Thursday, 29 March 2012

Highlights of KM477

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Date: Sunday, 19 Jun 11
Aircraft: 9H-AEM, Airbus A319
Seat: 20A
Departure Gate: 10N

Scheduled Departure Time: 2030 LT
Delayed Departure Time: 2200 LT
Boarding Time: 2150 LT
Push Back: 2218 LT
Takeoff: 2224 LT on runway 24

Scheduled Arrival Time: 2305 LT
Touchdown: 0035 LT on runway 31
Actual Arrival Time: 0039 LT
Arrival Stand: 7

Booking

Paris was originally not in our plan as we had wanted to travel from Switzerland to Malta direct. However, the airfares between Geneva and Malta were astronomical and most of the Air Malta flights from GVA would had also included an additional stopover in Zurich en route to Malta. Therefore, we decided to seize the opportunity to experience the legendary TGV from Geneva to Paris and do a very brief stopover in the city as the fares out of Paris were very much cheaper.

Air Malta operates daily flights from both Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) airports to Malta. The fares for either choice were comparable, and our first choice was to fly out from CDG as the airport bus uses a MAN Lion’s City GL, while the airport bus to Orly airport uses an articulated Scania Omnicity which we were not very keen on. We later chanced upon an irresistible offer on the Air Malta website, where Paris–Malta round trip was significantly cheaper than booking one way for either ORY-MLA or CDG-MLA. Thus, we decided to buy the round trip ticket to enjoy the savings and leave the return sector back to Paris unused as we were carrying on to Rome from Malta. We had also decided to depart from Orly as it allows us to spend more time in the city before heading to the airport for the evening flight to Malta.

Air Malta - A Troubled Airline

Being the national carrier of Malta, the airline has a special place in the heart of many Maltese and it is thus understandable that the Maltese government had taken unprecedented steps over the past year to save the airline. Faced with a string of financial problems and stiff competition from Ryanair and Easyjet, the regional airline had been on the verge of being shut down ever since it was offered a last minute grant by the government when the airline bankrupted again early this year. The airline had proposed a series of tough measures to trim down its operations, which included the retrenchment of half of its workforce. It had also barely missed a potentially crippling strike action by its pilots union on 16 July 2011 before the strike was called off by the union.

Among aviation enthusiasts, Air Malta had been known to be an airline which takes exceptional pride in its branding. The carrier's insignia, the St John's Cross, is imprinted on a wide variety of articles ranging from airsickness bags to plastic wrapping for the cutlery notwithstanding. As such, the airline's memorabilia is highly sought after by many collectors and enthusiasts. It is also worthwhile to note that the airline had an enviable record of zero accidents since it first took to the sky in 1974, apart from a hijacking incident in 1997 where all the crew and passengers were unharmed.

The future of the airline is highly uncertain as it remains to be seen if the carrier is able to pull off a successful and sustainable restructuring plan amidst the turbulent market conditions that it is currently facing. Looking back, we were glad that we had chosen to fly Air Malta instead of a low cost carrier to Malta.

Getting to the Airport

Despite having a comprehensive métro system, it can still be a challenge to get around the city as the bus and métro networks are so tightly integrated together that there is only one feasible option in many cases. There are mainly two ways to getting to Orly Airport from the city centre:-
1) Take the OrlyBus from Denfert-Rochereau métro station to Orly airport for 6.60 Euros.
2) Take the OrlyVal LRT from Antony RER station. However, this option is much costlier and ironically, not a very suitable option for many travellers with luggage as one has to climb a fair amount of stairs when transferring between métro lines! Orly Airport also lies outside of Zones 1-3 thus visitors with the cheaper Paris Visite Pass would need to pay for the ride on the LRT.

Due to a series of cumulative delays, we ended up having to do a mad rush from our hostel in the Montmartre region to connect with the 1834hrs trip of the OrlyBus at Denfert-Rochereau. The only consolation was that there was no need for transfers between metro lines.
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Designed to deter potential fare evaders, the ticket gates with its full height barriers at the Barbès-Rochechouart métro station also test the dexterity and agility of travellers as they attempt to retrieve their ticket in time while ensuring that both themselves and their luggage make it past the barrier to the paid area!
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Amidst much huffing and panting, we barely made the trip and settled in for the 15-minute ride to Orly Airport. Thankfully, it was an older and more interesting Scania N94UA instead of being based on the newer Scania five cylinder series which SBS Transit uses.
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According to the published route, the bus service would call at both Orly Ouest and Orly Sud terminals. However, the bus driver simply stopped on the highway and asked passengers heading to Orly Ouest to walk an additional 600m to the terminal. This incident only served to further sour our impression of Paris as the OrlyBus is essentially a premium service with marked-up fares, but operated with third world standards in a first world developed country.

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Check-In

After making it to the terminal, we raced through the length of Orly-Ouest where the check-in desks for our flight were. Finding the correct desk can be a frustrating elimination game as the flight information display boards do not clearly indicate the location of the check-in desks but often only display the flights which are handled in the particular hall.

