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24 December 2007

Home for the Holidays

I've come home for Christmas! I arrived last Tuesday night, so I've been back in California for nearly a week now! It's been good. I've been able to see many of my friends so far, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with them during my next (and last) week home. I only have two weeks of Christmas vacation! I fly back to London right after New Years! I'm wondering whether I should have just stayed in Europe... but it would be too long without seeing any family.

09 December 2007

The Tube and the Metro

This article is from about 10 years ago, but it does highlight many of the differences I picked up in my travel experience in London and in Paris.

PARIS DAYS: Le train now arriving is cheap, efficient and smells
John Lichfield

The French railways have produced an entertaining leaflet. It shows the Eurostar route through the Channel tunnel as an outsize Metro/Tube line linking the underground systems of London and Paris.

If this fantasy is ever to be realised - boarding the Tube at Piccadilly, and alighting at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile - one hopes, for humanitarian reasons, that the trains will be run from the French end.

As a once daily victim of the London Underground, now removed to Paris, I wish to pay a glowing tribute to the Metro. It is clean; efficient; safe; frequent; cheap; and rarely breaks down. It also has that wonderful smell - a blend of sweat, perfume and burned rubber - which has defined Paris to generations of foreign visitors, as much as, say, the view of the Eiffel Tower. My problem is that I can find few Parisians who agree with me about the Metro. They are convinced that their underground system is dirty, inefficient, expensive and dangerous. In other words, despite the Eurostar, few of them have been to London recently. This is a perfect example of a French tendency to protest too much. The French have some reasons to be anxious about their future but not as many as they think they have. They have some reasons to be sour about the Metro - for instance, a tendency for bombs to explode in its younger, bigger, dirtier sister, the RER regional network - but not as many as they believe they have. On my nightly struggle home in London, it was a common experience to wait 20 minutes for a Wimbledon branch train on a menacingly crowded platform at Earls Court; or to wait in tunnels three or four times on one journey. In four and a half months in Paris, I can remember stopping between stations only once, and that on a day when the Metro line 6 was "perturbed" by industrial action. In daytime, you generally wait no more than two or three minutes for a Metro train. Late at night, you wait ten minutes, at most. It costs eight francs, less than 90p, for a single journey, anywhere within the city of Paris, broadly equivalent to zones one and two of the London Tube system, where a single journey costs pounds 1.50. If you buy a carnet of 10 tickets, as most Parisians do, the cost falls to Fr4.60 a trip - around 50p. A monthly ticket in Paris costs Fr243 (pounds 26.40), compared to pounds 60.30 for zones one and two in London. How does the Metro do it? It starts with some advantages. The Metro (leaving aside the RER) is a denser network than the Tube and does not reach out as far into the suburbs. As a purely urban system, it is more intensively used - five million passengers a day, seven million including the RER, compared to 2.5 million on the Tube - which reduces the cost of carrying each passenger. Since the Metro was built later than the Tube (its first line opened in 1900), and has fewer deep tunnels, it is structurally cheaper to maintain. Beyond that, the Metro-economics are confusing but instructive. The public subsidy for each tube journey in London is around 35 per cent (and falling). The public subsidy for each Metro journey is 50 per cent. Thus the real cost of the pounds 1.50 single tube journey is around pounds 2.35 (based on figures supplied by London Transport). The real cost of the 88p single Metro journey is pounds 1.76 and the real cost of a 50p carnet ticket is pounds 1. In other words, the Metro is not only efficient; it is genuinely good value. The RATP, unlike other state-run operations, such as the main- line railway system, is not a licence for tearing up francs. It faces, none the less, demands for new "efficiencies". As France struggles to reduce its budget deficits to qualify for Economic and Monetary Union (Emu), all public services are being squeezed, including the Metro. Some of the clever young men in the Finance Ministry have started to ask if it might not be possible for passengers to wait three or four minutes for a train instead of two. Journeys were still about 5 per cent down last year on pre- bomb-and- strike levels of 1994. Parisians are turning more to their cars, to taxis, even to bikes. There is an element of snobbery here: even racism. You hear better-off Parisians say that they never use the Metro any more: it is unsafe and unclean. By this, they seem to mean that there are more brown and black faces down there than they see at street level. Robberies and assaults on the Metro are, in reality, rare. (The RER, which links Paris with some of the poorer banlieues, is a different matter.) Surveys and anecdotal experience suggest that Parisians are also offended by the intensive panhandling which afflicts the Metro. On one short journey I made this week, there was an almost choreographed French farce of entries and exits. At consecutive stations, three panhandlers got on and off through different doors, giving the same rather formal speech beginning: "Excusez- moi de vous deranger, mesdames, messieurs, mais . . ." No one else on the train found this funny. All three were trying to sell the same small booklet, produced by the French equivalent of the Big Issue. It turned out to be a well-written guide to the history and meaning of the station names on the Paris Metro. Partly drawn from this publication, here is a brief quiz. Which two stations on the London Tube have the same names as stations on the Paris Metro? Answer: 1. Temple (District and Circle line and Metro line 3); 2. Arsenal (Piccadilly line and Metro line 5). The second, I admit, is a cheat. The Parisian Arsenal station, next to Bastille, closed in 1939. If you got one station right, you win a ticket on the first through Metro train to Wimbledon.

