No Hassle From Airport to Snow

photo: interior gare de lyon
Trains waiting to leave on a normal day
at the Gare de Lyon.

The ABC of Going From 'Nord' To 'Lyon' Via RER 'B' and 'D'

Paris:- Wednesday, 14. October 1998:- I recently read a travel book; probably the first one in 15 years. I don't really know because I don't remember the one before it.

One comment made by the author struck me. He wrote that two of his guide books were incorrect about some bit of obscure information - such as whether the trains in Italy run at night or something.

There was an item about 'Winter Sports' in last week's 'Café' column. As a rule, there are no 'winter sports' in Paris, but you can certainly get to them from here. If you live here, you go to the Gare de Lyon at night, and ride off to the southeast in a freezing fog.

If you do not live here, you might arrive for 'winter sports' at Roissy - the Charles-de-Gaulle airport - and you have to get from there to Paris and then to the Gare de Lyon.

Before I read the item in the travel book about the mistakes, or omissions, in well-known guide books, I would have written: 'Take the RER line 'B' to Gare du Nord and switch to the RER line 'D' there, to get to the Gare de Lyon.

This is fundamentally correct. The big omission is the fact that both of these stations are tremendously complicated, grossly overlarge - especially Gare du Nord - and hopelessly confusing.

They are both served by buses, taxis, métros and suburban RER trains, as well as regional, long-distance and international SNCF train lines. This means they have tracks going every which way, stacked several layers deep, like an insane multi-layer sandwich.

The Gare du Nord

Mostly, I have arrived at the Gare du Nord by métro. The métro doesn't have anything to do with this story, except that I have to use because I am trying this out - without bothering to arrive by air at Roissy first.

Anyway, forget the métro, even though I try a new way and come to the station from La Chapelle on line two, because the map shows a connection to Gare du Nord I've never tried before.

It is a long underground walk and a good part of it appears to be new. Even though I am technically 'lost' coming this way, I do eventually find what you will find when you get off the train at, say, track three in the station, where the 'Eurostar' arrives.

I'm sorry. I'm supposed to say where you will be when you arrive on RER line 'B' from the airport at Roissy.

With this you are a long way underground somewhere, level -3, but you already are where the RER trains are hiding. Follow the signs from line 'B' to line 'D' and make sure the line 'D' sign says 'Châtelet-Gare de Lyon-Melun.' Today this train is on track 44. It is always supposed to be on this track.

Back upstairs at the 'Eurostar' arrival location, you are at the street level at the west side of the station. The RER lines are over on the east side, and on thephoto: cote cafe display third - no less! - level underground. Be cool, even if the arrival area looks like the staging area for troops departing for the Marne front.

Just to the left of the western exit - to the taxis - is the escalator going down to where the baggage lockers are - the 'conseigne.' Another way down, when you have a baggage chariot, are the elevators beside the west exit, beside the bright red Hachette newsstand and tabac.

Along with all the different cafés, you can also have a Spanish beer at Côté Café.

The 'conseigne' looks like a maximum security prison area and your baggage will go through a scanner, before you can start looking for an empty locker. Charges are 15 to 30 francs for 24 hours and the place is open all week from 06:45 to 23:45. A sign saying there are more lockers at Gare de l'Est, means this one may be full.

Okay, now to find the RER. I go to the other side of the station past all the lines, from three to 19. There is an information booth for the station on the right and a buvette named Côté Café is on the left.

I have a café and it costs 6.50 francs. This is about 50 centimes more than average for Paris. It might be worth it. This train station buvette has six types of coffee - cuba, mocca, sidamo, arabica, colombian - and will add a croissant to your 'express' for a total of 10 francs. It also sells the café in 250 gram bags. Perhaps best of all, you can have a mixed sandwich and a beer - 'pression' - 'demi' - for 29 francs.

The last time I took a train out of Gare du Nord I couldn't get a can of pop - so this buvette is a huge improvement. The rest of the station is full of cafés, buvettes, terrace-cafés and restaurants.

