I confess. This is an article I wrote years ago and it’s been rehashed. Because a) it’s still pretty much accurate and b) I don’t want my new blog to die. This article is about my experience as a biker riding around Paris.
It’s said that there are two types of French people. The French and the Parisians. Add on top of this, the fact that they’re all of Latin blood and then you can understand why they have a reputation for driving badly.
I suppose that Paris can be broken down into various sections. Paris, the Peripherique, bikers and car drivers. So, I’ll do it like that.
Paris, itself, is circled by the Périphérique. Most of the roads inside of Paris tend to have heavy traffic. Pretty much the same as London, I suppose. The main differences being that there are loads of cobblestone roads, priority to the right at most (not all) junctions and dodgy roundabouts.
If there’s one thing that the French haven’t mastered, that’s roundabouts. Take a trip up the Champs Elysées (cobblestones), up to the Arc de Triomphe and hammer it on! Well, maybe not. True, you have priority going on to the Place Charles de Gaulle* (formerly place de l’Etoile) but there is always some pillock that realises that they are bigger than you. Also bear in mind that you have to have your head looking to the right all the time, watching for people creeping up behind you and to your right.
The Arc de Triomphe is not the rule for roundabouts as there are proper roundabouts around the place. Not many, but there are. Two things to remember. Number one is watch out for markings on the road. French roundabouts that have priority to those that are coming on, tend to have either nothing marked on the entrance to the roundabout *or* there are give way lines marked on the roundabout, coming out from the centre. Number two is that once you leave Paris (and its suburbs), all roundabouts are standard, give-way-before-you-come-on types. With little worded signs stating that you do not have priority. Designed for Parisians on holiday.
Always abbreviated to ‘the Periph’, it’s the border of Paris. Anything inside the Périphérique is Paris, anything outside, isn’t (with some small exceptions). The highlight of any ride to Paris. 35km of three lanes of pure hell. A road started at the end of the 50’s with the traffic of the 21st century. Oh, and 70’s junctions to match.
This could be considered the north and south circular of London (the A86 would be the French equivalent of the M25). It is better styled than the north and south circular though. Journey times of 1hr+ to do 12km in the rush hour are quite conveniently pointed out on information panels above the lanes**. Very accurate too. Unless, of course, you’re on a bike. Coming onto the Periph, you have priority at each junction. Traffic is filtered into one lane to arrive neatly onto the Periph. It’s in these areas that you’ll find the *cough* bike entrances. That is, the chevroned areas that cages, sorry, cars have no access to This is where riding a bike comes into its own.
Bikers in this city, come in all shapes and sizes. From the typical French courier on the moped with the 6ft fairing and window cleaners with ladders strapped to the back of mopeds right through to Businessmen riding around on GSXR’s whilst wearing suits. Very much a breed of people that all stick together.
In this city, bikers (and in this, I include moped riders) know that they go places and they know that they do it quicker than car drivers. This friendly race of people tends to give you signs relating to this all the time. Watch out for the right leg being stuck out or the ‘V’ from the left hand as they go past. General signs meaning “Wotcha” or “Ta Muchly". Queues of bikers sometimes congregate on the Periph as they all filter through the fast lanes. You may find that once in a while, you’ll be blinded in your mirrors. This’ll be a biker using full beam whilst filtering. Also a neat little sign meaning, “move over". So top tip for the day, is always watch your mirrors, as there will always be some impatient bugger wanting to go faster than you. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a car and a biker thinks you’re being inconsiderate to other two wheelers, watch out for the signals as in a hand making a pushing movement or even a friendly kick.
This quite tidily brings me onto the subject of car drivers in the city. A breed unto themselves. French car drivers are generally impatient, stressed and hang around in places like traffic jams. The average French car driver can be found on the Periph, reading a newspaper, playing on a computer or talking on the phone whilst wobbling around the place. Fair dues to them. Sometimes they do move over when bikes filter up between the lanes, but by no means is this a signal to go like a bat out of hell. This is also the city where there are loads of blind drivers, those that think indicators are optional extras and those that change lanes at 90kph in a 50kph limited zone. To see an undented or unscratched car in this city is quite a rarity. If you see one, it’s probably new.
This is where I’ll bring this article to a close. Paris is an excellent place to visit on a bike and most people are friendly. Driving in the city is an experience that no one should miss.
* Every town in France, and by this I mean EVERY city, town, village, hamlet has a road, street, roundabout, etc, named after this very famous General and President. As someone from the UK, I think he was a bit of a git.
** I laugh at wikipedia where it states that “When traveling at the legal speed limit, it takes around 26 minutes to complete a full circuit.” Well, it’s true. If you’re driving there at 3am.
On a Usenet group, someone recently asked if CDG was a good hub to travel through for international flights. Hmm, tough question, as I’m biased. The reason I’m biased is that I spend a lot of time at that airport so know it fairly well.
However, for non-residents, it’s not got a good reputation. I quote:
“CDG is the single worst airport i have ever used & I have used it a good few times, nothing works, it’s a fucking dump, full of jobsworth nazi security & mega waits to get through.
