By Caitlin Kelly
The last few visits here we’ve rented an apartment. Unless we suddenly (hah!) come into millions, I suspect we’ll keep making that same choice, for a few reasons.
We stayed in a hotel for one night seven years ago. It was gorgeous but minuscule — and our own bathroom at home is 5 x 7, so I know what small looks like!
I’m also a homebody, so I like being able to laze around for hours in the morning, or afternoon, without the need to get dressed to eat or wait for a maid to come clean the room. I like listening to music on my computer (check out TSF jazz, a local station here I discovered this trip.)
I really enjoy having a home to come home to after a fun/exhausting day bopping around Paris. I love the city but — between crazy shoving crowds, the endless stairs of the Metro and the general pace — it’s epuisant!
A few thoughts for those of you considering it:
You can choose a neighborhood and get to know it
We rented on the Ile St. Louis twice, a two-bedroom with a large and comfortable bathroom and super-deep bathtub. We literally overlooked Berthillon, the famed ice cream maker, and could hop across the street for a boule of mango or passion fruit. The ISL is a quiet and bourgeois neighborhood but it’s perfectly located in the Seine, with easy walking access to the Left Bank and Right Bank (the two halves of Paris.) There are plenty of restaurants.
This time we’ve been in the 7th., also quiet and bourgeois. I’ve loved every minute of it and will miss it. It’s not a spot I would have chosen, (we were offered it by friends), so it’s been a great discovery.
Every quartier is different and each has its own character. Some are staid and quiet, others funky and gentrifying, others crazy jammed with tourists.
You flee other tourists!
I fail to see the point, or pleasure, of traveling the world only to be surrounded, in a hotel or hostel, by fellow North Americans — I travel to flee my normal life and its references! By renting a flat, whether you’re alone or with your family, you’re choosing to plant yourself into the country, culture and neighborhood, not cling to the safe and familiar.
You’ll live like a Parisian for a while
Not a bad thing! You’ll shop every day or so for freshly-baked bread, produce, flowers, and the many delicious cheeses. You can stop at a traiteur offering an array of delicious prepared foods, from a roast chicken to a quiche to salads. You’ll line up at la boulangerie for your daily fresh baguette or croissant.
You can cook!
Maybe your dream is to fully escape the kitchen. But if you love great food, what better pleasure than waking up to a fresh croissant and some runny cheese in the comfort of your temporary home? Making a tisane from some tea you bought around the corner and settling into the sofa? Enjoying a yogurt or fromage blanc? Fresh figs, the fattest asparagus you’ve ever seen…
It’s cheaper and healthier to eat even some of your meals at home plus the added sensual joy of shopping for lovely food in the city’s many street markets…not just racing around an enormous, soulless American grocery store jammed with nasty, useless, fattening junk food. (Yes, I loathe them!)
I pigged out our first week and could barely get into my stockings as a result. The second week, alone, I ate more often at home, consumed less, and many fewer sweets and wine. Voila!
I was amazed by my friend Rebecca — one day after arriving from the U.S. this week, and using a one-burner stove, she made a fantastic meal: bruschetta, green salad, fish stew and a bakery-bought galette du roi. (See, you won’t find that classic dessert on a restaurant menu!)
If you speak French, allez-y! If you don’t, you’ll pick some up quickly
I speak French so I really enjoy chatting to people here, whether asking a law student at the landromat to help me figure out to open the washer door (!) to buying new shoelaces. The city gets so many tourists you’ll find many shopkeepers and retailers able to converse en anglais — but so much better if you quickly adopt the essential habit of saying, every single time, Bonjour monsieur/madame! and Au revoir, monsieur/dame! It’s comme il faut and just a more civilized way to behave.
If you have fantasies of living here more permanently, (as we do), you’ll quickly get a better feel for the place
The sun rises here in late December at 8:43 a.m. Seriously. This city is much further north than you might expect, so days are short and often very cloudy. If you take the bus and Metro as locals do, you’ll experience the utter insanity of rush hour and can enjoy getting lost within the bowels of Chatelet Les Halles mid-renovation — all joys you’d miss if you cab everywhere.
The apartments I’ve been staying in here are both on the ground floor. Easy for luggage and shopping — but they don’t get much daylight. I now realize how essential it would be to rent or own on a higher floor to access the maximum precious sunlight as winter days here also tend to be overcast.
You’ll feel the rhythms of the neighborhood and the city
Almost every building has a concierge or gardien, a man or woman, (like a superintendent), who keeps a careful eye on the building and its inhabitants. In the 7th, our gardien was Marie, a lovely African-American woman with a rocking collection of sneakers, (les baskets!), who also delivered the mail.
You’ll see when shops open and close, and get to know your local merchants a bit as you buy your food and drink. You’ll see dog-walkers and babies in their carriages and kids on their way to and from school.
Don’t expect to find a washer, dryer or dishwasher
Most Paris apartments are small, and appliances and furniture scaled accordingly. Many homes will have a small washing machine for clothes, but fewer will also accommodate a dryer and I would never expect to find a dishwasher. Bring enough clothes and/or be prepared to spend an hour at the laundromat or do some hand-washing.
Things will look different — like electrical outlets!
French appliances use a two-pronged plug whose prongs are rounded. Be sure to bring a set of electrical converters with you. I’d also inquire before you arrive about how much power you can safely use before blowing a fuse. (See below!)
Don’t forget — you’ll be thinking and shopping in metric!
So if you want a small portion of meat or cheese or loose tea, think 100 grams, (cent grams, s’il vous plait!); a kilo = 2.2 pounds.
Also, in euros!
So don’t forget that it’s not $10 you’re spending but $13 or $15 or whatever the rate is that week.
Is there an elevator?
I made the mistake on a prior visit of taking a friend’s advice to stay in a flat he had enjoyed. I didn’t even think to ask…and it was a sixth-floor walk-up. Make sure, if you dislike hoofing it with tons of luggage up a narrow staircase, there is un ascenseur.
Is the flat properly heated/cooled?
I’ve been wearing a lot more clothing than I expected to sleep in.
Beware of minuterie
This oh-so-French invention is lighting that only stays on for a few minutes, saving costs for the building. You have to find the hallway and/or stairs light button outside your apartment, (not easy), push it, and move fast! Best to carry with you a mini-flashlight or headlamp.
How good is the apartment’s lighting?
We had only one small bedside lamp. Bring a mini-flashlight — (how to unlock that unfamiliar door in a dark hallway?) — and a headlamp, available from any camping supply company.
Don’t lose the keys!
Don’t forget the door code!
Remember your address and memorize the nearest Metro stops; functioning while jet-lagged and disoriented and non-French-speaking, (let alone drugged or drunk), is not a great combo.
Bring a large, light, capacious bag for food-shopping. You’ll need it.
Carry a Metro map and Plan de Paris, (or whatever app suits you), so you can always orient yourself quickly. You do not want to be the hapless tourist whose bag is snatched, backpack plundered or pockets picked while you dick around on the Metro or street corner. It happens!
And don’t — as poor Jose did — bring a power strip and try to plug it in. Nope. Blew a fuse and that introduced us to the (very nice) people at our local electric supply shop…after photographing the fusebox, which we did not understand, and emailing the image to our friend whose apartment it is…
Bienvenue a Paris, mes cher(e)s!