Paris Cosmopolitan - Day 8

by - 02:03

TGV Lyria

TGV Lyria is a joint venture between the French and Swiss national railway operators (SNCF 74%, SBB-CFF-FFS 26%) to operate high speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) rail services between the two countries. Our preliminary plan was to take the TGV Lyria service from Lausanne after a ride on the Golden Pass Panoramic VIP train to allow one full day in Paris, but the revised schedule of the Golden Pass train with effect from the 2011 timetable year necessitated breaking up the journey over two days.

We thus decided to make a stopover at Geneva instead to enjoy a significantly longer ride on the LGV (Lignes à Grande Vitesse; high-speed line) sector as compared to the TGV Lyria Lausanne service. Furthermore, Seat61.com describes the ride as a scenic journey passing by “pretty French villages, mountain forests and scenic lakes” along the low speed section. Our excitement was further fuelled after discovering that our train would be operated by a TGV Duplex double deck train. A fair amount of luck and advance online seat reservation via RailEurope.com meant that we were able to secure our preferred choice of facing seats with a centre table in the middle of the carriage on the upper deck.

We arose early and decided to skip breakfast in view that it would be provided later onboard the TGV high speed train to Paris. As with the previous evening, it was a breeze boarding the tram at the stop near our hostel for the short hop to Gare Cornavin.
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We headed straight to the ticket counter at the train station to confirm our Eurail Passes validity, as the staff at Zürich Flughafen station only wrote the start date without stamping on the pass.

Saturday early morning rush at Geneva Gare Cornavin station. The platforms for the cross-border train services to France are located at the extreme end of the station complex from the main entrance, thus it would be well advised for passengers to factor in sufficient buffer time to make their way to the platform in time.
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The Schengen arrangement between Switzerland and European Union nations such as France mean that one need not undergo customs and immigration formalities when crossing the border. As a possible holdover from the past before the existing arrangement came into effect, passengers are channelled through two narrow and parallel corridors where the customs and immigration for both nations were used to be. A final set of sliding glass doors lead up to the platform level after passengers had validated their TGV Lyria tickets/reservation at the strategically positioned barcode readers.
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Upper deck interior of a first class carriage. Arranged in a spacious 2+1 configuration, the reclining seats also offer in-seat power supply which we made good use of during the journey to charge our camera and mobile phone batteries. The luggage racks are located at the end of the each carriage at the articulated section. In addition, a selection of magazines such as Time and other French magazines are made available to the passengers for their reading pleasure during the trip.
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Despite promises of great mountainous terrain, the gloomy weather did not present the beauty of the scenery at its best, while the poor lighting conditions and rain droplets on the window posed significant challenges in getting decent photographs. Breakfast was finally served more than two-thirds into the journey during the high speed section after calling at the intermediate stations. Complimentary for first class passengers, it comprised of an airline style presentation of a croissant and bun with accompaniments and a choice of hot coffee or tea with orange juice.
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Restaurant car of the TGV Duplex train formation. Contrary to initial expectations, we were unable to find passenger information system showing the travelling speed and one of us had to track with the GPS device on his mobile phone which confirmed that the train was travelling at its rated speed of 300km/h along the LGV. Moreover, the 20% weight reduction achieved through the use of aluminium extrusions also resulted in the TGV Duplex having a power to weight ratio of 23kW/tonne which represents a 35% increase over the normal TGV Sud-Est trainsets. A specially modified TGV Duplex unit had also set a world speed record of 574.8 km/h in 2007.
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The final leg of the journey in Île-de-France (Greater Paris) was rather slow due to sharing of tracks with other intercity trains and the RER commuter trains. However, such operating constraints had been factored in the journey time and our train arrived at Paris Gare de Lyon station right on schedule. The TGV Duplex represents the third generation of TGV trains since the first TGV Sud-Est services were inaugurated in 1981. The Duplex arrangement allows each trainset to carry 545 passengers and a series of aerodynamic improvements meant that it only experienced 4% more drag as compared to a typical TGV single deck trainset.
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Instead of a single central station, Paris has seven intercity railway stations with each serving trains to different parts of France and neighbouring countries. Taking its name after the south-eastern city of Lyon, Gare de Lyon station mainly serves trains departing to the south-east which includes the TGV Sud-Est and Lyria services. Built for the World Exposition in 1900, the classy architecture of the station is also well known for its ornate Le Train Bleu restaurant which had been highly rated for its quality French cuisine and ambience.
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Paris Gare de Lyon station is conveniently served by the regional train lines RER A & D as well as Métro lines 1 & 14. After a fair amount of effort, we managed to locate the ticket office (left) where we purchased the Paris Visite Pass (right) to meet our transport needs for our brief two day stay in the city. It costs 14.70 Euro for unlimited rides on the public transport system within zones 1-3 for two days and we decided against purchasing the more costly all zone pass which would further allow travel to the outlying regions of Paris such as Euro Disneyland, Versailles and the two main airports (Charles de Gaulle and Orly).
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The vast subterranean warren of tunnels and structures of Paris had been well documented in various travel literature and literary works and the extensive Gare de Lyon métro station is no different. Visitors are presented with a plethora of directional signs to the boarding platforms for the different lines except that they are entirely in French, which certainly do no favours in a city that is not known for its warm hospitality. The ticket gates are also equipped with specially designed barriers meant to deter fare evaders by preventing them from simply leaping over the barrier. This also translated into a certain amount of inconvenience for visitors with luggage as only a few entrances to the paid area are equipped with special baggage flaps besides the ticket barriers. In turn, it would serve to further disorient confused visitors as they would have to figure out yet another way to get to the correct platform.
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It is perhaps a great misfortune that the old world charm of the railway station in the romantic capital of the world took on a wholly different meaning as passengers connecting to the extensive Parisian RER and métro subway system were greeted with dimly lit corridors an overwhelming stench of urine at the platform area.

