London and Paris 2001

Yes I still went....
So when I heard a plane overhead tonight, it was wrong. Turns out they were military jets circling around, securing the airspace. Just heard an unusually loud one, and I flinched; what had been an ordinary sound, an ordinary annoyance, was now a dire portent. Is this the future? Fearing the sound of every jet? 

HELL no. I am not going to live in fear. They want my freedom, my peace of mind? Come and get it. 
I won't do your work for you. 
--James Lileks

I was able to find cybercafes where I could write this trip report, as I was taking the trip. The original weblog format has been retained, although I have placed the entries in chronological order and added pictures. Beware of heavy public transport enthusiast content, though I wrote about museums and restaurants too.

Saturday, September 29, 2001 --Waiting at LAX
Due to the increased security requirements, I was dropped off at LAX, at the "Passenger Drop-Off area" (a former car rental lot). Soon, a car rental company shuttle came and picked us up.

The LAX terminal loop, which is usually clogged with cars dropping off and picking up passengers, was eerily quiet except for the shuttle buses and the occasional taxi. I deboarded at Tom Bradley International Terminal, and checked in at the British Airways terminal. (There was a line, but I got through it in about 15-minutes).

Next, security. It didn't see too different, except the guards were more likely to use the metal detector wand on everybody. But no problem, just keeping everything safe.

I found out something about the International Terminal: although there are plenty of stores and restaurants landside, once you get past security, there is nothing but some rather bare looking waiting rooms at each gate, a tiny little newstand, and a tiny
little bar selling little else than alcohol and $6 hot dogs....

Finally it was time to board the British Airways 747. As we walked down the jetway, additional airport security staff, under the supervision of LAPD officers, were randomly asking people to step aside for another wanding and a pat-down search. Guess who got chosen...

Saturday, September 29, 2001 --The Flight
Although the seats in "World Traveller Class" (read: coach) were as close together as on any US-based airline, we did have video at each seat. (Some of the movies, however, were removed because the airline thought that they might not be appropriate in light of current events...)

The video system also had a map display that told one where the plane was, its speed, altitude, and miles/km traveled. We took a looping path from LA over Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Rock Springs, WY, then continuing over Canada, Greenland, Ireland and Scotland before landing in London (Heathrow).

Also the food was pretty good; a shrimp appetizer, chicken or pasta, and a custard tart for dinner; yogurt and fruit for breakfast. (Yes we were given plastic knives at dinnertime, in case anyone was wondering).

Sleep was the best that could be expected in the coach section. However, I guess I got enough rest. I didn't even feel any jet lag effects!

Before we could land, we were stuck in a holding pattern; due to change in wind direction, another runway had to be cleared and used. The map showed us travelling as far east as Greenwich, before returning to Heathrow.

Then there were the usual delays of taxiing to the gate, waiting for everyone else to get off the plane, and baggage claim. However immigration (passport control) was a breeze, and customs was almost nonexistent (just walk through the "Nothing to declare line"

Saturday, September 29, 2001 --Day 1 in the City
Alright, time to hit the street. Although there are many ways to get to Central London from Heathrow, I chose the Airbus service (a double decker bus that cost about £8 (roughly $11) Not the cheapest way (tube would have been only £3.60, or $5) but unlike the "Underground", I could get a good look at what I was riding through.

The Airbus (also known as A2) took about 20 minutes to serve all the passenger terminals in that maze called Heathrow Airport. By the time we left the airport, the bus was about 2/3 full. We travelled on the M4 motorway, then on surface streets (primarily Bayswater Rd), stopping at hotels and major tube stops along the way.

I got off at Marble Arch, where I *thought* my hotel would be a simple bus ride away....little did I know.

OK, I'll skip the part of the agressive female Kosovite panhandlers that would follow you for blocks until one threatened to call the police. (Fortunately, I only saw two so far) I also got in such a dither that I almost lost my suitcase (bad idea in a place like London. Really!) But I got myself together, and caught the #6 bus to Maida Vale, where Expedia told me my hotel was.

About the buses: Although the new one-man-operated buses are becoming more prevalent, the old traditional "Routemaster" is still very much in evidence. Get on at the open back platform, pay the conductor when she comes to you (or show a Travelcard, a day pass that costs £4 or $5.60--probably a better deal if you ride a lot). and enjoy the ride.

#6 let me off in a pleasant, quiet neighborhood with a few small shops and restaurants (near Randolph Rd and Covent Garden). Again, I thought my hotel was here, but it turned out that the Expedia map was wrong. (The map has now been corrected). Worse yet, it started to rain, and I nearly got soaked. I dug out my (now rain smeared) maps and called the hotel. 

It was in another part of town. Harsh!

Well, not much to do then get back on the #6 going back to Marble Arch, then change to a #94 to Queensway. (Another good reason to  have a Travelcard--unlike bus transit systems in US and Canada, there are no free transfers between buses).

Oh, and by the way, the polite British queue at bus stops seems to have gone by the wayside, at least from what I saw today...people just crowded on. Jumping on or off a moving bus is common, as is walking against the traffic light. (But don't do either)

So I got off at Queensway, walked up the street (lots of shops, stores and restaurants) toward my hotel. The hotel (Comfort Inn Bayswater) was located in another quiet neighborhood called Princes Square. I checked in and got settled. (Interesting note: I flushed the toilet and only saw a trickle of water. Upon calling the front desk, I learned that I had to depress the handle about three times, much like priming a pump. You learn something new every day...)

