Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Paris pour Les Pauvres (Paris for Paupers)

The perfect Parisian trip
Plans can save lives. Everyone knows that in times of panic having a plan can be a godsend. Which is a weird adjective really because it has nothing to do with god or miracles or fate, more in fact the exact opposite, it's about thinking logically and even a little pessimistically. So why am I considered crazy just because I've devised a few plans of my own?!
For example, if there was a fire in my house I know exactly which window I would jump out. If a mad ax man was in the house I know exactly which crawl space I would climb into and how from there I would escape, but I'm not going to specify on here for safety reasons.... 

It's really not crazy at all, self-preservation is human nature!

So when I booked an impromptu trip to Paris it was vital I made 'The Itinerary' (this should be said in a hushed whisper as it was incredibly sacred to me). As well as for the obvious safety reasons, I'm also manic when it comes to filling my time well. 

Including one night in London, we were away for a whole week. We got the Eurostar down for £69 return each, which is super cheap compared to flights and was so much less stressful! The trip total was just under £400 each and we did everything a trip to Paris needs to be complete and it was practically perfect, and all while being very poor. So here's my top tips for planning your bon voyage in the city of romance...


Wimdu is this super smart little website where you can find cheap accommodation in some ridiculously amazing locations. It works by people advertising their spare rooms, or just free space they own in the city and they receive reviews and feedback from previous guests so you know that they are legitimate. Equally, if you wish to stay in one of these rooms, you have to make an account real quick with a little bit about you and you get feedback as to whether you were a good guest or not! This is fair enough as quite often you are living in someone else's house, so you can't be surprised if they don't want a complete slob or an ax murderer.. I can't get ax murderers off my mind lately.

We found this super cute (i.e minuscule) room just on the western outskirts of Paris. Ideally located next to the Metro and surrounded by delicate, cobbled streets and towering french apartments, it was amazing value for 55 euros a night. We had a shower (in the corner of the room), a bed (it advertised as a double but was actually a single) and a little kitchenette which definitely came in handy as we definitely couldn't afford to eat out!

144 steps to reach our apartment

The kitchen would have been better if it had a toaster... on the very first night we bought a loaf of cheap, nasty bread, reasoning that it would do as toast for breakfast. A tin opener would have also been helpful, it was amusing watching Jack battle with a tin of tuna with a Stanley knife like a caveman with a rock, but was also frustrating.

I started panicking the night before we left about the whole thing, 'what if the host was a murderer/rapist/murdering rapist?' 'what if the area was full of gangs and had no street lights?'... the list goes on. So, to add to my itinerary, we printed out lots of maps off of Google showing how to get there without wandering down any dark alleys or dead ends where a killer would be waiting...

Anyway, our host was lovely and the area was gorgeous. Would definitely advise to others!

Take your passport everywhere (and be under 25)

One of the factors that made our french adventure so amazing was the fact that nearly all the museums and attractions are free to EU citizens aged between 16 - 25.

Le Louvre even has a special late night opening on Friday evening where it's free for all young people regardless of nationality. We went to this to spend a night at the museum, but the spectacular glass pyramids had heated up the whole place like the greenhouse effect. I like being warm, but not humid. We did of course see the 'must-sees', but I'm not overly impressed with classic art, it's all a bit too religious for me. But I captured a few things that took my fancy.

This was one of my favourites. This was in a room full of ancient, marble statues, all very naked. The caption said the artist wanted to show the juxtaposition of the beautiful, gleaming marble with the modern day rags or something like that... but for me I just thought it looked like she'd stolen all the statues clothes, like a cheeky prank.

Jesus, the first 'celebrity'

It's not perverted because it's art

Leaving Le Louvre early, we walked along to L'Arc de Triomphe, another place where we got in free. We climbed all 288 steps, we even counted them to check, and watched the sun set over the gloriously symmetrical avenues, starring away from us. Out of nowhere the Eiffel tower started sparkling like it was covered in fairy dust and it was truly magical to watch, and just as suddenly it stopped. I was a bit worried about veering away from the itinerary but it showed that sometimes the best things happen when you're a bit spontaneous!
l'arc de triomphe

the setting sun illuminating the lights

We also visited Le Musee d'Orangerie which has stunning Monet images covering the walls, literally circling you. This is art I appreciate. Such perfectly chosen colours depicting the light and shadows and beauty of the natural world. It was really peaceful in here as well, very simplistic and open.

Le Musee d'Orsay was nearby as well, the art collection was vast, but I was more captivated by this massive clock. It reminded me of childhood movies, but I'm not sure why...