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While being useful as an 'express métro service', the RER is known to daunt first-time users with its multiple branch lines and complicated stopping patterns. We missed a train as we spent time confirming its route on the LCD screens and had to endure a 15 minute wait for the next trip as the RER is considered as a suburban service with inherently poorer frequency. The next train was also a double-deck and we stood at the spacious door area at the mezzanine level for the short ride instead of lugging our luggage up or down the steps to a seat.
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On the métro system map, Gare du Nord and La Chapelle are shown as connecting stations, but we certainly had not expected that the walk in the subway involved traversing Gare du Nord railway station with several flights of stairs and walking distance of over 500m! Due to high pedestrian volume and the heavy luggage that we were carrying, the walk between the two stations (platform-to-platform) took as long as 15 minutes! Even though we were aware of the problem with staircases when using the métro, we were unable to find reasonable alternatives to get to the hostel by bus, as the rail and bus networks are just too well “integrated”.

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La Chapelle is an elevated station located on the border of the 10th and 18th arrondissements above the Boulevard de la Chapelle and could trace its name back to a village that took its identity after a chapel to St Genevieve that was built in the 6th century. In stark comparison to the highly efficient Swiss Transport System, we were firmly brought back to reality as we struggled to squeeze into the packed carriage for the short journey to Anvers.
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Montmartre

Accommodation in Paris is generally expensive (it had in fact been rated as the second most expensive city to stay in after Moscow in a recent survey) and we eventually selected the Le Village Hostel for its proximity to Anvers métro station and positive online reviews as well as being a comfortable distance away from the sophisticated nightlife area of Barbes-Rochechouart that is located one métro station away. Located in the 18th arrondissement, the Montmartre district is a firm favourite among budget conscious travellers and backpackers as a good selection of youth hostels and budget hotels could be found here.

Upon exiting from Anvers station, we had to navigate past the crowded sidewalks along the narrow streets to get to the hostel. The main door of the hostel was digitally locked at all times of the day and could only be unlocked by the reception staff, presumably for the security of the premises. The small lift in the hostel could only fit 3 person comfortably, or just one person with luggage. However, the room with the attached bathroom was clean and well maintained and as with the other hostels, sheets were provided upon check-in.

The Montmartre funicular ferries visitors up and down the Montmartre hill over a height difference of 36m along its 108m track length, and offers an alternative to climbing the steep flight of 220 stone steps alongside the funicular. The Montmartre funicular is considered part of the métro network and has similar pricing. A single ride on the funicular costs €1.70 with a “t+” ticket and transfers with other forms of transport are not allowed on the same ticket, making it the most expensive per-km service operated by RATP but the Paris Visite Pass remains valid on this service. The fare gates also serve to regulate the number people within the station but it was not very effective in preventing overcrowding at the platform as it assumes the maximum capacity of 60 people per carriage.
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The funicular started operations in 1900 as a water-powered line and the present form was opened in 1991 as the fourth incarnation of the line. The current form is also not a true funicular system as it comprises of two independent cable-operated inclined lifts which was built by the prominent elevator and escalator manufacturer, Schindler.
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Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris and is the highest point in the city. The name is derived from Mons Martis, which means “Mountain of the Martyr” in Latin and commemorates the first bishop of Paris, St Dennis, who was decapitated on the hill by Romans in AD 250. The hill also offers good views of the city to the south and was particularly impressive due to the lack of high rise structures in the city centre.
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The prominent landmark on the hill is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur) designed by Paul Abadie and inspired by the Romano-Byzantine church of St-Front in Périgueux. Construction began in 1875 and the basilica was completed in 1914, but the German invasion forestalled its consecration until 1919, when France was victorious. Today, the basilica is a popular photo location for newlywed couples with its distinctive domes and facade.
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One of the many street performers vying for attention at Montmarte. Though exceedingly crowded on weekends, Montmartre remains an excellent place to experience the unique blend of city vibe and European charm in this cosmopolitan metropolis and understand why the city continues to draw in hordes of tourists from all over the world each year.
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Ubiquitous Eiffel Tower replicas and keychains of different sizes are being peddled at every major tourist attraction in the city. The smaller sized keychains had probably gained the dubious honour of being the 'standard' Paris souvenir for tourists who are seeking an inexpensive yet representative momento to distribute to their colleagues and relatives back home. (4 for €1).
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The volatile weather system in Paris during the summer season meant that we were forced to seek shelter in a souvenir shop cum convenience stall near the Basilica for the second time since we arrived in the city. We also decided to make use of the opportunity to grab a quick lunch at the small cafe and had a selection of sandwiches (€4.40 each) and muffins (€2.20 each) which was washed down with a chilled bottle of Orangina (€2.20 each).
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Renowned for its innovation and revolutionary engineering, Citroën cars had quickly became synonymous with French elegance and style with its unique design and mechanical construction. The vintage Citroën 2CV is one of the automobile manufacturer's most iconic products and featured a canvas roof that could be rolled back and was photographed with one of the company's newer offerings near the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
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Since the end of the 19th century, Montmartre has been the principal artistic centre of Paris and street painters thrive on a lively tourist trade at the famed artist square, Place du Terte. Various examples of street art can also be found in the area and ranges from tastefully painted caricatures at the Montmarte Museum (left) to graffiti covered trucks parked by the roadside (right).
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A Gépébus Oréos 55E Electric midibus working the Montmartrobus route at a bus stop near the Basilica. Montmartrobus is a circular loop between Mairie du 18e Jules Joffrin and Pigalle and plies the narrow and convoluted network of one way streets in the Montmarte district.
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Apart from the electric powered Gépébus Oréos midibuses, diesel powered midibuses such as the Heulieuz GX 117 are also deployed on the Montmartrobus route. Fleet number 428 puts its compact size to good use as it negotiates a crowded side street while heading towards Pigalle.
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After camping near the Montmarte Museum for more photos of the electric bus traversing the narrow side streets of Montmarte, we made our way to the bus stop along Rue Lepic which would bring us to Mairie du 18e Pigalle - Jules Joffrin. Despite being listed as a continuous loop service, we were chased out by the driver at the terminal which is located besides the Jules Joffrin Métro station.
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Jules Joffrin is a station on Line 12 of the Paris Métro in the Clignancourt district and the 18th arrondissement. Most of the older stations feature elaborately decorated entrances at the street level.
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A Irisbus Agora departing on service 85 to Luxembourg from the Mairie du 18e Pigalle - Jules Joffrin bus terminal. Despite being of the same name as the wealthy Central European country, service 85 is not a long distance cross-country service but a rather short trunk service to a southern suburb in Paris.
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A MAN Lion City G was photographed working on service 80 at the same junction. In a city where national pride had an undeniable role over the overwhelming majority of French built or designed buses in RATP's bus fleet, German integral products such as the MAN Lion City and Citaro are comparatively harder to spot in the streets of Paris.
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We boarded the next trip of Montmartrobus which was operated by a Heulieuz GX117 after photographing an earlier trip that was operated by the Gépébus Oréos electric bus. As a result of an ongoing cycling event which was held at Montmartre, our bus did not pass by in front of the Basilica and took a detour through the maze-like streets. It was a particularly challenging task to orientate ourselves after we alighted from the bus together with the bulk of the passengers on board when the bus driver shouted 'Funicular' along an unfamiliar side street.
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Noting that the queue for the Montmartre Funicular was rather manageable for the downhill direction, we elected to enjoy another ride in the inclined lift instead of walking down the stairs.
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Rue de Steinkerque bustles with activity on a Saturday afternoon as Parisians and tourists alike throng the sidewalks in the trendy Anvers district which had been dedicated to the wholesale of fabric since the 19th century. In addition, the crowds were also kept entertained with street performers and at impromptu street betting tables where crafty application of sleight of hand techniques would certainly keep the odds firmly in the banker's favour!
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We decided to camp at Anvers for photos of buses while waiting for one of us who had earlier attempted to intercept the electric bus that we had taken in a bid to locate his missing tripod. 3716 is an Irisbus Citelis and conforms to the stringent Euro V emission standards. The Irisbus Citelis is developed as a replacement for the successful Renault Agora Line and had quickly become a mainstay of RATP's fleet like its predecessor.
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The wrought iron Art Noveau entrance of the Anvers métro station was one of several entrance that was designed by French architect Hector Guimard at the turn of the 20th century. The station sits on Boulevard de Rochechouart that was named after the last of the 46 Abbesses of Montmarte Abbey.
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Successive flights of stairs lead passengers from the street level to the cramped underground platforms which are typical of the Paris métro system. Anvers is served by Line M2 and the line is operated by relatively new RATP MF2000 rolling stock.
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Due to unforeseen circumstances and weather conditions, we were more than two hours behind our original schedule at this point in time (as a comparison we were rarely more than 30mins behind schedule in Switzerland) and we continued on to our next sightseeing destination in Paris with a change of métro lines at Barbes-Rochechouart.
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Notre Dame Cathedral