I called home from a red British Telecom phone booth, to avoid the high hotel add-on charges. It's actually surprisingly easy to make international calls, with just coins. A £1 coin (the smallest bill is £5) will give you 100 seconds to Los Angeles, just enough to let everyone know that everything went fine.

After a quick Middle Eastern dinner, I found a cybercafe, and started writing this trip report...I walked around Queensway a bit before turning in. 

Sunday, September 30, 2001 --Last night's trip--getting used to the Underground
After I left the Internet cafe, I rode the #94 bus along Bayswater Road/Oxford St to Oxford Circus. From there, I took a short ride on the Underground to Charing Cross, near Tralfalgar Square.

The ride was decent, if a bit bumpy. (remember that this is the oldest of any of these systems in the world). The cars were pretty decent, if a bit strange looking (rounded top ends that exactly fit the tunnel). But they had nicely upholstered seating, and were relatively free of grafitti and other such nonsense.

It was quite dark when I got to Tralfalgar Square. There had been a political demonstration there earlier in the day, but that was long gone. So I just walked around a bit, then looked for a bus stop so I could ride the #12 bus back to Queensway...

It took me a while, as each route number has an assigned stop at Tralfalgar Square. And, when I finally found the correct stop, it turned out that it had been moved several feet. That bus stop was absolutely choked with parked cars, and it took several tries to get a bus to stop there. 

The #12 ran by Piccadilly Square (full of electronic ads, like Times Square in New York, but somewhat less intimidating), and back through Oxford Circus and on to my stop at Queensway.

In general, the buses seemed well used. All had the conductor (except the #53, which was one-person operated). The one-person-operated buses have a bit more problems with grafitti (window scratching mostly), especially on the upper deck...

Sunday, September 30, 2001 --Minding the Gap
There is a used computer store in a part of town called "Shepherd's Bush" that I was interested in. So, I started off with a trip on the District (or was it the Circle) Line from Bayswater to Notting Hill Gate, then changed to the Central Line and got off at Shepherd's Bush.

More about the "Underground"...most of it is underground, although a few places the trains run in an open cut. Stations, especially interchange stations, can be a twisty maze of passages, all of which look alike, and lots of stairs (one station had a warning sign "This staircase has 70 stairs. Use in emergency only". But most stations have at least escalators, and a few have elevators (lifts). Generally, stations are clean and kept up, save for a few bits of peeling paint here and there. There are even vending machines on the platforms, and there don't seem to be any rules about eating and drinking on the Underground (one sign discouraged the consumption of "smelly" food, though).

Well, I walked down Shepherd's Bush Road to the computer store, which wasn't open, so I walked further down to Hammersmith. This is a large shopping area, with even a small American-style mall (Kings Mall) as well as on-street stores. I had lunch at a sandwich chain called "Benjy's" (all over London), then walked back up to the computer store. The store now had a sign saying "Back in 20 minutes". I waited 30 minutes, but no-one showed up, so I then caught the #72 bus (it could have been #220, 283 or 295, my memory is a bit hazy) back to Shepherd's Bush station, and rode the Underground back to Bayswater.

Whatever number it was, this was a small, single deck bus with a low floor (London is starting to purchase these for handicap accessibility. There are low floor double deckers as well)

Sunday, September 30, 2001 --One Elephant and Castle, coming up.
The plan was to visit the Science Museum on this rainy Sunday. But as it turns out....

I started by walking down Inverness Terrace, a quiet residential street to Bayswater Rd, then walked through the Kensington Gardens. There weren't too many people out, just a few die-hard joggers and dog -walkers. But it was a nice, quiet, relaxing walk through the park.

I planned to walk down to Kensington Rd, near where the museums are, but I got sidetracked and ended up at Bayswater Rd again. So, I waited for a bus (#12 or #94 would do), and rode to Marble Arch again.

At Marble Arch, Bayswater Rd changes its name to Oxford Street. I had not noticed earlier, but Oxford St is limited to buses, bikes and taxis. (Just like State St. in Chicago about a decade or so ago). 

I walked over to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, to get a taste of what democracy was like before talk(back) radio and the Internet...there were about five speakers, sitting on ladders, with a crowd around each--either shouting in support or heckling. There were a couple of religious preachers and a few wanna-be politicians...all trying to "save the world" in their own way, I guess...

By now, it was 4 pm, a little late to enjoy a good museum session. So instead I boarded a #16 bus and rode it to Victoria Station. On the upper deck, I chatted with a young couple from the Czech Republic; they were in the front seat, videotaping through the front window.

I got off at the end of the line at Victoria Station. There is the "Victoria Bus Station" where the red city buses stop, the "Victoria Rail Station" for trains and the Underground, and the "Victoria Coach Station" for long distance buses (National Express, Britain's answer to Greyhound)

The rail station was huge and full of shops. The coach station was a little more cramped. Both places had signs warning passengers of thieves, pickpockets, con artists, etc. But the only untoward things I saw was a bum sleeping in a corridor of the rail station. 

I went to the Underground station to catch a train to Paddington. Printed on the platform, and barked out by a recorded voice, was that famous phrase, "MIND THE GAP"! I caught a District line train and got off at Paddington. 

