Paris and London Urban Underground Transportation

Having grown up in the New York metropolitan area, I used the subway system often enough to at least not be terrified that I would get lost. So when I entered the Metro in Paris the first time in 1981, having heard it is much more user-friendly, I managed to get where I needed to go pretty easily.

My last trip to Paris was almost two years ago December and we walked quite a bit. The Metro was convenient for cross city access as well as late evening transportation back to our hotel in the 7th Arrondisement.  Our “home” station at Vavin was accessible only by stairs.








There were a few stations that were pretty deep below ground and had  escalators and/or  elevators. But I noticed most stations were not handicap accessible at all.

The Metro was pretty easy to use, with routes shown in different colors on the map. We were able to get from here to there usually with no more than 1 change.

We bought a carnet (packet) of tickets at a time which gave us ten tickets at a small savings over buying individual ones. You fed the ticket into the turnstile and it came out at the other end. You did not need to keep your tickets to exit the station.

Many of the stations had painted tiles that told something about the area.

Metro stations were all well lighted and  clean. Many had a digital display to show how long a wait until the next train. As suspected, there were fewer trains on Sunday.

Musicians in the metro are common. Not only in the hallways to and from ground level, but they came on to the cars, and like musician playing in public anywhere, some were pretty good and some were barely passable.  

In the Paris metro all the ads are on the walls in the stations and on the hallways to and from the ground, but the cars themselves are clean except for route maps, which is wonderful for the neophyte traveler.

On our last trip to London we flew into Gatwick when we came back from Croatia. That airport is located south of London and travel by car takes about an hour to the city. You can take a cab and pay a lot, or a bus and have some space issues lugging your suitcase, but for ease of travel, catch the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station. It leaves the Gatwick South Terminal (there is a tram or bus service between the terminals) every hour and costs about $15. For those of us who generally do not use train service in the US, service like this is pretty amazing.

London has five rail stations, each providing service out from London in a spoke-like system. Victoria Station is located in the southern section of the center of London and provides access to areas to the south. Graham used the St. Pancras station to catch his train to Nottingham to the north.

How many of you ever read the Paddington Bear stories…about a poor little orphaned bear that is sent by himself on the train to his new home…..anyway, you can see a small statue there.

Each station has access to the Underground, so all you need to do is go down down down to be able to access the local transportation service. Entrances to the Underground stations vary in terms of construction styles. This one is pretty busy so it has a lot of space. There are also some shops inside the entrance. Automated ticket booths enable you to quickly purchase tickets. The machines use paper currency as well as credit cards. We discovered there, once again, that the US credit cards do not work because they do not have a chip embedded (yet). Fortunately, each station also had at least one window with a person to give directions as well as sell tickets. We found that buying a daily pass for each of the 3 full days we were in London saved us considerable money. When I was there 10 years ago and was in London for a full week, I bought a week’s pass.  You need to use the ticket through the entry turnstile and keep it at hand to use again when you exit.

Some stations had escalators but most still have steps and most are not handicapped accessible, although I noticed more this time than 10 years ago.

Mind the Gap = Watch your step… a simple warning but it just sounds so nice with a British accent.

Maps in the station as well as in each underground train car make it easy to know where to change lines and which train to board, if there are several lines at the same station.

As in Paris, the stations and walkways have many interesting ads. I was amused to see an ad for Jack Daniels in several underground stations. Some signs referred people to check the Underground’s website for weekend line closures for maintenance. The Saturday we were there one of the main central lines was shut for maintenance and we still could get everywhere we needed to go, although the routing was more out of the way and it took a bit longer.

Crowds varied by time of day as well as which line and the areas of service. The trains run very often, in fact this seems like an amazingly effective people mover.

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