Cité station is nominated as one of the most beautiful métro stations by the online travel guide Parislogue and features decorative light globes along the length of the platform which resembled old Parisian street lights. Métro 4 was converted to rubber-tyred metro in 1967 due to wear-and-tear since its opening in 1908 and heavy traffic load. Rubber-tyred metro systems such as the RATP Class MP59 trainsets pictured are able to offer smoother and quieter rides, faster acceleration, shorter braking distances and ability to negotiate steep gradients. However, there are drawbacks caused by higher friction and increased rolling resistance.
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Île de la Cité is an island in the middle of the Seine river and is considered as the oldest settlement in Paris. Fans of the Asterix comic series would certainly be able to relate to the unique geographical location of Cité as it is prominently featured in many of the comics as Lutetia which also happened to be the former name of Paris during the Roman conquest. The squat wooden and stone buildings had since given way to some of Europe's most magnificent state buildings and cathedrals and the cobbled streets replaced by tree lined boulevards, though the crowd had remained unchanged through the past millennia!
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Notre Dame Cathedral is located on the eastern end of Île de la Cité and we were rewarded with a dramatic view of the facade being bathed in the strong afternoon sunlight after a brief but intense downpour. The cathedral is widely considered as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture both in France and Europe and also contains the official chair of the Archbishop of Paris today.
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The Pont au Double is one of the 37 bridges which span the Seine in the city centre of Paris and was originally constructed to ferry patients from the southern bank of the river to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital on the Île de la Cité. The current single arch cast iron was built in 1883 and its name came from the "double" diener which was charged as a toll in the past. Seine River Cruises are a popular sightseeing option among many visitors but unlike River Limmat in Zurich, it is considered as a separate premium sightseeing service and not part of the public transport system.
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A joyride on service 24 featured highly on our list of priorities as it is operated by a full fleet of Renault Agora GNV (gaz naturel pour véhicules or natural gas for vehicles; better known as CNG or NGV in other parts of the world) buses and we toyed over several options during our trip planning before managing to slot in a ride from a bus stop near the Notre Dame Cathedral to Dijon-Lachambeaudie. We noted that the next 2 trips were bunched together with an estimated headway of 17mins and 26mins respectively from the electronic displays at the bus stop and while such situations were also commonplace in Singapore, it came as a disappointment after being pampered by the efficiency and punctuality of the Swiss Transport System in the past week.
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An impromptu decision was made to stopover at Gare de Lyon station as the buses outside the station were bathed in perfect sunlight. The GNV variant was based on the successful low floor Renault Agora citybus which was designed and built by Renault from 1996 to 2002 before Irisbus took over the production. The GNV variant can also be easily differentiated from the normal diesel variants by the oversized pod on the roof.
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A diesel Irisbus Agora Line laying over at Gare de Lyon on service 63 to Porte de la Muette. The Agora features camera-friendly flipdot electronic destination signs at the front and sports side and rear destination plates which are standard on Paris citybuses. The Agora Line has the engine being longitudinally-mounted instead of being transversely mounted on the Agora L and S. This would in turn provide a slightly greater seating capacity and improved fuel economy over the older Agora.
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We boarded the next trip of service 24 to continue on the journey and the ride was marred by a quirk that could best be described as bizarre - the bus would sway noticeably to the left and right while at rest due to the automatic levelling feature of the air suspension system (see video)!
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Gambetta