Paddington was also a good-sized train station, with shops (although more of them seemed to be closed on Sundays). Paddington Station is served by at least two Underground stations: the one across the street served by the District and Circle Lines, and another served by the Hammersmith & City and Bakerloo lines. Accessing the second station involves walking past all the long distance train platforms.

I caught the Hammersmith & City line and rode it to Moorgate Station. Moorgate is in a business district just north of the London Bridge. Today being Sunday, it was very quiet. Too quiet. I located a southbound bus stop (remember, they use the "wrong" side of the road here!) and rode it across London Bridge all the way to Elephant and Castle.

(So far, I had not run into any other Americans, but I have seen tourists from other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. I guess this is *their* tourist season?)

Ok, for those out there wondering, there's no elephant and there's no castle at Elephant and Castle. It's just a neighborhood, named after a  bar that has been standing there since the 1800's. There's also a traffic circle full of cars and buses that can only be negotiated (by pedestrians) using what the British call a "subway" (underground pedestrian path)

The subway seemed to be clean enough, with only a couple of placid panhandlers asking for spare change, but no trouble. I found the underground station and rode the train back to Piccadilly Circus, just to get a closer look and a few pictures. It was starting to get too dark for pictures so I walked up Regent St (another tony
neighborhood full of high fashion clothing shops and expensive restaurants) to Oxford Circus, then caught a very full #94 (the conductor was running upstairs and downstairs all the time to collect all the fares) back to Queensway, for dinner at another Middle Eastern Restaurant (I did not give in to McD's on this trip, even if they *do* have a McChicken Tikka Wrap(!) and this Internet Cafe session (whatta deal, one hour for £1/$1.50)

Monday, October 1, 2001 --London by bus, tube, train and tram
Today, after discovering how the Royal Mail works (40p or 60-cents for a postcard back to the US), I set off to try to do some *real* sight-seeing for today.

First stop, the Science Museum. From Queensway/Bayswater, I rode the #70 bus thru Kensington, and got off at Queensway. (The bus was another of those single-decker, low floor models). On my way to the Museum, I walked by the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Organists building, and through the Imperial College campus.

(There was a lot of scaffolding up, as some of these buildings were undergoing remodeling. But that seems to be true all over London at this time, as many buildings date back from the 1800's...and earlier)

The Science can I describe it. Displays on technology in the modern world, gas, diesel and steam engines, different types of lighting, chemical and nuclear science, early computers and such...I spent two hours in there and didn't see everything. (The medical and veternary stuff will have to wait until next trip).

Next stop, Buckingham Palace. From the museum, I walked down a dimly lit subway (remember, in England a "subway" is an underground walkway, not a transit system) to the Underground station at South Kensington. From there, I caught the Picadilly Line to Green Park, and walked along the "Queens Walk" to Buckingham Palace. As you can expect, there were tourists from all over the world, snapping pictures. I took my share...Yes, the guards in the red coats and fuzzy hats were there, putting on a show for us. Of course there were a few "real" cops around as well.

From the palace, I walked down to Victoria St. in preparation for my next bus. Before riding off, though, I visited the Westminster City Hall, which had a small branch library in it. (The library arranged its books rather oddly: instead of using a pure Dewey Decimal order, it had three letter codes for each subject--"COM" for computers or "TRA" for travel, and arranged the books by code order. Strange....)

Next, I took Bus #24 to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. I did hear the bell, although it can be hard to hear over traffic sometimes. Lunch was fish and chips in the nearby Methodist church cafeteria...not exactly gourmet, but filling. I spent a little more time trying to get a good picture of Big Ben and a red bus, so I could have it and say, "I've been to London".

Onward. I took Bus #11 to the Strand/Aldwych, and searched around for awhile for the London Transport Museum . It took me awhile to find it (the bus map is not particularly accurate). It was three blocks away, in a pedestrian plaza called "Covent Garden".

The museum was worth the search. Loaded with historical buses, trains, and even a display of "London Transport in the Future". (Maglev and flying cars get a mention, but the main point of the exhibit is  alternatives to private autos). There was a gift shop and I bought  a few things, although some prices seemed high (£3.99--$6 for a refrigerator magnet the same size that (Los Angeles) MTA gives us for free?)

Now for some heavy duty transit geekery. I walked across the Waterloo Bridge and into Waterloo Train Station (This is where I caught the Eurostar to Paris on Wednesday). Again, this invoved a walk through a subway, with a couple of sleeping bums and a sax-playing busker (street musician). I tossed the busker about 20p (30-cents) telling him that I'll pay buskers, but not panhandlers.

Waterloo was the typical big city train station, like Victoria, Paddington, etc. (All these places are about as busy as Penn Station in New York, with commuters, long distance travellers, etc.) I noticed that Eurostar had adopted "until further notice" some of the same restrictions on carry-on baggage that the airlines have (no knives, etc.)...

I walked to the Underground station (another rat-maze, although this one was new and clean) to the newest Underground line--the Jubilee Line. This route even has a second set of doors on the platform that only open when a train has stopped there. 

The first eastbound Jubilee Line was packed (it was about 4:30 pm, start of rush hour), so I waited about 3-minutes for the next one, which was a bit less packed. The ride was the smoothest of any rail system I've been on so far. I could have rode it all day, it was so good, but I did want to get some Docklands Light Rail riding in before it got too late.

So I got off the Jubilee at Bank, and walked downstairs to the DLR platforms. (DLR isn't really "light rail" as we know it...think of it more like the Staten Island Rapid Transit--without drivers). The route is mostly elevated, with tunnels in a few places; there are no grade crossings (since there is a third rail, that's probably a good thing!)

