October 14, 2007

Noctilien – Nighttime transport in the city of lights

Posted in Babysitting, Exploring tagged , , , at 7:04 pm by Lauren

This is the type of story my mother will hate to hear. So I’ll just start this by saying, “Sorry, Mom.”

Last night I got a closer look at getting around Paris at night, after I finished babysitting in Montmartre (18th arrondissement) and began to find my way back to Ile St. Louis (4th arrondissement). I had a wonderful babysitting job this Friday and Saturday night, with a couple of fun New Zealander families in town from London for the weekend. They were very kind and generous, to the point of paying for my taxi fare home afterwards.

On Friday night, the streets were full of people, so rather than calling a cab to the apartment, I walked out to the main intersection and flagged a taxi down there. It took between five and ten minutes, and there were people all around, so I felt very safe.

On Saturday night, I seemed to be competing with every other breathing being in Paris to find a cab. Luckily, I had informed myself, and I knew I could take the N14 bus almost back to my apartment. So I set out to the street (comfortable with how easily it had gone the night before and armed with backup info). The first N14 was passing as I arrived at the major intersection, so I decided I’d go farther down the street in the direction of my place, looking for a taxi on the way to the next bus stop. I reasoned that it would be easier to find a cab when there weren’t competitors at every corner.

About a block down the road, I already regretted my decision a little because there were fewer people on the street, but I like to look purposeful when I’m walking, especially at night, so I continued in the direction of the next bus stop and home. Before I got there, I found another busy intersection and stopped to try to flag a cab again. After about five minutes, it seemed I’d hit the jackpot: an empty taxi pulled up right in front of me! But as quickly as I got my hopes up, I lost them as the woman who had flagged the cab ran up to its door. “Go ahead,” I said in French; I had noticed her as I passed the corner she was on.

At that moment, a man ran up to the cab too and slowed when he saw it was taken. He asked me if I was waiting for a cab too and what arrondissement I was headed to. I said 4th, and he said 20th; we couldn’t share. Happy to be standing with somebody (after assessing the situation and deciding he wasn’t dangerous or a mugger’s decoy), we talked a little as we watched the filled cabs drive by. He tipped me off to how to tell if the taxi was already taken (I’d been flagging them all). It turns out that his company is sending him to Columbia, Maryland in a year, and so he asked me a little bit about it as a friend of his had told him there wasn’t really much of a nightlife there. I don’t know a lot about Columbia, but I told him a bit about DC since it’s not too far.

Glad as I was to have some company (remembering a girl I met in my freshman year of college one night – she walked up to me on the street and said, “My mom told me nobody should ever walk alone at night, so do you want to walk where we’re going together?”), the taxi situation wasn’t getting any better, and I wasn’t yet at the next bus stop. I had really preferred to take a taxi – because I’d been paid taxi fare, and because I’d get home faster and delivered to my door – but at this point, I was also just ready to be moving in the right direction! So I left the guy at that corner and continued a few blocks down to the next N14 bus stop. I checked the schedule: about ten minutes to wait.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by people, which is something I don’t appreciate in an unfamiliar area at night. It turned out to be two couples, a bit drunk, and clearly English speaking. One woman walked up to me and attempted to ask directions in “French,” saying, “Saynt Germayn day pray?” I answered in English, “I’m not sure if the bus goes there, but it does go to Chatelet, if that helps. Where exactly are you going?” The other woman said, “The Marais.” (This confused me. St. Germain des Pres and Le Marais are not in the same place.) I told her that was walkable from Chatelet, and the women started telling the guys, “This lady’s going to Chatelet!” in voices just loud enough to betray how many drinks they’d had. And thus I gained my next nighttime traveling companions.

We boarded the bus together, and I found out they were from Australia. They’d watched the rugby game that night. (England beat France, knocking them out of competition for the Rugby World Cup, which is in France this year; this is a particular pity because France had beat New Zealand’s All Blacks, who were the favorites for the World Cup. I bet you had no idea I knew so much about rugby…) They appointed me their tour guide, and we figured out where the St. Germain des Pres couple needed to get off the bus. I got off the bus at Chatelet with the other couple who was headed to their hotel in Le Marais, and I walked them down Rue de Rivoli past the Hotel de Ville. (As we passed signs for the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the bus, they got very excited, “Hotel de Vull! Hotel de Vull! That’s right near our hotel. Hotel de Vull is this really famous hotel in Paris…”) But again it was nice to have someone to walk with (even though I don’t particularly want everyone to know I’m a foreigner, particularly at night). I left them near their hotel and continued on the short path to Ile St. Louis and home.

A few minutes walk later, with a final obstacle course up our pitch black dark spiral staircase (I like to call it the Tactile Dome, after a San Francisco attraction that you navigate by feel.), I was able to crawl into bed and – finally – sleep. Good night, Paris. Good night, bus. Good night, Australians, and good night fuss. Good night taxis without any space. Good night, Hotel de Ville. Good night, mace.

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1 Comment »

  1. Shari said,

    This sounds exactly like something that would happen to me.


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