Archive for the ‘Affordable Paris’ Category

So What’s for Dinner?

June 25, 2012

Everyone’s doing the shopping – what’s on your menu tonight?

The Experienced Travelers have all the flashing Eiffel Towers, Montmartre sno-globes and “I Ate Snails” tee shirts we’ll ever need.  So we are left to apply our considerable shopping energies toward something with immediate benefit – the fresh food on offer in the irresistible Parisian food markets, that will be destined for our rental apartment kitchen.

Nurse in the kitchen after she has given me a job to do elsewhere that is more suited to my talents.

I believe that because it’s French food and a French kitchen, our humble victuals will automatically transform into haute-cuisine, no matter how badly I prepare them while Nurse is out of the room.

When our friends Barbara and Chris arrived jet-lagged, dinner at home was the way to enjoy good food and have an early night.  We drew up our dinner strategy over chocolat chaud.  Barbara, Chris and I had assigned courses to buy, while Nurse directed our forays.

Imagining a hot skillet and a little butter, Christine chooses carefully.

Christine was in charge of veggies, and applied her business acumen to the rows of attractive fresh vegetables.  The French have come around to the practice of self-service.  Years ago, you had to wait for the Produce Man to choose, bag and weigh for you.  This was never an inconvenience because the Produce Man was often attractive and flirtatious, making it a pleasure to part with a few francs.

Faced with a myriad of choices, Chris decided some plump and pretty white asparagus would grace the table admirably.  We’ll have to ask her if she thought the Produce Man would grace the table admirably too.

This is a long way from Betty Crocker. Barbara casts a knowing eye over the dessert choices.

Barbara had the enviable category of dessert and found a small pâtisserie in the rue Cler.  The hardest part was deciding among the calorie-laden choices.  Despite her jet lag, Barbara called upon her Sacred Heart French and did an admirable job communicating with the assistant behind the counter.  Nice work, Pal!

With cunning, I chose the main course so I could procure one of the roasted chickens that turn slowly in special chicken ovens strategically placed outside many bûcheries.  Equally cunning, these ovens waft the enticing smell of roasting bird into the nostrils and brain synapses of passing shoppers.  Those ovens deliver a real return on investment.

Hard at work choosing the main course. Photo by Chris

There is purchasing protocol at the bûcherie too.  I discussed with the butcher the merits of each chicken – size, price and worthiness.  After choosing our chicken, he gave me a ticket to take to the cashier at the back of the store.  I paid, then brought the receipt back to the butcher and collected my prize, wrapped and ready for the table.

Meanwhile, I trusted that Nurse was creating calligraphy menus and place cards, and letting our complimentary bottle of wine breathe.

Barbara and Chris weren’t too jet-lagged to stop at Cantin for a lovely smelly bit of cheese to have before dinner.

If you’re staying in a hotel, visit the charcuteries, where you can buy ready-to-enjoy foods prepared by the the talented staff.  The butcher will cut your chicken and the  local wine shop will be happy to uncork your bottle.  All you’ll need are utensils and a pleasant spot to eat.

A most important assignment for Christine

So under Nurse’s supervision, we set to work in our apartment kitchens.  In short order, we were dining en famille on the fruits of our shopping – and at a very reasonable price, leaving Found Money for our adventures the next day.

Confounded by two unfathomable French corkscrews.

Dear Readership, don’t be shy about shopping at the local stores in your neighborhood.  If you’re uneasy about speaking French, rely on the international language of pointing, gestures and smiles.  It’s an affordable way to dine and there might be a handsome Produce Man to make it worthwhile.

The colors of happiness. Photo by Christine

ET Tips: Paris hotels won’t break the budget

September 27, 2011

Don't try to book the Hotel de Ville. It's the administrative offices of the City of Paris.

The Experienced Travelers are often asked how to find an affordable hotel in Paris.  In fact, we revel in research, and document our options.  Ironically, we’ve only stayed in a few Paris hotels, but that doesn’t prevent us from having a process that we follow with rigor.

