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My Super Low Budget Trip to Paris

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May 4th, 2008, 06:43 AM
  #1
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My Super Low Budget Trip to Paris

This trip to Paris was arranged a bit impulsively. I already have an October trip to London and Rome that I am supposed to be saving for. But then, late last December, I got an email from Travel Zoo telling me I could to fly roundtrip to Paris from Toronto for a grand total of $550.

$550......Really? I just spent more than that on Christmas gifts for people I barely like or know. Maybe it was the post-Christmas blahs, or maybe it was the stress and work load at the office finally getting me down, but suddenly I felt like I needed- like I deserved- a vacation.

The hamsters had their work cut out for them as the wheels in my head kicked into gear and slowly started turning. Before I booked a non-refundable, non-transferable plane ticket, I needed to make sure I could secure an inexpensive place to stay.

I sent out an email to the owners of a little studio apartment I first saw on the SlowTravel website a couple of years ago, and have had bookmarked ever since. I received a response the very next day. Yes, they had the dates I wanted in late April available and yes, the total price for a stay of one week would be 300€.

I immediately booked the apartment and bought my airline tickets. And just in a nick of time too, as it was the last day of the ticket sale. Before I knew it, I had a trip to Paris to plan. Isnít the internet amazing?
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May 4th, 2008, 06:48 AM
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This would be my second trip to Paris, first time ever traveling alone. My budget was essentially rock-bottom, although I did enjoy one or two little splurges.

One of these splurges was for a good seat to the Paris Opera Ballet's "Soiree Maks Ek" at the Palais Garnier (63&euro. This performance turned out to be the highlight of my trip. I would have gladly paid 10 times more to see it.

The show consists of two of Maks Ekís ballets- 'La Maison de Bernarda'(based on Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba") and 'Une sorte deÖ'.

I believe they are performing it until May 11, and I'll just take a second to say that, for anyone who is in Paris between now and then, if you are at all interested in ballet, dance, or theater, or are simply interested in attending a performance at the Palais Garnier, I really, really recommend the Mats Ek.

I just canít praise it highly enough. I couldnít tear my eyes away from the stage the whole night and almost burst into tears at the conclusion of both pieces.

While not everyone will have as emotional a reaction as I did, the dancers and choreography are of the highest possible caliber, and if you are from North America, chances are good you will never have the opportunity to see a Mats Ek ballet at home.

So get a cheap seat or get a good seat, but just get a seat and go. I went last Monday night, and am still in a bit of a happy daze over the whole thing.
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May 4th, 2008, 06:51 AM
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Back to the internet being an amazing thing, that includes the posters here on Fodors.

I received advice on everything from the seating plan at the Palais Garnier, to the best place to find Barbapapa toys. Plus, there is so much information to be had by just searching through the forums, and there is almost everything you could ever want to know about things to do and see and Paris.

So a huge thanks to everyone who contributes here, you really helped me with planning and enjoying my time in Paris.
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May 4th, 2008, 06:55 AM
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So tell us more about traveling on a budget - where did you eat, what sightseeing, etc.

When I was in Paris last October I was astounded at the prices (plus bad exchange rate) so I lived very frugally but I'm always looking for other recommendations on frugal travel for the next time.
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May 4th, 2008, 06:57 AM
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I arrived at CDG on a Thursday morning. It had been a long flight. In an attempt to stave off jetlag, I had decided to stay up late the night before I left, the reason being that I would be tired enough to sleep the next day on the Wednesday night flight.

I stayed up late all right- until 3am to be exact- frantically packing and cleaning my apartment (I'm nothing if not a procrastinator when it comes to cleaning and packing).

Then I had to wake up at 6am because I needed to spend most of the day at the office. By the time I schlepped myself to the airport in time for my 8:20pm flight, I was practically hallucinating and maybe a bit twitchy to boot.

Eerily enough, Terminal One at Pearson International was almost empty. I was the only person at the check-in counter, and I think I went through security with maybe two other people. By that point, I was convinced I had entered the Twilight Zone. Maybe I was crazy, or maybe I really had entered an alternative dimension, but either way I was starving for something other than coffee, which had been my only form of sustenance for the past 24 hours.

