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We'll Always Have Paris
A few photos and thoughts from my recent visit to Paris
My spouse and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year and decided to celebrate with a trip to Paris!
Let’s start things off with everyone’s favourite topic - public washrooms! I’ll admit, it does feel a bit weird taking photos of washrooms, but they are such an integral part of good city planning (read Lezlie Lowe’s No Place To Go for more on the importance of public washrooms) - so here’s a photo of just one of the many public washrooms I came across in Paris. There are apparently at least 400 of these washrooms (also known as sanisettes) throughout the city, often in busy pedestrian areas, and there is even a map to help you find the closest location. They are free to use, accessible, self-cleaning, and at least 150 of them are open 24/7 (the others are open from 6am-10pm). Learn more about these washrooms.
One of my favourite things about visiting a new city is figuring out the transit system. I was so impressed with the frequency of the metro as we rarely had to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for a train - even on more ‘minor’ routes. The image below shows the estimated wait time for the next two trains - the first was to arrive in 1 minute, with the next one coming in just 2 minutes after that. We relied on the metro (along with the LRT and a suburban train) to get us everywhere we needed to go and it was quite easy to navigate. There is something lovely about not having to worry about getting to a stop by a certain time, because even if you just miss a train, you know another one will be by within just a few minutes.
We spent a day at the Palace of Versailles, which is about 16 kms southwest of Paris. In order to get there, we took the RER (Réseau Express Régional), essentially a regional train. One thing that stood out to me was how integrated the transit system was. We purchased a Navigo Weekly pass that allowed us to simply swipe our card to use buses, the metro, the RER, and the LRT. The RER train was a great way to see many of the more suburban neighbourhoods (as seen in the image below). Of note about the ‘suburbs’ - these neighbourhoods, while shorter and less dense than Paris’ core, are much more dense than many of our central neighbourhoods in Waterloo Region.
We also used the T line which reminded me of our own LRT in some ways - except for all of those lovely greenways, of course! Like the rest of the Paris transit system, the T line ran consistently and frequently - though not as often as the metro, of course. Most trains arrived within 4-8 minutes of each other. Also, unlike the ion, you paid your fare using machines right on the trains themselves. The LRT (or tram) system in Paris is quite extensive, at over 180 kms in length, with 270 stations. And, it’s still growing.
While Paris is a very walkable city, there are still lots of vehicles around. However, many of them are far smaller than what we often see on North American roads. In fact, we started a game of ‘Spot the Pick-up Truck’ to see if we could find any. After a week, we had only seen one, and it was a city maintenance vehicle.
One other thing I noticed in Paris is the street trees. Given the density of the neighbourhoods, there isn’t a lot of ‘greenspace’ in the same way we have it here (most green spaces were found in large city parks). However, they have a lot of street trees and they seem to know how to keep them healthy and growing!
While walking through Paris, you can’t help but notice the density. While only a few areas of the city have really tall buildings, I didn’t see any streets that would reflect our North American perspective of ‘low-rise’. Every building was at least 3 stories, with the vast majority being 6-8 floors - and built literally side-to-side. Many of the buildings, at least downtown, were all commercial on the main floor with many restaurants and boutiques right at street level. It made it so lovely to walk around at any time of day and night as there was always something happening. I personally love this level and style of density, though I’m not convinced that those who oppose tall buildings locally and call for more European-style density, necessarily have this in mind.
I was thrilled to learn that our accommodations were right around the corner from one of the over 160 ‘School Streets’ in Paris (with more on the way!) During school times, the streets can be securely closed off to all vehicles using the swinging black gates at each end of the block. This initiative is “all about making the environment around schools more secure, and safer for children to get to and from school on foot. That also means fighting pollution by restricting or completely eliminating vehicle traffic.”
While we saw many interesting places, such as the Louvre, the Catacombs, and Versailles, I think my favourite museum was the Centre Pompidou. I was excited to see works from some of my favourite artists like Piet Mondrian, Frida Kahlo, and Jackson Pollack but I also really enjoyed learning about many new-to-me artists. I thought I’d leave you with a ‘pop’ of colour from some of my favourite pieces on display.
If you have traveled to Paris before, I’d love to hear what stood out to you on your travels - comment below.