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Upon reaching Hall 1 at the opposite end of the terminal, we noted that our flight had been delayed. This would also mean that we had rushed in vain as the check-in desks are not due to close for at least another hour.

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A total of three check-in desks were open to process the passengers for the evening departure to Malta. In another bizzare encounter, we spent 15 mins in a queue only to discover that the particular check-in desk was not able to accept check-in baggage as the baggage conveyor system for the desk was spoilt. It would definitely be a very kind gesture if this particular piece of information was displayed on the overhead screen so that passengers could choose if they wish to continue to queue at the counter, or use it as an express lane for passengers without check-in baggage. Nevertheless, the check-in staff was polite and apologetic about the situation and assigned us our seats and boarding passes before directing us to another counter to check-in our luggage. We were also disappointed that the boarding passes were printed on blank standard boarding pass cards instead of one which has the Air Malta logo on it.

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Following which, it was a further 20mins of queuing in another queue just to check-in our baggage. Some of us swore not to return to Paris in the future.

I decided to enquire about the reason for the delay and was told by the check-in staff that the original aircraft had AOG-ed (Aircraft On Ground) in Malta and another aircraft was despatched to operate the flight instead. The new departure time would also be at 2200hrs instead of 2030hrs. Although she clearly had a lot of trouble speaking in English, I was appreciative of the fact that she took the effort to explain the situation to me instead of a curt "I don't know" which one often receive from the check-in staff back home at Singapore Changi Airport.
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Relieved of our luggage and with our boarding passes in hand, we decided to head to a café beside the check-in area which affords a good view of the taxiway and runway 06/24 through large, single layered untinted glass. Paris is well known for the quality of its pastries and the selection that we had from the café certainly lived up to its high expectations. Meanwhile, some of us were also kept busy with their cameras as a steady stream of aircraft movements taxied past the window.
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It might sound far-fetched, but our troubles were far from over. One of us was given a boarding pass with the wrong name on it and it was surprising that two separate check-in staff had missed out on that despite checking against (or appeared to) our passports in both instances. It was resolved without much issue as a new boarding pass was issued with the correct name and the baggage being retagged as well.

Spotting at Paris-Orly

It was rather productive spotting aircraft taxiing past towards runway 24 for departure as a single departure runway was in use at the time of our visit. In addition, the overcast conditions had also worked in our favour as it would otherwise be backlit and increase the amount of reflections on the glass panes. It can be said that the spotting session was an accidental upside to our flight delay!

British Airways A319 G-EUPU
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Air Algerie B737-800 7T-VKI
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Tunis Air A320 TS-IMG
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Air Europa ERJ-195LR EC-KYO
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Air France CRJ100LR F-GRJG operated by BritAir
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Another thin 'pencil-liner', Air France CRJ1000 F-HMLF which is also operated by BritAir. Love the stylish curves on the engine cowlings which help to spice up an otherwise boring 'Eurowhite' livery! One of her sistership would later also make an appearance at the Singapore Airshow 2012 on behalf of the manufacturer.
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Corsairfly operates a number of summer charter flights throughout the day from Paris-Orly. Here, one of the carrier's distinctive B747-400 F-HSEA taxies out for departure with a load of sun-seekers.
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The Flight

We stayed at the café in the public area until we were eventually requested to take our leave as it was closing for the day. The entrance to the restricted zone of the terminal could best be described as being hidden in plain sight – it is simply a gap in the middle of a long row of check-in desks. One can imagine that the airport planners had designed the layout of the terminal only to have realized that they had overlooked the need to cater to an entrance to the restricted zone!

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There were 3 lines at the security counter and the security check was carried out efficiently and professionally. However, the security staff was not updated on the current flight status as they had thought that our flight had departed when they had scanned our boarding passes to check for its authenticity. It seemed that the bulk of the passengers for our flight had decided to proceed into the restricted area as soon as they had obtained their boarding passes!

The restricted area was crammed and was basic with a few shops and amenities available for passengers – definitely not the place to be to sit through a long delay!
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In addition, it was impossible to obtain good photos of aircraft in the restricted area as the full length windows were covered with a tight mesh of white opaque dots. However, there were comfortable couches for other passengers who were satisfied by simply admiring the aircraft movements that pass in front of them.
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A boarding announcement was made at 2115hrs that boarding for our flight would commence in 10 minutes. However, the aircraft had not arrived at the gate from Malta thus we were doubtful that the aircraft would be turned around in time for the retimed departure at 2200hrs. Afterall, this is France and not Japan or Korea where short turnarounds are the norm! A long queue nevertheless started to form in front of the assigned gate for our flight.
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Boarding eventually commenced at 2150hrs and crowd control was enforced at the aerobridge as there was a jam since passengers were not boarded by zone to speed up the boarding process. Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to grab a quick photo of our aircraft and was relieved that an A319 would be operating our flight as it was originally scheduled. 9H-AEM was delivered new to the airline in Feb 2005 and is one of the 5 A319s in the fleet. It was also to be my first flight on an A319, thus adding another new aircraft type to my flight log.
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We were greeted by an elderly flight steward at the entrance to the aircraft, and I noticed that he was shaking his head in despair at the jam in the aisle as passengers struggled to stow their hand carry baggage in the overhead compartments.

