It’s here, I know I’m home.
Huh? What’s the meaning of this? What is this fuckery? You mean I don’t actually have to take a local train to the city? What do you mean, I’m already in the city? Oh, I am. I am, in the city. I am in Paris, France. Arrival into Paris Nord, or more commonly known as Gare du Nord, is one of the rail gateways into Paris. There isn’t a single, massive railway station (not that Gare du Nord is small or anything). Instead, there are a few. The one I’ve just arrived at serves destinations to the north and northeast, including Eurostar services to London, Thalys services to Brussels and Amsterdam, and of course, local TGV and national rail lines serving that part of the country.
I zip underground, and find myself in a low ceiling environment, with people coming and going from all directions – a short teaser to Paris’ rail life. I proceed to the ticketing machine which you can do all sorts of things, from buying single trip tickets for Metro and commuter rail, to purchasing transport cards and so much more, but quickly realize I’m holding up the line with my unfamiliarity so I join the queue for the manned counters. France is the world’s most visited nation, and Paris, the world’s most visited city, so tourists are never too far away. And holding up the line are tourists, obviously, the majority being Koreans apparently here for the Paris Marathon this Sunday, at least that’s what their uniformed windbreakers and backpack covers say in print; spliced with Greater Chinese, including Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, and a trio of Hong Kongers who seemed to belong to the male-on-male persuasion, with their over-stylized outfits and enviable hairstyles.
I get the Paris Visite, available in 3, 5 or 7-day validity which works great for me – offering unlimited use of public transport operated by the Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, or RATP. I don’t want to over-complicate things, so I got the pass covering Zones 1 to 3, which is essentially, the Paris city limits defined by the Metro’s coverage. For day trips to Versailles, Disneyland Paris and Val d’Europe outlets, as well as for the airports, opt to buy single-trip tickets instead. There’s also the Passe Navigo, but that’s a chargeable card and you’ll be charged as you use.
Now, Paris Metro is perhaps the 2nd oldest subway network after the London Underground, with much of the network built in the early 20th century. While the system’s latest extension was opened as recent as a few months ago, the core network was built in the 1900s. Understandably, there are no provisions for escalators or elevators whatsoever, and so whatever that’s there wasn’t planned out, so, well, get used to a lot of walking and climbing stairs. So, from Gare du Nord Metro station, I took Line 2 to Belleville before switching to Line 11 for Arts et Metiers station, then walked about 450 metres to the apartment along Rue du Temple.
The very being of Paris has always fascinated me. All that you see is the work of Baron Haussman, hired by Napoleon the Third to transform medieval shack trampling in its own filth and gridlocked by diseases and narrow streets to glorious capital complete with wide boulevards, green spaces, monumental buildings and other homogeneous buildings befitting of the golden age of Napoleon. You’d think that the Opera Theatre or Arc du Triomphe would be the one to capture my attention. Instead, it’s the uniformed buildings which captivates me. I first chanced upon it in the beloved film, Before Sunset when Celine takes Jesse to her apartment. It appears to be in urban Paris, but they pass this door, and it’s like a whole different world beyond that. It’s a courtyard, nothing fancy or glorious, but a green lung where social activity is taking place: people having barbecues, some just lying around tanning in the Summer rays. To the idealistic junior college student that I was, it was a page off heaven, smacked right in the middle of this urbanization, known by only those who lived there. I see glimpses of this rare world once again in the film Amelie. And for me, at that moment there, I thought it was my dream home.
It’s 2013, and this worlds are sealed from the outside, not by traditional keys, but by high-tech lock systems with pins and passwords and all. There are no elevators, just old-fashioned glazed wooden stairs stylistically illuminated by motion sensors. My host’s apartment is at the top floor, so I tug me, myself and my 23.2kg (Hooray for Air France, full-service carriers and their generous weight allowance) bag up six whole floors. I’m slightly bemused, and proud that I only stopped to rest at the fifth floor.