Feeling good, I go over to the station info booth. The man says, "Do not bother to note the route to the RER; it's going to be changed in a few weeks." Since I actually started in this end of the station, I tear up the notes I've made already. It took me 45 minutes to write them.

Start over. At the east side of the station, past track 19, the info booth is on the right and the Côté Café on the left. The Paris Tourist Office hotel reservation place is straight ahead. Here you can reserve a hotel for right now, today. This office is closed on Sundays, but otherwise open daily from 8:00 to 20:00.

No reservations are possible for tomorrow or next week or for when you get back from the mountains. Strictly here and now. It is the same deal at the main Champs-Elysées office and their little office in the Gare de Lyon.

While in this office I overhear hotel guests asking for Saturday nights. They already have a hotel for Thursday, Friday and Sunday, but did not manage to get Saturday in the set. They have to come back here on Saturday.

Go past the hotel reservation and look for the 'RER' in a circle next to a 'D' in a circle. I've torn up my notes about the details of this on account of the reconstruction going on.

If you don't see any 'RER' or 'D' signs, look for '44' or 'Voie 44' signs. These will be located on the third level down, regardless of the reconstruction of the routes to it. According to the map found for me by an extremely helpful SNCF lady after a 45-minute hunt, the third level down is as far as you can go.

On the way, buy your ticket from the first ordinary orange and grey ticket vending machine you see. These give change. These are called, in case you are color- blind, 'SNCF - Billeterie Automate Banlieue.' Dophoto: hotel terminus nord not try to buy tickets from similar machines that are blue and grey or yellow and grey. Don't even look at these.

The guide-book author had trouble finding eating places; outside Gare du Nord there are about 75 of them, plus hotels - mostly full.

The yellow and grey ticket automat called 'SNCF - Billeterie Grands Lines' sells 'Eurostar' tickets to London or Brussels. Example: one way to London with 'Second Plus' is 1,280 francs. The usual weekend 'street' price for a round-trip is under a thousand francs I think, and sometimes sinks below 700. Don't even look at these machines.

On the 'good' orange and grey automat's touch-screen, in the bottom right corner, there is a blue 'button' which has 'Metro RER-Paris' on it. Touch it. Don't bother reading the other 92 percent of the screen.

Then touch the 'button' named 'class.' Then skip the button for 'carnet' and lightly touch the one for '1 ticket.' The screen will say 'pay eight francs' and you put a 10-franc piece in the slot on the right, and the two-franc change and the ticket arrive in the slot below the screen, near your knees.

The ticket will have 'Section Urbaine RER-Métro' printed on it. It can be used for either the RER or the métro or both - when you leave an RER area and if the ticket is returned, it will still be good.

That's it then - eight francs to ride two stops to Gare de Lyon, on a double-decker train deep underground. There's lots of room for baggage by each wagon's doorways - except maybe during rush hours.

The first stop is Châtelet-Les Halles. Even if you can not see any station signs because the windows are too low or you are too tall, get out at the second stop. It will be Gare de Lyon.

The Gare de Lyon - Gateway to French 'Winter Sports'

If you are riding any RER train in Paris, the tunnel it's in is as low as you can get. There is no way to go except up even if your vision is crosseyed from trying to see all the direction signs - including the ones with different information on the opposite sides. So don't worry and keep plodding upwards, and you will arrive so long as you don't give up.

Today in the RER somewhere deep under the Gare de Lyon, the choices are complicated by the construction barriers still in place for the new métro line 14, which starts its runs tomorrow. When - if - the temporary barriers are removed, it should be somewhat more simple. Maybe even a snap of a cool breeze.

It means though, tomorrow things will be different here and if I describe in detail what I go through today, this will be non-operative tomorrow. Sorry for the inconvenience, as they used to say, when you had to wait to drive through the construction site because there was no detour.

Where I accidently reach surface today, is near the rue de Bercy entrance to the station. The first escalator going up, I take to the train level. Daylight at the east end of the station verifies this, even though there are trains all over the place.

It appears I am on the 'arrivée' side. The 'Train Bleu' restaurant at the top of the stairs is the 'street' side. The Paris Tourist Office is to the left of the stairs. The city's hotel reservation office is not the 'Rendez-Vous Protravel' shop; it is the tiny cubby-hole to the right of it. It works the same way as the one at the Gare du Nord.

