Sight-seeing in the Paris Métro

Life below the streets of Paris is almost as fascinating as it is above, as evidenced by the Arts et Métiers Métro station (pictured above) which resembles a glistening copper cauldron. After purchasing a card loaded with ten trips (a carnet) and a quick tap and go at the turnstile on Paris public transit, I descended into the massive complex of tunnels and underground walkways.

Stand warned, though. Very few Paris subway stations have escalators so be prepared to climb endless stairs and walk miles in underground corridors. They have mastered the art of getting around the city underground, but if you’re not in shape before, you will be after. If you have a heavy suitcase you would be advised to take a taxi instead.

Be prepared for plenty of stair-climbing and walking in the Paris Métro as escalators are scarce. Wear comfortable shoes.

The Paris Métro system opened in 1900 and was expanded over the decades so it now boasts 308 stations, 64 of which are transfer stations. The designers cleverly planned each stop/station to be no more than a 500-metre walk from the next station. From my hotel on Blvd. Voltaire, I could walk to at least three stations in less than ten minutes, with one just a couple of hundred yards from the door of the hotel. Now that’s a subway system. Are you paying attention Toronto? We can’t even get a subway to Mississauga.

The Paris Métro system is something Toronto can only aspire to when the politicians agree to put their territorial interests aside. It’s only when we can get around this easily and cheaply that we’ll finally park our cars for good. The Paris Métro, like the London Underground, services the airport, unlike our single-use and expensive diesel Union-Pearson line.

Enough facts and figures, it’s what goes on in the Paris Métro that I want to tell you a bit more about. Fares are cheap and navigating the system is easy, especially if you have Google to help plan your route. Even without Google, a print map will get you around without any trouble. Each of the subway lines is colour coded, numbered, and well-signed.

One of the most visually appealing stations I saw was the Louvre-Rivoli, but many others like Bastille, Concorde and so many others are equally fascinating. Just like the institution for which it was named, Louvre-Rivoli is illuminated in subdued museum-like lighting with genuine pieces of art displayed in recesses in the wall. Abandoned stations have been repurposed as restaurants, swimming pools and parks. Some of the newer, renovated stations have security gates on the platform so you’re not tempted to off yourself and jump onto the tracks before the trains have come to a full stop in the station.

Opposite the works of art in the Louvre-Rivoli station, the security gates prohibit anyone who might be having a bad day from pushing you onto the tracks.

Some of the Métro stations even have toilet facilities at the platform level. I was rather surprised one day to witness a waiting passenger make use of the cubicle without shutting the door. Fortunately, he was male, was not modest, and had his back to the rest of us waiting on the platform for the next train. The adventures abound.

Overhead digital signage also advises exactly how many minutes we have to wait for the next train so I often used that time to take a load off my feet and sit down in one of the seats provided on the platform. People-watching is a fascinating past-time on the Paris Métro.

Here are a few pictures of interesting people I caught on my travels underground.

Two of the three sirens are sitting on the bench and are hard to spot in this picture as I was trying to be discreet about taking their picture.

This picture is a bit blurry because I was trying to be discreet about photographing three women I remember as The Three Sirens. They were women of a certain age and each one was wearing a bizarre, obviously fake wig. I didn’t want to embarrass them by staring but they were a fascinating trio. Who were they and where were they going? What are their everyday lives like? So many questions. Such fascinating characters.

Hauling strollers and children on the Métro is a challenge at the best of times because it’s difficult to always get a seat and, of course, there’s the issue of all those stairs and few escalators. But two couples with a total of five children were bravely forging ahead for a day at the park or perhaps doing some sightseeing of their own.

This mother struck me as particularly resourceful. Notice the three pairs of sunglass she has looped in the neck of her tee-shirt—two children’s pairs and one adult pair.

Look closely at the black lace side slit in her skirt and the heavy black boots in June. Is she a “working girl” or simply a trendy and fashionable young woman going to work?

Some of the Métro’s art deco stations have been preserved and add immense glamour to the process of entering the underworld. This one at Palais Royale was a work of art in itself. In the square above the station, people were dancing outside in the sunshine to a live band. Somehow I could not imagine such a scene at Yonge and Eglinton station in Toronto although Dundas Square is a possibility.

The glass-baubled entrance to the Palais Royale Métro station tempts those descending the stairs as to what waits beneath. People are dancing to a live band in Place Collette to the left of the entrance.
Many beautiful art nouveau Métro stations built more than one hundred years ago have been preserved and are still in use today.

While I was in Paris I wanted to make every second of my visit count so even trips on the Métro were treated as opportunities for adventure. A clear indication that this old boomer is, well, rather old, more than once someone offered me their seat on the Métro which I gratefully accepted, even returning the favour a few times when I encountered an even older person or young mother in need of a seat. Everyone was surprisingly polite.I’ll be posting a piece on my Parisian street-walking adventures very soon as well as my own take on French fashion and the tastes of Paris, so stay tuned for more of my Notes from A Broad.
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments