News You Can Use

photo, bike police, petit carrousel By the Petit Carrousel on Sunday.

Hikes, Freebies, Strikes and Taxis

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 2. July:–  I've fallen behind with news you can use but I see it's July and I hear those planes landing at Roissy by the dozens. Here are a few items to make your day. I'm not saying 'make it better' or cheaper. It depends on where you are coming from.

It's Still a Good Deal

July is the traditional month , along with January, for raising the prices of items like electricity and gas, train fares, telephone rates and métro tickets. True to historical form the RATP has hiked the fares again, to 1.50€ for single tickets and to 11.10 for a carnet of ten tickets. As compensation you can now use a ticket and transfer between buses and trams and keeping switching within a period of 90 minutes, but there is still no cheap transfer between the métro and buses. Maybe the good news is that Paris' transport is still less than MTA fares in New York. Note that many ticket kiosks in métro stations no longer sell tickets. The job is done by vending machines which accept cash or cards. Up to you to figure the machines out. Finally, some stations are closed for renovations. The RATP is not on strike.

All You Can Ride for 29€

Paris by bike can be a good way to get around if you don't mind the traffic and the bike belongs to someone else, like, for example, the city. The Ville de Paris had 20,000 bikes made in Hungary and will be stationing these at 750 points around the town beginning 15. July. Paid in advance, a year's use of a Velib' bike costs 29€.

photo, snack kiosk, champs elysees Champs–Elysées handy snacks.

But nothing is without a catch these days. The bikes are available 24/7 but only the 1st 30 minutes are included in the annual subscription. Beyond that it's1€ more for the next 30 minutes, 2€ for the next slice of 30 minutes, and then it jumps to 4€ thereafter. It takes about 15 days to get your Velib' smart card, and it works together with a bank account that debits all those 30–minutes slices. Without offering details, there are apparently one day and one week deals too. These are called abonnement Courte Durée.

Nearby Dungeon

Those who find the Bastille to be somewhat of a disappointment might be interested in the authentic and newly renovated Château de Vincennes. This 12th–century pile of stone is the real thing and much more impressive than the Bastille ever was. It includes a hunting lodge, a royal manor, and a state prison, plus a royal chapel. But the best part is that you can get to see all this for the mere price of a métro ticket. To see the inside, the fare is 7.50€. Open from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 13:15 to 18:00. After August closing time is 17:00. At the Tour du Bois Avenue de Paris in Vincennes. Métro: Château de Vincennes. InfoTél.: 01 43 65 29 19.

WiFi As Free As Air

Up until now if you wanted to get online in Paris you were pointed towards a cybercafé, usually full of young men focused on World of Warcraft. Starting in mid–July the Ville de Paris will be offering free access to the Internet via 400 WiFi hotspots distributed around the city at 260 locations. These will be located in institutions open to the public, such as public libraries and museums. Access will also be offered outside, such as on the parvis of the Hôtel de Ville, the Champ de Mars and the Montsouris park. The service will be available from 7:00 to 23:00, except in locations that close earlier. Depending on the signal strength and location, you might be able to access this free WiFi in your hotel room, provided you bring your own WiFi–capable computer.

photo, downstream ile de la cite, sundayLounging on the island.

Festival Paris Cinema

This starts tomorrow on Tuesday, 3. July, and the cat's eyed Charlotte Rampling is its lady president, figurehead or icon. The deal with Festival Paris Cinema is the entry price of 4€ for all films. With a rich and diverse program in many participating cinemas, and at some other odd sites around town. There will be some premiers, some fawning, some famous folks like directors – even actors! – some outdoor shows, some fireworks, some big deals – and a lot of movies. The whole thing continues until Saturday, 14. July.

Aux Armes Citoyens!

The reason the Fête Nationale is in July is that it is summer, regardless of the weather. In this country it is considered a safe time to celebrate revolution, especially if a lot of Parisians are out of town. This doesn't mean it is particularly dangerous – but the French do like to party.

For this reason the fête starts the night before, this year on Friday, 13. July. In addition to many public parties put on by various units of the Sapeurs–Pompiers – firemen – there will be a grand bal populaire organized by the city at the Bastille , which will spread to include the Marais, Les Halles, Notre–Dame and the ever–popular Quartier Latin. At the Bastille this year's theme is Africa, meaning I guess, drums.

On Saturday 14. July, some people who may have gone to bed early may take themselves to the area of the Champs–Elysées to watch the military parade with its soldiers, sailors, police, Foreign Legionaries, tanks, aircraft fly–over, and new president of France, in the stands of honor in the Place de la Concorde. I think this happens starting at 11:00. It usually draws a huge crowd, and because of fanatics and shooters, security is tight. Be prepared to be pushed around.

photo, fountain in the cour caree Sunday's water music.

After the president leaves to go to his garden party at the Elysée, soldiers and sailors spread around town, for free eats and drink. If you are not in uniform, forget this, and build up your strength. If you are not a nabob forget about the garden party too. This year only UMPs are invited.

In the evening on Saturday a good time to get to the Champs de Mars is 22:30 if you want a view of the firework display. About a quarter–million folks, some with strollers and babies, will turn out for this free show. This is far less controlled than the morning parade but seldom presents any problems. A good view is possible from the Ecole Militaire end of the field. Leaving, métros might be a bit over–full.

Announced but without details, there's supposed to be a music concert at the Tour Eiffel on Saturday, 14. July, featuring Michel Polnareff and Tokyo Hotel . This is apparently sponsored by the president's house, the Elysée, to honor France and Europe. Yay!

Strikes of the Month

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's new president, made some campaign promises. One will be to ensure that there is a minimum service of public transport during strikes. Another is to ensure that there is a 48–notice before strikes. Transport operators will be able to use strike–breakers to ensure the minimum service, and Mr. Sarkozy has insisted that strikers will not be paid.

photo, boat rental, tuileries Boat rentals in the Tuileries.

This is inspiring stuff, or would be, if it wasn't what already happens. Wildcat strikes have always been rare in France – most strikes are already announced in advance. When there is a transport strike, there has always been a minimum service, from two–thirds to one–quarter of normal traffic. In the past strikers were not paid for being on strike. The only new element is to use strike–breakers to ensure minimum circulation, and it can't be any surprise that the unions will object to this, perhaps by having a strike.

Meanwhile it is July, a traditionally strike–free month, as is August. It is very unlikely that there will be any strikes while Sarkozy passes his new laws this summer. But the rentrée is always an interesting time. Expect the summer to be officially over about 15. September and then it'll take two weeks for everybody to get back in the groove – so, if you've come to France hoping to catch a strike or two, you are probably out of luck until October at the earliest.

Allo Taxi?

Forget the past lack of a central taxi phone number. Those were the bad old days and we are sorry they lasted so long but this IS 2007, and late is usually better than never. To get a taxi where you are, call 01 45 30 30 30, and hope it is not raining, not rush–hour, not a national strike day or not anything else anormal.

Final note:– a new terminal at Roissy kind of opened – it was announced – but it apparently has no name. If you get to the end of Terminal 2 and see sections E and F, then that big thing beyond is the new terminal. It has been built to accomodate the new Airbus A380 which is not quite ready for service yet but put on a great show at Le Bourget recently. The Terminal E that partly fell down, is still being reconstructed – the no–name thing is not its replacement.

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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