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31
Mar

Gare Saint-Lazare – A New Look

OPENED IN AUGUST 1837, the Gare Saint-Lazare is one of the six terminus railway stations in Paris.  450,000 passengers a day pass through this station and it’s the second busiest station in Paris after the Gare du Nord.

There are no high-speed TGV lines operating from the Gare Saint-Lazare but the services do include the long distance Intercités trains towards Normandy as well as the regional Transilien trains to the western suburbs of Paris.

Inside the Gare Saint-Lazare:

In recent times, the Gare Saint-Lazare has had a rather tired and weary look to it so it’s good to report that after almost three years of renovation work a new-look Gare Saint-Lazare finally opened to the public this week.

The €250 million project was funded partly by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français, France’s national state-owned railway company) and partly by private investment. The three level concourse was constructed while the station was fully operational for most of the time and that is a testament to the planning that went into the work.

The new look station has 80 new shops to explore including familiar names such as Celio, Promod, Yves Rocher, Foot Locker, Camaïeu, Virgin, Sephora, Lush and L’Occitane. There are also some upmarket brands including Guess, Lacoste, Aigle, Passionata and Esprit.

Although the concourse is now officially open the shops are for the most part still catching up and when I went few of them were actually open for business.

The Gare Saint-Lazare is not a station I use all that often. Nevertheless, it’s good to see one of the least fashionable main terminus stations in Paris transformed into one of the smartest. At least the waiting time in the station will now be more entertaining for those addicted to shopping.

25
Mar

Spring in the Jardin du Luxembourg

SPRING SEEMS TO HAVE arrived in Paris right on cue this year.

On the day when the clocks went forward by one hour, the sun shone and people took to the parks to relax, to picnic, to sunbathe and to celebrate the arrival of spring.

In the 6th arrondissement against the backdrop of the French Senate, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris and yesterday it was awash with people enjoying the sunshine.

There are close to a hundred statues in the Jardin du Luxembourg and they also seemed to be enjoying the arrival of spring.

Even the French poet, Charles Baudelaire, seemed to be looking especially dapper in the midday sunshine.

The sound of Spring in the Jardin du Luxembourg:

Those of us who live in this city are very lucky to have wonderful public spaces like the Jardin du Luxembourg to share and to enjoy at any time of the year but especially in the spring and the summer when they look at their absolute best.

4
Mar

Paris Trams

TODAY, THE TRAMS IN PARIS are modern, sleek and efficient but their history goes back to the middle of the nineteenth-century, predating the Paris Metro by almost fifty years.

From 1855 until the end of the 1930’s, Paris enjoyed an extensive tramway network. In the early days the trams were horse powered.

Horse trams though presented a number of challenges. They were relatively slow and several teams of horses were required for each tram each day – not to mention the tons of horse manure littering the streets. Mechanical traction was the answer.

By 1887, trams powered by compressed air had arrived in Paris. Steam driven trams were introduced in the 1880’s and 1890’s but, by the end of the nineteenth-century, electrification of the trams was underway.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries trams were prolific in Paris but the advent of the motorcar and motorised buses, without the need for costly infrastructure, marked the beginning of the end for the tram. The last of the tram routes in Paris closed in 1957.

But that is not the end of the story. The increasing need to connect Paris with its suburbs has led to the re-birth of the Paris tram.

Equipped with a new generation of trams, Paris now has four tram lines with more due to be built. Line T1 opened in 1992, line T2 in 1997 and lines T3 and T4 opened in 2006.

Of these tram lines the one that I’m most familiar with is Line T2 which runs south from La Défense to Porte de Versailles. Operated by RATP, the Paris mass transit authority, Line T2 is 13.7 km long, has seventeen stations and is used by some 20 million people a year. Each tram can carry 440 people.

As with the Paris Metro, the names of the stations evoke images from French history.

Stopping at stations like Jaques-Henri Lartigue (French photographer and painter), Henri Farman (French aviator and aircraft designer) and Suzanne Lenglen (French tennis player and winner of 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926) seem to add colour to the journey.

And again, like the Metro, RATP have taken trouble with the sound of the announcements inside the tram. Each station name is announced twice and at the terminus the announcements appear in several languages each spoken by native speakers.

Inside a tram on Line T2 from the station Henri Farman to Porte de Versailles:

Today’s Paris trams are remarkably quiet both when listening inside and from the outside. In fact, from the outside, it’s much easier to hear the sound of the traffic than it is to hear the sound of the tram.

A Tram at Porte de Versailles:

The new generation of Paris trams are far removed from their nineteenth-century ancestors. Quiet, sleek, efficient and comfortable they are an integral part of the Paris public transport network.