Paris seems to top the holiday bucket list for a lot of Pakistanis, yet they seem to be too intimidated to head to the city possibly because of how expensive it is reputed to be. Indeed, Dubai, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Thailand or Malaysia may be more economical and lighter on the pocket but what most people fail to understand is that there are cheaper ways to experience an expensive city like Paris too. Having visited it twice in the past four years oddly qualifies me to say this.
Early summer (April – May) or late summer (September) is the perfect time to visit Paris. It’s pleasant in terms of weather, the crowds are lesser as opposed to midsummer or Christmas and it is easier to find more economical accommodation and flight options. To make the most of these opportunities, my best friend and I planned a trip to Paris in early May this year. We planned a budget trip without compromising too much on anything.
Booking your flight
I will not go into ticket costs for Paris because that varies from time to time and airline to airline and also because we hopped on a euro star from London (the cheapest £54 one way). However, people from Pakistan can find great deals – sometimes as low as $650 return for flights to Paris especially on Etihad. Google flights should be your best friend if you’re looking for a comparison of different airline tariffs.
We stayed in Champs Elysees, a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel tower. Pretty central but not so expensive, we paid $70 a night for a studio apartment for two! If you do the math, that is a lot cheaper than decent accommodation anywhere within the country too. The trick to finding cheap accommodation is to opt for Airbnb over hotels. Not only does it offer low cost accommodation but also helps you experience the city like a local.
We got the day pass for Paris metro for all the days we were there to make sure it was easier for us to hop around the city. At 12 euros, the day pass is totally worth it. The best thing about Europe is that once you sort travel and accommodation costs, the expenses on top of it are totally in your control. All kind of food is available and street food is so good and authentic that one can enjoy good food at a bargain too.
My friend and I would enjoy street food at one time of the day and would go to a cute little restaurant for the other meal. We’d grab croissants or baguettes from Pauls for breakfast everyday and my taste buds have been spoilt ever since. And we could not return without a visit to Laduree to enjoy its heavenly macaroons.
What to do when in Paris
We reached our apartment, dumped our luggage, freshened up and decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower the day we got in and stayed there till the tower’s lights started flickering – 11 pm to midnight.
I realised Paris is best explored on foot. There are such interesting finds that one can’t come across while on a tour bus, metro or a cab. Paris has an abundance of beautifully coloured vintage doors, ancient buildings with vintage windows, gorgeous flowers on the side walks, narrow alleys and streets or the cute little cafes and ancient bookstores that you’ll most probably miss unless you’re on foot.
We started day 2 with a trip to Versailles. The Château de Versailles is just as stunning from the inside as the gardens outside are. My favourite part of the palace is the Hall of Mirrors. It’s a different story altogether that one has to walk through the palace to reach this place but as they say, the best is reserved for the end. It takes almost an hour to get there from central Paris but it’s totally worth the time and effort.
A trip to the Louvre is always enriching and memorable. Most people who visit Louvre, do it for Mona Lisa, which is hung in a spacious hall in the Devon section of the museum but other works like the Wedding Feast of Cana, The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, The Raft of the Medusa and others are just some of the art works that will stay in your mind long after you come back.
The tickets to the palace and the museums are mostly between 12 and 15 euros and they are totally worth the investment. Ask, beg or rob but don’t try to save your money by skipping Versailles or the Louvre. Budget trips are not meant to save by cutting on museum ticket costs. If you visit both in a day, you’ve done much for the day and should spend the rest of the time in a park besides the Eiffel Tower, watching the sunset and the city of lights emerge. For those who are particularly interested in art, the Muse de Orsay has some stunning works and major 19th and 20th century European art collections.
We spent our evenings by the Seine or in the Tuileries Garden enjoying the sights of Eiffel Tower. We also walked around, spent time people watching and enjoying a gelato or two (vacation calories don’t count) and it was the best way to truly experience Paris.
Since we stayed at Champs Elysees, we would cross the Arc de Triomphe every time we went anywhere so didn’t have to allocate time separately to visit it. On the next day, we spent more time at the Eiffel Tower’s surrounding, visited the Notre Dam and walked around the Seine to find hidden gems of Paris. And I’m glad we did because I came across the most beautiful and quaint little bookstore called Shakespeare and Company in a street by the Seine.
Perhaps the most famous independent bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company can feel like something of a literary utopia. The store reflects the life and passion of its late owner, George Whitman, making one wonder how do you preserve and extend the work of a founding visionary when that visionary is no more? Perhaps you can do it if you have a remarkable daughter. George’s daughter Sylvia Whitman and her partner, David, now run Shakespeare and Company. One day, while Sylvia was sorting books, David wandered into the shop and soon realized that if he wanted to be with Sylvia, the bookshop had to be part of his world as well. If I end up in the city again, I’d spend an entire day here. I couldn’t recommend this place enough.
On our last night in Paris, we were walking the streets and suddenly it started raining and even though walking to our apartment in rain was a pain, Paris on a raining night is probably one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Some evenings leave a mark on your mind, this was one of them.
If you’re wondering how to say goodbye to Paris, I wouldn’t be able to answer this question. On both my trips, I have had difficulty doing so. I know there is no right way to do it and the heart sinks a bit but a good way is to take the river cruise and enjoy the sparkling lights at night in the city of love, fashion and lights! Au revoir, Paris. I know I’ll find myself in the city wandering on its streets at some point again.