After the "boat ride" on the Agora GNV, we alighted and made a same stop transfer to service 64 which is operated by a full fleet of Scania Omnicity N230UB. Apart from the integral bodywork, it was mechanically identical to its 1,100 cousins in SBS Transit's fleet back home in Singapore and amidst high loading along a badly congested route, we were thankful that we had only factored in a 2.5km long joyride on the Scania Omnicity.
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The next joyride was on a Gruau Microbus on service 501 to Gambetta. However, service 501 is only a service code and not displayed on the buses or at bus stops. Instead, the route is branded as La Traverse de Charonne and is the first of the La Traverse local feeder routes to be launched. The service is jointly funded by the City of Paris and Île-de-France Transport Union (STIF) and was introduced in 2004 to serve neighbourhoods in the 20th arrondissement.
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The Gruau Microbus on the route were introduced in 2006 along with a route extension and the winding route takes passengers through the narrow side streets of the 20th arrondissement. Resembling a passenger version of a road sweeper truck, the bus is equipped with a diesel engine that stops running when it is stationary to reduce its noise and emission footprint. In addition, the Gruau Microbus features a regenerative braking system that produces electricity to power the electrical components on board the bus.
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Interior of the Gruau Microbus. It is capable of carrying 9 seated passengers and 13 standees with a PIW onboard (Passenger in Wheelchair). The bus is also equipped with a dual sliding door for ease of boarding and alighting and to help maximise the limited real estate in the bus.
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The ride quality was mediocre with a rough sounding electric motor and a suspension that could be described as stiff at best.