I took a Lewisham-bound train (There are several DLR routes that go other places in East London as well). The line travels through an ex-industrial area that is slowly becoming developed with skyscrapers, etc. But here and there exist a few run-down neigborhoods. I got off the end of the line at Lewisham. The combined DLR/train/bus terminal was a rather run-down place loaded with security cameras. But the staff was helpful, adnd there was even a little snack shop there.

Since the Underground doesn't really cover South London (i.e. south of the Thames) particularly well, conventional trains fill in. These are single-level, 8-10 car electric commuter trains. Inside, there is 3+2 seating, like the New Jersey Transit commuter trains. However the routes of London's commuter train network are much more complex than Chicago's Metra, or anything running out of New York. A timetable is a must-have. These trains generally run every 30-minutes offpeak and night, 15-minutes or better during peak hours. For trips within the zones served by the Travelcard, the same Travelcards that are used for the bus and the Underground are valid on these trains. There are supposed to be occasional fare inspections (with penalty fares of £5--about $7.50), for people without the proper ticket. But no one inspected us on this trip. Again, this was a commuter-type operation for the most part, with the train dropping off more passengers than it picked up.

I rode a Connex train between Lewisham and Elmers End; the ride took about 20-minutes. The stations are simple affairs, much like those on Metrolink, Metra, etc. in the U.S. They're not very handicapped accessible, though (lots of stairs on footbridges crossing tracks).

At Elmers End, I caught the Croydon Tram headed to Wimbledon. There are three tram routes in Croydon (a city south of London). The trams are more like what would be called "light rail" in the U.S. (L.A. Metro Blue Line, San Diego Trolley, Portland Max, etc). In some places they have their own right-of-way (abandoned railroad line); elsewhere they run in the street, either in exclusive lanes or in mixed traffic. In downtown Croydon, the tram operator had to get out and turn a switch manually for some reason--that probably isn't usual. At this time of day (about 7 p.m.) ridership was heaviest on trips leaving Croydon. There was a fare inspection somewhere between Downtown Croydon and Wimbledon; someone (Not me!) almost was asked to leave the train before he finally dug out his ticket!

The entire ride between Elmer's End and Wimbledon took about 45-minutes.

At Wimbledon station, I grabbed a quick bite before hopping on the District Line (Underground). This particular "Underground" line is actually open-cut or even elevated for much of its route south of Earl's Court station (Fulham Broadway is underground--think BART through Berkeley!) I got off at Bayswater Station and headed for the internet cafe to write this up.

Whoo-hoo. And to think all this could be done with a £4.30 ($7) Travelcard (day pass)...

Tuesday, October 2, 2001 --Onward to Oxford
Today I got up and walked through the rain soaked streets to Nottinghill Gate. This was the nearest and most convenient stop for the bus to Oxford.

Actually, I had a choice of two services. "Oxford Tube" (Stagecoach) which runs big German double-deckers between the two cities and "London-Oxford Express" (Go-Ahead) which runs single level coaches. Stops vary a small amount, but both companies run along the Bayswater Road Corridor, then run express to Oxford via the M40 motorway. They both run very frequently (how about every 12-15 minutes throughout the day), and cost £8 ($12) round trip; a variety of multiple ride passes are available too. However, in looking at buses going by, there didn't seem to be a lot of people on each bus (about 10-12 most of the time)--is there such a thing as *too much service* ???

Well, the "Oxford Tube" bus pulled up to the stop, and I and two or three more got on. The bus made stops at Shepherd's Bush (near the Hilton Hotel there), and a place just outside of London called Hillingdon. Because of the weather, and perhaps other factors, there was a lot of traffic, and we ended up getting to Oxford about 30-minutes late.

A side note: the M40 is what we would call a freeway only just outside of the general London suburbs. Otherwise, it's a divided highway with a few flyovers and underpasses in certain places. Sometimes, there are houses fronting right on the M40!

One person boarded at Lewknor, a lonely bus stop out in the middle of nowhere. Then we continued to Oxford. As we got close to the city, we changed to the two-lane A40, and we were stuck in another traffic jam for a while. But then things loosened up, and soon we were headed into Headington, a suburb(?) of Oxford.

Eventually we arrived in Oxford, and I got off, walked around the colleges (note to people used to visiting USC or the UC's, using their libraries, etc--most of the buildings on Oxford University are *closed* to the public, except for special tours and such. But it was still fun to look at all those old buildings, and bask in the rich history...)

After that, I did a little shopping (there are lots of street shops, and even a small mall, in Downtown Oxford). Part of the main street is blocked off to private vehicles, so cars have to turn around at some point. This can lead to traffic problems.

Buses in Oxford: At least three bus companies provide local service in Oxford:

  • Oxford Bus Company (Go-Ahead) which also runs the Oxford-London Express. They also run "Park and Ride", big blue and yellow double-deckers that shuttle passengers to parking lots just outside of town, in order to help keep cars out of the city.
  • Stagecoach (which also operates the "Oxford Tube" service I rode)
  • Arriva: they run green single- and double-deck buses throughout Oxfordshire ("Oxford County" if you will)
  • A number of other minor operators
There is also National Rail service (Just outside of town) as well as a large coach terminal. The coach terminal is often a mess, with buses almost backing into each other.

