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Paris for a Pittance

By Alan S. Kay
The Washington Post
Sunday, March 15, 1998; Page E02

You can always have Paris -- the Eiffel Tower in the distance, the floodlights of the Bateaux Mouches softened by the mist rising off the Seine, that favorite coffeehouse from 20 years ago a few tortuous blocks off the Boul' Mich' or from two years ago on the edge of the newly hip Marais. Sure, Paris can be expensive in the best of times, and despite the recent strengthening of the dollar, this is hardly the best of times. But with just a bit of advance work and the help of today's technology, you can do Paris pas cher. The two of us managed a week for around $150 per day, including lodging, meals and all activities.

Getting There: The World Wide Web is the ticket. At a time when the standard air fare was $650 and up, we bought our $375 round-trip tickets on Air France by following a tip we saw on the opening page of Travelocity (http://www Similar information is available at Microsoft's travel site, http: // /home/default.hts. Several other Web sites assemble lists of deals; try, for example, http://www /Discount.

Where to Stay: Sure, you can re-create the student experience by exiting the Metro at St. Michel, Cluny or Luxembourg and walking the streets of the Fifth Arrondissement looking for a room on the fourth floor (that's "fifth" to you, American). We chose to avoid that extreme, and booked an apartment in advance. Again, the Web is the key: Search for "apartment vacation Paris" and you'll come up with beaucoup de listings, many represented by agents based in the United States. We considered a penthouse apartment overlooking the Etoile, but finally chose a more central location, a sweet studio apartment off a courtyard on the Ile de la Cite, about a block away from Notre Dame -- close enough for the morning and evening bells to take over our space each time they rang. We had a small but functional kitchen, large sitting area, good stereo, our own phone and fax machine, a bathroom with claw-foot tub, and all the tourist information we needed in the form of the accrued wisdom and annotated restaurant business cards from a decade of visitors, all for $665 for six nights. (We looked online for hotel rooms as well but weren't convinced that comparably priced rooms would give us anywhere near the amenities of an apartment, not the least of which is the kitchen. And for whatever reason, online vacation apartment rental listings tend to provide significantly more information about the facilities, setting and environs than hotel listings do.)

Where to Eat: Having a kitchen of our own changed how we dined in this, one of our favorite eating cities. The nearby Rue St. Louis en l'Ile, the four-block main street running the length of the neighboring Ile St. Louis, offered all the amenities we needed for breakfasts and leisurely candlelit dinners: baguettes a la ancienne from Boulangerie Mon Martin at No. 40; exotic cheeses, including more varieties of Camembert than we could sample in six days, from La Ferme Saint-Aubin (No. 76); dinner entrees, including a spectacular canard feuilletee (duck pate in puff pastry), and pastries at Calixte (No. 66); the butcher Jean Paul Gardil (No. 44); and, serendipitously, some of the best ice creams and sorbets in the world at Bertillon (No. 31). The wine shop on Rue St. Louis en l'Ile, Depot Nicolas at No. 64, is nothing special, but it will cover most occasions. We didn't track the relative costs of dining out and in as tightly as we might have -- it was a vacation, after all -- but despite some whimsical food shopping, it appeared to cost about half as much to assemble our own meals.

Etc.: Situating ourselves centrally meant we were able to take our morning run along the Seine and walk to most everything, from the Louvre to the marvelous Musee d'Orsay to opera at the Bastille Opera or the Theatre Musical de Paris at Chatelet. Fresh flowers are readily and affordably available from the flower market at the Cite Metro station, just a block from St. Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite; if you fall short of reading matter, Shakespeare and Co. and the other bookstores and stalls of the Left Bank are close at hand. Should you find yourself in the Marais at lunchtime, by all means try a falafel sandwich at one of the many storefronts on Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the old Jewish quarter. If you need to go somewhere out of reach -- the Place de la Concorde, for example, for a splurge at Fauchon, or a quick trip to Printemps and Galleries Lafayette (particularly if you're there for a Trois Jour sale, the next of which is Sept. 29-Oct. 4), the Metro still offers the Carnet deal -- 10 tickets for about $8. A single ticket costs about $1.31.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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