The fountains in Paris had originally provided drinking water for city residents and now serve as decorative features in the city’s squares and parks. Fontaine de la place Gambetta is an example of a modern-day decorative fountain and was erected in the middle of Place Gambetta roundabout in 1992. The fountain was designed by architect Alfred Gindre and was a masterpiece produced by glass-maker J. Dismier and plastic artist Jean-Louis Rousselet.
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The Town Hall of the 20th arrondissement (Mairie du 20e arrondissement) building at Place Gambetta was designed by architect Claude Salleron and built between 1867 and 1877.
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A RATP Scania Omnicity N230UB similar to the example which we had rode earlier was photographed negotiating the roundabout at Gambetta. The newer "5 series" Scania Omnicity can be readily differentiated from the older "4 series" Scania Omnicity such as the N94UB by having small round headlights instead of 2 large rectangular headlights fitted on the "4 series". The long shadows casted by the evening sun and treacherous traffic conditions made photographing buses at the roundabout a particularly frustrating affair.
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The beautiful scenery, well signposted roads, excellent road quality and the freedom to explore outlying areas at will are some of the many reasons why self-drive holidays are a popular option among tourists who visit Western Europe. Paris, however, is a notable exception where even the most experienced drivers would give pause to such a notion despite the crowded and complex public transportation system. One of the main issues stem from an uniquely French traffic rule known as 'priorité à droite' or 'priority to the right', which meant that vehicles entering a roundabout have the automatic right of way as France is a left hand drive country. This counter-intuitive arrangement creates a hazardous situation at the numerous roundabouts in Paris where the complex layout at major roundabouts would further add to the chaos (see video below). We had indeed noted that many cars in Paris had dents on the right side of the car but not on the left side which were probably inflicted by another vehicle that was entering a roundabout and asserting its right of way!


Due to the confusing layout of the bus stops around the roundabout, we were initially confused over the correct bus stop to board a service 26 to Nation métro/RER station. We also chanced upon an interesting argument where two PIWs were arguing over who had the priority to board the bus as there was only one free wheelchair bay. It was eventually settled when the passengers manually hauled both PIWs onto the bus without the ramp so that everyone could continue on their journey!
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The nondescript entrance to Nation métro / RER station at Avenue du Trône is unsheltered like typical métro stations, but an up-riding escalator had been installed to improve user-friendliness for passengers, who would otherwise have to scale the flight of stairs to get back onto street level (top left).

Nation is an interchange station between RER A and métro lines 1, 2, 6, and 9. The huge subterranean maze is located underneath Place de la Nation public square, which was renamed on the occasion of Bastille Day (French National Day) on 14 July 1880. (top & bottom right)

The t+ ticket is valid for single ride on the métro (including transfers within paid area) regardless of fare zones, whereas on the RER network the ticket only allows travel within Zone 1. In particular, ticket inspectors are known to catch unsuspecting tourists who have taken RER A to La Défense (Fare Zone 2) instead of Métro 1, but the advisory notice is only in French! (bottom left)
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Nation station is located near the eastern fringe of Paris city and the unusually spacious RER platforms cater to high passenger volumes transferring from the urban métro lines to the suburban RER service. Monochrome CRT screens and lit destination signs at the platform help to ensure that passengers board the correct branch of the RER A service to their destination.
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RER A is jointly operated by both SNCF and RATP using their own rolling stock and is one of the world's busiest lines with a ridership of 1,200,000 passengers per day. In order to cope with the huge ridership volume, the line features an advanced dynamic traffic control system known as SACEM that was developed by Siemens and enabled trains to run with extremely short spacing of under 2 minutes in tunnel sections and 90 seconds at stations. This had created a curious yet common sighting of trains pulling into the platform even before the previous train had cleared the platform during peak hours. The line exits the underground section after Vincennes in the direction towards Boissy-Saint-Léger.
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Paris BRT – Trans-Val-de-Marne (TVM)

