Saturday, 16 October 2010

Travel Notes - Paris to Burgundy - Part One

Saturday 14th August

Paris

Once I'd found my way to my youth hostel in the East of Paris I dumped down my stuff, got showered and was out again to see the sites of this town which I never tire of visiting.

I could have got on a vélib and zoomed in. There were a couple of stations near Porte de Pantin. I'd had enough of two wheels for one day so used some old RATP metro tickets which I'd been hoarding since last year. Luckily enough they worked, so managed to use my carnet for the day without forking out for any new ones.

Since I'd arrived in Paris a little later than planned I didn't really have the chance to do too much. I did get to see an innovative sculpture based on a kiddies' playground outside the Pompidou Centre. Although it was quite simple there was something quite delightful about looking at the various colours over the fountain. There were more adults interested in it than children. I guess we are all big kids at heart!

Les Halles/Beaubourg area was as crowded as ever. People say that Paris is empty in August as most folks have decamped to the South of France. I think that phrase applies less and less - especially at these times of measures of austerity where people don't really want to go away anywhere. From what I could see Paris was swelling, even positively inflating itself during the month of August - almost to the point of bursting!

I didn't stay out too long as I wanted to be up for my early start to get down to Dijon the following day. So I had an early night and was up early to get the 10am train out of Paris-Bercy train station. I had to get from the edge of the 19th arrondissement over to the 12th. The most logical way to do this would have been to take the Boulevard Extérieur. That was pretty straightforward. It was just a case of following the road which circumvents Paris. You pass all the various Portes or gateways into Paris.

I started out at Porte de Pantin and went through Porte de Bagnolet, Porte de Montreuil, Porte Vincennes, and finally Porte d'Orée, close to where I used to live. It was just a case of turning up the big Avenue Daumesnil and then over through Boulevard de Reuilly to reach the train station.

I must say, everyone talks about how hilly it is around the 18th arrondissement and the Montmatre/Sacré Coeur area, but the area of the 19th should not be forgotten either. Having to work my legs so hard to get over the Buttes de Chaumont at 8.30am was a rather rude awakening!

The other thing which I noticed riding around Paris is how haphazard the roads are. The numerous road works did not help much, but the layout of traffic lights is a maze itself. They seem to be placed so you can't see them very well unless you are standing right up close next to them. Also the lack of an amber light for you to get ready for the green makes you feel like you are about to start a sprint race. You stand there in a state of being "on your marks" ready to burst forth ahead of the eager vehicles behind you.

Junctions are not of a regular shape. They are mini versions of the Charles de Gaulle Etoile roundabout, so you are never sure which way you are meant to go until you have gone right up close to the arrow to know which way it is approximately pointing. You also need to be ready to suddenly change direction when you realise that's not where you want to go. And guess what, the motorists are no more enlightened than you are when it comes to knowing where to go! They chop and change too, so cycling definitely involves constantly factoring contingencies as well as the obligatory risk assessment at each junction! Thankfully, there wasn't that much traffic, and I reached Bercy unscathed!

I was all set to get on the 10.24 to Montbard in Burgundy when I noticed from the long queues at the information desk, and people wandering around that there was a problem. How could it not happen while I'm in France - a transport strike! A trip to France just isn't complete without some sort of disruption due to industrial action! And this was my day for it. Thankfully this was not a full on general strike with demonstrations. It was so discreet that no one really new - apart from the people who needed to use SNCF-TER Bourgogne services to get to Dijon and Burgundy, right where I was going! I didn't have any particular contingency, apart from to book a later train, which I was assured would be running. So I had to suffer the inconvenience of being held up in Paris for an extra 3 hours - what a shame!

As I was in the 12th arrondissement I decided to hang around mainly in that area, with one of my first ports of call being Gare de Lyon and the Bastille area. The clock tower at the station, and the coloumn in the middle of the busy junction are sights which I've taken so much for granted. On this sunny day, however I thought I would look around them a little more, and then visit other less touristy areas which are just as interesting - the Promenade Plantée, The Viaduc des Arts and the bohemian Marché d'Aligre with the Baron Rouge bar. These areas have a warmth and a character that is quite appealing, and it's not surprising that I really enjoyed living in the 12th arrondissement even all those years ago.
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