"Too much baggage eh?"

"Yes, I don't understand the need for so much baggage. When I travel I only bring my Giordanos, my Dunhill and a lighter"
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An Alitalia A320 parked at gate 10P beside our aircraft.
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Air Malta's A319 are configured with 2 rows of business class seats at the front and followed by 21 rows of standard dark blue vinyl economy seats. I was pleased to discover that despite complains of the terrible seat pitch on Air Malta's aircraft, I found the seat pitch to be adequate and comparable to many other airlines.
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Boarding was completed at 2215hrs and soon after pushing back, the aircraft made a quick taxi to the end of runway 24 and commenced its take-off roll. The aircraft then commenced a series of left banks to head southeast towards Malta.
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Inflight announcements were in French, Maltese and English and the captain apologised for the delay of the flight due to a technical delay. Shortly after, the in-flight purser announced that the complimentary beverage service would be extended to include spirits as well as a token of appreciation for putting up with the delay.

The catering service commenced half an hour after take-off, with 2 elderly stewards manning the food cart and a third female cabin crew manning the drinks trolley. There were no choice of dishes, and dinner comprised of macaroni with chicken slices with bread and an almond slice for dessert. The portions for the hot dish were decent but the taste was unfortunately mediocre and the chicken slices were a tad dry. In addition, the pre-packaged almond slice required a drink to swallow it down. Plastic cutlery was used but the airline's distinctive logo was stamped on virtually every item on the tray as a means of branding. One could definitely not complain as many European airlines had long since stopped serving hot meals on regional flights!
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For the drinks service, we decided to try Kinnie, Malta's unique national soft drink which is derived from bitter oranges and a number of aromatic herbs. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of forgetting to order ice to go along with it as the original Kinnie tastes similar to a mixture of Coca Cola, coffee and cough syrup when it is unchilled.
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In-flight entertainment was basic with a drop down screen which showed documentaries about Malta and the airline but no headphones were provided. In addition, the Airshow channel was also displayed when the documentaries were not screened. After an uneventful flight, we commenced our descent into Malta while overflying the island of Sicily to the south of Italy.

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Following a smooth landing on runway 31, we taxiied to a stop at one of the remote stands in front of the terminal building at Malta Luqa airport. Malta Luqa airport has no aerobridges and the authorities are generally very tolerant of passengers taking photos of their aircraft on the ramp - perfect for aviation enthusiasts!

The cabin crew from the flight was photographed disembarking from the aircraft.
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Ryanair B737-800 EI-DYT parked at the adjacent remote stand. The white floodlights at the apron also meant that there were no issues with the camera's white balance.
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The passengers and crew were split into two apron buses for the short ride to the terminal building. We were again very impressed as the driver patiently waited for us to get a photo of the bus before moving off.
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Baggage claim was fast and efficient and our bags were already on the carousel when we stepped into the baggage reclaim area. As this is a Schengen flight within the European Union, there are no immigration formalities required upon departure and arrival.
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We had pre-booked our hotel transfer prior to our arrival as the public bus service to the capital city of Valletta only operates until 2030hrs from the airport. The driver, however, was clearly tired and bored after waiting for nearly 2 hours as a result of our flight delay!
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For some of us, the Skoda ride was one of the scariest (or exhilarating depending on how one looks at it) ride that we had ever taken in a car. It had a powerful acceleration and was very smooth, much like the Volkswagen model that it was based on. The driver also consistently skipped the second gear and travelled at about 100km/h through the dark and empty roads when the signs that flashed past us showed that the legal limit was only half the speed!
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Next Post: Historical Malta - Day 10

Previous Post:
Historic Paris - Day 9

Monday, 19 March 2012

Historic Paris - Day 9

A simple but decent breakfast spread is available for guests of City Village Hostel at a small and cosy dining area located on the ground floor of the building. Guests can also request for a passcode from the reception to access the free wifi while helping themselves to the selection of freshly baked croissants and hot coffee.
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After checking out of our room, we stored our luggage at the hostel's luggage storage area where each bag is individually tagged and checked by both the receptionist and the guest. The baggage is then placed in a locked storeroom under the care of the hostel's staff.

In a city where the bus and métro routes are seamlessly integrated and any form of duplication between the two modes of transport religiously removed by RATP and the authorities to optimise the use of resources, RATP route 30 is a notable exception as it duplicates a significant portion of the métro line M2 from Anvers to the Arc de Triomphe (Charles de Gaulle Étoile). Despite the long headway of 20 minutes on a Sunday morning, it was worthwhile waiting for the bus as it offered a more friendly commuting experience with a view of the streets and light loading on the bus, instead of having to negotiate flights of staircase to travel in a claustrophobic and crammed environment of the métro.
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Interior of the Irisbus Citelis Line. Although being in service for only two years and intended as an improvement over the aging Renault Agora fleet, the build quality left much to be desired as it was rattling badly with a poorly sounding engine.
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Arc de Triomphe & Porte de Champerret

The Arc de Triomphe is located in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, the world’s largest traffic roundabout, otherwise historically known as the Place de l'Étoile (“Square of the Star”) as it is the meeting point of twelve straight avenues (and three arrondissements). It was renamed in 1970 following the death of General and President Charles de Gaulle. It is still often referred to by its original name, and the nearby métro station retains the designation Charles de Gaulle - Étoile.

