#52 The best things in life are free, or courtesy of the French tax payer

In Free, Kids, Travel on August 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

This week we have been holidaying sur les Plages of Paris at the expense of the French tax payer.

The Paris Plages , now in their 9th year, have been much envied by London, though just to correct a misconception – they aren’t actually a whole stretch of fake beach (though there are a couple of areas set aside for sand and sun loungers), but a series of activities, kiosks, and entertainments along what would usually be a busy road along the Seine’s right bank, and around the Bassin de la Villette. All laid on by the Mairie de Paris.

We enjoyed badminton, pedaloing, outdoor swimming, pétanque, trampolining, rolling around on the Bassin inside inflatable floating spheres, and – my personal favourite – the forests of very fine spray that is just enough to cool you down without actually getting you wet, while surrounding you with rainbows. But we could also have done table football, kayaking, waterbikes, bmx-ing, fencing… And all for free.

We’ve also taken advantage of the Vélib’ bikes (free for the first half hour of use), free entry for u-18s to the Musée d’Orsay, but have been let down by the City’s free wi-fi service which seems to have gone tits up.

Add to this some literally juicy pickings at the fruit and veg market in Place d’Aligre (daily, except Mondays) – four mangues for €1, seven avocats for €2, 1kg of fraises for €2, overflowing punnets of redcurrants for €3, fresh herbs 30c a bunch… – and much to try before you buy.

OK, so much of what we saved we blew in a single visit to the thoroughly bourgeois Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6e where children are even a charged €2.50 to play in the  playground. But I suppose it’s all swings and roundabouts…

To be fair, Londoners needn’t be too jealous; these days the south bank of the Thames does a decent impression of the Paris Plages, with arty play fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall, inside Somerset House (ok, so it’s on the other side of the river), and outside City Hall. There’s the giant, grass-covered living room to climb on outside the National Theatre, free entertainment at Watch This Space, free theatre at the Scoop, samba sounds and capoeira at the RFH, and the Urban Orchard at 100 Union Street.

Not forgetting that kids go free at the Hayward (ignore the ground floor and head straight upstairs for sensory fun of Ernesto Neto which even includes an outdoor pool).

And now there’s Boris’ new bike hire which seems to operate a similar system to the Vélib’.

I suppose all of this is a round about way of saying:

a) I had a great week in Paris, and

b) I love state funding of fun. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Any good free stuff going on this summer in your city? Let us know…

  1. We used to shop at the Place d’Aligre – lovely memories. Agree about the Plage, but problems with Paris parks – namely, nowehere to lounge or spread out, as it’s all formal gardens and park keepers, and secondly, when it’s sunny, they can be blazingly hot and glarey, as all white dusty gravel.

    • Know what you mean about the dusty parks. They really don’t do grass, do they? And as for the square trees…

  2. Lots of great free events at http://www.familyfriendlyfilmfestival.org.uk/ in Manchester at the moment.

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