With the stairs up to the 'Train Bleu' at my back, it looks like the 'départ' tracks are on the right; behind the huge train-departure panel, clock and whatnot. There is an information booth just behind and to the right.

The man in it tells me the way to the 'conseigne.' Go down the quai between tracks 'G' and 'H,' take the down stairs and turn left. I do this and it looks like where I was before I got up to the train level.

Turning left brings me to an area called the 'Salle Méditerranée' and I pass a 'meeting point' sign and go right to the end. By itself, is the baggage room, the 'conseigne.'

The young man there with the Brink's badge says they have a room were they can put skis. They obviously don't fit in the coin lockers. The 'conseigne' room looks about as high-securityphoto: taxi line at lyon as the one at Gare du Nord, also with a scanner you should not put a heart pacemaker through.

The line for taxis is as long as it looks, but there are more taxis in their 'line' than you can see.

This 'skis room' is informal. The young man guesses that the station management puts up some sort of large storage space for skis, when the season is actually here. This makes sense so I doubt if it is true, but you never know.

The 'conseigne' hours at the Gare de Lyon are 06:30 to 23:30 daily and the maximum time you can leave articles here is 72 hours. The coins required are 15, 20 and 30 francs, but you can use any sort of 10-franc coin.

On the train level there are a variety of stand-up station 'buvettes' and sit-down terraces, and interior cafés, plus the famous and antique 'Train Bleu' restaurant upstairs.

The exits on either side of the stairs to the restaurant will take you to the taxi rank outside, but under cover. When I go out and look, the line of people and bags waiting their turn for taxis is long. So is the line of taxis waiting their turn to pick up passengers.

On your return trip, do everything in reverse. If, by following this little guide from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon, you got hopelessly lost - reverse it too and you'll have no problems at all.

Finally, I Forgot the Airport at Orly

I won't ask why you might do it, but if you arrive in Paris at this airport, then the above information is not useless. The RER line 'B' also joins this airport to Paris, so you can use the above tips for switching at Gare du Nord to get to Gare de Lyon.

You can also switch one stop earlier at the RER crossover at Châtelet-Les Halles to the RER line 'D.' The operative word here is 'can.'

I didn't try this. My métro-RER map shows three different RER lines here plus three métro lines in the vicinity. The new métro line 14 will be added tomorrow. In short, the Châtelet-Les Hallesphoto: clock gare du nord complex is Paris' biggest transport intersection. Travellers with jet-lag should try to avoid this particular experience.

The Gare du Nord's main clock is where you may never see it. If you need to look at it, you're probably late.

Without it being my fault, getting to Paris from Orly is complicated by the 'OrlyVal' line. I think this may merely be another name for a branch of RER line 'B,' since there is no separate colored line on the map named 'OrlyVal.' Whatever it's called, change at Châtelet to go to Gare de Lyon - or ride without changing, all the way to Roissy.

Both ends of the RER line 'B' have a variety of branches, so watch the overhead train postings for the names of the airports. Not every train goes to them, but one will sooner or later.

Finally, if for some reason you are already at Châtelet, and you want to get to the Gare de Lyon quickly, follow the signs with the '14' in a circle, to get to the new métro line. It runs non-stop and fast, to the Gare de Lyon.

Both the Gare du Nord and the Gare de Lyon have been previously featured in Metropole. The Gare du Nord piece was called 'No Rain, No Fog and No Inspector Maigret' and the Gare be Lyon was sort of outlined in 'The Gare de Lyon's 'Le Train Bleu'.'

The Point of It All: Winter Sports

'Miko' ice cream has a polar bear as a mascot so it seems natural that it is the mascot of their winter sports Web site. It contains a lot of useful information in French and English about weather, snow, equipment, accommodations, resorts and facilities available in France's more nordic areas.

As far as this type of 'sport' is concerned, I prefer getting no closer to cold and snow than ice cream and luckily I can get this across the street, along with some tropical fruit drink with warm-looking palm trees on the label.

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