Today brought our first proper excursion, and perhaps our most daunting: Le Louvre.
We managed to wake up prior to nine (local), although for me this involved a few hours of a.m. restlessness. We ate a brief breakfast from our assembled groceries (Elise, cereal. Me, fresh bread with strawberry preserves and six month gouda), and bundled heavily against the dreary weather that will be following us for the remainder of our trip.
The jaunt to Louvre involved our first interaction with the Paris Metro. We had already scoped out our three neighborhood stops, all on the 11 line, which we could take almost all the way to the Louvre. To give you a sense of the scope, the statistic goes that every building in the city is within 400 metres of a Metro stop.
The Paris underground feels roughly equivalent to New York, though I don’t find it nearly as overwhelming as NYC (or London, from our brief excursion). For Philly folks, in practice it felt like a triple-sized version of SEPTA’s Regional Rails, especially because each stop has its own name and specific identity. You can form your own opinion by playing with RAPT’s fascinating interactive map.
Despite studying the site in French and English prior to our departure we were absolutely stymied by their ticket machines – and they actually speak English! They wouldn’t take our American credit cards or any bills, which severely limited our purchase options. We settled for one-way tickets, as that was all we afford without hunting down a change machine (I though I had found one, but it was actually a condom dispenser, which are ubiquitous in the Metro stations).
Print nerd alert: Stations are plastered with huge advertisements in three primary sizes – the oversized European movie posters, long station cards that are effectively mini-billboards, and massive square sheets (4 metres square?) mounted on the curved walls of the platforms. Not only are all of them bigger than what I’m used to, but they conform to a much higher design standard – especially the super-sized ones. There was more pedestrian graphic design to be seen on the actual trains, but I think the larger pieces must go through an approve process on the RAPT side of things, because they were universally pretty impressive.
(I wasn’t keen on whipping out my camera at the local stop, but I’ll endeavor to snap some photos at some point before we depart.)
The trains themselves are petite compared to Philly or NYC subways – head on they give the appearance of being a sort of trolley. The interiors of the ones we rode were universally marked in graffiti, as is much of the north side of the city. Seats are relatively tiny compared to the El, maybe owing to the specific lack of obese people here (more on that later). Curiously, the seats adjacent to the doors snap down to be used when volume is lighter, but passengers are expected to abandon them when its crowded. Amazingly, people actually did this with regularity – even younger, punkish kids.
We passed a fascinating stop – Arts et Metiers – that was sans advertisements, and was dressed rather like a Jules Vern submarine. We’ll have to investigate that more at length on our next jaunt. Our line terminated at Chatelet, where we wandered through a maze of catacomb-like tunnels – passing a phenomenal classical guitarist and a full-scale acoustic band with an upright bass and accordion singing standards in four-part harmony.
The maze was well labeled (way better than the mess at Philly City Hall, which is shamed by comparison), and without much consternation we boarded another train, which deposited us just outside the outer walls of the Louvre.
With that I think I’ll break for a hunk of cheese, and maybe to swipe a few photos out of our 300+ to illustrate the next few posts.