After doing some shopping and walking around, I went to the coach terminal and boarded the "Oxford Tube" back to London. By this time, the weather had improved considerably and the motorway was free-flowing. On the bus, I chatted with a couple of German tourists about current events.

I got off at Shepherd's Bush and walked down to that computer store I mentioned earlier. This time I was able to go inside and select what I was looking for. I walked back to the Shepherd's Bush main bus stop, took a #94 back to Queensway, and walked back up to my hotel. (Earlier on, I had thought of doing another trip to Cambridge, either from London of from Oxford, but my energy was sapped. I took an hour's rest, then got up and considered my next plan...

Tuesday, October 2, 2001 --In search of the elusive Rotherhithe
About 5 p.m., I decided to do a little more souvenir shopping. My time in London was just about over; tomorrow, I would be on the Eurostar to Paris.

At the Bayswater station, I bought a travelcard and rode the Circle Line train to Notting Hill, then changed to a Central Line train. Now that was my first mistake; I should have walked down to Queensway station and got on the Central Line in the first place...

At Lancaster Gate, we were stuck for about 10 minutes due to a problem with the train ahead of us. Then after we got moving, the train started to really load up, starting at Bond St. station. By the time we got to Tottenham Court Road, it was impossible for any new passengers to get on. I got off at Bank, and transferred to a DLR train to Limehouse. (The neighborhood reminded me of one of those neighborhoods in Chicago that has lots of 'L' and train tracks running above it...)

Why to Limehouse? I was going to try to ride Bus #395, which goes through the Rotherhithe Tunnel under the Thames. (For more details, see Unfortunately, I didn't have a schedule, and by the time I got there, #395 had stopped running for the day. Oh well, maybe next trip...

So I rode the DLR back to Tower Gateway station, walked around that busy neighborhood (it was getting dark then) and grabbed a #15 back through Aldwych, Tralfalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch. Although this particular bus was lightly loaded, the street sure wasn't, especially around the theater districts (Aldwych, and Tralfalgar).

After hopping off to do some shopping, I got back on the #94 and rode back to Queensway.

Wednesday, October 3, 2001 --Eurostar to Paris
I left London at 9 am and took the Central Line from Queensway Station. My original plan was to transfer to the new Jubilee Line in order to get to Waterloo Station for the Eurostar connection. But, for some strange reason (probably related to overcrowding), the Underground wasn't allowing this transfer to be made until 10 am. I could have transferred at Oxford Circus, but it would have probably been a real circus, and a zoo, what with all the lines connecting there. So I rode on to Tottenham Court Rd., and transferred there to the Northern Line.

Not only was the Central Line very crowded (it was, after all, the rush hour commute period) but the transfer to the Jubilee Line, and again to Waterloo International, involved traversing lots of stairs and escalators. Not a lot of fun with a lot of luggage. Next time I might take a cab...not!

The Eurostar terminal at Waterloo was easy to deal with. There was an airline type security checkpoint (x-ray machines, metal detectors, etc.) No biggie. Then we went into a special passengers-only lounge and waited until the train was ready for boarding.

Finally, we boarded the train. The coaches looked slightly better than the old Amfleet equipment (bigger windows) and were comfortable but not out and out luxurious. We left the station around 10:30 and moved out of Southeast England at a decent rate of speed.

The actual tunnel crossing? I imagined it would be like riding BART under the San Francisco Bay. It Was smoother than that. (My ears didn't even pop, as they often do in the BART tunnel!)

Now we were passing through the north of France, which was mostly agricultural, except for a freeway and a few small villages. Because of trackwork, we were delayed a few times. But soon I started seeing the suburban rail stations flash by, and I knew that soon we would be in Paris.

At Gare du Nord, we collected our luggage and walked into the station. First, I needed to visit an ATM. After getting a few notes from the "guichet automatique", I found the RATP ticket window, and, drawing on my four years of high school French, asked for a "carnet" of 10 metro tickets. The tickets cost 61 Francs (about $8, or 80 cents apiece). BTW, "carnet" means "booklet", but these tickets are loose and separate.

I knew that to get to my hotel, I would need to take the RER (Reseau Express Regionale, or Regional Express Network--the suburban commuter trains) to Chatelet-Les Halles, then transfer to the #7 Metro line. So I walked down to the RER platform and watched for a while as RER trains (including some amazing double-decker trains) rolled by...but then I had a strange feeling. Weren't passengers supposed to *do* something with the tickets before boarding the train?

I dragged my luggage back upstairs and asked the RATP staff. They directed me to the "compositeur", or ticket validating machine. It took me a short while to determine exactly how the ticket was to be inserted, but I finally got it to punch my ticket. Now I was ready to roll. 

I boarded the next RER and rode it to Chatelet-Les Halles, which is really three subway stations (RER + 2 metro stations) connected by an octopus-like series of long walkways. Now there weren't too many stairs, there were moving walkways and a few escalators along the way, but they were long.

Finally I found my way to the #7 metro line and boarded it. Luckily it wasn't too full.

Hmm, now that I have more than a few of the world's subways under my belt, how did the Paris Metro compare? The cars were nice and spacious, a bit more so than those of the London Underground. The stations and trains were reasonably clean and for the most part, free of grafitti (not so true about the tunnels, though). As in London, station platforms were equipped with candy and soda vending machines; unlike in London, these actually worked. On the other hand, all the garbage cans were sealed off because of concerns about terrorism (which is hardly a new thing in Paris). So people left trash on top of the sealed can, or occasionally in shallow cardboard box tops left in the stations for this purpose.

