away from our apartment.  The rest of our stay, we used water taxi (the Batobus, which operates on a regular cycle between monuments close to the Seine), Metro, and the RER train to get around Paris.  We bought carnets of tickets which we could use on Metro, the RER and buses, though we didn’t use any buses.  At the end, we hopped on the RER to go to our hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport, rode a big shuttle bus that dropped riders off at hotels, then caught it again in the morning to go to the airport.

There are damned few places where you can do this in the US, at least as easily as we were able to do in Europe.  And that is just plain wrong.  Mind you, I’m not saying you can’t do it in the US–but the possibilities are very limited.  A visitor to Portland can’t catch a high speed train at PDX (um, high speed train on the West Coast?  Choke, splutter, gasp).

Granted, we were sticking to urban locations which are transit centers.  But I look at the options available to us in both Amsterdam and Paris, as well as the opportunities for rail transit from both locations, and I’ve just gotta say….something’s wrong.

As we approach retirement age, one consideration we have with regard to a future residence is the degree to which we would need to depend on a car to get around.  Cars are expensive to buy, maintain, and a hassle.  As someone who drives too damned far to work every day, my love affair with the car is rapidly dwindling.  I much preferred cruising around on the Metro and RER, even with the crowds and potential pickpockets.  After all, on Friday we came across this on the RER:


Buskers on the RER sure add a festive note to a Friday.

Ah well, maybe one of these days we’ll gain some sense here in the US.

(and if you believe that, I have a bridge or two up for sale….)


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More Paris snippets–teacher thoughts

So that opening I talked about in my last entry?

This is it.  A museum oriented specifically for children, hands-on.  More of a coolness.

Overall, though, one thing which really struck me as a teacher were the many groups of students I saw in the various museums and historical sites we visited.  While the behavior at liberty of various middle-school-aged kids wasn’t that different from the kids at my own school, what I did observe was a deliberate and detailed education in cultural and arts resources which is sorely lacking in much of our own system these days.  Yeah, I got a bunch of this teaching, but I’m a product of the late Boom and was clearly on the college track.  Plus I never did have access to art museums and major historical museums because, hey, Springfield and Eugene, Oregon, were somewhat lacking in those areas.  It took the Freedom Train’s 1976 visit to Springfield for me to see many of the major American historical treasures, and I still haven’t seen a lot of those.

But I did get exposure to arts and culture through film and filmstrips.

Anyway.  In the Petit Palais, I observed a group of kindergarten kids learning how to behave in a museum.  My French isn’t that good, but nonetheless I could recognize what was going on through vocal tones, body language, and what I could pick up.  The children were encouraged to sit down around a docent, who then explained that this is how you sit, this is how you listen, and then went on to talk about the art (Monet and Cezanne).  It was the mirror image of an older group I’d seen the day before in the Cluny, a group of middle school-aged kids who sat on the floor around a docent explaining a particular aspect of medieval life (and I noticed texting, whispering, and other behavior I’d see in one of my student groups.  Hormones are universal.  But it was less and attention was more focused).

In Notre Dame, I observed one frazzled teacher pulling a group of somewhat hyper middle schoolers together to quietly scold them for behavior.  Again, I didn’t pick up all the words but boy did I recognize both kid behavior and adult behavior.

Same for the Orsay and the Louvre.

Now it would be surprising NOT to see this sort of teaching going on in a city with the resources Paris has available.  What I did find interesting was that a majority of the groups I observed were middle school aged.  Whether that was simply a function of observation as a middle school teacher myself, or whether that represents a specific focus, I’m not certain.  It does make a lot of sense to me because I do believe a lot of middle school learning would be improved by hands-on exposure to visual inputs, and trust me, there’s more than just art which can be learned from these visits to Parisian museums.  There’s a significant degree of European history that can be learned.  In the case of the Louvre, there’s exposure to antiquities from Greece, Egypt, and Rome (and those are just the pieces I saw).  There’s hands-on, everyday exposure to architecture that I know I only got from pictures (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian for classical exposures).

Most priceless was the group of middle-to-high school kids I saw settling in for lunch at a bistro.  I know I would have moved heaven and earth to have the same experience at that age.

I wonder how many other kids I know have that same secret thirst.

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Everyday life in Paris

One of the quiet joys of renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel in Paris is the ability to be immersed in a neighborhood, as well as being able to control things such as food, washing, and other small comforts.  Our apartment on rue Herald was much quieter and significantly more comfortable than any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.  While our refrigerator was the size of a hotel refrigerator (albeit with better freezer), we had a stove top and oven setup which meant we didn’t have to eat out.

Meanwhile, we shopped at the neighborhood markets.  Not even necessarily the fruit/veggie markets as well as boulangeries (off limits for me and DS because of wheat allergies) but the little neighborhood general markets had small meat and veggie departments.  And Beaujolais.  We settled on this little market at one end of our street after several trials at other neighborhood markets:






We bought meat and other staples here just about every other day.

Most of the time we ate two meals in the apartment, and one time we actually ate all three meals in.  We still had the Paris food experience because OMG, the bacon.  Actually, OMG, the meat.  Even wrapped in plastic in a little supermarket instead of directly from the butcher, it was wonderful.

Our approach to the Louvre was that there was no way we could see it all, so we weren’t even going to try.  We went on Wednesday afternoon, to short lines.  Went back to the apartment, ate dinner, then went back (Wednesday the Louvre is open late).  What I noticed was that Wednesday night was clearly a locals night, with much fewer tourists and more art students as well as Parisians themselves avoiding the tourist hordes.

Yes, we did see the Mona Lisa.







I suspect the lady in the painting is prettier than the flesh-and-blood lady.  Plus I was tired so the smile wasn’t particularly enigmatic, anyway.

But the other things I took away from the Louvre was an understanding of some  European visual themes that a girl raised in backwoods North America wouldn’t necessarily understand.  Heck, that’s what I brought away from Paris in general.

We did a lot of walking and used various forms of transit.  The Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, which was quite comfortable.  We had reserved seats but had to roust one person out of one of our seats.  He moved, and we soon noted the phenomenon continuing with other folks in our particular compartment.

Around Paris, we tended to prefer the RER trains over the Metro itself, but also used the Metro.  We also used the Batobus (water taxi).  But, mostly, we walked.  The Louvre was less than ten minutes away, so that was a walk.

The view from our window was directly into the back office of a bank.  I suspect from the big piles of files that it might have been the litigation department.  Nonetheless, they were quiet and we were quiet.  There was some sort of gallery opening down the street on Thursday night that had an actual Red Carpet rolled out, bouncers, and all sorts of clearly Beautiful People thronging to get in (look, when you look out the window and see a Full.  Length.  Sable.  Fur.  Coat, that makes it a crowd of the 1% in my book).  I’m not sure what the place was, because except for that evening, it was mostly about young children coming and going.  If I get time I’ll Google it.

But most of the time, this is what it was like:



Just another quiet little street with some shops and apartments.


I’ll try to write a bit more about Paris over the next week.  It all depends on how crazy work is.  Overall, it was a very thoughtful and pleasant time.

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