As we are wrapping up the year, let me tell you about my last work trip of 2019. Yes, to Paris again, how did you guess? By now, I obviously know what to expect from a trip to Paris. What I didn’t quite know was what to expect from a train strike in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, we do have tube strikes in London as well from time to time. But they usually last a day or two, not weeks on end.
You might have heard in the news, that there was a train strike in Paris ever since beginning of December. So far, I had been lucky to miss it, as I skipped a week visiting Paris. And I had high hopes that all that strike action would be over and done with by the time I went back. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Far from it. The train strike was still in full swing in Paris.
Over the weekend I checked the Eurostar app, to ensure my train from London to Paris wasn’t cancelled. At least there I was lucky. A couple of Eurostar were cancelled each day, but mine wasn’t affected.
Strike in Paris: Day One
So yes, I made it to Paris more or less on time. But that is where my trip came to a rather abrupt halt.
Usually I just hop onto the Metro to get to another train station, then take a RER train to my client. Who isn’t based in central Paris, but on the outskirts, just past Versailles.
However, the Metro lines at Gare du Nord were completely shut. Consulting Citymapper, it told me to take a bus to Gare Saint Lazarre and then the RER from there. OK, not too bad, should be doable. I topped up my Navigo card and set out to find the bus stop.
Two busses later I was still in the exact same spot. All busses that arrived were completely packed and attempting to board with suitcase and backpack was just a total fail.
I needed a different route. I consulted Citymapper one more time (piece of advice: if you ever get stuck in Paris during a strike, do NOT rely on Citymapper. As brilliant as it is most of the times -and no, they don’t sponsor my travels – it unfortunately was utterly useless to manoeuvre Paris during a train strike), and came up with a different route. A train from Gare Magenta to Gare Saint Lazarre, then onto the other train as planned. Gare Magenta happens to be just next door to Gare du Nord, so getting there wasn’t too difficult. But since I had already lost 30 minutes without actually getting anywhere, I would no longer get the original train at Saint Lazarre. I informed my colleague of my changed journey and approximate ETA. Only to have her crush my itinerary straight away. Although Citymapper happily proposed an alternative train to me, there would not be another one until an hour later. Dammit. At that rate I would make it out to the client just in time to pack up and go back again. Time to abandon the mission and head to the office instead. Conveniently located in central Paris and in walking distance of Gare du Nord.
However, that would not solve all my issues for the day obviously. As I still had to master the evening commute to my hotel. I have stayed in the vicinity of the office quite a few times during my trips. But this trip wasn’t one of those, needless to say. Rather than staying near Opera (where the office is located), I was staying near Opera Bastille. Which usually is an easy journey on Metro line 8. But since that wasn’t running, an alternative route was needed yet again. Despite the strike, not all lines in Paris were completely shut. Some were running a reduced service during peak hours. And since line 7 was apparently running, a short stroll to Pyramides should hopefully get me at least to the vicinity of my hotel. And it did. Although it took three trains, until I finally managed to board, thanks to serious overcrowding. Getting on and off a packed train with a suitcase and a backpack sure wasn’t much fun though. To the extent that I wished I hadn’t bothered and just walked.
By the time I eventually made it to the hotel, I did not fancy much exploring any more. So instead I changed my shoes (did I mentioned that so far, this entire day had happened on high heels) and just stayed in the vicinity of the hotel for a short evening stroll and dinner.
For most of my trips to Paris, I had brought my running clothes and trainers, so that I could go on an early morning run through Paris. This time I didn’t. I figured I wouldn’t have time for a run in the morning, so it made total sense when I packed my bag Sunday evening to just leave the trainers at home. Not so much when I arrived in Paris and was faced with the option of endless walks for the next three days.
Strike in Paris: Day Two
As I managed to break a heel during my walk the previous evening, I was leaving the hotel extra early, to get a chance to visit a cobbler before heading to the office (because if travel is disrupted, you really want to add more errands to your morning commute).
Consulting Citymapper once more (because I never learn, obviously), I planned my route for the morning commute through Paris. With line 8 still out of service due to the strike in Paris, the suggested route was line 1 from Bastille to Tuilleries, then walk to Auber. All in all, not too bad (especially given that I was on high heels once again, since the heel I broke was on my lower heeled boots obviously, not on the high heels).
