Tips for Tourists in Paris: Part 4
If you are anything like me, you don't like to waste money. (Who does?) But, France and especially Paris are expensive places to visit. Here are a few tips that will help you to save a euro or two, but be warned--you'll spend more than you want to anyway. C'est la vie! (That's life!)
Transportation (As I discussed before)
- Get the Carte Orange Hébedomaire, the weekly pass for the bus, metro and RER in zones 1-2. This is a great value, and will save lots of shoe leather and Advil, as well!
Ask for the shuttle from the hotel to and from the airport. Less hassle, and usually a better deal.
Avoid taking taxis in town. They are always more expensive, and the public transport system is excellent. If you do need one, you can only get on at a Taxi Stand. You can't just hail them. They will ignore you.
- Skip the hotel breakfast. It's likely 7-10 euros for bread or a croissant, butter, jam, and coffee. You can get these things at local bakeries and grocery stores for very little, and can even buy instant coffee you can make yourself. A coffee bought at a café is cheapest if you stand at the bar. They charge more if you sit, or if you sit outside. Yes, it is legal to do this!
Head to a grocery store and pick up a few things to keep in your room. Minibars are super pricey, but you can get your own stuff much cheaper. Franprix, Casino, Champion, Ed, and Monoprix are some names of grocery store chains. Mineral water is super cheap in France, if bought at a supermarket. Grab some butter, jam, maybe some yogurt, snacks, beverages--you'll be glad you did when you are exhausted and hungry and don't want to face going out! Bakeries are plentiful, and you can get a baguette for about a euro. (You can even buy a 1/2 baguette, known as a 'demi' if you want.)
You can find a bottle of wine for 2-5 euro, and it won't totally stink. Seriously! Wine is much less expensive here. Nicholas is a local chain that has a good selection, and you can find it at other local "caves" (Cahv--wine stores) or in your supermarket. They don't list by type of grape as often as American wines do, so be aware of this (wine buying can be confusing!) However, I've found that looking for some sort of award sticker usually will give me a decent bottle.
Picnic! Parks are plentiful, and a rotisserie chicken can be found at most butcher shops. Pick up a baguette, some wine, maybe some fresh fruit and you have dinner AND entertainment for less.
Sit! Stay! Restaurants and cafés consider any purchase the "rent" to sit at a table as long as you want. You drink your coffee, and you can sit there for 2 hours on one little dinky empty cup of espresso. This is not rude. People watch! Enjoy! The servers probably won't bug you, either. (This is another way of saying they tend to be slow.) A restaurant assumes that you will be sitting there for the rest of the night, and won't try to rush you out. Tips are included in the price, but you can leave a very small amount as an extra "Thanks for putting up with me" tip. Don't leave 15%--there's no need. Waiters are paid a decent wage here. However, they appreciate a few extra euros in their pocket at the end of the night.
[Note*** PLEASE try to eat some local cuisine while you're here--you didn't fly this far to go to McDonald's and Subway. A croque-monsieur is a typical Parisian café food that is usually acceptable by even the most picky American eaters (ham and cheese sandwich, toasted and eaten with a fork). I like to say that if I don't like what I'm served, I'm not going to die--I've got enough "extra padding"!]
Walk away from touristy areas. The cafés by Notre Dame charge more than twice as much for the same food as the ones two blocks away do, PLUS they will charge you to go to the bathroom, and the waiters tend to be more grumpy. A few steps will save you money and stress.
Menu or Formule is a fixed-price meal of 2-5 courses, and is usually the best deal. Courses are not huge, so you will be satisfied but not over-stuffed. They will not have a 'doggy bag', so don't even ask. It's just not done here (if they do bring you one, thank them profusely. They are being really nice!) Portions here tend to be reasonable (though in some places this is changing), and sharing meals is uncommon.
Butcher, baker, cheese maker Portions: if you want chicken (or whatever) for two, tell them that. They know portion sizes very well, and it's easier than you trying to figure out how many grams or kilos to order. (A kilo is over 2 pounds, so be careful when agreeing to it!)
Street Food Sometimes you won't want to take the time to sit for a meal (which is not the in-and-out affair it is in the US.) When this happens, street food can be great.
- Sandwiches are often premade, and may not look too appetizing, but will probably taste fine. I've noticed the bread tastes good and is fresh and moist, the chicken has never been dry, and they are filling and cheap. You will see LOTS of ham in Paris. My favorite is rillettes with cornichons (a meat paste that tastes like meatloaf to me with pickles). Chicken is especially good here because they don't breed big-breasted, super-dry chickens. They don't put mayo on the sandwiches, unless you ask (I don't, so I am not even positive if they have it or not.)
Crêpes are thin pancakes that are filled with a variety of hot toppings. A ham, cheese and mushroom crêpe may cost only 3 or 4 euros, but will fill me up and give me energy for lots more walking and sight-seeing. Avoid the "turkey ham" [jambon de dinde]--it's really scary here! They put in LOTS of cheese, so if you don't want much, let them know before they start. The best crêpe places do not have a stack sitting ready-made; they make them from scratch with a dipper of batter spread on the hot griddle, and smoothed with a little tool. A special treat is "nutella/banane"--a crêpe filled with nutella (hazlenut and chocolate spread) and sliced banana. Mmmm...
Grèques (pronounced "grek") You'll see lots of these around--they are places that serve Greek/Turkish/Kurdish food, and it is generally inexpensive and filling. Common are "Doner" sandwiches, which is poultry sliced off a large rotisserie and served in a pita with tomato, lettuce and your choice of sauce. Usually served with french fries, this can be a good meal for not too much money. I love the Kofta, which is spiced ground meat on a skewer, grilled (again with the tastes like meatloaf!)
- Street markets exist all over Paris, every day of the week. You can look here for names, addresses and schedules, but there should be some in your area. (Again, ask the hotel desk clerk.) This can be a great place to get bread, cheese, meat, fish and produce, as well as just about anything else you could possibly need (you can buy a bra there if you want!) If you go at closing time, they will give you lots of fruit and vegetables for very little (trying to get rid of it), but the prices are generally better than the supermarket on produce at any time of day. This is also a great spot to take pictures--think of how great they would look framed and hanging in your kitchen!
See Part 5 for Souvenirs and Shopping.