Dear Readership, there are zillions of hotel strategies out there.  Browsing a travel newsgroup like the excellent Fodors travel forums  presents a startling variety of approaches – most of them with merit.

Over the years, we’ve settled on ours, and we’re delighted to share it with you.  In this post, we’ll cover considerations, budget and our must-have list of amenities.

A five-star bathroom in Versailles. Truly an anomaly for the ETs

Degrees of comfort

Paris properties run the gamut from the resplendent to the ridiculous.  If your dream trip includes 5-star luxury and handsome uniformed Frenchmen holding the door, then our strategy isn’t for you.  Go directly to the Plaza Athénée, de Crillon or Le Meurice and do please tell us all about it because we’re dying to know. The ETs are counting on you!

In terms of the ridiculous, I’ve seen it, and recognized that I was too attached to firm beds and real towels to try it.  These properties are most suitable for cash-strapped young lovers, for whom a basic closet-sized room overlooking the dustbins takes on a special ambiance under the glow of Paris romance.

On a busy street, opt for a room overlooking an interior courtyard that's as lovely as this one.

Somewhere in between is a wide range of options that include small family-run properties, trendy boutique hotels and large chains that offer comfortable, if homogeneous accommodation.

Keep in mind…

We remind US travelers in particular, that Paris hotel rooms are often smaller than standard room in the States.   And the French ground floor is the rez-de-chaussée , so the first floor French is equivalent to the second floor US, and it goes up from there.

This evocative view is 6 floors up

Elevators in hotels are not a given.  If you harbor a fantasy of watching the sun set over the Paris skyline from your hotel room window, remember that you may have to schlep up six flights of winding stairs to make it come true.  I still have ridges in my palms from hauling luggage to a fifth floor B&B in Avignon.  The ETs are proud proponents of cardiovascular health, but we draw the line at heavy transport unless it’s a laminated shopping bag with a store name on it.

A sloping ceiling didn't impede a curly-haired Nurse from her late-night Eiffel Tower watch (Hotel Muguet)

And a room on the top floor of a Haussmann-era building may have a sloping ceiling, leaving tall members of the Readership navigating a narrow pathway along one wall – and watching the sunset all alone from the far side of the room.

The ETs are ferocious internet users for research and booking.  But it’s worthwhile to wake early one morning a few weeks before departure and call the hotel to re-confirm.  At the very least, re-confirm by e-mail.  We don’t want to arrive and hear “mais non, madame”  from the hotel staff at check-in.  (particularly if you’re a monsieur)

Speaking of check-in;  if you arrive in the morning after an overnight flight, it’s likely that your room won’t be available until early afternoon.  Don’t arrive with dreams of a hot shower.  Leave your luggage, get a late breakfast and go for a walk. And stay awake till at least 10pm. The timetable for the rest of your trip depends on this.  Use whatever means you have at your disposal to stay upright and alert.  Sightseeing, food, wine, walks – don’t take a nap, dear Readership.

Budget

If you’re traveling on a reasonable budget, you’ll have no difficulty finding a reliable room in a good location.  We like to pay between 120-150 euros per night for a double.  There are acceptable rooms in Paris for less, but you’ll be well advised to book months in advance to get the best ones.  And the others?  Well, we’re leaving those to the young romantics who overlook the dustbins.

The ETs think our hard-earned funds are best spent at a hotel where our budget buys the “better” to “best” room.  Although we could spend the same amount for a less exalted room at a swankier address, we’ll sacrifice status for space and a higher position in the hotel pecking order.

The ETs like having breakfast at the ready in the hotel. It's a hotly debated topic on the Fodors travel forum.