Well, as I arrived at Bastille, it didn’t take long to work out that Citymapper was wrong yet again. As the Metro station was shut completely. But apparently there was a bus running just around the corner. Why not, might as well. Or not… as there were two lines running from that stop. For one the next bus was due in 45 minutes, the other line wasn’t running at all that week. I really didn’t seem to have much luck I have to admit.
Eventually I gave in and walked back to the same station I got off the previous evening: Sully Morland. Third time lucky. Line 7 was running, be it with a reduced service, but at least running. And as it was still fairly early, the Metro wasn’t quite as packed as the previous evening. Not that there was any chance of a seat, but at least you could actually see your feet, rather than breathe directly into the neck of the person in front of you (or even worse, have them breathe down your neck).
After dropping my boots at the cobbler, I headed for coffee (after all that excitement of a morning commute during a train strike in Paris I really was in need of a bucket load of caffeine) and eventually to the office.
Really not looking forward to another journey in an overcrowded Metro or the prospect of standing on a bus crawling along very packed streets for hours, for my evening commute I opted for walking. By now on lower heels (yep, I managed to pick up my boots during lunch break, so all good), a 45-minute walk seemed the more enjoyable option to a Metro or bus ride. Even in the dark and with a light drizzle setting in. And believe me, I wasn’t the only one walking. There were loads of people around. We certainly managed to cover more miles than the cars and busses we overtook. Needless to say, that the entire Paris town centre was literally one large car park with hardly anything moving.
Paris during a train strike: Day Three
My final day. Which meant I would check out of the hotel and take my suitcase with me to the office, so that I could go straight to Gare du Nord in the afternoon. Decision time. Should I attempt another journey on a packed Metro, again with suitcase and backpack? Or should I just give in and walk? As it was dry and not too cold, I decided to walk again.
Dragging my suitcase along, it took me around 50 minutes to cover the 4.5 kilometres to the office.
When it was time to head to Gare du Nord to catch my Eurostar back to London, walking was the easiest option by a long way. There are busses running from Opera to Gare du Nord, but I missed one just as I approached the bus stop and the next one wasn’t due for another 10 minutes. The walk from Opera to Gare du Nord is a mere 25 minutes and I had done it numerous times before, so why should this week be any different.
How best to prepare for a train strike in Paris
Best way to prepare for Paris during a train strike? Just don’t go. Stay at home and wait until it is all over. If this isn’t an option, maybe these snippets of advice can help and ease the pain a little:
Plan ahead and be smart
You won’t have much fun if your day consists of crisscrossing Paris several times. Instead, try and limit your journeys. Sit down and make a list of all the places you want to visit during your stay in Paris. Then check a map and group them, to ensure minimal travel times.
Find alternative travel
With Metro services severely disrupted, it might be good to find some alternative travel. Busses can be an option, but not a very quick one, to be honest. Neither are cabs. Both are stuck in traffic, as Paris roads are gridlocked during strike action. Depending on distance, walking might be the quickest option. Otherwise, you could give the various rental bikes and electric scooters a try, which are dotted all over Paris. All you need to do is sign up for the services (be it Jump / Uber, Lime or any of the others), unlock the bike or scooter using your smart phone and off you go (check the battery status before you unlock it). With the roads being that busy and gridlocked, please be extra careful. Parisian traffic can be scary at best of times, but during the train strike in Paris, traffic is something completely different.
Wear comfortable shoes
This one I failed miserable during my trip to Paris. Be prepared to be on your feet all day. As already mentioned, walking might be your best bet to get from A to B. But even if you take a bus or Metro (the few that are running during the strike), you might end up standing. So as pretty as high heels might look, they are no good for a trip to Paris during a train strike.
If this is your first ever trip to Paris, yes obviously you want to see all the major sights. And I am not saying you shouldn’t. However, maybe have a look around the hotel and see what the arrondissement you are staying has to offer. During my weekly trips to Paris, I try to stay in different areas every now and then. So that I can go for a walk in the evenings and experience Paris off the beaten path. With public transport severely disrupted, this might be a good enough excuse for you to just walk the little side roads and see what Paris has to offer beyond Eiffel Tower and Louvre.
I am due to head out to Paris again next week. And for now, the train strike in Paris is still in full swing. I can only hope and pray, that they finally get it sorted before I am back on Monday. If not, I will ensure I follow my own advice and pack sensible shoes this time.
Tell me, has your Paris travel been disrupted by the ongoing train strike?