It’s a fucking horrible fucking mess to find your way round too, some euro-hoppers land at nearby terminals with no really useable quick way of getting round.
If you land & depart at/from the main terminal, then you might have a chance, but i seriously think it will just send your blood pressure sky high.
Another really fucking annoying thing, is as the departure gates are in kind of orbital pod kind of gates, most dont have toilets, so you are royally fucked if you need a piss after going through.”
Now whilst I’ve left the quote word for word, it’s not all accurate. The poster did concede that it’s been a good 5 years since his last visit to the place though.
Terminal-wise, T1 is still a dump. An absolute eyesore. A carbuncle, if you will. But it’s undergone some major renovation works over the last few years to make it more convivial. Some parts of T2 are a bit grotty, but not too bad (2E,2F and 2G are not bad at all). T3 is basic and always will be. Oh, and there are toilets.
Transport is fairly good between terminals but if you do have to go between two different terminals, then transit time seriously needs to be taken into account. Ground staff are good at collecting passengers in (short) transit (well, my experience is with Air France ground staff). Even so, I’d probably forget CDG as a transit hub if your transit time is short (I’d say less than 90 mins). Especially if you need to pass through passport control when coming in from a non-Schengen airport (such as the UK).
The URL above should give you some idea as to the layout of CDG. There are decent shuttle links and/or bus links between terminals.
One poster remembers that it took him ages recently, mainly because of the security checks between terminals (Something I’ve not experienced, obviously) . And he raised the point that invariably, it’s being operated by *one* man and *one* X-ray machine. For a planeload of passengers.
That’s a French thing and it’s on purpose. It’s to present the face of French customer service to all those visitors that are arriving in la belle France for the first time in their lives. It’s externally subcontracted, IIRC.
The next one is passport control. The same system has been set up so that, again, first time visitors can experience French bureaucracy. Generally the set up is most effective either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. French ATC plan to have 3 to 4 aircraft arrive at the same terminal at the same time. The Police then either go on an extended fag break or they nip off for a coffee, leaving one or (if it’s badly organised) two of their colleagues to check passports of nearly 1000 foreign nationals. So out of a possible 20 odd booths, you’ll only have one or two in use.
There is the Parafes system for EU nationals (if you’ve bothered to register for it) which you can use, but so as to inconvenience arriving passengers to the max, access to this is deliberately hidden behind plants and so only the wiliest of travellers (Or French travellers in the know) realise that the only way to the booths is by nipping under the guide ropes.
Lastly, the third way of introducing visitors to the country, is by waiting for a few hundred passengers to all queue up and then by shouting in a loud French voice “French citizens with French ID cards, this way please” as Jean-Pierre nips out from his quick coffee break.
I’ve experienced it all.
To resume, for a major hub on the continent, I’d use Schipol (all in one loooong building but very well organised). If I ever had too, which I don’t.
In a word, no.
Now a bit longer. I’m not writing this blog as a means to “have a go” at the French. If I was, then I wouldn’t have lived here for the best part of 13 odd years. I’d have “buggered off to where I came from” if I didn’t enjoy living in this country. The land of fine wines, fine women and snails. If I was living in the UK, I’d quite happily criticise the English too.
I’m not blind enough to see that I’m not living in Utopia. Far from it. So whilst I may be old enough to have a membership to the Grumpy Old Gits club or be a member of the Bleeding Hearts and Liberals club too, I will endeavour to keep the blog balanced.
When I started to write this, I was sitting on an aeroplane. So read it as if I’m talking present tense. Even though it’s in the past. Something else I need to learn how to do properly when I blog.
I’m sitting in seat 12F. Emergency exit seat. I’m off to Brno in the Czech Republic, via Vienna. There is an airport in Brno, but it’s not that convenient for me, so I choose to fly to Vienna and then spend 2 hours on a taxi to get to the city of Brno.
I always try to fly Air France when I can. Not out of loyalty mind. Nor because it’s due to the fact I live in the region of Paris. It’s all about the air miles. Sod it. If I have to travel for the company, then I may as well get something out of it. I travel quite extensively too. Not enough to have the Platinum card but at least the Gold card. I get to go into the lounge in the airports (and have some of those really half decent croissants that they provide the early travellers with in CDG), check in in the business check in counter, go through the business security scanners and board at my own convenience. It does make travelling that much easier.
Most of my travel is around EMEA. That is Europe, Middle East and Africa. Mostly Europe at this time. A couple of trips to the Middle East too. For my current company that is. I’ll a pretty well-travelled person. Luckier than most, I suppose. I get to travel around the place and someone else pays. It’s not all fun and games though. I don’t mind the flying bit or the staying in hotels bit. It’s the bit between arriving at the airport and getting on the plane that’s not much fun.
OK, the lounge is good, as I said up there, but it’s the bit between leaving the lounge and getting on the plane that’s not much fun. That’s right. Security. The “control". I’m not having a go at the personnel as they’re doing their job. It’s always a bit of a bind in these days of heightened security. A necessary evil as such.