We may be in the minority on this, but if the hotel offers breakfast, we generally take it.  In a small hotel, “eating in” will endear you to the manager, whose good graces are useful to have in times of crisis.  It’s  less expensive to eat standing at a cafe bar, but we sleep more soundly knowing our morning coffee and croissant are near at hand.  Any breakfast over 8 euros should include a reasonable buffet with yogurt, eggs and meat. Pile your plate so you have plenty of energy till lunch.  We won’t tell if you pocket a demi-baguette to enjoy later in the day.

Amenities.
The ETs are ladies of a certain age, so we have firm requirements of hotels that will make our shortlist.  Cleanliness, firm beds, safe location, ample light and polite staff are high on the list. We also consider an elevator an important amenity, but that’s because of those shopping bags.

We find all these things and more without breaking our budget, leaving us with Found Money to spend on more meaningful things like bath towels, pink Chanel eyeglasses and jars of black olive tapenade.

A fine two-star bathroom just perfect for the ETs (Hotel du Lys)

  • First and foremost is the ensuite bathroom. Experience taught us that it’s undignified to wander a dark hallway at 3am wearing walking shoes and a cheap travel bathrobe.  It just won’t do.  And we must be able to reach the bathroom without vaulting over a bed and an unsuspecting ET deep in sleep. Besides, we haven’t vaulted over anything since 1995.
  • As inveterate readers, bedside lamps are a major need for us.  Nurse is gifted at late-night subterfuge and will successfully commandeer the single reading light, so I include this requirement in self-defense.
  • We’ve added WiFi access to the list so we can stay in touch.  It also makes calling home much cheaper if you use a service like Skype.
  • If we’re visiting in late spring or summer, air conditioning is necessary to keep us cool and elegant.  Paris can feel stifling at a mere 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • We just say “no” to using suitcases as bedside tables because there’s no place else to put them.  That said, we strive to limit what we bring.  (naturally, there’s an ET packing strategy too.)
  • And it’s no good to lay awake finding animal patterns in the wallpaper while inebriated Frenchmen argue the merits of 18th century philosophers. Unless the room is on a quiet street, we opt to sleep higher up, or overlooking a pleasant courtyard.

Our needs are simple, dear Readership, and we stand by them.  With a little advance research, the Paris roof over your head can be both comfortable and affordable.

We just know that you have Paris hotel tips to share with the Readership.  Leave a comment and educate us!

Maybe you'll choose the Place Vendome and stay here at the Ritz!

And speaking of hotels, read our review of the Hotel du Lys

The Hotel du Lys

August 28, 2011

Sleep under the emblem of the crown of France at the Hotel du Lys.

The Experienced Travelers appreciate a good deal.  Our cutting-edge “Found Money” economic strategy operates on actual cash savings, so we’re always on the lookout for a bargain to share with the Readership.

For the last Paris visit I wanted to change things up a bit and stay in the 6th instead of the usual ET haunt in the 7th near the rue Cler.   Melinda left the hotel search to me, so the pressure was on;  if it’s a dud, I’ll  suffer pointed stares while quickly formulating plan B.

My “Found Money” goal was to pay under 140€ per room for a two-or three-star hotel in a central location.   With my trusty Hotel spreadsheet at the ready, I  consulted reliable sources – the Fodors travel forum, TripAdvisor, Slow Travel France and Sandra Gustafson’s Great Sleeps series.   One recommendation came up over and over, and it was in the neighborhood where I wanted to stay!

The welcoming lobby at the Hotel du Lys

The Hotel du Lys in the rue Serpente, between the St.-Michel and Odeon metro stops fit the bill, at 110€ or 125€  including breakfast.  So I booked online and hoped for the best.

We arrived after our overnight flight and found the Hotel du Lys exactly as promised.  Melinda opted for the cozy single.  I took the comfortable double room with exposed stone walls and two large windows overlooking the rue Serpente.

My double room was airy and comfortable - just right for one or two ETs!

The beds and linens were excellent, the bathrooms were compact but well-appointed, and there were small writing tables and room to store suitcases and hang clothes.  ETs insist on cleanliness and we were not disappointed.  There’s wireless internet throughout the hotel that actually only worked in the lobby, but the ETs are flexible.