Copyright 1997 Newspaper Publishing PLC
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

05 December 2007


I just had my first shift today working for a catering company. It went better than I expected! The event was a Christmas party for a big law firm, but there was no sit-down food service, just one big reception. So I spent most of my time refilling people's sparkling wine, carrying trays of glasses, and cleaning up afterwards. We got fed, which was good too. It's crazy how much food they throw out at events (and restaurants too).

Anyway, I had a good time during my first day at work. I didn't break anything or make any big mistakes! Whew! But I still haven't done a dinner service, so I'm not a catering master yet. The people I worked with were cool though, some lively mates who were friendly. I wonder if I see lots of the same people at jobs I'll be at. I doubt it though, especially now that there are so many jobs to sign up for every night.

I'm tired right now, and I'm going to be working tomorrow too, not to mention I have to prepare for German class :X OK, I'm out. Good night!

02 December 2007

Exploring Natural History

Today, my study-abroad friend was visiting London (she's studying in Ireland) with her housemate.

We went to the National History Museum. It was big; we spent nearly 3 hours there and barely saw half the museum. Not to mention that the Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum are right next door!

After our museum visit, we walked to Harrods, which we explored for a bit, but we were overwhelmed by the store (it's size, it's depth and breadth of choices, and the crowds of people touring it/doing some Xmas shopping), so we left after barely seeing one full floor.

We then walked through Hyde Park (which was having a Christmas "Wintertime Fair," featuring a ferris wheel and a haunted Christmas house) to Piccadilly Circus, where we tried to track down a Whole Foods Market that they had seen yesterday. After some walking around unsure of where to go, we found the market and had us some organic salad bar.

We walked up Regent Street from the Piccadilly area, and explored a large toy store. I forgot the name, but it might have started with an H. Then, we walked through Carnaby Street to Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road, and turned down into the West End. Then, after heading through Leicester Square and ending up in Trafalgar Square, we tried to figure out who could join us for dinner. Turns out, no one could. But we got a recommendation for an Indian restaurant in Brick Lane. So we got on the bus to Aldgate and found the restaurant. We had some good Indian food. Not insanely expensive, about £9 a person. Then we walked to the Hayfield and met up with a fellow classmate. Now I'm back in my room, exhausted from another day of exploring and lots of walking. I think I will get a good night's rest tonight!

01 December 2007

Let's Drive to Brighton on the Weekend

I just got back from a day trip to Brighton.

As expected, I am very tired. I had a good day though, considering I didn't have any real expectations.