I’ve got my part off pat now. Laptop out of the bag (and my Xoom now), all metal objects into the tray (belt, phones (yes, I’ve got two of them), wallet, coins, etc., etc., etc.). Jacket off and into the tray too. I tend not to remove my ankle high boots unless I’m asked too. That’ll be going too far. Show the boarding card to the nice lady or gent, wait until I’m asked to proceed through the scanner (I’ve not had the pleasure of one of those body scanners yet). Wait for the invariable beep or not as is sometimes the case and then pick up my belongings. No liquids of course (what a stupid bloody rule that is). If (and that’s a big IF) I was really a terrorist, I could think of a million other ways to hijack a plane.
BIG DISCLAIMER IN BIG LETTERS. I’M EXPRESSING AN OPINION HERE. I’M NOT A TERRORIST!
Now I’ve got used to the old age pensioners taking an aircraft for what might seem to be the first time ever in their life or the scatty tourists that haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, where they’re going, etc. etc., etc. or even the somewhat interminable pace that the queue moves forward (I always try to arrive early in any case). What does get my goat however, is that whilst I live in the EU (you know common currency, no borders (with a couple of notable exceptions), no need for passports as you can show your ID (if you’re lucky enough to have been issued with one)) one thing I have noticed is lack of consistency in airport security checks.
In Paris, they’re pretty cool about things in general. Tight controls in most cases but they stick to procedures. However fly from somewhere like, shall we say, Vienna. In Vienna, one has to remove the cotton from ones Zippo so it doesn’t light. That’s right, the cotton. Ok, fine. I can still walk on to the aircraft with a dozen plastic lighters and three dozen boxes of matches. The next time I travel from Vienna (or Stuttgart which has a similar policy), what I’ll do is take the cotton out myself, stick it in a little bag and hide it in my case somewhere… It’s unlikely to be seen on the x-ray and I’ve not seen any sort of sniffing equipment near their security controls.
Anyway, I digress. It’s not the stupid policy that frustrates me, but the lack of consistency between EU airports. If there was one policy that fits all, then at least passengers would know where they stand and what to expect. It would be far too much to expect that one worldwide policy be developed. A close friend of mine had a completely brand new Zippo confiscated when travelling from the US back to Italy some years ago, despite his protestations and offer to remove both the flint and the cotton.
Okay, rant over.
Additional: I’m on the plane to fly back to France from Vienna at the mo. In case anyone from Vienna airport security is paying attention. One can enter the boarding area using the bar code on one’s ticket. Nice. Efficient. This gets all passengers into the right area at speed, no hassles. I can then purchaser liquid (alcohol for example) at one of the many duty free stores at my disposal. Just before I go to the boarding area in front of the gate, this is where I go through security and x-rays. Now I’m making a bit of an assumption here, but I suppose that said alcohol that I’ve just purchased is allowed through in spite of the liquids rule (you know, nothing more than 100 ml in a clear litre plastic bag). I assume so as I didn’t see a stash of bottles behind the x-ray machine nor any inebriated security guards. I suppose showing the till receipt would be proof of purchase in the airport.
Ok, still following me? Or should I spell this out for you and explain the complete waste of time your “no liquids policy” (and the Zippo cotton rule for that matter) is? Alright, I will explain it to you as I’m writing in English and I’m going to assume that English is not your native tongue. What’s to stop someone taking a genuine receipt from one of these stores and using the magic of a computer, create a new receipt for a bottle of alcohol on a specific date? Said person would have no troubles at all in taking a hazardous substance on an aircraft. Just a thought.
Addendum: I’d like to thank Captain Jacques Brunere (sp?) for explaining in such a light hearted way as to why we were going to be delayed in taking off today.
I’ve always wanted to write a blog which I thought people would find interesting. It’s not been an easy task considering how many blogs there are out there. I’ve experimented with a general blog and a hacking blog (of which, both can be seen on this site) and whilst I’ve attracted one or two followers for various tit bits of information, nothing major.
I’m not a writer but I hope that I can improve as time goes on. I also hope I actually succeed and keep this up. What am I going to blog about you may ask? Well, it’s actually been staring me in the face for quite some time. I already twitter (if you can actually call it that) under the name as my first choice of twitter name wasn’t available. Rosbif_in_Paris. That’s right. I’m an English guy living in Paris. So why not blog about my experiences whilst I’ve lived here? I suppose I should add a disclaimer here. Anything I write about will be about my personal experiences and opinions (and rants). They’re not necessarily going to be correct (as no one is infallible, but I hope to do a damn good job of keeping it all accurate anyway) nor may you agree with them. My grammar may not be to the standard of English experts (but I think it’s pretty good!). I’m used to doing things on Usenet, so no matter how hard you try flame or troll me, it ain’t gonna work. Overall it’s more to satisfy my need to write a blog. At the same time, I’m going to try and make it interesting.
Comments, remarks and suggestions are always going to be welcome.