We decided to find dinner at Saint-Maur-Créteil as it was almost 9pm and despite our best efforts to locate local food, we decided to settle for a meal at the Chinese restaurant in the station concourse. We conversed in Mandarin with the proprietor who recommended set meal including fried rice (Thai fried rice), one meat dish (Sweet & Sour Pork), two pieces of dim sum (Chicken) and drink (Orangina) for €7.20. The food was heated in a microwave oven before it was served to us and much to the delight of one of us, chilli sauce was also made available to us upon request.
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The main highlight at Saint-Maur-Créteil was the TVM busway system which was introduced in 1993 from the conversion of existing bus services with an upgraded infrastructure. These arrangements provided a dedicated right-of-way for the buses along an orbital connection between RER lines in the département of Val-de-Marne. The busway is operated by RATP using a dedicated fleet of Renault Agora L articulated buses where passengers have the option of boarding and alighting from all three doors and the use of a door release button instead of full control by the driver.
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As expected of a busway/BRT system, the journey was fast along the dedicated right of way even though general vehicular traffic was also rather low. Moreover, we also noted a dedicated BRT flyover was built for grade separation with the general vehicular traffic.
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A typical TVM bus shelter in the median lane which is also equipped with a self-service machine for revaluing Navigo contactless fare payment cards. In addition, the shelter is also shared with other normal RATP bus services.
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The dedicated busway lanes in the road median have dedicated traffic signals help to provide a further amount priority over the general vehicular traffic.
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Choisy-le-Roi station is located along the 584km long railway line which links Paris to the south-western port city of Bordeaux via Orléans and Tours. Inter-city trains do not stop at Choisy-le-Roi and the commune is served by RER C. The station is located at Avenue du 8 mai 1945, which is named to commemorate Victory in Europe Day, the date which the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
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With a grand total of seven branches, of which two intercept an intermediate station of a different branch, the RER C is arguably the most complicated of all RER lines. RER trains do not display the name of the destination station, but instead display a 4-letter “nom de mission” or “name of service”, where the first letter denotes the terminal station, second letter denotes the stopping pattern, and the third and fourth letters are added to form a pronounceable name. However, the first letter often does not correspond to the initial of the terminal station and the 4-letter “name” means nothing more than a cryptic code for tourists.
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We checked with the staff at RER station to confirm the timing and arrival platform for the next train to the city centre as we were unable to decipher the cryptic 4-letter codes and match the corresponding departures for the upcoming trains which were shown on the TV screen. As the direct train to the Eiffel Tower operates at half-hourly interval, some of us spent a portion of the 20mins waiting time exploring the station compound.
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Upper deck of a SNCF Class Z20500 deployed on RER C. Built by CIMT (French), ANF & Alsthom, they were introduced into service in 1998 and have a maximum speed of 140km/h. Although we had travelled on our fair share of double-deck trains during our Switzerland portion, it remained a novel experience to travel on the upper deck with the cool evening breeze blowing in our faces through the drop down windows.
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Eiffel Tower by Night

Exiting the Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel RER station, we were immediately accosted by touts bearing a dazzling array of souvenirs modelled after the famed steel truss structure. We continued walking along the Seine River and crossed Pont d’léna to a good spot across the river to admire the Eiffel Tower.

Flashing lights and four high-power searchlights were installed on Eiffel Tower for the millennium celebrations in 1999. Since then, the light show has become a nightly event which makes the Eiffel Tower one of the most spectacular night-time sights in Paris. During the 5-minute light show every hour which takes place after dusk until midnight, the searchlights mounted on top of the tower transforms it into a beacon in the city's night sky and the tower sparkles like a giant Christmas tree with the 20,000 flash bulbs.
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Another closer view of the Eiffel Tower with one of a pair of horse statues that stand guard at Pont d'Iena near the base of the Eiffel Tower.
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Following several attempts to obtain group shots of ourselves with the Eiffel Tower in the background, we decided to try our luck at the métro station for a ride back to our hostel although it was well past midnight. To our surprise, a female passenger informed us that the trains were still running when she overheard our conversation while climbing up a steep flight of stairs to Passy métro station.
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Interior of a RATP Class MP73 (GEC Alsthom) car. RATP's métro stock only has forward and backward facing seats which greatly restricts the amount of standees that could be accommodated in the narrow carriage.
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Despite the late hours, the trains were still running at an excellent headway of 4 minutes and we were pleasantly surprised that the transfer between the M6 and M2 lines at Charles de Gaulle-Étoile only required passengers to head down a short flight of stairs.
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The MF2000 métro cars are one of the newest rolling stock in RATP's fleet and were commissioned to replace the aging MF67 stock on lines 2, 5 and 9. The cars are built by a consortium of 4 manufacturers (Alstom, Bombardier, Technicatome & CSEE) and the first units were delivered in 2007, with further deliveries expected to last through 2015.
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