PARIS / / A euro was worth $1.25 when I moved to Paris in 2004. Now it's more like $1.60. So, am I happy I don't live here anymore? Not at all, but I'm much more careful with my money when I pass through.
When I returned for a visit at the end of last year, I remembered 10 ways to stretch a euro in the City of Light.
1. CONSIDER A FLAT / / For stays of a week or more, rent an apartment. Given the expensive hotel rates and lodging tax, an apartment rental can be cost effective. Lots of established agencies specialize in places suitable for vacationers, including rothray.com, rentalfrance.com and parisaddress.com.
In an apartment, you'll usually get more space than in a hotel room, and you can avoid $20 breakfasts by having them at home -- in bed, if you wish.
2. A LESS-STEEP SLEEP / / If you don't want an apartment, find a good, moderately priced hotel and book ahead. Here are a few: Hotel Langlois, 63 Rue St.-Lazare, 011-33-1-48-74-78-24, hotel-langlois.com, on the Right Bank near Gare St.-Lazare, with doubles from $210; Hotel les Degres de Notre Dame, 10 Rue des Grands Degres, 011-33-1-55-42-88-88, lesdegreshotel.com, in the Latin Quarter, doubles from $173 including breakfast; and Hotel du Dragon, 36 Rue du Dragon, 011-33-1-45-48-51-05, hoteldudragon.com, in St. Germain, doubles $173.
3. FROM THE AIRPORT / / A cab from Charles de Gaulle Airport to central Paris can cost as much as $75. The RER B Line train goes from De Gaulle airport to six subway stations in Paris for about $12 one way. A new, automated, electric light-rail line that began operating last year means you don't have to take a shuttle bus. The free system operates 24 / 7 and links all three terminals, the RER and TGV train stations and long-term parking lots.
I prefer the Roissybus, which leaves from Terminals 1, 2 and 3. It costs about $13 and drops you off at L'Opera Garnier, near the American Express office at 11 Rue Scribe. A cab from there to most places in the heart of the city shouldn't cost more than $10.
Of course, getting to and from Orly Airport is easier and less expensive (about $30 to $40) because it's slightly closer to the city than De Gaulle. Orly handles mostly short-haul flights and is worth remembering if you plan to travel within the European Union.
4. PEDAL POWER / / Everyone knows how efficient and cost-effective it is to use the Metro, but since last year, Paris has added a mass transit system that's also worth trying out: Velib', a bicycle rental program aimed chiefly at getting cars, congestion and pollution out of the city.
Velib' enables people to pick up a bicycle at one location and return it to another. There are hundreds of Velib' stations (with more than 20,000 bikes), not to mention about 230 miles of bike lanes.
Riders must buy a one-day access card (about $1.50) or a seven-day pass (about $7.50) from meters in the Velib' parking stations.
The rental is free for the first half-hour; the second half-hour costs $3; every half-hour after that costs $6. Rates are tabulated by the meters when you return the bike. For more information (in French), go to velib.paris.fr.
5. SEEING THE SIGHTS / / The concentration of museums in Paris is astonishing, and you could find yourself visiting at least one a day, which can run into serious money. The Musee du Quai Branly costs about $13 a person and Versailles about $20. But 60 museums, including Branly and Versailles, are open to people who buy the official Paris Museum Pass, sold at tourist information bureaus, museums, monuments and online at parismuseumpass.com. The price for unlimited entry to participating sites is $45 for two days; $65 for four days; and $90 for six days .
Entrance is free at a handful of museums, including the Musee Carnavalet in the Marais and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris on Avenue Winston Churchill.
6. A hot dinner ticket. Having lunch, not dinner, at high-priced restaurants such as Taillevent and L'Ambrosie is a well-known tactic for saving money. But you won't do better at midday at Le Comptoir, a tiny, intensely popular bistro on the Left Bank overseen by chef Yves Camdeborde. That's because on weeknights Camdeborde prepares a set five-course menu with no choices for $68, probably less than you would spend for lunch at the city's ritziest restaurants. Mind you, weeknights at Le Comptoir are a hot ticket, so you must book far in advance. Le Comptoir, 011-33-1-43-29-12-05, 9 Carrefour de l'Odeon in the Sixth arrondissement.
7. Bloggers haven. If your hotel doesn't offer free Internet access, don't pay to hook up there. The rates are better at Milk, a chain of five Internet halls in prime tourist neighborhoods such as the Pantheon, St. Michel and Les Halles. Milk (milklub.com) is not a cafe; it's for serious Internet use, open 24 / seven. A five-hour ticket (usable on repeat visits) costs about $18; rates are lower at night.
8. Bargain buys. There are some real deals to be bagged -- especially at high-end department stores such as Le Bon Marche and Franck et Fils -- during the annual sales. The government sets the dates, although the winter sale is usually in January and the summer edition in June or July. Even if you don't want anything, it's fun to window shop and watch Parisians in buying mode.
At other times of the year, stick with Monoprix for groceries and sundries. You'll find a Monoprix superstore cleverly tucked into almost every quarter.
For bargain apparel -- gently used -- try the Chercheminippes stores, chercheminippes.com, on Rue du Cherche Midi in the Sixth arrondissement; for cut-rate, brand-name clothing and accessories, there's Espace Alma, espacealma.fr, at 181 Rue de l'Universite in the Seventh arrondissement.
9. Park it here. There's no better place to drink for free in the soul of the city than in its exquisite parks, decorated with sculpture and flowerbeds, surrounded by historic palaces and museums. They are beloved by Parisians and visitors alike. At the Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg, you can claim a lawn chair by fountains where kids launch miniature boats and lovers kiss. There are cafes bowered by handsome old trees, jogging paths (the one around the Jardin du Luxembourg is especially popular with Paris jocks), pony rides for the kids and beautifully landscaped vistas. Mind you, though, keep off the grass.
10. Armchair Paris. Although it might sound heretical, you could save a bundle by staying home and renting Ratatouille. Every major site in Paris -- the sewer as well as the Eiffel Tower -- turns up in the charming 2007 animated film about a French rat, Remy, who knows how to cook.
Susan Spano writes for the Los Angeles Times.
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