Here in America, it’s taken me about 20 years or so, but I feel I’ve finally figured out how to drive through a roundabout. Or so I thought.
After preparing a list of observations on being a first time traveler in Paris, I realized I left one teensy bit out. Namely, there is nothing on this side of the Atlantic that can prepare someone for the utter zaniness that is the Place de Charles de Gaulle.
That’s where the Arc de Triomphe sits, right smack dab in the middle of a traffic circle with 12 boulevards feeding into it, harkening back to a time before automobiles. Now that we’ve discovered cars, it is difficult to describe the insanity that occurs in the middle of that monster.
Travel chronicler extraordinaire Rick Steves wrote about it, noting, among other things, the Arc de Triomphe is the one place in Paris where, if there’s an accident, that both cars are automatically deemed to be equally at fault, no matter the circumstances.
After seeing it up close, I can see why that must be. It must be seen to be believed, but some videos from the top of the arch do exist, if you dare to take a peek. My travel group took a tunnel underground that provided a welcome path underneath the circle – a trip across for a pedestrian seemed to be a suicide mission.
You can climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe during the day or at night to get a good view, both of the city, but also of the drivers attempting the circle. Next time, I’m going to try to brave a trip around it. The cabs (and motorbikes!!) seemed to have a sort of sixth sense about how to maneuver through it, finding small openings to push through, yielding to traffic entering the circle before pushing and winding their way through to an exit.
As for what this sight does to all those people who squawk loudly at city council meetings across America at the mere mention of a roundabout, I am left to imagine. But I bet it’s not pretty.
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Andy is a guest blogger for TravelHive. Andy enjoys writing, reffing, and can now add drinking Orangina and traveling abroad to this list. We asked Andy to share his experiences as a first time traveler in Paris. You can see pictures from his trip on our Instagram account @travel_hive. Thanks, Andy!