I made a beeline for the Casey's restaurant and devoured a plate of chicken fingers and chips. So much for pretending to be Audrey Hepburn this trip. I'd have to make do with Fatty Arbuckle.

Before long, it was time to head over to the boarding lounge. My fellow travellers appeared to be made up of the usual suspects- mostly people in their 60's, a few teenagers and 20-somethings with backpacks, a few young families with babies who looked grumpy and tired. Lots of people were consulting Paris guidebooks, and many already had their neck scarves in place.

Finally it was time to board. I was very relieved to discover that I got my aisle seat, as requested. My relief was short-lived, however. I was about to be punished by the travel gods for smirking at my fellow tourists with their guidebooks and scarves.

I was in the middle row, made up of three seats, and the person sitting beside me, the one sitting in the middle seat, was the Twenty-Something Euro-Trash French Guy from Hell.
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May 4th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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>>>So tell us more about traveling on a budget - where did you eat, what sightseeing, etc.<<<

You'll be very disappointed by my reply, I think. I literally never ate out (well, the self-serve cafeteria at the Louvre hardly counts), all my meals were groceries eaten at the apartment, although I did have a panini sandwich one afternoon in the park behind Notre Dame.

This actually wasn't so much due my budget, but rather because I was always either too tired to eat (actually forgot to eat lunch more times than I can rememeber) or because I was too shy with my French (I spent a fair amount of my time in very non-touristy areas, which made me a bit self-conscious about my French and about the fact I was alone)

So my meals, primarily breakfast and dinner, consisted of what I picked up at the local bakery, Leader Price, Monoprix, Franprix, etc. - bread, salad, fruit, yogourt, spring water, coffee, etc.
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May 4th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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Twenty-Something Euro-Trash French Guy from Hell was appalling.

He slurped his wine, didn't close his mouth when he chewed, and smacked his food. He was rude to the flight attendants. He would look over towards to his friends in another row and loudly go "Quack, quack, quack" every time a flight attendant spoke or an announcement came on. Considering the amount of gold chains that hung from his body, I did wonder about where he aquired this sense of superiority.

The worst of it, though, was his space-hogging.

Now, at first I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because as we all know, sitting in the middle seat between two strangers on a seven-hour flight is no day in the park. Who gets which armrest, where to put your feet; the issues are sticky and can be difficult to navigate.

I did my best to give him as wide a berth a possible, but for some reason, it seemed like no matter how far to the side I tried to keep, his arm or his leg or his something or other always ended up pressing right into me.

He basically assumed the Al Bundy position- knees splayed wide open, hands folded on stomach, elbows out like chicken wings. He never shifted or adjusted or apologized like most people do when they bump or squish into you. He just waited until I became uncomfortable enough to move even further to the side away from him. Then, without fail, it would happen again- his arm would press against me, elbow jab into me, and so it would remain until I moved.

I finally caught on to his game and decided to stop moving away. I figured we'd play a game of chicken- who will move over first?- but it turned out he was quite content to remain squished up against me. I did sit up at one point to look over at the man sitting on the other side of this guy. He was completely curled up in a fetal position towards the aisle, shoulders hunched up, knees completely turned outwards and away.

So it wasn't just me, this guy really WAS space-hogging. So, I gave up. If he wanted to spend the flight getting up close and personal, so be it. It was far more comfortable for me to use him as a sort of pillow than to keep crouching over to the side (if I moved any further Iíd end up in the aisle) No way was I going to end up like the contorted, chiropractic nightmare the poor man on the other side.

Needless to say, I didn't get a wink of sleep. I watched Enchanted without the sound then something else which for the life of me I can't recall. Breakfast was served, coffee was poured, and we finally landed in Paris.
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May 4th, 2008, 07:33 AM
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THURSDAY

The less said about Terminal 2A at CDG, the better.

Once I got my suitcase on a luggage cart and started walking through the other terminal, into the air conditioning, on my way to the RER station, I was feeling much better. When I passed by the line ups at the RER ticket machines, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world- Dave, the thoughtful owner of the apartment where I was staying, had mailed me an RER ticket before I left, so I already had it in hand when I landed at the airport.

I breezed past the confused, frustrated tourists dying on their feet in the lines, and snarling at the ticket machines for refusing their credit cards, and boarded a waiting train.