Oh yeah. The door closing buzzer sounded just like the end-of-game buzzer at a basketball game! (Or at least that's what it sounded like to me ...)

Anyway, I rode the Metro to Place Monge, got off and, after a bit of fiddling around with the map, found my hotel and checked in. (At least it wasn't the rain-soaked nightmare that my first few hours in London were...)

After getting settled, I wandered around Rue Mouffetard for a little while. The street is about one lane wide, cobblestoned, and sees mostly pedestrian traffic, although cars and motorcycles do drive on part of it. There are lots of little shops and restaurants, and four stories of housing on top of that. Everything takes up very little space (you should have seen my hotel room). Even gas stations are out on the street (the pumps are right on the sidewalk, at the curb). I won't tell you about the condom machine right on the sidewalk....

After practicing my French some more, and buying a Coke, I walked up Place Monge as far as the Seine. The buses running south from Paris were very crowded, as the evening rush hour was well under way at this time. But, I finally caught a southbound #47 that wasn't so full.

Obviously, the seating layout in the bus was designed to accomodate the greatest number of standees possible (2 single rows of seats along the windows, plus a few more in back). There were probably fewer than 25 seats on this 40-foot bus. 

The driver will sell you a ticket if you don't have one, then the ticket must be stamped in a validator right behind the driver. The ticket is good for one ride only; as in London, there are no free or reduced cost transfers. RATP does offer a number of passes, including day passes (Carte Mobilis) and weekly passes (Carte Orange).

Thursday, October 4, 2001 --De l'Arc a l'Arche
Today, after breakfast, I walked up to the Cluny-La Sorbornne Metro station and took the #10 train. Some of the Metro stations are very artistic, and Cluny-La Sorbornne is one of them...

At La Molle, I transferred to the #6. This is one of the lines which uses rubber tired trains; the ride is smooth and quiet. Parts of this line are elevated, which reminded me of the Chicago 'L'.

I got off at Bir-Hakeim station, walked under the bridge and there it was... the Eiffel Tower, in all its fog shrouded glory. I took a few pictures as I crossed the Seine and walked along Bl. New York toward the Place de l'Alma (Diana memorial). 

From there I took Metro #9 and then #6 again to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, where the Arc de Triomphe is located. The arch is in the center of a huge roundabout (rond point), and pedestrians cross via tunnel.

After taking a few pictures of the arch, I walked up Av. Grande Armee, which was crowded with traffic. There were antiques dealers in the streets, it seemed as if every other shop was selling motorcycles and scooters. At Porte Maillot, I took Metro #1 (this train also had tires) to La Défense.

What is La Défense? Well, picture Century City (a skyscraper district in West Los Angeles) without cars. That's right. La Défense is a big business park with some of the wierdest looking skyscrapers that I have ever seen, an IMAX theater, and a very busy mall. I walked around it for about an hour, then went back in the Metro station for the next leg of my trip.

In addition to buses and the Metro, RATP runs two light rail lines, called "tramways". One runs in the suburbs just north of Paris, the other (which I rode) runs along the river along the west side of Paris. 

The ride is similar to the LA MTA's Blue Line, although it is not as fast. But there are nice views of the river Seine, as well as the adjacent railway track. It's also well landscaped in places. The tramway yard is near the end of the line at "Les Molineaux" station.

At the very end of the tramway line, (Issy Val de Seine) I caught RATP Bus #39. This was one of RATP's new low-floor buses, the Renault Agora (All the RATP buses I've seen so far have been Renaults) It has one wheelchair position. It still has only about 25 seats, and passes by a big retirement home, so prepare to stand for at least part of the way....First, we went under Paris' freeway, "La Périphèrique". This facility functions much the same way as Washington DC's "Beltway" -- both as a roadway and as a social/political boundary marker of sorts.

Bus #39 also passed by the Parc des Expositions, the Pasteur Institute, and the "Deux Magots" cafe (Ernest Hemingway sometimes hung out there)

I got off at the Quai Malaquais, and walked along the Seine again, looking at all of the antique books and pictures for sale. I had lunch at a pizza place, then walked along the Boulevard St. Michel (near the Sorbonne University) and by the Panthéon on my way back to the hotel.

Thursday, October 4, 2001 --...because there is more to Paris transit than the RATP...
Around 6 p.m, I decided to take another little excursion. So, at Monge station (nearest to my hotel) I took Metro #7, then changed to #6 at Place d'Italie. #6 is part elevated, in fact it goes over the very same place where I saw it from the #39 bus earlier that day. The structure is pretty (Never did get around to getting a picture of it, though) but the rail is a bit rough.

At Denfert-Rochereau, I transferred to the #4 to Porte Orleans. The stations were well policed, and occasionally there would be a couple of soldiers with machine guns...

Porte d'Orleans is a big transfer point for buses to suburbs just outside of Paris (Massy, Arpajon, etc). There are also a lot of cabs, so I was very careful crossing the street here...

There are very many non-RATP suburban buses too. Transports Daniel Meyer runs 45' suburban coaches to the southern suburbs of Paris.

There was a bus stop for another operator, SQYBUS (Saint Quentin-Yvelines, a suburb just west of Versailles). SQYBUS runs their line #475 between Saint Quentin-Yvelines and Porte d'Orleans during peak hours. However, none of their equipment showed up while I was there.