The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his imperial victories, but remained unfinished when he started to experience defeats – at first battles and then whole wars. The completion of the Jean Chalgrin designed monument was thus delayed until 1836 during the reign of Louis Philippe. Four years later, Napoleon’s funeral procession passed beneath it, on its way to his burial in Les Invalides. Standing at 50m high, the arch is now the customary starting point for victory parades and celebrations.

The light traffic in the roundabout and low pedestrian volume at the early hour before the Arc de Triomphe was opened at 10am presented us the opportunity to get “clean” photos of the monument without throngs of tourists.
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Our original plan to camp for photos of buses at the roundabout turned out to be less productive than we thought as unfavourable traffic conditions conspired with the intermittent burst of sunlight on the overcast day meant that the bulk of the unobstructed photos were not bathed in sunlight.

A Setra S416GT coach operated by Keolis on behalf of Les Cars Air France. The company provides a premium airport shuttle service for travellers who wish to avoid the stressful public transportation system when commuting between the two major airports and the city centre. The Charles de Gaulle - Étoile to Charles de Gaulle airport service is one of the four routes operated by the company and it costs €10.50 for an adult one way ticket that is purchased online through their website.
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An Italian registered Neoplan Tourliner V8 operated by Castro dei Volstri under the Bus Service branding.
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German built coaches such as Setra and Neoplan are a firm favourite among the tour operators and French designed/built coaches such as Irisbus and Renault were few and far between. A Kompass Komfort Setra S328DT with a full load of German tourists was one of the many Setra double deck coaches photographed at the roundabout.
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A Luxembourg registered Mercedes Benz Sprinter adorned in the attractive burgundy livery of Voyages Emile Weber.
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The Renault Agora S is the most common model and account for over 40% of RATP's citybus fleet. A total of 1645 units of the diesel version were introduced over several batches between 1996 and 2002 with increasingly stringent emission standards.
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Out of the twelve roads feeding into the roundabout, nine are served by public buses. Thankfully, layout maps are placed at the bus stops which we used to quickly locate the correct stop for our bus, and avoided the confusion which we had at Place Gambetta on the previous day. Taking into account that the bus was introduced in 1999, the lack of obvious rattling seemed to confirm its more superior built quality than its successor Irisbus Citelis. However, the Voith gearbox of the Renault Agora S did not offer an enthusing ride as it was identifiable only by the high pitch idling sound but not the signature “whistling” of the retarder.
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Porte de Champerret is located at the north-western fringe of Paris and was named after a gate in the Thiers Wall which had existed as a defensive installation in the 19th century. The triangular bus terminal is co-located with the underground métro station and serves three urban and three suburban routes.

