No one will tell you to take the bus in Paris (but why you should)


I was running late to the Opera (calm down, it was a guided tour, but as close as I could get to La Bohème, so I was happy) and my lunch date at Le Panthèon in the 5th recommended I take the bus over there. Ok, I thought, Why not? Quelle surprise! It was actually nice!

The bus is easy to use - same carnet or tickets as the Metro (which you probably already have). It's the cheapest - though unguided - tour of Paris you'll get. FYI, bikers: taking the bus will also help you navigate Paris easier by bike/Vélib, since the bus lanes are also bike (and taxi) lanes.

In the Metro, I'd lurk down in one end, and magically end up in another arrondisement. What I realized I was missing was the lovely, ordinary in-between, the bleeding of one enclave into the next, the sunshine or the rain, the pedestrian areas, the parks, the street signs and the street markets, the famed sidewalk cafes... the actual city. On the bus, you see the city. You know, that city you got on a plane and took time off of work to experience and see.

With only a few days in Paris, you may want to rely more on the Metro to get around because the bus falls prey to auto traffic, of course, and the occasional construction delay. The bus lacks any kind of romantic aura (see film: Amélie) and it's certainly not as sexy as the train. Notice no pictures here of the bus.

Taking the bus forces stumbling around a city, this breathing organism that one is simultaneously outside of as a visitor and yet temporarily a part of. You find things you weren't looking for. After the revelation of the Opera bus-capade, I started to take l'autobus and in one trip to the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum, I stumbled upon the underpass where Princess Diana died.

Enjoying an extra scoop of gelato, I walked towards the bus stop. And there, right there, was a giant gilt torch, gleaming there, drawing me to itself. What. Is. That.

Pont de l'Alma, Paris, Princess Diana memorial I'd already seen two miniature replica Statue of Liberty statues around the city: a bronze on the Seine and one in the Jardin de Luxemborg. A gift of friendship from the French people to the American people, La Liberté éclairent le monde (Liberty Enlightening the World) is a work by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and is the subject of one of my favorite Choose Your Own Adventure books (#random).

Seeing the Bartholdi study on the Place de l'Alma was expected. Unexpected for me were the bouquets laid at the torch's base, the iconic sepia portrait, the tributes in many languages - an Asian symbology I didn't recognize, Italian, French and quotes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince. Fifteen years later.

Thanks, bus.