It was starting to get too dark for good pictures, so I got back on the #4 metro and rode to Les Halles. The Chatelet-Les Halles area is one big open air shopping mall. There's a small indoor mall called Forum Les Halles, the main points of interest in there are the movie theaters and the swimming pool.

I walked south from there past the Louvre. A lady asked me, in French, about the bus to Pigalle. (It seems that no matter where I go, everyone asks *me* for directions!) Fortunately, I was able to help out.

I walked around the open air mall , there was everything from fancy restaurants to fast food (that KFC was mobbed!) I found a reasonable place to eat, then found an Internet Cafe so I could write this update.

Friday, October 5, 2001 --Mona! Mona! Mona
I started off this day by taking the Metro #7 to Chatelet. After hanging out there for about an hour, I walked along Rue Rivoli to the Louvre museum. It was now about 1 p.m., and the admission price went down after 3, so I decided to come back then.

I rode bus #67 to Pigalle, the famous red light district. It doesn't get "bad" at all until you walk west of the metro station. Bus #30 will give you a good tour, but I just decided to take the Metro to Gare du Nord, then transfer to the RER back to Chatelet.

Gare du Nord was still a mess due to construction projects, and I ended up taking a wrong turn and going to the long-distance train platform. But eventually I was able to get to the right platform and take the RER

The RER was one of those double-decker trains I saw earlier. It looked comfortable, but it was showing its age (and grafitti). I got off at Chatelet, and walked back to the Louvre. This time I went in (through the pyramid, where there is an airport-style security check)

I'm no art expert, but it was interesting to see the various paintings and sculptures. They had a special exhibit on Egyptian and Greek antiquities, plus the usual Italian, French and Spanish paintings. Lots of scenes from Greek mythology and the Bible. (Nudies too, but here, this was *art* so it was ok :-)

(Mona's in the Denon Wing, 1st Floor, Salle des Etats, Room 13.
But prepare to share her with a crowd!)

After about an hour and a half, I left the museum and caught Bus #72, toward Parc St. Cloud. This bus was SRO when I boarded it, and it got worse as we went along. (Think #204 on Vermont in LA). I got off at the Radio France studios, and took another RER train across the city to Bibliothèque François-Mitterand. The train (another SNCF double-decker) was slow, also marred by a bit of graffitti, and the tunnel smelled smoky, though the trains are electric. But there were a few great views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. The train I was on seemed almost empty, although there was a big crowd at the Notre Dame station and again at the Bibliothèque François-Mitterand station.

At the Bibliothèque François-Mitterand station, I didn't get out to see the library (it was after 6 p.m and undoubtedly closed) but I did catch RATP's newest Metro line, the #14. This train looks and sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, and has platform doors (de rigueur for all new Metro lines in Europe?)The train I was riding on was only about 1/2 full, but the trains going in the opposite direction were packed.

I got off at Chatelet, and headed for the intenet cafe to write this.

Saturday, October 6, 2001 --Last night....
After leaving the internet cafe, I walked around Les Halles some more. I found out that Pigalle isn't the only red-light district in Paris; there's a certain part of Les Halles that gets sleazier and sleazier the further you walk in it. At one point there are even Tijuana-type touts trying to get you to visit their strip club!

Enough of that stuff. I had dinner at a place called Leon de Bruxelles. They serve mussels and fries (moules et frites), which is apparently the national dish of Belgium. I've never had this dish before, but I thought they were pretty good (watch out for the shells and pieces of grit though). They even made a mistake on the bill (tried to charge me for dessert twice), but I was able to get it corrected--using French only. Ooh-la-la...

Saturday, October 6, 2001 --Le suburbanisme...
The plan was to visit the flea market in Montreuil (a suburb just east of Paris) then go to the Science Museum in Parc de la Villette.

So around 9 a.m., I took the #7 metro line to that maze known as Chatelet-Les Halles, then then #1 (that nice one, with the tires) to Nation, then #9 to Croix de Chavaux in the city of Montreuil. The Croix de Chavaux Metro Station opened up into a medium sized mall, with a movie theater.

I got a quick bite at an Algerian-run pastry shop, then I walked around for about an hour, but the closest thing I find to a flea market was a tent over some automobiles. I asked a couple of people where the "marche aux puces" was, but they kept pointing me to the mall near the Metro station....

There were plenty of buses to look at, though, including a few older asthmatic- sounding Renaults. None with the open rear platform, though--those might have gone the way of the open-air "pissoir" on the streets of Paris. (Or maybe not!)

Anyway, I noticed one of these routes, the #115, ran to the Chateau de Vincennes. So I decided to ride there. A #115 pulled up, and I, along with several others, boarded. This line, which incidentally, uses the new Renault Agoras, seemed to have good ridership.

Although this is a suburban area, development is still quite dense here; mostly apartment buildings with shops in the ground floor (as is typical in Paris proper).

At the Chateau de Vincennes, I got off and took a few pictures, then took the #325 bus. 

This is a rather scenic route, as it passes through the Bois de Vincennes (a large city park), Charenton (where an old church has been converted into City Hall) and Alfortville, where the Marne river meets the Seine.

The route ends at Ivry, where one branch of the #7 metro terminates. Ivry is rather industrial, as there is a branch of the Paris port district there. But it does have both a traditional on-street shopping center as well as an enclosed mall near the Metro station. I took the metro back to Place Monge and my hotel...