The main draw at Champerret for us were the Renault R312 buses on RATP routes 163 and 165. Introduced as a successor to the iconic Saviem/Renault SC10 in 1988, 1594 units of the R312 were eventually produced over the next 8 years for RATP before it was superseded by the low floor Renault Agora in 1996. With its modern styling and efficient mechanical arrangement, the Renault R312 quickly became a firm favourite among operators and passengers alike and had served as the basis on which newer models like the Renault Agora and Irisbus Citelis were developed from.
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One of the key passenger-friendly features of the Renault R312 is the flat saloon floor throughout the length of the bus. This allowed for a neat and clutter-free interior was achieved through the unique placement of the 9,834 cc 6 cylinder Renault engine at the rear of the bus.
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We had also studied the routes taken by routes 163 and 165 in the vicinity of the terminal and identified a favourable location for nearside photos of Service 165. Fleet number 6229 was photographed working a shortworking variant of 165 (indicated by a diagonal stroke across the service number) to Asnieres Robert Lavergne. The final units of Renault R312s were due for withdrawal at the time of our visit and were the only non-wheelchair-accessible buses (WAB) in Paris. With the full withdrawal of the Renault R312s in end 2011, RATP now operates a full WAB fleet.
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Champerret is also served by PC1 and PC3 which can trace their origins to the Petite Ceinture (“little belt”) railway. The railway line was opened in 1852 to provide circular connection between the main railway stations within the fortified walls of Paris city and was closed in 1934 due to declining traffic over the years. The PC bus service was introduced as replacement and plied a complete circular route along the fringe of the city with layover at Porte d’Ivry. In October 1999, the service was split into three overlapping services, designated PC1, PC2 and PC3, to improve reliability due to increased vehicular traffic affecting bus operations. An Irisbus Citelis 18m was photographed on service PC3 at the same traffic junction.
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Owing to time constraints, we had to forgo a ride on the Renault R312 and backtracked our way to Arc de Triomphe on a service 92 Renault Agora.
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Being located in the middle of a busy roundabout, the only safe way to the base of the arch was to use the underpass via the métro / RER station. As it was still relatively early, there were no queues and we were able to obtain a small discount off the admission ticket (€7.90) by presenting our Paris Viste Card. In the centre of the arch flickers the eternal flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a victim of World War I buried on 11 November 1920. It is symbolically re-ignited every day at 1830hrs.
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To our disappointment, the lift was out of service and we were faced with a mind-spinning climb up a 284 step spiral staircase.
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A small museum is located at the middle level and offers a much needed rest area for visitors to catch their breath and regain their sense of bearing after the intense corkscrew-like climb up the spiral staircase. A pair of vending machines dispenses souvenir medallions produced by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (Centre of National Monuments) for €2 each (left). Toilets are also available at this level but there are only 2 cubicles (right). At the time of our visit, only one was operational and a long queue soon formed as a user had decided to claim his personal 'triumph' by hogging the toilet for close to 20 minutes!
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Inscriptions on the wall remind visitors that the area is under constant surveillance and it will be ill-advised to carve their names or messages on the wall to mark their visit (left)!
One of the several sculptures that formed part of the exhibition area (right).
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We were rewarded with an expansive view of the Paris city centre from the observation platform located on the top of the Arc de Triomphe after scaling the final 40 steps from the exhibition area. Looking to the northwest, the Avenue Charles de Gaulle and Avenue de la Grande Armée forms a pencil straight line that leads to the landmark Grande Arch of the La Défense financial district across the Seine River.
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The Arc de Triomphe is aligned to face the famed Avenue des Champs-Elysées (the branch on the right in the photo below) such that on 2 December, the date which marks Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, the sun sets in the direction of the Champs-Élysées through the arch and creates a spectacular halo around the building. Tourists from all over the world throng the broad avenue in search of French designer goods which are often cheaper and feature more updated inventories than back at their home cities.
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The Eiffel Tower lies to the south of the Arc de Triomphe by the banks of the River Seine.
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After descending from the observation platform, visitors are channelled into another section of the museum which primarily functions as a high end gift shop. Several artworks and a scale model of the Arc de Triomphe are also exhibited at this area.
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By another extension of Murphy's Law, the downward riding elevator at the other side of the arch was also not serviceable and visitors were made to descend through another 284 steps of the tight narrow spiral staircase to the ground level. One of us decided to cross the roundabout at grade to get to the métro station in a shorter time while the rest of us who were less adventurous used the underpass. Unfortunately for the poor signage, we ended up at the métro station exit along Avenue des Champs-Élysées and incurred unnecessary detour to get to the platform.

Métro Line 6 plies a semi-circular route from Étoile to Nation around the southern part of the city above boulevards formed by ancient city walls (boulevards extérieurs) via Bir-Hakeim which is one of the several stations located near the Eiffel Tower. A complete loop line similar to the Circle Line of London Underground was originally envisaged, but technical difficulties forced a separation of the circle into two lines.
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Almost all Paris métro lines follow roads, having been built by the cut-and-cover method near the surface. Charles de Gaulle- Étoile is the western terminal station of M 6 and trains turn-around using a loop which follows the Place Charles de Gaulle roundabout above it. The open layout at the aging underground métro stations also mean that passengers could see, feel and hear the train approaching before it even pulls into the platform!
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The Spanish solution is adopted at Charles de Gaulle- Étoile M 6 station, where the single track is flanked by two platforms to segregate boarding and alighting passengers.
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Eiffel Tower

The most distinctive symbol of Paris and one of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 in conjunction with the Universal Exposition, which was held to mark the centenary of the French Revolution. Designed by the engineer Gustave Eiffel and originally meant to be a temporary addition to the skyline, it faced massive opposition from artistic and literary elite, and was snidely referred to as the “metal asparagus”. However, its graceful symmetry soon made it a star attraction and the tower proved to be an ideal platform for transmission antennas. At 324m high (including the TV antenna), it was the world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by New York’s Empire State Building in 1931. However, this figure can vary by as much as 15cm due to thermal expansion of the tower’s 7300 tonnes of iron (and 2700 tonnes of non-metal components), which are held together by 2.5 million rivets.

