Operation Undercover in Paris : Learn to Walk (Feet are It)

PARIS (Herald de Paris) – Being a Parisian gives you access to many means of transportation. The ease with which you can move around is one of the definite perks of living in a capital city. Well, that, and the incredible number of sex shops – but I digress.

Photo by me.

Let’s give you a bit of a geographical idea of the transportation web in France. For long distance, we’re going to use Marseille, city of the sun, far down on the Mediterranean coast. They deserve to be taken as an example, since they have just won a soccer cup, in which everyone seems to take a lot of pride. Good for them…

Let’s say I take the plane: I can be in Marseille in under 2 hours. Jumping in a train, I would reach Marseille in 4 hours. By car, 8 hours approximately. Well, if I don’t need to pee and I don’t respect the limitations – but you get the idea. By bicycle, I’d probably need a few days. And by foot, over a week.

I’m in a hurry, so I’ll take the plane. But a volcanic problem with a barbaric name threatens to get me stuck in the airport which is never a fun thing. Don’t make me write the name of that Icelandic volcano. And I’m a tad angry because I took my plane ticket with a low coast company, and they don’t do refunds. That gives a whole new meaning to the expression, “Money gone up in smoke.”

I’m giving up on the plane and I’ll try to catch a train. But there’s a problem. Something is rotten in the state of France, and it’s called, “Public service.”  Trains are operated by la SNCF, an EPIC, which is roughly semi public service. Long story short: they’re on strike. Yes, la SNCF is so mindful of your comfort that the labor unions refused to interrupt their two weeks’ strike – even though no plane could fly and it happened during the two days when the entire French population was going on the Riviera for their Easter holidays.

I’m not an expert on “public service” but that kind of situation implies that if I do succeed in taking a train, and that is not a given as strikes make people rabid, then what should take 4 hours will really take 7 to 8 hours.

At that point, it would be simpler to just ride my car. But actually, that could be problematic as well, since yesterday I looked for a parking spot for 45 minutes before finding one that was just a tiny bit illegal. I parked at midnight and when I went for my car at 6 am, it had been towed. I raise my hat to the hardworking public service officer who did that obviously in the middle of the night. They are a strange breed when you think about it. While some refuse to work, others are readily fining you 24/7.

And too bad for me; I really, really need to go to Marseille, and I don’t own a bike. I could take one of the Vélib’ (the free bicycles just lying around all over Paris), but I’m not so sure I’m allowed to go beyond Paris with those. And a Vélib’ is about 11lbs heavier than a classical bike. I already have my own weight to carry; I don’t fancy consciously adding any.

I’ll walk. It’ll be long and hard, but it’ll be both cheap and ecologically-conscious. Hence, it will be fashionable. I hereby declare walking as the “it transportation”, and welcome you into the Middle Ages. Next step shall be “Swimming (around the oil spills): the new overseas trip”.

Journaliste Marine Vidal lives, works, and walks all over Paris.

OPERATION UNDERCOVER IN PARIS: The complete series on how to travel to Paris and not be “outed” as another annoying American


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