Saturday, October 6, 2001 --Les parapluies de Paris
It started to rain, so I scratched Parc Villette from my trip plan. Also on the cutting room floor--Versailles, since that really merits a whole day (besides, the rail line leading there was temporarily out of service for repairs....)

So, on my last full day in Paris, I just rested a bit in my hotel room, then took a few walks, in the light rain, along Rue Monge, Blvd St-Germain, Boulevard St-Michel (near the Sorbonne--this street reminded me of Telegraph Ave in Berkeley).

I got as far as the Louvre when it started to rain real hard. Not wanting to get soaked, I decided to take the metro back to my hotel.

I had one last carnet ticket that I thought was still good...but the red light on the turnstile said otherwise. So I bought a couple of metro tickets (8.50 FF, or $1.19 each--still cheaper than both the LA and NY MTA!). I was going to stop by Chatelet to visit the Internet, but I was a bit tired, so I went straight back to Place Monge. (Also, there was a problem with the train, and we were stuck in the tunnel for about 10 minutes or so).

About 2 hours later, I decided to take another walk. So I walked north past Notre Dame and the Hotel de la Ville, where a big pile of shoes had been assembled, in support of people injured by land mines around the world. I went to the internet cafe where I'm now doing this write-up.

Tomorrow morning, I grab a cab back to Gare du Nord, and bid Paris au revoir. Then it's the Eurostar to London for a little while, and then Heathrow back to LA.

Monday, October 8, 2001 --Time to wrap things up...
Ah, the joys of high latitudes....the sun didn't rise this time of year until almost 8 a.m....

So to save time, and my aching back, I took a taxi from my hotel to the Gare du Nord. The taxi turned out to be a van, and we drove though the silent, dark streets of early-morning Paris. The driver didn't drive *too* crazily, and the fare was much less than I had anticipated (about 66 F, or $9.23) I tipped the driver and headed for the station.

The Eurostar was the same as before, with a few more passport checks on both ends this time. Also, there was a lot of construction near Ashford on the UK side, and we were delayed about 30 minutes. (I almost thought that we had stopped in the tunnel, but perhaps we were going so fast in there that I had temporarily lost all sense of motion!). But soon the red brick buildings of Brixton appeared, letting everyone know that we would soon be at London Waterloo.

At Waterloo, there was a short passport checking line for EU residents, and a longer one for "everyone else". When asked, I told the passport agent I was on my way straight to Heathrow. No problem.

After the passport check, I quickly considered my options for getting to Heathrow (the Underground all the way, or the Underground to Paddington, to transfer to the expensive Heathrow Express, or, the "Feltham Railink", an ordinary train and bus combination. I opted for the last choice, as it didn't involve schlepping my bags around too many stairs (or I hoped) and only cost about £5 ($7.50).

I couldn't find the destination on the ticket machine, so I bought a ticket from the window. They didn't know on what platform the train would arrive, but the electronic screens told me that information after a while. Platform #14....I walked to the train.

The train was one of the older ex-British Rail pieces of equipment(now Southwest Trains--the old British Rail system was broken up some years ago in the same way the old Bell phone system in the US--with some of the same results). 

At first I wasn't so sure I was on the right train (there are few announcements, and the conductor didn't come around to check tickets), but everything turned out alright. At Feltham station (bus connection to Heathrow), the lift...oops, elevator was broken, so there were a few stairs to climb. 

The connection between Feltham and Heathrow consists of an ordinary city bus, single-decker, with some of the seats removed in favor of a luggage rack (just like the LAX shuttle buses). It is free if you can flash a rail ticket at the driver, regular fare otherwise. (70p, or about $1, since this is a trip wholly outside of Central London)

It's not so seamless for passengers going to Terminal 4 (International Terminal), as an additional change to another shuttle bus is required. This transfer is made at the Underground station just outside of the airport. However, this shuttle is free.

I got to the terminal at about 12:30 pm, with plenty of time to check in (not so long line at the desk), almost lose my passport (the angels must have been really watching over me on this trip), go through security, and relax a while as planes going to places like Moscow, Baku, Tehran and Newark, NJ took off.

The flight to LAX seemed more roomy than the one coming to LHR. The food was good (chicken tikka!) and we stayed in almost full daylight all the way to L.A. I mostly watched movies, slept an hour, and didn't get jet lag. We landed at about 5:40 p.m. local time. Immigration and Customs was simpler than I thought it would be, just a few questions, but no searches for most of us.

There were still not allowing private cars on the airport loop, so I took a shuttle to LAX Lot "B".

This wasn't a bad trip at all. I got to see at least 60% of what I planned to see, and made a few new discoveries along the way.

Now more than ever, I think it's important that we continue to travel and see as much of the world as we can. Or as Mark Twain said: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow-mindeness, all foes of real understanding. Likewise tolerance, or broad wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime". So quit worrying, and get those plane tickets!

Forget the stereotypes of the "rude French", etc. Everyone was polite in a big city way -- certainly no less polite than in Chicago or New York, and perhaps a bit more so. There's also plenty of cultural diversity in these cities, and members of U.S. minority groups should have no problems.

My next trip to Europe will be in a couple of years from now. I'll probably do London and Paris again, and perhaps add one or two major cities (Munich? Rome? Dublin?)


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