In contrast to most other métro lines, a significant portion of M6 runs above ground. In particular, Pont de Bir-Hakeim which spans across the Seine River between Passy and Bir-Hakeim stations offers a good view of the Eiffel Tower.
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Despite its popularity as a tourist attraction, none of the métro stations are well positioned to serve the Eiffel Tower. Bir-Hakeim / Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel stations are the nearest but are located almost 600m away – perhaps such walking distance is considered acceptable in the European climate. However, it also meant that we had to run to Eiffel Tower from the métro station in order not to be late for our reserved time slot and possibly having to join the queue as walk-in visitors. Walk-in visitors typically have to spend up to two hours by first standing in line to purchase the tickets and next to queue for the lifts. As such, the long criss-crossing queues at the base of the Eiffel Tower is a common sight on a late Sunday morning.
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After much confusion asking around, we finally managed to find the correct queue located at the East Tower for visitors with advance reservations. It then occurred to us that the scheduled time slot is only a rough indication as it is limited by the capacity of the lifts. After all, this is France, not Switzerland where punctuality is a religion. At the control point, the barcode on the electronic ticket (either as softcopy on mobile phone or self-printed hardcopy) is scanned and cancelled electronically and a manual bag check is conducted by the staff for security reasons.
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An ascent to the top of the Eiffel Tower involves two separate sets of lifts - an 'inclined' lift that serves the first (57m high) platform and the second platform (115m high). A second standard lift then whisks visitors from the second platform to the third platform located at a height of 276m. It is possible for visitors buy a reduced price ticket to manually hike up the stairs to the second platform of the Eiffel Tower (360 steps to the first platform and followed by an additional 359 steps to the second platform) if they choose not to wait for the lift.

The double deck 'inclined' elevator cars that serve the first and second platform can carry a maximum of 92 passengers and weigh 22 tonnes each. They are operated by an improved rope and hydraulic system where a 320 kW electrically driven oil hydraulic pump which drives a pair of hydraulic motors mounted on a separate carriage assembly. (left) This is counterbalanced by three large counterweights of 200 tonnes each sitting on top of hydraulic rams which doubled up as accumulators for the water which is used as the hydraulic fluid. (right)
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It takes an average of 8mins 50s for each lift to do a round trip, with the lift spending 65s at each floor and an average journey time of one minute between the platforms (left). The lifts used to be manually operated by an operator perched precariously underneath the lift cars before the entire system was modernised and automated in 1986. Today, a dummy is placed in the position where the lift operator used to be at as a link to the past operational history of the unique lifts (right).
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A significant amount of time during the visit was spent waiting for the lifts, in particular the second one which leads to the top level and provides ample opportunities for the pickpockets to earn a living from unsuspecting visitors.
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The scale of the expansive Champ de Mars could also be appreciated from the south-eastern side at the second platform of the Eiffel Tower. Originally meant as a parade ground for the officer cadets from the Ecole Militaire that stands at the end of the gardens, the grounds had hosted numerous events in the past such as the 1889 World Fair for which the Eiffel Tower was built.
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The experience of being able to stand on the topmost platform and enjoy an unrivalled view of Paris is certainly worth all the amount of waiting and jostling at the lower levels! A bar at the platform serves flutes of Champagne to couples who may have a sudden wave of romance while admiring the view and huddling in each other's warmth from the cold and gusty winds. The stately Esplanade du Trocadéro and its beautifully manicured Jardins du Tracadéro as well as the forested park of Bois de Boulogne could be viewed from the north-western side of the platform. A wire mesh wraps around the platform both for the safety of the visitors on the platform and the people below the platform. However, the gaps in the mesh are large enough to comfortably accommodate most SLR lenses.
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The view from the south-western side reveals the Seine being bisected by the narrow artificial island of Île aux Cygnes which was created to protect the port of Grenelle in 1827. Visitors can stroll down the tree-lined l'Allée des Cygnes and view a one-fourth scale replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York at the western tip of the island (it also faces west towards its counterpart in the USA). The monument was inaugurated three years after its counterpart in the USA and was given to the city of Paris by the American community of Paris to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889.
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View from the north-eastern side of the platform. Bathed in the overhead noontime sun, the Arc de Triomphe could be prominently seen in the top left hand corner of the photo.
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Gustav Eiffel had included a small room on the top platform of the Eiffel Tower in his design and it was used to host intimate receptions with prominent guests. This reconstructed scene depicts a meeting between Gustav Eiffel and the renowned American inventor Thomas Edison on the sidelines of the 1889 World Fair in the company of Gustave Eiffel's daughter, Claire. A copy of the phonograph machine was presented to Eiffel during this meeting.
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An enclosed gallery located below the top observation platform indicates the direction and distance to other major cities in the world. It also houses the queue for visitors awaiting the non-inclined lift to head back down to the second platform.
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Many of the large mechanical assemblies such as the flywheels are still in excellent operational condition despite being installed more than a century ago! (Top Left)
Queue for the lift down to ground level from the north tower.(Top Right)
The operator console for the lift at the north tower. This electric lift has the largest capacity of the lifts and was built by Schneider-Crusot in 1965 and subsequently modernised in 1995.(Bottom Right)
Numerous signs warn visitors to the presence of pickpockets working their trade at the second platform. (Bottom Left)
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Video of the lift journey from the second observation platform (115m) to the first observation platform (57m). A post office is also located at the first observation platform.


Video of the lift journey from the first observation platform (57m) to the ground level.


