#39 Paris on a budget

In Save cash on April 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm

In our Paris pied-à-terre for the Easter break. We are deep in the garment district, and though the ambiance is artisanal,  the views are less roofscapes of Moulin Rouge! and more Rear Window – straight into the apartments opposite. On summer nights the student on the top floor across the road sits out on her balcony reading what one assumes are philosophical texts; while the family two floors down clear away the dinner and play cards.  [There’s a persistent irony that while the British view Paris as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, our short-sighted planning regs and suburban mentalities would never allow it to be built back home: the density, the height, the overlooking, the lack of private gardens… We like to have our own private patch; which is probably why continental cities to public space so much better.]

Ours is a typically tiny deux piece, and I only own a third of it, but I like to think my third is the bit from the french windows to the cheap Ikea sofa bed, incorporating the genuine ’68 protest poster (‘Notre Lutte Continue’), the flea market lamp, and the 1970s green plastic Carlo Bartoli chairs from a secret retro warehouse whose location (just outside the périphérique)  I’ve promised not to divulge.

It’s a busy, workaday quartier. In the mornings we’re woken by street cleaning and delivery vans; in the evening the bar on the corner, named in homage to absinthe, offers refuge and hard liquor for the lost souls of the night. Fashionable a decade ago, the hippest street, rue Keller, has an eclectic mix of patrons that include gay bars, skate shops, boutiques, boutique hotels, manga, a primary school, a Moroccan restaurant (Le Souk), a tap dancing shop, and the bar from Chacun Cherche Son Chat where I once saw John Malkovich. And it’s not even that long a street.

But in spite of the free accommodation, the £:€ near parity still makes us paupers in this town. Gone are the days of stopping for a quick demi on the way home or a cheeky crème for breakfast in Café des Anges. Just like back home, it’s packed lunches and cafetières. Luckily we are spoilt for fantastic food shops that have made good eating a cheap indulgence: €4.50 for a bit of chèvre cendre (goats cheese in ashes – the ashes give it a lovely sweetness) that costs £7 back home; 80c for a freshly baked baguette (bread for the evening meal is baked in the afternoon and still warm when you buy it); €5 for a succulent rotisseried chicken that feeds the whole family; and plenty of good red wine. The Marché Beauvau at pl d’Aligre and Sundays at the Bastille on Richard Lenoir have been great sources.

Favourite free activities (beside the inevitable flâneurie) include: the bouncy playground at La Villette, and hip new gallery 104. The Fondation Cartier is free for under 10s (and has a superb child-friendly exhibition by madcap Japanese artist Takeshi Kitano, until 12 Sept). It’s also free for U7s to go up the Tour Montparnasse. Come summer, Paris-Plage keeps us entertained for days with free activities: mini golf, trampolineing, pedaloes, outdoor swimming, and more.

The trip has also given me an idea for a money spinner. My daughter and I are going to invest in one of the rotisserie upright grills on wheels, bring it back to London, forge a deal with our local organic butcher, and flog cooked chickens to the SE22 bourgeoisie at our Saturday morning street marked. We reckon we’ll clean up.

  1. That’s brought back a few memories – we used to live on Rue du Chemin Vert, round the corner. We were also skint, and the chicken rotisseries used to make a family meal, then a stock soup. Good idea to bring them over here. Tour Montparnasse is deffo underrated, but problem with Paris, especially with kids, is bar bread & wine, it’s very expensive, and there are no real “parks”, just ornamental gardens.

    • I agree about the Parisians not knowing how to do parks – all square trees and dust, nowhere to really kick a ball around properly. We have found a few good playgrounds: the Jardin du Luxembourg (sadly you have to pay, but the kids spend hours there while I sit outside the playgrond in the sun), La Villette (free – with inflatable surfaces for bouncing on a particular hit), Sq Trousseau (which has table tennis tables, table football, climbing equipment, and lots of other children to play with), and a new one in the 17e, I think near sq Batignol, on old railway ground.
      All budget tips and any ideas for cheap child-friendly activities always welcome!

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