Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting around in Paris

I think the thing I was most worried about the very first time I went to a foreign country was transportation. Trying to get around the city without speaking the language or being able to read most street signs is a big deal! Being from a city where there really isn't public transportation, you just get in your own car, drive to where ever you want to go and usually park in a huge, well lit parking lot, didn't give me a lot of experience to go on.  We took the kids to NYC 2 years ago and only used subways and taxis so they had had a brief experience with what we we going to be using.
If this is a fear of yours...fear's pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Do you research before you go to save yourself money.

We decided to pre-purchase our metro passes before we left the country. We had them delivered to our house before we left so we could start using them as soon as we were in Paris. Yes, this was an extra expense for shipping but I didn't want to spend valuable sight-seeing time trying to figure out where to pick up the tickets in Paris. I definitely didn't want to take my chances on buying them in Paris because the only rude person I have ever encountered in Paris was at a ticket kiosk...they literally acted like I was trying to do something no other person on the planet had ever a metro pass. Anyway, this time I bought them on the ParisMetro website. I found quite a few sites that sold them but this place is straight from the gov't so I thought they would be best. We went ahead and bought the 5 day passes, Preston was considered an adult but Bella could get the children's pass (woo-hoo).

The next order of business we needed to take care of before we left was to figure out how we were going to get from the airport to our apartment. From what I've read, there are 3 basic ways to get to the city from the airport. 1) take the RER (the metro) 2) take a public taxi or 3) hire a private driver. I went to trip advisor to do some research. Taking the RER would be the most cost effective...but if your stop wasn't near your apartment, that meant you had to lug all of your luggage down the streets of Paris. Taking a taxi would have been the next most cost efficient but I read online that sometimes trying to get a taxi that fits 4 people plus (a lot) of luggage was more than a hassle. So I did research on which private company we should use to shuttle us from the airport. I went to trip advisor and man, there were a ton of review, mostly negative, about every shuttle service in Paris. But then I came across 2 good reviews for a newer company, called Start Shuttle. I looked them up online and they had a really nice website. Next I saw that they had a FB page. There are 3 main qualifications to get my business...good reviews on trip advisor, a nice clean website and finally a FB page where I could post a public comment if anything went wrong. They met all of them and on top of that, they wrote me back immediately when I contacted them on FB.

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about this company. They were waiting for us at the airport, had a clean van and a really nice driver. Our driver had to navigate through Paris when every exit was shut down due to the protest. I can only imagine how much that would have cost us if we had taken a taxi! On our way back to the airport at the end of our trip they were there at our apartment exactly when they said they would be. I had emailed to confirm pick up the day before and they wrote me back to confirm immediately! After we got back home to the US I even received an email asking me about our trip and making sure they met our transportation that is good customer service!

OK, now that we were settled in Paris we had 3 options to get around town with our metro passes. There is the RER, the metro or the bus. We took each of these while in Paris and had our own opinions about each :)

The one we used the most was the metro. After the first day we become pros at navigating our way around...but we couldn't have done it without an app I downloaded to my phone before the trip. We didn't have phone service so it was important to get an app that didn't require internet service. I used Paris by Metro, it looks like this:

It was incredibly easy to use, you just put your starting metro stop and your ending metro stop and it tells you which lines you need to use to get there. My favorite thing about the Metro was the different entrances and decorations you got to see while waiting for your train. What I didn't care for was that it was always crowded because most of the time we were traveling during rush-hour times (hence not a lot of pictures taken at the metro). But that worked in our favor most of the times because it was all business people or school gave us a sense of security. We never once felt un-safe on the metro and we were even serenaded a few times by very talented musicians. The closest metro stop to our apartment was about 3/4 of a mile away which was a bit of a hassle because of the cold weather but the upside was that it meant we had to walk under the Eiffel Tower every time we needed to use the metro!

The closer option for us to use was the RER. From what I can tell, the RER and the metro are pretty much the same except the RER doesn't have as many stops in the city center, instead it goes to more stops outside of the city for those who commute to work. It does however go to the major stops in the city like the museums along the Seine so we took it quite a few times during our stay. It didn't have fancy entrances or art deco waiting areas but it was the kids favorite because it was a double decker train and was never very crowded.

The last option, the bus, was one I wish we could have taken more of. Carin has told us that this is how she gets around town. It allows you to see the entire city while getting to where you need to be. The only downside to this was that you had to wait for the bus to come...outside. Which means you were freezing for an unknown amount of time. If the weather was better, I would definitely recommend you taking the bus around. It was a little confusing to read the bus maps (I didn't have an app so we had to use the maps posted inside the bus stop) but Carin had shown us which one to take to get back to our apartment so we stuck to that one route.

All of these ways, the metro, RER and bus were covered by our metro passes. It was fun to try all three and was a great way to feel like we were getting the true Parisian experience.  There is one more way to get around that would be the ultimate mode of transportation...but the weather just didn't allow it for us on this trip:

 Paris has a bike system, the Velib, where you can rent bikes and return them different places around town. As you can see in the wasn't just us who thought it was too cold. Hope this has given you a little insight for transportation options when you are with your family in Paris!


  1. Love seeing you trips. It would be so lovely if after the Paris posts are finished up - which I love as I never knew there was a lock bridge - You should do a series on your house. I found you through the Pinmachine as I was looking for birthday party ideas. The indoor camping party came up. As I was looking through those pictures for ideas for my own daughter's party, I said to myself, "this lady's house is amazing!"

    I would love to see more. Not in a stalker way, but you have managed to make a home fun and adult at the same time. I've grown tired of looking around at stores trying to style my own new house and there's these terribly depressing blacks, browns, and "cucina" this and cartoon fat man dressed as a chef that.

    1. Thank you!!! This made my day...although it would take me about a month to get my house clean enough to show anyone :) It gives me a goal to finish those around the house projects that need to get done then I will post some pics!