Hi there 👋🏻 Brief introductions first. I am Dave, co-founder of Wanderlust, Worrying and the World, also 32, also a frustrated office worker, also a music fan and travel enthusiast. Where Cat provides the musical talent and business nous, I provide the passion for writing, craft beer and a debilitating case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
There’s a few reasons I’ve chosen Paris as the focus for my first blog for W,W & the World.
Firstly, as well as two thoroughly enjoyable weekends away with my long suffering wife Laura, I had the pleasure of working there for 6 weeks in 2015. Long nights and weekends on my own in a foreign country coupled with my tendency to wander on foot for miles, a lack of regard for my own safety and a deep curiosity ensured I came away with at least a rudimentary knowledge of most ‘arrondissements’ (administrative districts) of the French capital.
The second reason relates directly to the origins of this website. I consider myself a confident traveller, I don’t think I’ve ever said no to a potential trip whether work based or for pleasure and I like to think I’d happily go anywhere for the experience without worrying too much about it. However, this is not to say I don’t get anxious on my travels. The first anxiety that I encountered and that lives with me to this day is that of the language barrier. In my mind, I have the potential to end up as a seemingly willing volunteer on a merchant navy ship when all I set out to do was get some croissants and a coffee from the local corner shop. In no other city does this fear manifest itself as starkly as in Paris. Ah yes, Paris, with its romance, beauty, fashion and cuisine. However, it also seems to inspire a certain amount of anxiety in first time travellers – the stereotype of expensive restaurants, snooty waiters and rude locals combine to leave potential visitor fearing the worst. Finally, Paris is usually one of the first foreign cities to be explored by young brits due to its proximity to our rainy isle.
So let me set out my stall here; I declare that the French capital is actually one of the most diverse, friendly and accessible cities in the world. You just have to know how to negotiate it.
And now please roll up for my top 5 pointers to make your Parisian excursion a relaxing, affordable, fun and authentic one:
1) Do Not Fear the Language
Ahhh the language. No matter how good your GCSE French appears to be, Parisians seem to have their very own, judgemental form of French that comes into a league of its own when faced with a Brit babbling and pointing desperately at a baffling array of pastries . However, this is a misconception. Parisians just demand a certain amount of effort in their own tongue before they are willing to blossom into their natural friendly selves. It’s a secret code. So learn 3 or 4 introductory phrases and boom them out confidently. The very act of trying, in French, no matter how bad, will endear you to the Parisians and you will see their amiable side emerge, beautiful like a butterfly. Even the most cold hearted Parisian will bend over backwards for you if you are willing to humiliate yourself with some terrible French first. My go to phrases were: ‘je suis desole, je ne par parlez vous francais’ (I’m sorry I don’t speak very good French) which ironically made several people think I spoke very good French and ‘bonjour, un croissant jambon a emporter s’il vois plait’ (hi, a ham croissant to take away please). Memorise these two, give it a bash and you won’t go far wrong. Well, at least you won’t starve.
2) Use the Metro
Nothing complicated about this tip. The Paris metro is one of the quickest and easiest to navigate in the world. Paris is exceedingly pretty to walk around but also exceedingly large. Give your converse a rest and let the underground train take the strain as a ‘Carnet’ of 10 single tickets will set you back only €14. Every metro station has an electronic ticket machine with an English option to select a ‘Carnet’ of 10 single metro journeys and even if this fails all you need to do is approach a manned ticket desk, look mildly confused and say ‘Oone Car-nayyyyy’? and all Parisian metro employees will know what you mean. It’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s fairly clean – use it.
It will enable you to explore the far more interesting outer arrondissements of Paris and still make it back to the Eiffel Tower for the hourly light show at night (incidentally this is best viewed from the Trocadero metro stop). Make the most of your time in Paris, use the metro to explore.
3) Spend an Evening at the Bassin de la Vilette
So, you find yourself in Paris, looking for a few evening drinks and some local atmosphere, but don’t want to be charged €14 for a medium glass of Beaujolais near the Louvre? Look no further than the Bassin de la Vilette.
Yes, it’s a 15 minute metro ride from the centre (Metro stop Laumiere) but the rewards are plentiful.
