I moved to Glasgow for university without ever having been there before and in order to arrive as prepared as I could, I spent hours on Google Maps street view to the point that on my first day there I already knew my way around and recognised many places. If you’re about to go on your exchange to Paris and you’ve never been before you could either do the obsessive things I did (warning: it requires a considerable lack of social life) or you can keep on reading this and learn a thing or two that will hopefully help you make the City of Lights your home.
Forget the completely useless Glasgow subway or the perennially no-show buses! The Paris transport system is surprisingly efficient and extremely easy to use. Being a student you get a special and considerably discounted pass (Imagine R) to all transport systems of the city, including metro, buses, city trains and tramways.
- Métro (M): with 16 lines and 303 stations it gets you anywhere in Paris and in the immediate outskirts. It is by far the most reliable and fast system, with intervals between trains from 2 to 10 mins depending on the time of the day. On the downside it closes at 12:30am on weekdays and 2:30am on weekends.
- Buses (BUS and N): buses are an excellent substitute for the métro when you feel more audacious or actually want to see Paris while commuting. They have similar paths and stops to those of the métro but overall more frequent. A true lifesaver is the Nightbus (N) which has fewer lines but operates in the hours that the métro doesn’t. Particularly appreciated in both day and night buses is the maps and screens on board that make missing your stop virtually impossible.
- Trains (RER) and tramways (T): these mainly serve the outskirts and suburbs of Paris, but it is useful to know that the line RER B gets you to the Charles de Gaulle airport (included in the pass).
With the exception of a few American-styled cafés, bringing your laptop or notes to a French one is usually met with a curious and somewhat judging look. If you want to blend in and do as Parisians do, here’s a list of tried and tested places to get down to business aside from the university libraries:
- Bibliothèque Publique d’Information: the BPI is located inside the contemporary art museum Centre Pompidou just north of Notre-Dame. It is open everyday except Tuesdays, from 12pm to 10pm on weekdays and from 11am to 10pm on weekends. In busy times you might have to wait in line for a place to empty but that usually doesn’t take too long.
- Bibliothèque Saint Genevieve: a beautiful 2-century old Hogwarts-y building in the hip Latin Quarter across the street from the Panthéon. It only closes on Sundays, whereas the rest of the week it’s open from 10am to 10pm.
- Institut du Monde Arabe: this building on the Seine’s banks dedicated to the Arab world also features a modern library open to anyone from Tuesdays to Sundays from 1pm to 7pm.
Eating and Drinking
Now onto the most important part. Surviving in Paris means developing an exceptional eye for cheap places to eat and drink, but also identifying a couple of fancier place to splurge when you want to celebrate a good grade or forget a bad one.
- Pretty much anything in the Latin Quarter: this area has lots of cheap and delicious takeaway places including Lebanese Chez le Libanais and crêpe extraordinaire Au P’tit Grec.
- L’As du Falafel is a must for vegans and vegetarians and it’s located in the beautiful narrow streets of Le Marais.
- Pizzeria Popolare: imagine my joy as an Italian expat in finding a place where a Margherita is €5 and the staff and cooks are all Italian; also really cool and hip vibe, a Paesano of the French if you will.
- When you walk the uphill path toward La Gare you might think you’re going to get killed in this remote and worn-down building, but it is actually a very popular and chill live music venue, usually jazz and often free, with cheap beer sold at the entrance and plenty of space outside to chill in between sessions.
Forgive the length of the post and the absence of images, the GASA blog space has run out of storage and the issue hasn’t been fixed yet. As always, I’m at your service for any information you might want and need on the Erasmus experience in general and one in Paris in particular. À la prochaine fois!
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