Maps & Stuff: Getting around London & Paris

by Sasha Wilkins on October 24, 2012 · 8 comments


I’ve always liked maps. I like knowing where I am and where I am going. Call me a control freak but that’s just the way I am.  And in the 21st century, it’s all very well to rely solely on the internets on  smartphones but, as I discovered in Paris recently, when your phone goes down you are royally screwed. I was left wandering fruitlessly with no idea how to find a metro at one end, or where the museum I was heading for was at the other end. (And, yes, I do speak French, but there was no one around, and anyway I was a fifteen minute very indirect route from the metro. I didn’t fancy my luck.)

My obsession with knowing where I am going, both in advance and in real time, has been the cause of some spectacular arguments. I will never forget the giant battle on the French peage that I had with an old boyfriend when we were driving home to England from Angles where I go each summer. I was driving my old scarlet boy racer Toyota; he had the map in his hands.

And that’s where it stayed. He refused point blank to let me look at the map. I am one of those lucky people with a photographic memory, so I find that if I read a map once, I will remember the broad outline of where I need to go during my journey, with little or no need to recourse to the map again.  So, whilst I always appreciate a co-pilot or GPS reminding me where to go, I like to have a route in in my head so I know where I am going well in advance. (Co-pilots – both human and mechanical – are overly fond of making you turn at a moment’s notice.)

Unfortunately this boyfriend felt that it meant I didn’t trust him, hence the huge fight.

Fortunately, in these days of GPS the map thing is no longer such an issue, and I have come to rely on it to the extent where in a strange place I been known to leave the house without actually checking my route in advance.  And I do wonder how I ever got anywhere quickly without having a disembodied voice guiding me to my destination.

Driving out of LAX for example onto the freeway back in 2009 I think I would have died if I haven’t had a GPS commanding me to change lanes. With all those lanes of traffic and a paper map I would have been screwed. That being said I don’t use it in cities like  London and New York which I know like the back of hand. But mostly I rejoice that there will be no more driving down country lanes in the pitch dark squinting at an upside down map, trying to steer with one hand.

BUT. Even with my new found love of the GPS, there are three mini street atlases that I wouldn’t be without. They are:

My friend Emma introduced me to the Plan de Paris par arrondissement, available at all Parisian newsstands for the grand sum of six euros. It’s a small map of the city, arranged by its numbered sectors (the arrondissements), which is incredibly useful when people start referring to the 1e or the 6e and so on. Reading this is a great way to learn what is exactly IN each arrondisement, and helps understand the character of each neighbourhood.

Pre-smartphone, no Londoner could possibly have existed without multiple battered copies of the A-Z, produced by The Geographers A-Z Map Company. Essentially: these are the maps are kept London going. I had them on my desk, by the ‘phone, in the car, in my handbag… I still find them helpful, and still wouldn’t dream of driving anywhere without one in my glovebox.

I was sent Philip’s Street Atlas of London recently with its natty Union flag cover. It’s perfect for keeping on my desk for quick reference, and it has handy things like bus routes in the back. I think it would make a lovely present for someone visiting, or new, to the city.

Philip’s Street Atlas of London £6.74
Plan de Paris par arrondissement, £3.96
London Mini Street Atlas (paperback) by Geographers A-Z Map Company £4.75

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