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Paris on a beer budget
Each spring my mind drifts to Paris, morning croissants with hot chocoate, jogs along the Seine, reading the Figaro while conversing with the ladies walking their poodles in the Jardin Luxembourg. This inevitably means doing a budget limbo dance to scrape enough dollars together for a budget ticket. But then how to live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.
It takes a month to really settle into the Paris vibe so the biggest expense will be accomodation. My usual approach is to station myself at a pay phone at the arrival hall of Charles DeGaulle, take out Lonely Planet Paris and start phoning all the hostels and hotels in the budget accomodation section. This is usually greeted by a string of no answers or "Tout complet" - all full. There is one place that's never let me down.
Camping Bois de Boulogne is a campground right in the heart of Paris edged on the West by the River Seine surrounded by maples. A tenting spot that can hold up to 4 people is only 14 euros. March mornings can still be surprisingly cold. The first night I had no tent because I planned to stay in a hostel. To celebrate I shared a bottle of French plonk and moldy blue cheese with the neighboring tent. With only my bicycle bag as a blanket, I woke up damp with dew, teeth chattering. The hot showers saved me from freezing. At 7, I downed my first espresso and cycled off to buy a cheap tent in the old Paris market building near St. Chapelle Church.
Yes cycled. Bring your bicycle. Paris is cycle friendly. Cycling gives you lots of range to explore neighborhoods. Even Versailles is just a couple of hours cycle away. To keep in shape I also like to take a morning jog along the Seine past the colorful houseboats.
Pick up a Sim card for your cell phone and buy some air time. You'll need some way for people you meet to contact you.
If you're a java nut like me, the small Parisian coffees won't suffice. Macdonalds is up-scale and serves American size coffees. The Latin Quarter Golden Arches has great views from the second story to do your people watching.
Bring your French conversation text along with you as a prop to start conversations. A simple how do I pronounce this word (Comment pronouncer ce mot?) can be the catalyst for a new friendship. Phone some French conversation schools to arrange free trial lesson to brush up a bit on your French. Maybe you can exchange some English tutoring for French tutoring - paris.craigslist .com is a great place to start.
To save money I recommend street food - crepes, baguette sandwiches are reasonable.
The one week museum pass is a good deal at about 30 Euros. You'll be able to gorge yourself on French art. And best of all the pass lets you jump all the queues.
Paris is fantastic in the spring. Don't worry if you're not rich. By being creative you can have fun even on a beer budget.