We're up to it - 17th century aristocrats climbed these stairs all the time!

It’s worth noting that there’s no elevator or air conditioning.  Brave Melinda faced five flights of worn spiral stairs to her rooftop aerie, which got a little warm during the day.

After a day of walking, Melinda prepares for the climb. Note the chic wedgie shoes come off first.

But the climb was worth the price of 110€ and her quiet room looked out over the rooftops.  If stairs are an issue, there are two rooms directly off the lobby,  so you can go from bed to bistrot in a matter of moments.

The Hotel du Lys is bastion of tradition in a sea of nouveau-chic hostelries.  If your taste runs to Philippe Starcke décor, you may want to look elsewhere (and pay more).  This is a family-owned enterprise where the owner works the front desk, room keys hang on a pegboard in the lobby and well-behaved dogs are welcome.

A snug but handy ground-floor bedroom

Like the ETs, the Hotel du Lys has its idiosyncrasies.  The website declares “We have tried to make this old house as attractive and comfortable as possible in spite of the little inconveniences which we must accept as a tribute to the past”.  Often, “little inconveniences” is code for “dreadfully uncomfortable”, but not at the Hotel du Lys.  It means they won’t demolish 17th century stone and beams to install an elevator or straighten a hallway. The ETs gladly sacrifice convenience for authenticity and affordability.

The nearby rue de Bucci is made for people-watching

The Hotel du Lys makes a perfect ET epicenter. The rue de Bucci market is a five minute walk, Melinda’s favourite Café de Flore is close by, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Orsay are a stone’s throw away and the boulevards St.-Michel and St.-Germain are at the end of the road.   Everything else is accessible from two nearby metro stops. A fine quartier indeed!

The happy outcome was that we netted about 90€ per day in Found Money to finance wine breaks and gateaux chocolat.  We spent most of that in the nearby Place St.-Andre des Arts, which makes an excellent base for evening drinks and gathering meaningful content for JuliesParis!

Melinda and Julie delight in leaving their Found Money behind at the Fontaine St-Michel

As we readied to leave for the airport, the owner shook my hand, looked intently at me and whispered “You love Paris. I think we’ll be seeing you again soon.”.  I do, and she shall!

My personal, private window in the Hotel du Lys, overlooking rue Serpente. Yes, I will be back.

J’ai Faim! Le Bistrot d’Henri

August 15, 2011

Le Bistrot d'Henri

Ohhh, j’ai faim. The Experienced Travelers pledge fidelity to our food-mad Readership with a restaurant report on Le Bistrot d’Henri in the 6th, near the Place St. Germain at 16 rue Princesse.  How apropos that Melinda and I dined like “les princesses” at the Bistrot. (Hopefully like princesses that kept their heads after 1789.)  And what could be better for a girl’s frame of mind than a great meal with a flirtatious Frenchman at the next table.

We found Henri through the Adrian Leeds Top 100 Cheap Restaurants guide. Cheap was a relative term for our weak US dollar, but Adrian steered us right. This was an excellent use for the Found Money I saved by resisting the  Hermès scarf ring.

A flash in the pan promises excellence on a plate at Le Bistrot d'Henri

We settled into the deep banquette and immediately began research on a bottle of Côtes de Provence. Dancing flames and culinary gymnastics from the open kitchen sent us straight to the menu.  Here I exercised caution, because the French disguise liver with sonorous phrases that trick me every time. I once ordered three courses that were all liver and Nurse has never let me forget it.

Be upstanding and welcome this terrine into the ET Culinary Hall of Fame

Melinda and I opened the proceedings with terrine de fois de volaille de maison,  a chicken terrine that rightfully rests in the ET Culinary Hall of Fame.

