Paris: Free Hugs!

June 27th, 2009 by Potato

Paris is a big city. It doesn’t really seem to have an identifiable “downtown core” like most Canadian cities do, no single major street or intersection that defines the centre. There’s the La Defense district, which we haven’t been to see yet, but seemingly the whole of the city is crowded with one-way alleys and 5-storey apartments with retail on the ground floor. It makes the whole city seem like a teeming downtown core, and I just can’t quite wrap my head around it all.

The stonework is impressive though, and Wayfare and I were wondering how it was that they managed to put so much effort into seemingly every building over such a wide area. Of course, the downside is that there’s very little greenspace to be found, and any little patch of lawn seems to instantly spring sprawling sunbathers in this summer heat.

Oh, the terrible heat. I don’t know how it’s so hot underground, but that has to be the biggest downfall of the metro system here. None of the trains are air-conditioned, which is especially bad when bathing seems to be as optional as it is here. They open the windows so there’s a bit of a rush of air when the small trains are moving, but the system is quite a bit different from the subway of Toronto. There are an enormous number of stations and lines, all criss-crossing across the city. It’s kind of nice knowing that up on the surface a metro stop is never much more than 300 m away, unlike the 20+ minute walk you could face in North York or London just to get from your house to the nearest bus stop, let alone subway station. However underground it means that the trains spend way too much time stopped at the stations, baking with no air movement, rather than making progress through the tunnels. There’s also no guard car like the TTC has — no one checking to make sure that everyone is off the train, that those boarding aren’t getting caught by the doors. The buzzer sounds (and it’s an unpleasant noise that does not help the claustrophobic nature of the situation), the doors slam closed and the train moves. The doors don’t even open on their own, you have to hit the release yourself. Of course, none of these issues stop it from being a very well-used service: even at night just before the system shuts down the trains are fairly busy; at one stop the people hadn’t even finished getting off, let alone given a turn to the hundreds of people on the platform to get on, when the buzzer buzzed and the doors tried to close.

Today we spent a lot of time walking and looking at buildings, including the impressive Notre Dame cathedral. However we were pretty baked by the heat and the sun and a slight bit of dehydration given that a bottle of water or can of pop runs us north of $3, so we haven’t been taking as many pictures as we should have been. We walked by the Louvre, where bizzarely enough a gang of people were giving out free hugs (with the signs to advertise it). Wayfare was quite excited by the free hugs, and got 7 or 8 on the way through the crowd.

“Yay, free hugs!”

We grabbed some crepes for lunch at a small restaurant in the shadow of Notre Dame, where there happened to be a small white kitten sleeping on the bench (until some American girls came in and decided to pick him up and tell him how cute he was). We now have more pictures of the little white cat than we do of the Louvre and Notre Dame cathedral combined.

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