Despite expecting the food from the nearby kiosk (Restaurant de Eiffel Tower) to be expensive, we decided to join the long queue in the interest of time to grab a quick bite. Roasted Chicken Baguette Sandwich (€6.50), French Fries (€3.50).
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We decided to take service 42 directly to Opéra instead of métro as the latter option requires transfer and a longer walking distance back to the métro station from the Eiffel Tower. We also made full use of the opportunity to continue on our lunch while on board the bus although the facing seats favoured by RATP meant that it could prove to be a rather awkward situation when the bus does an unexpected emergency braking!
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Opéra

The Opéra National de Paris Garnier was designed by Charles Garnier for Napoleon III and construction started in 1862. Combining different architecture styles which range from Classical to Baroque and employing a unique mixture of materials such as marble and bronze, the structure is further decorated with elaborate columns, friezes and statues on the exterior which gives it its distinctive appearance.
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Details of the numerous statues and fittings at the opulent Opéra National de Paris Garnier. The bulk of the operas are however, staged at Opéra Nationale de Paris Bastille today.
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Opéra is a also a major bus hub with 9 out of 59 RATP operated urban routes calling in the vicinity of the theatre and métro station. The similarity in the exterior styling between the Renault Agora (left) and the Irisbus Citelis (right) could be clearly seen in this side by side comparison photo!
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Apart from the volume of bus services, a relatively large variety of bus models could also be seen at Opéra. A RATP MAN Lion's City G was photographed working route 95 with a message on its electronic destination sign reminding passengers to validate their tickets the moment they board the bus.
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RATP operates a dedicated fleet of 16 MAN Lion’s City GL articulated buses on the Roissy Bus service to Charles de Gaulle airport. The Lion’s City GL is 18.75m long instead of 17.98m for a regular Lion’s City G articulated bus.
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Paris L'Open Tour is one of the three major companies that operate open top double deck on sightseeing routes around the city. The company employs a fleet of mainly Neoplan open top double deck buses that are painted in the company's striking lime-green livery. The operator is affiliated with Gray Line Tours and offer a 2 day pass where passengers can choose to hop on and hop off at any of the 50 stops on the four sightseeing routes.
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Les Cars Rouges operate a unique fleet of East Lancs bodied Volvo B10M and B7L double deckers on its single open top sightseeing route from Trocadéro. Some of these double decks are also equipped with twin staircases to facilitate passenger movement in the bus.
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An Austria registered Neoplan double deck touring coach operating for Bata Reisen. The Neoplan Skyliners are readily identified by the swept back glazed windscreen on the upper deck and generous use of curves in the exterior styling of the bodywork. Although it had underwent a series of design changes over its 48 year production run, the basic configuration had remained unchanged and bears testament to the robustness and longevity of the product.
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Following which, we hopped on a M 8 métro for the short ride to the southern part of the city centre to spot the two revitalised tram lines.
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Balard & Parisian Trams

Balard station is named after the French chemist Antoine Jerome Balard who discovered bromine. It is the southern terminal of M 8 and has the less common island platform layout. The MF 77 rolling stock used on M 8 was originally designed for extension of the métro into the suburbs, hence it was the first Paris métro rolling stock to feature curved bodywork with wider mid-section.
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The MF 77 rolling stock was introduced on M 8 in 1980 and the original interior is significantly better maintained than some of the other older rolling stocks. MF 77 trains on M 13 are currently undergoing mid-life refurbishment and it is expected that those on M 8 will be coming next.
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Street entrance to the underground Balard métro station (left). On the ground level, we spotted a Parisian traffic rule that made sense for once - it is compulsory for pedestrians to obey the traffic light signals and trams have priority at the level crossing junction. (right) However, it is still a common occurrence for trams to routinely honk at errant pedestrians and cyclists when approaching a stop!
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A RATP Alstom Citadis 402 approaching Balard station on route T3 while running on lawn tracks laid out in the road median. Tramway T3 was introduced on 16 December 2006, and is the first modern tramway in Paris proper, after an absence for 68 years. It is also known as the Tramway des Maréchaux Sud because it follows the southern portion of Boulevards des Maréchaux (Boulevards of the Marshals) that comprises of a series of boulevards that encircle Paris along the boundary of the former Thiers Wall.
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After a few photos of T3 trams, we proceeded to the parallel road just beyond the Boulevard Périphérique to spot Tramway T2 as the directional signs at Balard métro station indicated that these two lines were in close proximity at Balard.