There was some amazing art in this museum. The Van Gogh paintings are stunning, the swirls and stars depicting some fantasy wonderland. I also took a liking to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, all his subjects had a sense of melancholy yet strength.
(from google, wasn't allowed to take photos inside)

Budget money for two special activities

Our big spend day out was, of course, Disneyland. Unfortunately Jack was really ill. This was really difficult for both of us. As usual, I had built up ridiculous expectations for this day and how perfect it had to be, which is of course setting myself up for disappointment because life isn't a perfect fairy-tale land, no matter how much it tries to look like one. But it meant we went on some of the smaller rides I would have overlooked otherwise, 'It's a small world' was certainly an experience... I'm so used to being looked after as well that stepping up and looking after someone else really panicked me, but I think I did a good job staying calm and supportive, very proud of myself.

me and Pascal from Tangled, one of the best Disney movies

It's a small world.. the idealistic land full of creepy stereotypes

The other activity we paid for was our night time boat trip down La Seine. I had researched online for my itinerary and this had high reviews. It was only 13 Euros each and was a lovely way to see Paris. Nearly all the bridges over the river have been swarmed with these padlocks, where people have written their names on them and thrown away the key. The evening lights reflected off them and the whole city was like a land of fairy-lights.

Wander the streets

On our first evening we found ourselves ambling the streets, the buzz of metropolitan life and the summer warmth held in the cobbled streets made the whole city tingle with life. On one hidden square with a water fountain we stumbled along a seemingly impromptu dance. One guy sat smoking a cigarette, balancing a speaker system, and couples of all ages were joining hands and showing off their various dance routines, swinging and salsa-ing like the people you see in old movies. I did film it but i'm not sure how to put videos on here yet!

It was also on an aimless amble that we found our sandwich shop. I can't remember the name at all, but it didn't look particularly special from the outside, yet the sandwiches were glorious. Crispy yet soft french baguettes were filled with a variety of ingredients, my favourite was feta cheese with cucumber, tomato, olive oil and oregano. It was a nice little reminder that appearances aren't everything. Similarly, it was a little metro cafe where I got this incredible Tarte des frambroises..

Another amazing part of Paris where we pounded the streets was the gorgeous Montemarte. I was eager to visit here as it was the 'hip place to be' in the early 20th century, with various artists, authors and poets slipping round the streets together. I often long to have been of an earlier time era, and wandering around these gorgeous streets oozing art and poetry I couldn't help but long naively to have been a young, rich and influential flapper of the 1920's. Oh well.

Montemarte is a breathtaking mixture of cute, little Parisian buildings painted pinks and blues with lush gardens juxtaposed with Banksy-esque graffiti creeping along the walls. Amateur artists swarm the streets eager to paint your portrait and rich and sophisticated couples sit in the posh cafes soaking up culture while safely hidden behind their Niçoise salads.

Take a promenade in les parcs

The french pay quite high taxes as so much money is invested back into the open spaces. Maybe not so great for the taxpayer, great for the tourist. The green spaces in Paris are glorious. The neatly kept lawns are lush and symmetrical and the flowerbeds are immaculate. Little benches and garden chairs are neatly scattered around, perfect for people-watching. Le Jardin du Luxembourg was a personal favourite. There is a beautiful water feature where little wooden boats potter along, occasionally bumping into each other with a satisfying tap and little kids with wooden poles push them along. The tall shady trees are all lovingly lined up as well, perfect for playing behind.

These neatly manicured gardens are a massive contrast to the parks we visited in London, where there is more long grass, winding paths and scattered trees. I think I prefer England's approach, you can actually sit on the grass here, but it's always nice to see how the frenchies are doing it.

Finally, go out with a bang

We were incredibly lucky to have found that our little visit overlapped with the national French holiday, Bastille day.

During the day time the streets remained pretty lazy and serene, and lots of the shops were closed (not ideal when you desperately need a pharmacist). We trekked across the city searching for a village style fete we had heard of, but arrived to find nothing there, i'm still not sure if this was our misunderstanding or French laziness, but either way we were quite content. We were too excited for the firework display happening that night to really care about anything else.

This was easily one of the best firework displays I have ever seen, the only other one I have seen as amazing was in Nice... it seems the French have a knack for fireworks. The streets were full all around the Eiffel tower, and nationals were yelling VIVE LA FRANCE and cheering with pride. When the display was over, all the canal boats on the river came to life as their owners starting beeping the horns in celebration. I really hope that I overcome my panic attacks so that the next time I'm here I can watch them from in front of the Eiffel Tower and get the best view... I was too scared of how busy it'd be this year though.

Overall, despite some hiccups, I really do look back at this trip and feel like it was perfect. I need to learn that perfect isn't being ridiculously rich and privileged and having all the finest foods and experiences. It's about going out there and making memories yourself, good and bad, and appreciating them both. And making a little plan helps, but don't be scared to stray away from it...

Á bientôt, Paris.

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