Cherries were twelve-Euros (about 18-dollars) a kilo, a coffee in an un-trendy, un-touristy area, six-dollars, and it seemed the only deal on food was, predictably, baguettes and wine. I was stuck, trying not to spend too much money on my unplanned trip to Paris this August. I was visiting to help a friend though surgery and had not budgeted for the trip. Luckily, cooking in her adorable apartment was pleasant and she was nice enough to treat me to a few lovely meals. The dollar, however, was so weak it was painful. I know Paris well, however, and know where to find deals, where to shop and how to live cheaply while still enjoying my stay. Here are a few simple things I did that saved me a lot, without compromising my visit too much.
1) Bring a reusable water bottle: it’s great for the plane (empty it before going through security and refill before boarding.) Water was outrageously expensive, and I really didn’t want to spend twenty dollars a day on mere hydration.
2) Pack food from home. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I packed a few simple, nourishing snacks like sunflower seeds and dried fruit. It may sound depressing on a trip to the culinary capital of Paris, but I made room in my baggage, just in case I needed it on the long flight or during my stay. I even brought a few Trader Joe’s items to the hospital and the nurses and doctors loved them. It was a peak moment for laughs when I offered them up in a very American, very un-French gesture of generosity!
3) Choose your cafés wisely. Nothing makes me happier than sitting in a French café sipping a café crème, but at six-dollars a pop, I couldn’t stop for a pick me up too often. In fact, a few days I actually waited till I got to the hospital, where a coffee machine sold a good cup of coffee for one Euro or about a buck fifty. If a coffee machine at a hospital is not up your alley make sure you find a cheaper café; prices do vary. You can also order a noisette, an espresso with a dash of creme in it. It is called “noisette,” French for hazelnut, because of the rich, dark color of the coffee. If you are pinching your pennies, or just want to save for a few strategic splurges, don’t go to a café on the Champs Elysee, rather, opt for a small cozy spot like this one pictured in the Marais District. However, if you do want to linger, write postcards, rest your weary feet or soak up the scenery, an exorbitant cup of coffee is worth the price in Paris.
OK, if this all sounds somewhat pathetic here are some of the positives. Time was well spent enjoying the city, taking tons of photos and biking using the community Velib program which I wrote about in a prior post; the first 30 minutes of any bike ride are free, and beyond that the rental rates are affordable. I also couldn’t keep myself from shopping, despite the horrible exchange rate. Instead of my favorite boutiques I shopped at Mono Prix, Tati, Consignment shops (where you can find fabulous deals) and the Marches au Puces (flea market) at Porte de Clignancourt. I got my boys fabulous soccer underwear and in my quest for an affordable bouquet of flowers for my friend’s homecoming, I had a marvelous conversation with the florist in a posh neighborhood near Parc Monceau. We talked about the economy, the skyrocketing cost of living and the general malaise sweeping the Gallic homeland. He wistfully said how he loved apricots, how apricots symbolized summer for him and how this year he was forgoing his cherished summer ritual because the coveted stone fruit was astronomically priced. I left with a five-dollar single sunflower, but a meaningful conversation and a small window into the Parisian perspective on this global economic crisis.