Melinda practices her terrine spreading technique

Dear Readership, Henri’s terrine is a 7-euro meal in itself. During Proustian “involuntary memory” moments, it all comes back to me; textured goodness heaped on a round of baguette, going down with a satisfaction that is uniquely French.  Forget what I said about liver. I was wrong.  Henri has reformed me.

Free-range Bresse chicken with mushrooms was top-notch

We poured more wine to prepare our pallets for the plats; Melinda’s ravioli in cream sauce and my poulet fermier a la crème aux champignons, which was safely not liver, but free-range Bresse chicken in white sauce with mushrooms.  We were delighted to share an order of potatoes gratin dauphinois and dined as the restaurant filled to capacity, and the din of convivial chatter rose.

Pear clafouti with a shy creme caramel just behind

The table next to ours was occupied by two couples. The man next to us took an immediate interest in what we were eating and where we were from. He mesmerized us with a Gallic style that held us in thrall. His wife rolled her eyes to the other couple while Monsieur Charm ably pointed out the merits of our crème caramel and pear clafouti.

When done well, French flirtation is an experience that ranks with the Louvre and a ride on the Seine as necessary Parisian events.  And now I know it can be practiced in the presence of one’s wife, purely for sport and spirited repartee.

French dining offers ample opportunities for a sporting flirtation

Fortunately, all French men flirt, so there’s plenty to go around.  A first-rate engagement strategy is in play when he admires your stunning command of the French language.  I only know 15 minutes of French – all in the present-tense —   so this is a gratuitous compliment that works every time.  Flirting is harmless and character-building, and recounting it will amuse your friends once you get home.

Melinda and I said our goodbyes to Monsieur Charm (who told us it was a French custom that you don’t leave your dinner until the table next to you has finished…) and walked to the Café Flore for the ritual nightcap.

Our dinner at Le Bistrot d’Henri in the rue Princesse did leave us feeling like royalty – comfortably full of excellent food and well attended by hovering staff and our neighboring Frenchman.  Vive la France and all who dwell in her.

To check out online reviews for Le Bistrot d’Henri and get directions click here

Outdoors at the Cafe Flore - the perfect nightcap on the Blvd St.-Germain

Paris on a budget redux

March 20, 2011

Even on a budget, you can afford to grab that table and have an aperitif

Well, the Experienced Travelers’ post reviewing the NY Times Frugal Traveler’s weekend in Paris on a miniscule budget was popular with the Readership, and Paris travelers everywhere.  (If you haven’t read that post yet – click here and catch up!)

Here at Julie’s Paris, people felt that the Frugal Traveler (FT) was too parsimonious with his Paris weekend.  Our wise and wonderful Readership made their voices heard:

  • Reader Diana insists travelers can do Paris perfectly on a budget and still have special splurges.
  • Reader Nicole shows us a true Found Money way to see the Louvre by waiting at the museum exit and asking departing visitors if she can have the all-day admission ticket  that they’re about to throw away!  The ETs are going to investigate this excellent strategy!
  • Reader Phillip rightly clarifies that the FT budget was  74-euro. He also reminds us that the article does show people that they can visit Paris on a tight budget and enjoy themselves.
  • See all the comments here

Our friends at The Paris Blog included our post on their site, and comments were right in line with the Readership’s. 

Meanwhile remarks about the article on the NYTimes website followed suit – even suggesting ways the FT could have saved more (ie. save the tip! It’s strictly for exemplary service, and then just a few euros for a meal.)

The ETs "at home" in their Paris apartment rental

Many comments raised two topics of interest to the Experienced Travelers.  First, readers suggested that renting an apartment instead of staying in a hotel can be cost-saving and fun.  The ETs are apartment-rental enthusiasts and wholeheartedly endorse this approach.  

Cooking breakfast chez vous keeps euros in your pocket, and packing a picnic lunch to enjoy in a shady garden saves even more.  The real Found Money comes from a simple home-cooked meal of market-fresh food.  Reader Diana says “our best and most memorable meals were those we ate in our tiny apartment.”