Five minutes later the train doors closed and off we went. A few puzzled tourists where left scratching their heads on the platform, unsure about which train they should board, because there are two sets of tracks. I felt a little guilty about leaving them there, because there is a big sign on the tracks that states clearly in English "All trains stop in Paris", and I could have been more of a good Samaritan and pointed it out to them. Maybe one train makes more milk-run stops, but youíll still get to where you want to go, regardless of what train you board. I was too tired to be helpful, though, and besides I was having too much fun people watching.

There was a man on the train who looked *exactly* like Rick Steves, but wasn't. He was American or Canadian, and traveling with his 11 or 12 year old daughter. It was obviously their first trip to Paris, and I loved watching them because they took such pleasure and interest in every little thing they saw.

They were so excited, their eyes literally shone and they both had the biggest, happiest grins on their faces. Dad looked down at his ticket in amazement after the collector came around and punched it. Daughter beamed as she counted the stops and traced the route on her map. Dad would say, "Here we are! We're in Paris! Can you believe it?" and she would giggle and hug her books close to her chest.

Their joy was contagious. I could barely keep the smile from my own lips. I silently wished them a wonderful trip, though they didn't need any help in that department, they were clearly having the time of their lives.
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May 4th, 2008, 07:38 AM
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I got off the train at Gare du Nord and decided I was too tired to take the metro to the apartment. I would take a taxi instead. My French was horribly out of practice, embarrassingly so. When I opened my mouth it was like rusty nails squeaking against an old barbed wire fence.

The driver asked me to repeat myself, so with a niggling sense of shame I handed him a piece of paper with the address of the apartment written on it.

About 10 minutes and 10€ later I was standing in front of the blue apartment building door on Rue Jean Pierre Timbaud in the 11th. Now all I had to do was look through my purse and hope that I'd remembered to bring the access code that would allow me to open the door.

I had a couple of moments while standing there, looking through my bag, convinced that I had stupidly forgotten to bring the code, but no, there it was, I had it. I punched it in and wonder of wonders, pushed open the big blue door and entered the foyer of the building.

After finding the light switch, I could see I was standing in an older, slightly shabby, but clean and well kept foyer. The stairs were at the end of the little hall. I knew I had a long climb ahead of me- six flights of stairs, about 18 steps each. The steps weren't steep, and there was a good, secure handrail.

I started smiling as I climbed up, because the stairs were in fact pretty charming, made of old polished wood, and they wound around and around and around.

If I were Audrey Hepburn, I would have sprinted up them like a doe, thrown open the door to the apartment and perhaps would have found a tall, dark, handsome man waiting for me, smoking a cigarette.

As it was, I was deliriously exhausted, dragging my over-packed suitcase behind me, trying not to make too much noise as I huffed and puffed my way up the stairs, but still grinning like a maniac the entire time.

I made it to the top and, just like the owners said, there was a little sticky-note indicating the right door (there are about 3 or 4 apartments on each floor of the building, each with the same blue coloured door). The key was hidden exactly where they said it would be. It was big, old fashioned sort of key, and it took me few tries to get the hang of the lock and to open the door.

There was no handsome man waiting for me inside, but I managed to fall in love all the same. The apartment is a little studio, suitable for one or two people, with a sleeping area, kitchen, bathroom, and a little alcove by a big window with a small round table and two chairs.

On the table, the owners left a personalized note, welcoming me to Paris. There was a little bottle of Champaign in the fridge. The apartment felt welcoming and cozy and I was very pleased to have this little nook in the 11th to call home for next week.

The apartment is listed on the SlowTravel website, it's called the Paris Garret. I've written a review but it's still waiting to be approved. There are two reviews posted by previous guests up to read, and I'll say that I agree with their every word. It's the perfect little place if youíre on a budget, don't mind the stairs, and don't faint at the idea of staying anywhere that isn't St Germaine de Pres.

I unpacked, made a few phone calls, and was so exhausted (remember I was operating on 3 hours sleep for the last two days now) I changed into my pajamas, set the alarm clock radio for 5:30am the next morning, and went to bed.

It was about three in the afternoon. I slept right through until 5:25 am, waking up about 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off.

