These are some things that struck me while in Paris last week. They’re not necessarily profound, but just some observations of a first-time visitor.
1. Subway maps are universal and require no translation. Having been to Washington, D. C. and New York a few times, and having visited the Netherlands and London last year, my visit to Paris has convinced me that there is really only one way to do a subway map.
The labels on the stations will be in different languages, but the basic scheme is always the same. So even if you don’t speak a bit of the language, you can just watch the signs at the subway or train stops and determine whether the stop you’re arriving at was what you were expecting. I got on a train one going the wrong way on Wednesday, but it was simple to just hop off and head back in the other direction. And speaking of subways…
2. You need to open the doors manually on the Parisian subways. Unlike every other city I’ve visited, the doors don’t open automatically at each stop. There’s a lever to flip or a button to push. I think I only saw one train with automatic doors in three days.
3. Live musical entertainment on the subway is a regular occurrence. Usually it’s a guy with an accordion, with or without an amplifier. These guys jump on the train, say something in French, and start playing. The first one I saw was accompanied by a tambourine-toting young lady, who circulated the car during the third song with a cup for donations. Other accordionists worked alone.
I also saw a bigger band of musicians that had set up in one of the metro stations, and on Friday night a saxophone player surprised us on the #12 to Mairie D’Issy with a medley that ended with a Stevie Wonder number. Here are some samples:
4. I saw the coolest orange juice squeezer at the hotel. Here’s some video of it:
My friend Lucien (@Zorg20) tells me these are really common in Europe. But he says most of the time they don’t let customers do the squeezing. This was an invention worthy of Caractacus Potts, from one of my favorite movies of all time.
5. Speaking of movies, I watched Invictus on the return flight. What an inspiring film! The critics say it’s accurate. Highly recommended.
6. The Louvre is immense, but the Mona Lisa is really small. It was neat to see the Mona Lisa, but you can’t get very close, and it’s behind a glass case. Which means that instead of seeing the painting you mainly see the reflection of the crowd.
7. The Eiffel Tower in Paris isn’t just twice as big as the one in Las Vegas. It’s way more than twice as cool. It was a little unnerving being met by three soldiers in berets with automatic weapons drawn as I came to the back side of the tower, but it is quite an amazing structure.
8. The Arc de Triomphe seems like the Washington Monument in that it took a while to complete. Napoleon got it started in 1806, but it wasn’t finished until 1836. At least that’s what Wikipedia says, so it has to be true, right?
9. The Cathedral of Notre Dame also was amazing. I think creating the wooden miniature model would have been difficult enough. I can’t imagine the complexity of the full-scale construction of marble.
Here’s video of my whirlwind tour of Paris landmarks:
As I said, these aren’t particularly profound observations and they aren’t exhaustive, but they give a bit of practical Parisian flavor. You can see some of my photos from the trip on Facebook.