Chef Nurse prepared our dinner chez nous so we could spend the Found Money later in the cafes.

Par example, the ETs feasted on Nurse’s French culinary creations, then went out for dessert or drinks to take in Paris at night.  It worked like a charm and saved us at least 35 euros every time!   Ka-ching.

Riding the rails in the Paris Metro

Reader Phillip echoed many comments when he raised our second topic of interest;  smart-chip credit cards that are common in Europe, but unavailable in the US.   Smart-chip cards use chips instead of the magnetic strips that US bank cards employ.   Thus, US travelers can’t swipe their credit cards in smart-chip systems like self-service kiosks for metro tickets, pay-at-the-pump petrol and the utterly fantastic Velibes, Paris’ community bike rental system. 

Certain ETs made unsuccessful inquiries of Canadian banks in the hope of getting a smart-chip card. Establishing residency in Europe requires a significant financial windfall, and the Swiss banks won’t return my calls. Until the US banks get smart, the only path left to the ETs is marriage to an ageing Duc in poor health.

Smart-chip cards get you a ride on the Paris Velibes bike rental system. Imagine the thrill!

So what is a US traveler to do?  For now, get in line and buy your metro tickets at the manned booth. (Always keep an extra in case the station you use doesn’t have attendants on duty.) 

Sadly, the Velibes are off-limits.  The ETs want to coast the rue St.-Jacques hill, across the Petit Pont to the Parvis Notre-Dame.  But until they have a smart-chip in their wallet, it’s just a magnificent dream they hold fast in their hearts.

The rue St.-Jacques. The ETs want to feel the wind in our hair as coast this hill on a Velibes

Paris on a budget?

March 10, 2011

 

Even on a budget a selective ET can dine well.

A recent NYTimes article documents a thrifty weekend in Paris on $100US, excluding lodging (the author stayed with a friend).   As the Readership knows, Experienced Travelers are always on the lookout for cost savings.  How else would we accumulate “Found Money” for frivolous spending later on?  But we feel obliged to comment on this $100 experiment and recommend against it!

Mais non! Don't overlook the importance of wine - with or without a meal.

According to the print edition article, the author economized by foregoing a glass of wine with his duck confit.  Consuming duck confit without a robust Burgundian red is an affront to la gloire.  Under French law, this is grounds for immediate deportation.  The ETs are firmly behind the French on this.  Duck confit with a good wine is a profound experience that shouldn’t be trifled with.

Set aside your found euros to see the Louvre

Next, he chose a beer over admission to the Louvre.  Brew vs. Louvre is crazy.  The ETs recommend batting eyelashes at an affluent fellow patron so he buys the beer in exchange for pleasant conversation.  Problem solved!

Fluffy-haired Nurse salutes Louis XIV in the courtyard of the Musee Carnavalet

To the author’s credit, he did visit the free Musée Carnavalet which is a true gem.  Set in the former home of prodigious 17th c.  letter-writer Mme. de Sévigné, this museum brings the history of Paris to life, and makes a lovely day in the Marais when combined with the nearby Musee Picasso.  This reminds us that the Carnavalet re-creates Proust’s bedroom with the actual furnishings, and we must regale the Readership with a post on this at a later date.

Then he attended a free organ concert (good idea) yet he doesn’t care for organ music.  By ET standards, it is bad planning to spend precious Paris time doing something you don’t like.  But for those of you who enjoy music, many churches host free concerts in exquisite settings. Check event publications like Pariscope for schedules.

Nurse demonstrates the art of chocolat chaud at Angelinas. Photo by Associate ET Joanne Felzer

The upshot, dear Readership, is to plan carefully and take enough money.  This is not a city for self-denial – nor is it necessary.   The ETs don’t stay at the George V or shop at Harry Winston – and you don’t have to either!  No matter where you check in, the Seine is still the Seine.

Read the follow-up post here

Take in the view for free! Another fine photo by Felzer.


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