The haunt of young Parisian locals, this aesthetically pleasing canal basin offers several alternative night time options all within 500 yards and with a beautifully lit up backdrop from the local media centre. It is also a rather brilliant option for a sunny afternoon with ample opportunity for sitting on the edge of the canal and dipping your toes in the water whilst sharing a picnic. In terms of places to drink, Bar Ourcq is a student hang out that offers cheap (but good) wine and the option to play Boule/Petanque on the gravel outside the bar. If you don’t play, at least observe the locals and enjoy the intensity of the games. Further along is the Paname Brewery Company with its canal views, craft beers and funky food. A slightly busier crowd awaits you here but the atmosphere and location is not to be missed. Beer lovers will find plenty to sample here but the food is also good and the view back down the length of the canal is stunning. Finally another 500 yards up the canal is L’Atalante bar. A perfect fusion of British and European craft beer and Parisian chic in a laid back and functional setting.
For a more real, picturesque and cheap night out, make that trip out to the Bassin de la Villete and experience the more laid back and authentic Paris.
4) Stock Up at the Supermarche
As previously established, Paris has some of the finest food the world can offer. Also some of the most expensive. Coupled with the aforementioned language barrier and snootiness, dining out can be a risky minefield. However, this high quality translates down the food chain into the local supermarkets as well. I can’t tell you how many hours I have wiled away in a local Franprix or Carrefour feeling the baguettes , smelling the cheeses and caressing the charcuterie (honestly, observe any French boulangerie for 2 minutes and the locals will feel and squeeze several baguettes before settling on the perfect match).
Especially if the weather is good, you can dine like a king in Paris at a fraction of the price by making use of the astounding cheeses, meats, salads, pastries and booze on offer at any boulangerie, supermarket or patisserie that you care to lay your eyes on. No matter what time of day or what area I was in, all I had to do was walk into the nearest shop with 10 euros and I could be feasting upon mysterious oozing soft cheeses, dark, salty slices of cured meat, the freshest, crunchiest yet softest baguettes and all washed down with an astounding red wine and eaten on a bench in front of Notre Dame cathedral, sat on the banks of the seine or in one of Paris’ many leafy parks (see tip 3 above for another recommended picnic spot). A sub tip that fits in this area is that most decent Parisian bars will do a ‘plat’ or ‘grande planche’ this is essentially a wooden board with a spread of local cheeses and cold meats on accompanies by fresh baguette and will set you back around 5 euros depending on the area. This was one of my absolute favourite pastimes in Paris. To sum up, grabbing a discounted pasty and a mars bar from 24 hour petrol station this is not. Make full use of the rather brilliant array of affordable picnic food on offer and your wallet and stomach will thank you.
5) Lively Lessons in the Latin Quarter
Finally, another area to be explored if you want a range of food and drink options, a more affordable afternoon or evening out and a more authentic experience. Paris is famous for its grand boulevards and rightly so. A wander down the Champs-Elysees or Boulevard Hausmann is a must. However, in the 5th Arrondissement, the Latin quarter, there is an unfamiliar look to the streets. All narrow back alleys, rustic stone and student hangouts, the Latin quarter is a refreshing change to the sheer Frenchness of the rest of Paris. There are numerous universities and colleges in the area that lend it a slightly younger, exciting outlook, with most streets fanning out from the very impressive and imposing Pantheon building. If in a hurry I would focus your attention on the Rue Pot De Fer. A long, snaking street full of wine bars, restaurants and hole in the wall establishments serving French or Turkish street food, if you can’t find something here to satisfy you I would question your suitability for foreign travel.
Particular highlights in my eyes are Brewberry for drinks, with some of the finest craft beers on the continent and some rather wonderful chips and mayo and Bar de Fer for affordable yet exquisite wine with excellent live music. If you’re a fan of Britney Spears played on acoustic guitar and sung in a dubious French accent this is the place for you. This area, coupled with the Basin De Valette, will ensure you leave Paris with memories of friendly locals, affordable wine and food and memorable nights.
So there you have it, my top 5 tips for making your trip to Paris a little easier on the anxious mind and the wallet. This barely scratches the surface so if anybody has any specific questions I would be more than happy to answer them. I will also be doing more specific blogs, not only on Paris, in the near future. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities on earth for a reason, so go, and enjoy!