A retired French Air Force Mirage IIIE posed as the gate guard at the compounds of the DGA (Direction Générale de L'Armement) which functions as a procurement agency to the French military.
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There is always something special about spotting familiar service numbers in a foreign city and I was quite pleased to spot RATP service 39 by chance at Balard. As with Singapore's service 39 which fleet mainly comprises of the most common single deck model in SBS Transit's fleet, RATP's service 39 fleet is also chiefly made up of Renault Agora which make up over 40% of the operator's fleet.
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Tramway T2 plies between the La Défense financial district and Porte de Vincennes in southern Paris, largely along the western bank of the Seine River in the département of Hauts-de-Seine. It was opened in 1997, mostly from the conversion of a former SNCF suburban railway line. Due to the high capacity provided by coupled pairs of Alstom Citadis 302, the headway of T2 was rather long at 12 minutes. Other than the lower frequency, it was also more challenging to photograph T2 trams due to the length, as each single set of 5-car Alstom Citadis 302 is 32.2m long.
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After one final photo of a T2 tram approaching the stop along lawn tracks, we returned to Balard to take a short ride on T3 to Porte de Versailles. Unlike Swiss trams which allow boarding and alighting at all doors, RATP configured the Citadis 402 with designated doors for boarding and alighting.
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The bright and airy interior of the Alstom Citadis 402 tram. As it is to be expected of modern trams, the Citadis 402 features a full low-floor interior for the convenience of passengers and PIWs (Passenger in Wheelchair).
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The Paris Fair is an annual trade event held in Paris between the last week of April and the first week of May since 1904. Due to its popularity, a purpose-built venue was constructed in 1923 and was known as the Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles (left). Today, the venue had evolved into a modern exhibition centre which plays host to major trade fairs throughout the year and as a premier location coveted by musicians and artistes to stage their concerts.
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A mural at the concourse level of the Porte des Versailles métro station reflects the busy Paris Fair scene in the past. The old Parisian tram is also featured prominently at the bottom of the mural and Tramway T2 now terminates besides the new Paris Expo complex.
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We carried on our journey on the métro line M 12 to Place de la Concorde from Porte des Versailles.
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The older rolling stock in RATP's métro fleet feature 'semi-automatic' metal sliding doors where passengers have to flick a lever to spring open the door at stations. The speed and force at which the doors slide open can prove daunting for many first time users but it would soon prove to be fun to operate due to its novelty! The doors also have to keep the cold draught out during cooler days by keeping the doors closed if there are no passengers boarding or alighting from the particular exit (left).
A typical steep staircase at the older métro stations. Transport enthusiasts would find Paris métro stations to be a very fertile ground for collecting tickets as discarded "t+" tickets of varying conditions are strewn about in generous quantities at the staircases and corridors (right).
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Place de la Concorde

The curved walls of the Concorde station are tastefully adorned with square letter tiles, which together form the words to the Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) from the French Revolution.
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The historic Place de la Concorde is the largest public square in Paris, measuring an area of 8.64ha. The Place was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1755 as a moat-skirted octagon between the Champs-Élysées to the west and the Tuileries Gardens to the east. Decorated with statues and fountains, the area was named Place Louis XV to honour the king at that time.

One of the many ornate lamp posts at the entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries. This formal garden used to form the royal gardens for old Palais des Tuileries in the 17th century.
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The 3300-year old pink granite obelisk in the centre of the square was presented to France in 1831 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy and pasha of Egypt. Weighing 230 tonnes and towering 23m over the cobblestones, it once stood in the Temple of Ramses at Luxor. It arrived in Paris on 21 December 1883 and three years later, on 25 October 1886, King Louis Philippe placed it in the centre of Place de la Concorde, where a guillotine used to stand during the French Revolution (left).
Given the technical limitations of the day, transporting the obelisk from Egypt to France was no easy feat: on the pedestal are drawn diagrams explaining the complex machinery that was used for the transportation and the eventual erection of the obelisk at its current location (right).
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The eight female statues adorning the four corners of the square represent France’s largest cities in the 18th century outside Paris – Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Nantes and Brest. The statues sculpted by James Pradier are located on the north-eastern corner of the square and represent the cities of Strasbourg (foreground) and Lille (background).
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Ringed by magnificent palaces, the elegant statues and monuments in the historic Place de la Concorde provides the perfect photographic opportunities for newlywed Asian couples seeking a romantic European wedding experience.
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Despite their association with developing countries, trishaws and auto-rickshaws have gained novelty in Europe in recent years. Hanif Cabs operate these traditional modes of transport on sightseeing tours around Paris.
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A Paris L'Open Tour Volvo open top double deck with a Disneyland Paris advertisement passing by the Place de la Concorde.
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One of the unique features of the Paris métro system is that one need not pass through a fare gate when leaving the paid area at certain stations. Instead, a complex system of turnstile controlled exits and corridors are used and are sometimes integrated together with the surround buildings and infrastructure. It could be a frustrating experience to locate the correct 'hole in the ground' which leads to the station entrance as it may be hidden at a blind spot behind a street corner as it was the case for Place de la Concorde!

Instead of transferring to M 2 at Pigalle, we continued on the M 12 to Abbesses as the station is nominated as one of the most beautiful métro stations by the Parislogue travel guide.
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Platform area at Abbesses métro station. The direction of the métro line is beautifully painted on the tiled walls at each end of the subway tunnel.
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Abbesses was the first métro station with elevators which we had encountered thus far and the special arrangement was a result of the station being located 36m below the ground on the western side of Montmartre hill.
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The main feature of Abbesses station is the art nouveau design with glass canopy at the entrance. In fact, it is one of the only two intact métro entrances that were designed by Hector Guimard. Inspired by the organic designs found in nature, many métro stations all over the city feature variants of his signature art noveau métro station entrances.
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From Abbesses station, it was a short walk back to the hostel to pick up our luggage in preparation for our journey to Paris-Orly airport and embark on the next segment of our trip.

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Paris Cosmopolitan - Day 8