Jetlag wasn't to be an issue this trip, so in a way my sleep deprivation plan did seem to work, just not in the way I had originally intended.
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May 4th, 2008, 07:47 AM
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Apres-Londee
Could you share the web site and/or the e-mail address of the Apartment you rented??
How was the location - convenient or time consuming, and would it be suitable for a couple? Did it have 1 or 2 beds?
I'm sure a hotel would be WAYYYY more cost!
How was the weather in April??
Thanks!
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May 4th, 2008, 07:48 AM
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I am loving your report! The father/daughter scenario brought tears to my eyes - we are taking our 9 year old daughter this summer, and I hope she is just as enchanted as that little girl!

Please keep writing - I feel like I'm reading a wonderful novel . . .

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May 4th, 2008, 07:49 AM
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FRIDAY

Breakfast on Friday morning was black coffee with sugar and a Zone Bar brough from home. I took my time getting showered and dressed, which felt like such a luxury. Usually I am rushing to get to work in the morning, or rushing to get ready because someone is waiting for me. So I really enjoyed being able to dawdle. I made it out the front door by about 8am.

I thought about going to the metro station to buy a carnet, but decided it would be better to wait until rush hour was over. Instead, I headed down the street as far as Richard Lenoir, where the Popincourt Market had just set up.

This is a relatively small market, spanning about the length of one block between rue Jean Pierre Timbaud and rue Oberkampf. On the periphery, there are some flea market-type stalls, selling tee-shirts and other cheap things. The vast majority of the market vendors, however, are selling honest to goodness, old fashioned, no gimmicks, fresh, glorious FOOD.

There were butchers chopping pigís heads. There were wonderfully pungent cheeses. There was seafood so fresh you would never know you were within a mile of a fish if you closed your eyes.

One of the fish vendors in particular must have been really, really good. A sort of seafood superstar. While the other vendors were already busy selling, this stall was still being set up. A small army of young men in blue work coats were unloading crate after crate of every sea creature imaginable packed on ice from a big truck.

This was done under the watch of a stout older man with iron grey hair, also wearing a blue coat. He was directing everything, and he wasn't hurrying for nobody, not even the growing line of patient customers waiting for him to open the stall so they could buy their fish already.

The customers in that line were what I call the dignified older European type. They all have carefully combed silver hair, and they wear taupe coloured trench coats. They may or may not be retired, but the men tend to wear three piece suites, and the women always wear stockings and skirts. They give off an aura of respectability, and you know they wouldn't tolerate any nonsense when it comes to something like the quality of the fish for their Friday dinner (wherever you see dignified older European types lining up for something, get into that line because whatever theyíre selling you know itís got to be good).

The man running the stall wasnít letting the growing line pressure him. Half an hour later, after I was done wandering through the market and was making my way back to the apartment, he *still* hadn't finished setting up shop- the young guys in the blue coats were still going back and forth, back and forth, unloading creatures with scales and fins and tentacles and huge staring eyeballs, and the line-up of customers had grown even longer.

There were other fish mongers at the market, but the dignified older European types were having none of it. They were waiting for the man in the blue coat.

The other notable thing about the market was the friendliness of the vendors. Several of them called out to me, "Bonjour, bonjour!" which surprised me somewhat, and then several more tried engaging me in conversation. They were speaking too fast so I couldn't understand what they were saying. I just smiled vaguely and walked on.

Eventually it dawned on me that all the vendors who were trying to get my attention were young guys, probably of North African decent. They were all smiling and staring at me, calling out, and one guy started gripping his fingers and motioning to my hand while saying something.

I slowed down for a moment, confused, and without thinking started to look down at my hands to see what he was on about, when I realized he was blabbering nonsense about how it would break his heart if I were already married.

They weren't at all threatening, but I was starting to feel a bit conspicuous. I seemed to be the only female tourist alone at the market that morning (in fact, I seemed to be the only tourist, period).

I was already feeling shy about my rusty French, but now, with half the produce vendors staring at me and hey babying me in French, I was way too self-conscious to try to buy anything.

I decided to go back to the apartment and re-group. I was feeling a bit lonely and glum. I stuck out like a sore thumb in this neighborhood- there were no other tourists here. The streets were full of people on their way to work, not foreigners on holiday snapping pictures.

