"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Affordable, reasonably priced Paris - a new trend?

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pont Alexander III Bridge

I'm in the thick of planning our upcoming trip to Paris. And as I've been doing my research, I've noticed something quite wonderful: Paris is showing an 'affordable' or at least much more reasonable trend - il est merveilleux!
For several years now, Paris has topped the list of the most expensive places to live and visit in the world. $500+ dollars a night in a miniscule, more than halfway decent, hotel room was the rule, if you wanted to be almost anywhere in the city's center. Mediocre, tourist trap and non tourist trap restaurant prices were enough to make a person weep. For dedicated travelers such as I you had two choices: to bite the bullet and save your pennies, or scour the internets for good deals that weren't always really that good. Either way, you had to carefully pick and choose what you wanted to do and where you wanted to eat.

Cheap Eats & Cheap Sleeps in Paris, circa 1988
Sandra Gustafson (Chronicle Books)

In the mid 90s I decided that I had to travel to Paris as often as possible. I also realized that, if I was going to realize my dream, I was going to have to find alternatives to the tourist status quo. I stumbled upon an amazing Paris traveler's series, always published in two volumes: Cheap Eats in Paris and Cheap Sleeps in Paris by Sandra Gustafson (now the series is called: Great Eats/Great Sleeps in Paris).

Sandra Gustafson

Ms. Gustafson's goal was deceptively simple -

write a traveler's guide to Paris featuring affordable high quality dining of all types (cafes, family run bistros, sophisticated wine bars, cozy tearooms, simple soup kitchens, big brasseries, and candlelit restaurants): 

"In an effort to help you save money and, as much as possible, keep you from making mistakes...I dined anonymously and paid my own way, which enabled me to objectively evaluate the good and the bad and to report the findings to you freely, fairly, and honestly. In the process, I walked hundreds of miles in all types of weather, ate out everyday, and loved every minute of it." (Great Eats in Paris 2007)

And a traveler's guide to Paris featuring accommodations for a wide range of tastes and needs (hotels for lovers and honeymooners, nostalgia buffs, backpackers, families, and other options: living on a housebout on the Seine, camping, renting an apartment, or bunking in a hostel).

"I wipe my fingers across the door tops, check the closets, turn on the showers, look for mold, flush toilets, spot thin towels and waxed or sandy toilet paper, open and close windows, bounce on beds, look under them for dust, and visit the dining room where breakfast is served." (Great Sleeps Paris 2007)

She also offers suggestions for small tour companies and guides, street markets, passages, and shopping (Great Chic). She also offers a 'Parisian primer': how Parisian's eat, drink, dress, and act. 

"...if you are full, don't look up "full" in your French dictionary and say, Je suis plein. This is a phrase used for cows, meaning they are pregnant. If you do not want anymore to eat, say Je n'ai plus faim (I am not hungry any longer)." (Great Eats, 2007)

But what she was/is also doing was/is being the vanguard of a movement - Paris lovers' finding a way to visit as often as possible and still be able to pay the bills, eat, and raise a family once they got home. For many years, Ms. Gustafson's series was it - everything else was part of the Tourist status quo. And that's still the case. In my opinion, all other Paris guide books greatly pale in comparison - and I've read them all, or most of them anyway. Ms. Gustafson has been my Paris travel mentor ever since I first picked up one of her books nearly 17 years ago.

For this trip I decided that I would see if I could check off a few more of what I most wanted to do in Paris: take a small group photographer's tour (usually $400 per person - eek!) , take a private walking/museum tour with my mom (usually $275 per person for one museum - eek eek!). I didn't think that I'd be able to do it. Well, I'm delighted to say that I made some very promising discoveries. I've already signed up to go and will be blogging about my expereince a.s.a.p. But, in the meantime, I thought I'd share what I've found with you:

Paris Walking Tours - offers one rate for a 3 hour tour for 1-4 people, for all of their tours (95E = $133). They also offer private/custom tours for 35E ($50) per hour for 1-4 people. The tours they offer: Paris - Gardens, Passages, Islands, Marais, Montmartre, Latin Quarter, Markets, and Churches.

I've also found 2 Photographer tours: Photo Tours in Paris(.com) and Photo Tours of Paris(.com)
Both of these tours feature small groups (6 maximum) and an English speaking professional photographer/guide. The tours are 3 hours long for $165 per person (companions can come along for free). On the bottom right-hand side of this blog page I've included a link to one of the tours.

Ms. Gustafson last editions of Great Eats, Great Sleeps was published in 2007 - I'm eagerly awaiting her next edition(s). Thus, being only a few years in operation, my tour finds are not included in her book. I've already sent her an 'update @mail.' Still, while I'm always on the look out for contemporary Paris Travel Guide Books (and have compiled quite a collection), Sandra Gustafson's Paris series is still the hands down best for seeing and experiencing the best of Paris. In in 16 years, I've only had one negative experience at one of Ms. Gustafson's Paris dining recommendations - when I went in 2009 that place was closed, with another in it's place. Yeah, I'll check it out and let Ms. Gustafson know all about it. You too ;-)

Sandra Gustafson, Great Sleeps in Paris (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007)
Sandra Gustafson, Great Eats in Paris (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2007)
- both available at Amazon.com

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


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