Driving in Paris

by Steve Brock on July 30, 2013

View from the top of the Arc de TriompheDon’t drive in Paris.

That’s the advice we had from every guidebook, travel site and traveler’s forum we read before heading to the City of Lights this summer. Whatever you do, they say, don’t drive in Paris, France. Why?

  •  The traffic is horrible (true, but so is it where I live and grew up).
  •  There are scooters and motorcycles cutting in and out all over the place (true, but patience and a car with good visibility help overcome that).
  • Paris is a warren of one-way streets built for horses, not cars (true, in certain areas like the Latin Quarter but the main streets are quite wide and modern).
  • You’ll never find parking (pretty true, but for us, we found a garage, parked our car there for the entire three days we were in Paris and used the metro or our feet to get around town).
  • The drivers are incredibly aggressive (true, but they are consistent and I’ll take on a good, aggressive driver any day over a wishy-washy one who speeds up and slows down for no apparent reason).

So let me amend the advice of others to say this:

Don’t drive in Paris…alone.

I was with my family and my 18-year-old son, Sumner, served as navigator. Armed with directions and most of all, my smart phone with Google maps, he guided me into and out of Paris like a charm. We even made it around the Arc de Triumph.

If you’ve not been to Paris, you may not realize what a triumph that feat was. One guidebook even suggested visiting the Arc de Triomphe, (Napoleon’s enormous victory arch to himself) surrounded by Place Charles de Gaulle (a traffic circle of equally dramatic proportions) just to watch the fights between drivers and the horrendous traffic jams during rush hour (the photo above was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at midday during “light” traffic).

For us, however, it was almost surreal. When it was time to leave Paris, we departed from our apartment near the Eiffel Tower, fetched our garaged car and prayed for safety. We crossed the River Seine and, because it was mid-morning, encountered relatively light traffic as we plodded up the famed Champs Elysees (the street shown in the photo). And then, almost before we were expecting it, we were in…and through…the circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It was, as my wife noted, like Moses parting the Red Sea. We entered one end of the circle in a miraculous break in traffic. As we did a half orbit of the Arc de Triomphe, the cars to our right were held back from entering by a nicely timed red light. Thus, we scooted in one end and out the other without a loss of speed like a leaf floating on a slippery current.

Could I have done all that on my own? Maybe, but with greater stress. Having Sumner’s excellent navigation assistance and God’s grace to get us through it all made all the difference. Plus, having my whole family with me turned it from a white-knuckle act of endurance into a shared experience and story.

You’ve probably already figured out the life metaphor implicit here. But it was a great tangible reminder to me of how we’re better off together than when we try and do something alone. The results – and the experience itself – improve when we involve others, rely on them and make them part of the adventure.

So if you’re ever in Paris with a car, it’s OK to drive there if you have to.

Just don’t do it alone.

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