16 July 2018

A commute in Paris or Fortune favours the brave!

I stood at a large map of the Paris metro and RER. For a new comer this is confusing as hell. Paris has two diffenrent commuter systems with some overlapping stations. The metro, a very old one at that, covers the densely populated downtown and surrounding ares. It has more frequent stops and is cheap. RER on the other hand also has underground routes (usually) but is faster, is sometimes double decker, has fewer stops, and connects downtown Paris is farther suburbs and regions. Also, it is more expensive. For example, the Charles d Gaulle Airport being far from the city centre, is on a RER route and not on metro.
Meanwhile, I was finding the colour codes, numbering and the orientation of the map too confusing. So I consulted Google Maps. It said that the best way to travel from Musee dOrsay to my hotel by public transport was to go via Porto de la Chapelle and then take a bus. But I thought I could do better. I realised that the nearest RER stop to my hotel was Aulnay sous bois. If I could take a taxi from there to hotel for the roughly 2 kilometres, it should be faster than going by bus. So I confidently boarded the RER station at Musee d Orsay with spouse and two kids in tow.  What I did not realise was that i had bought a carnet of ten €1.9 tickets which were good for short metro rides but were rather inadequate for the suburban RER ride! I changed at Notre Dame for an RER that was supposed going to the Airport and would have stopped at Aulnay.
The French love their strikes and I realised this the hard way on that night. The RER inexplicably stopped at Gare du Nord and emptied. I found this peculiar. My understanding from the Indian Railway strikes was that the trains used to shut down. Later, I was to know that, a strike in France doesn't work like that. It only means that some services will be stopped before their destination and others will run at curtailed frequency. But which ones, only a local could tell! In fact they had a mobile app just for the information on the RER strikes! But it was all in French!
Now, a tinge of panic overcame me. I asked an attendant, "Airport!" He answered in such pristine fast french that Charles d Gaulle would have been proud. Mercifully, he realised I could not understand anything. So, he held me by my hand and started walking briskly, nay, started running! I reckoned that he must be trying to help. I ran with family in tow -  two levels up and lo! just before the doors closed we were inside the double decker RER that would take us to our destination (hopefully). I could not even thank the attendant.  Anyways, I did manage to get to Aulnay - de - Boise. But the gates refused to open when inserted my ticket!!! There was not a single soul on the platform. Only the steel turnstile, that would not open. I thought quickly and ferociously. I had some unstamped tickets from the carnet of 10. So I inserted those, and the turnstile opened!!! I had never felt more relieved on getting out of a platform! Later I was told that I was actually traveling ticketless! As for the journey that should have cost €4.2 per person, I had paid only €1.9! Of course I had entered another of those to open the turnstile, yet it still made only €3.8! I called a taxi at Aulnay from the taxi app and reached the hotel. All of us breathed a collective sigh of relief. I realised, not only had I travelled ticketless but I had also made it in just under an hour while Google had predicted a commute of nearly one hour forty minutes not counting the wait for the interchange bus.
Yes! Fortune does favour the brave!

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