If you are travelling to London or Paris, preparing for the practicalities of the subway system is something we always advise. However, apart from the business of moving large groups around and avoiding pickpockets, there is another challenge—deciding on your favourite station.
I lived in London for many years, never in Paris. Maybe this is why I have such a fondness for the Paris metro system. It has not spent a large portion of our relationship frustrating me with delays or inaudible announcements. It has more exotic adverts (although, ostensibly for the same stuff as in London). It is hard to argue with any 12-foot high poster that says “Floof!” Although, I still have no idea what it was selling. Paris has better buskers (people playing live music in the station); if anyone doubts this, they should go to Chatelet by exit number 6 on a Saturday afternoon and see the 12-20 piece outfit playing, or try St Michel station on line 4. Paris has the art-deco styling of the entrances, masterpieces of design.
Above all, Paris has some cracking station platforms! In a recent survey (poll sample size of two people: wife and brother) 100% of respondents agreed with me that Arts et Metiers is one of the finest. Situated on one of the lesser used junctions of lines 3 and 11, it is a representation of the museum of Arts and Industry located nearby. The station is designed in tribute to the science fiction works of Jules Verne. The platform has portholes along it containing models of buildings and machines; there are clunking great cogs and metal pipes in the roof of the platform tunnel, copper walls and metal seats. It is an art gallery in itself, for the price of a metro ticket.
I must also give special mention to line 12 at Concorde station. You step onto the platform and see it completely decorated in small white tiles all containing letters or numbers. I have often played the unfair game of giving my groups the two or three minutes we have until a train arrives to tell me what the tiles mean. In all my visits, only one student has got it – spoiler alert – It is the Declaration of the Rights of Man, written in the tiles.
There are other greats; the maze of moving floorways at Montparnasse, the exit at Opera that leads to nothing more than traffic until you turn around for a spectacular view of that special building, the greenhouses at Gare de Lyon (line 14 only).
So, if you are going to Paris, remember that the subway system is never just a quick way to get from A to B; it is the chance to indulge in the game of choosing a favourite station.