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Cheap or Free in Old Paree: Saving Money and Time on Your Paris Vacation
J’adore Paris but only because I did my homework. I visited websites, read books, talked to other travelers and learned to speak a bit of the language. So my eight-day dip into the culture bowl of Europe made me want to stay forever. If you’re planning a trip to the capital of France, you can do the research yourself. Or you can read this advice on saving money and time.
Go in the Off-Season
Paris is at its cheapest and least crowded in the winter. Though the days are short and gloomy, the weather tends to be relatively mild. Cold rain is typically the worst condition, with snow coming rarely. If you go in December, the city will be decked out in its Christmas finery. Many delicious Parisian pastries only make an appearance during this time of year.
Fall and spring are considered shoulder seasons, combining the best combination of moderate prices, fewer crowds and milder weather. Avoid October, however, because this is when all the conventions plague Paris. Summer is the worst time to visit the city, which gets very hot, crowded and expensive. In addition, during August, the locals abandon their digs to take their vacations, so all you’ll bump into are other tourists.
Learn the Language
I’m not sure where this myth of the rude Parisian comes from. To me they were polite, gracious and helpful. Or perhaps it was because I tried to communicate with them in their language. (Imagine if a French visitor to your American hometown insisted on talking to you only in French, not English. How would you feel?) And rather than being rude about my imperfect speaking attempts, the French treated me with gratitude, respect and amusement.
For my money, the best language-learning tool is Pimsleur Audio. (I’ve used it to learn Japanese, Italian and Spanish as well.) It’s pricey but effective. You can try the video above for Lesson 1, but put it at 480p for better sound. You listen to each lesson in half-hour chunks while you’re commuting, so don’t have to set up a special time for your lesson. This makes it more likely that you’ll finish the course. You may learn only a few words each time, but each effort builds on the previous one, so you slowly develop fluency. You won’t be quoting Moliere, but you’ll know enough to make reservations, shop, order in restaurants and generally get by in French.
Get a Museum Pass
The Paris Museum Pass is one of the great bargains of the city. It saves money because it allows free entry into many attractions like Versailles, the Louvre, the Pompidou Center, the Notre Dame Tower and the Orsay. (Sorry, the Eiffel Tower is NOT included.) ou save time by skipping the often long-lines. It’s available online or at many tourist offices or some retailers in the city. I used it to break my Louvre visit into three chunks lasting two hours each. Each time I entered through a special door with private security checks, and no crowds. I saved at least an hour waiting to go through the regular entrance and another half hour going through security.
Take the Metro but Avoid the Metro Pass
Public transportation in Paris is so comparatively cheap, that you’re wasting your money buying the expensive Metro pass. Not only is it confined to one person and certain zones, it can expire unused, since you will be traveling by foot most of the time in this walking city. A better deal is the carnet, a booklet of 10 Metro tickets that saves about 30 percent over the cost of single tickets. The tickets don’t expire and can be transferred among all members of your party.
Find an Apartment
Consider using the city as a base for exploring the rest of France. Not only do all rail lines lead there, but can to stay longer in one place and get the feel of an actual Parisian neighborhood.
If you stay put for close to a week or more, you can rent an apartment. This will save you money over high hotel costs, provide a homey atmosphere and let you live like a local. You’ll find many websites devoted to this distinctly Parisian past-time, but I used VRBO.com to book an excellent flat. Look for a place that is close to several Metro stations, so you can get around quickly, is near markets and grocery stores, and has a washer/dryer and Internet access.
Double-check the reputation of the landlord, and read the reviews and ratings of previous travelers. Because in most cases, you’ll be handing over a cash deposit to book the rental. You have no recourse if something goes wrong. Fortunately, most landlords are fastidious in trying to maintain a good rating – since a bad online rep means no rental income.
© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.
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