Have you ever been to La Défense? It’s the cluster of shiny towers a ways down the road from the Arc de Triomphe.
[Not so fun fact: if you take the metro line 1 to La Défense, all you need is a regular zone 1 and 2 metro ticket, but if you take the RER A to La Défense, it’s considered zone 3 and you need a more expensive ticket or you risk a fine.]
Well, even though it looks straightforward enough on the map, La Défense is kind of trippy if you don’t know your way around (and I definitely don’t).
How did I end up in this shiny alternate universe on the outskirts of Paris? I was staying with my friend out in Nanterre, a north-west suburb of Paris, but the RER train back to Nanterre stopped running before midnight, and we didn’t leave our musical theater geek party in time to catch it. We were busy singing through the score of Wicked. (True story.)
Anyway, rather than take a cab all the way back to Nanterre (hello, $$$) we decided to take the metro to La Défense, and cab or walk from there. Seems easy, right? We get off the metro at LD and either hail a cab, or simply walk home. What could go wrong?
It turns out that when you get off the metro at La Défense, you’re on a gigantic esplanade surrounded by corporate buildings and large contemporary sculptures. Okay, no problem – you just walk off the esplanade onto the normal street, and make your way from there, right?
Sure. But the question is, how do you get off the @#$% esplanade?!
It was dark, it was raining, it was 2:30am. We wandered around, trying to get out of the urban desert that is La Défense, hoping there were no crazies lurking in the shadows.
By the time we got home, it was about 4am. We only had about three or four kilometers to walk, but it took us an hour and a half, and that is how hard it is to find your way out of La Défense. Moral of the story? a) Nothing is ever as simple in reality as it is on the map, especially in France, and b) Don’t mess around with La Défense at night. It will swallow you whole.