Saturday, February 7, 2009

Travel Tips: The Metro/Subway/Tube/Underground

I was lucky. My first experience with subterranean trains was in England, where everyone speaks my language, and the polite automated voice kindly reminds everyone to "Mind the gap" when entering or exiting the cars.

Living in suburban California, where we haven't exactly embraced public transit, I would have been at a serious disadvantage had I needed to navigate a city's metro syst
em in, say, India.

For those of you who haven't had experiences with how to use metro systems, I will use the Paris Metro as an example. Everywhere I have been that has had a metro has operated it in the same basic way. It's kind of like math in that it's the same everywhere you go, but unlike math in that I can understand it.

The first step to using a metro is to know where you want to go. Maps invariably hanging in the stations will let you know where you are on the net of train lines and stops in the city. All you have to do, if the spot is not marked with a tourist-friendly red X, is look at one of
the signs sure to be around the station, then find it on the map. The photo below is one such map at the Bir-Hakeim stop in Paris (if you look at the little picture of the Eiffel Tower and then look down and to the left, the white dot on the map is labeled "Bir-Hakeim" - enlarge the photo so you can see it).

Once you have determined where you want to go, you need to find the best way to get there. That will often involve changing stations. In this case, I wanted to go to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur church. (At the top portion of the above map near the number 4). The closest stop is Anvers, on the blue line. Bir-Hakeim is on the medium green line.

To get to where I needed to go, I had to find where the two lines intersected. Following the medium green line upwards, I saw that it crossed the blue line at the Charles de Gaulle - Etoile stop, essentially the stop for the Arc du Triomphe.

To make sure I went the right way, I noted that Etoile was the last stop in that direction on the medium green line. The opposite line was Nation. Think of the metro line as a two-way street. One side goes the way you need to go, and the other side doesn't. Once you are on the platform, you don't want to run across the tracks when you realize you are on the wrong side (it's also probably illegal).

To help you, signs above, on or in front of the walkways will let you know which direction the train is heading. In the photo below, Bir-Hakeim (Tour Eiffel) is at the top, blocked in blue so you know it is that station you are at. The arrow points down, toward Nation - the terminus of the line. This is not the way I wanted to go, so I chose the opposite staircase. Note that all the stops in between are listed on this sign. That is not always the case. It is best to look at the larger map and remember not only the stop you want, but where the line terminates.

I took the next photo on the platform. The sign simply says "Etoile," indicating that this train is headed in that direction. It also tells me that the next train is one minute away, and the one after that will arrive in six minutes.

It can be helpful to know how many stops are between you and where you need to be, in case the car is crowded. You really don't want to be comfortably ensconced in a chair, surrounded by your luggage, and miss your stop because you waited too long to get up.

Smaller maps in the cars are often present to let you know the order of the stops. The white dots indicate that that stop is an intersection of two or more lines, and you can change trains without purchasing another ticket.

Etoile, my destination for this leg of the trip, has a white dot because several lines intersect there. You will always know which station you are at by the big, impossible-to-miss signs on the station walls, as in the photo below.

Once at Etoile, I followed the signs to the blue line. Anvers is not at a terminus (you can refer to the map at the top of this post to see that). From Etoile, I need to go in the direction of Nation, as Anvers lies on the blue line between Etoile and Nation.

Incidentally, the medium green line had also ended at Nation (the way I didn't want to go). It is the same stop, but you can see from the map why I went the way I did.

Once on the Nation line, it was just a matter of waiting for the Anvers stop, getting off, and walking to Sacre Coeur
Using the metro is almost always better than using a taxi, as long as it gets you where you need to go. Tickets are very cheap, and it really is the most efficient way to move (providing the workers aren't on strike). If you have a ton of luggage, as in more than you can carry up and down stairs, then maybe the metro isn't the best for you until after you drop it off.

Do make note of the time the metro closes. I had an unfortunate experience in Rome one time where the metro and city bus lines shut down at 9 p.m. and I had to walk a considerable distance back to my hotel.

1 comment:

catied said...

wow! i just found your blog and it is incredible! This was post was really helpful too and just the thing to jump start my dream of traveling over spring break....thanks!