Saturday, April 3, 2010

What we have to work with: Part I. Transportation

I think it is essential at this point to describe our home and a bit of the logistics involved with bringing up an active, walking, tri-national boy of mystery. I get some comments from people who apparently think I complain a bit much about normal aspects of daily life. But I think when you understand a bit more about the reality of life in Paris, and how it differs enourmously from American standards, you'll see where I'm coming from.

Contrary to popular belief, we do not live a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, or the Pompidou Center. The closest tourist zone that you might recognize is Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur Basilica. Monmartre is the only major hill/butte in Paris and is where the movie "Amélie" was filmed. It's where you go to buy paintings of famous Parisian landmarks from local artists. At its foot you'll find the Montmartre cemetary and the Moulin Rouge. Well, we live on the OTHER side of the Montmartre Butte, which is just an ordinary neighborhood, very calm, with lots of great cheese shops and delis, plus some great bakeries and cafés.

The Montmartre Butte is already on the very northwest edge of Paris, so we're not even really living in the city ourselves. To get into downtown Paris, where all the fun stuff is, we need to take a subway or bus. Like most Parisians, we don't have a car because there is literally nowhere to park it, and you'll spend half your life sitting in traffic. So, getting downtown is about 20 minutes on the subway and 40 minutes on the bus. The bus is nice because you can see the street as you go, and they have these large "bays" set up to hold baby strollers. The bus is slow though, and there aren't so many routes, so there often isn't a bus going where we need to go. Enter the Metro!

The good parts: the Metropolitan subway system is fantastic. I think you are never more than 500 meters from a metro station in Paris. You can get almost anywhere without having to change trains more than one time. It's fast, efficient, safe, and pretty clean. I loved the metro before having a child.

The bad parts: The metro is how most people get around Paris. So it can get crowded. Very, very crowded! During rush hour you may learn more about your neighbor's personal hygene than you ever hoped to. Ugh! This is particularly difficult when you are manoeuvering even a small stroller into the cramped cars. And forget about getting out! You have to fight and push your way back to the door before it automatically shuts after each stop. And Parisians in general don't cut people with children any extra slack.

Oh, and I should mention the primary dificulty in using the Metro with a small child who needs a stroller. It's underground and there are no elevators! Well, there are a few newer stations that have elevators (that are sometimes working), but these are rare and not on any of our regular routes. So you have to carry the stroller up and down at least two flight of stairs (often more) to get in, out, change trains, etc. This is annoying, but doable if someone is traveling with you. If you are alone, you need to ask a stranger to help you. This is a fairly common sight and most people are willing to help, but it can be harder during peak hours. You can instead just leave the stroller home and carry your child in your arms or in some kind of sling or pack, but then you will need to continue to do that all day. But, that may not be such a bad idea because many stores and restaurants don't have the space to accomodate a stroller (this isn't the US where wheelchairs have to be accomodated or where there is cheap land to expand to so that you can have large buildings, wide streets and sidewalks. Plus, the rents per square meter in Paris are astronomical, so people make do with less). So you develop really strong arms since you need to carry your child PLUS all of the stuff you need for your child, and any stuff you might buy (no covenient stroller "donkey" to hang everything on).

I am very glad that Santi is taking enthusiastically to walking and that eventually we'll be able to throw off the shackles of the stroller. Once we get to the point where he can walk fairly reliably, getting out and about in this city will be so much easier!

(Part II. Living Quarters, coming soon!)

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