When I took out my camera, people turned around and stared. When I opened my mouth to speak, they were very surprised to hear anything but fluent French. And now I had allowed myself to be defeated by the silliness of the produce vendors at the market.

Sitting at the little table in my apartment, I munched another Zone Bar, drank some tap water (which, by the way, was very good- much better than the tap water at home, and no horrible smell when you first turn on the taps like at home) and read through the neighborhood guide that the owners of the apartment had thoughtfully put together for the use of their guests.

There was a note about the toilet, and which toilet paper to buy-"Ultra Compact", which could be found at the Leader Price down the block.

Leader Price is like a No Frills or Food Basics- mainly generic brands, lower prices, and good for staples.

There was a full roll and a half in the bathroom when I arrived, but I thought it would be a good idea to pick up some more. So I decided to head out to Leader Price for toilet paper and a few groceries.
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May 4th, 2008, 08:29 AM
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Great report, keep it coming, very entertaining writing style.

Sandy (in Denton)
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May 4th, 2008, 08:48 AM
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nannibray:

here's the link to the apartment's ad on SlowTravel:

http://tinyurl.com/4687g7

It has one full sized double bed, and the apartment is absolutely suitable for a couple. The sleeping area is about the size of an average European hotel room, but with a generous amount of shelves and hanging space. The bathroom is very compact but easily managable.

I absolutely loved the location. It's on rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, less than a minute away from the Parmentier Metro station. Everything is rightout the doorstep - cafes, bars, groceries, tabacs, pharmacies, etc.

From Parmentier, it's only one stop away from Republique, which is a major transfer hub. Bus no. 96 stops nearby, which will take you through the Marais, the Isle de la Cite, St Germaine de Pres, all the way down to the Montparnass tower.

What makes the area especially interesting is that it is not a tourist area at all, no eiffel towers for sale anywhere.

A lot of young people live in the neighborhood, 20 and 30 somethings, but there are people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, middle class, working class, immigrants, native Parisians, hipsters, worn looking housewives, you name it they live, work, shop, eat, and drink there.

The people in the shops, on the street, etc. are very friendly. The local businesses don't exist for tourist trade, they they real neighborhood shops, and I found everyone to be genuinely warm and helpful.

It's right next to the heart of trendy nightlife in Paris, lots of bars and cafes, and JP Timbaud has its own share of trendy places, a couple of them right across the street.

Amazingly enough, though, I found it very quite at night, even on weekends. The French don't generally seem to do loud obnoxious drunk. I get far more street noise and rowdiness at my own apartment in Toronto. And the windows are new, double glazed and soundproof.

I think I had a bit of culture shock my first day, coming into a real city neighborhood where I was often literally the only tourist around. But before long I couldn't wait to get back to "my" neighborhood after a day spent in the more touristy areas of the city.

The apartment is a great find. The owners are truly wonderful, too.

The weather in April is unpredictable. Most of the time it was warm, summer days with cool nights. The last couple of days were chilly and rainy.
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May 4th, 2008, 09:11 AM
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Attnymom: the father and daughter were really sweet. One thing I found about travelling alone was, I got to do far more people watching than I've ever done before.

On the flight over, there was a family with three young children, and the little boy, about 6 yrs old, was beside himself with excitment over flying for the first time.

He cheered when the plane started moving- "Yeah! We're taking off!" Then his eyes nearly popped out of his head as he looked out the window- "Holy cow! Look at that!" he kept repeating over and over. His mom tried telling him to settle down, and he did, (eventually) but it was fun to see him get so excited about flying.

Thanks for the kind words, sandy_b
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May 5th, 2008, 03:15 PM
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topping
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May 5th, 2008, 04:04 PM
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Wonderful report - can't wait to read the rest!
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May 5th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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This the kind of trip report we love to find! Keep it coming.

By the way, did that studio have a phone or TV?
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May 5th, 2008, 07:22 PM
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Great reading about your trip, makes me want to go to Paris again.
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May 5th, 2008, 07:37 PM
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Thanks for sharing your trip with us! I am finding it, and your writing, very entertaining. Isn't it funny how quickly we can become attached to the right home away from home?
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