Saturday, October 1, 2011

Paris Part One: Stay

[I'm writing this post while we're still making plans for our trip. We will be visiting Paris in December 2011]

A couple of years ago we had this sudden idea to go visit Paris. Rave, I think, was born with this urge. She’s quite a Francophile, ever since she began studying French in school. We didn’t do much about planning out a visit when we first thought of it (with the exception of buying a Lonely Planet guidebook), until recently.

Before we started, we hunted for people who’ve blogged as extensively about the time before their travel as they have about their holiday. It would’ve really helped novices like us get a better understanding of how to go about doing it. But that’s what we hope this series will do – help other travelers with their pre-holiday planning and show people what we’re doing daily during our 14-day Paris holiday. These posts begin now while we’re still planning our trip and booking our stays.
Now, we’ve spent over a month planning this two-week holiday (3rd Dec – 17th Dec 2011) and along the way, picked up two other traveling companions as well. This post is a brief glimpse of how we went about planning the trip the last 4 weeks. Needless to say, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

One of the first things I did was begin reading short (specifically short and not detailed) descriptions of Paris. This gave me a brief picture of what the city is all about and how much time we need to spend there. Well, Paris is everything (definitely more than the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, cafes, bistros and escargot). And there’s never going to be enough time to experience it completely. But two weeks is what we have and we began working towards that.

Early on, we decided to not stay at a hotel. We weren’t backpacking but we weren’t on a very big budget either. [We’re traveling from India, where the current exchange rate is 1 Euro to 68 Indian Rupees. Trust me, that’s not good at all if you’re Indian!] Another big reason to not stay at a hotel was because we really want to experience Paris the way Parisians do. I will never be able to get the ‘r’ in French right or pronounce ‘Bonjour’ exactly the way it should be, but I can at least try and stay in an apartment with Parisians for neighbours, shop at the grocery store they do and hopefully get on a first name basis with the closest baker and barman!

Here are a few other pros and cons of an apartment as opposed to a hotel or a B&B.

  1. It’s much, much larger than a hotel room. Hotel rooms in Paris are notoriously small from what I’ve seen and read. Some don’t come with wardrobes and the cheaper ones barely have room for two people to move around at the same time.
  2. It’s much, much cheaper than a hotel room. A good hotel room isn’t very cheap (at least not for us traveling from India!). Weekly rates for apartments are also much lesser than daily rates. With a hotel, it’s almost always a fixed price that you multiply by the number of days you stay.
  3. It’s more than just a room. Sure, you can cough up your family’s fortune on a hotel suite but for travelers like us (who don’t have surnames that end with Trump), it’s out of the question. An apartment is a home. Even the tiny ones come with a living room, dining space, an open kitchen, a bedroom and bathroom. Even a studio measures up better than a similarly priced hotel room (if you do actually find one that’s liveable at that rate).
  4. You get a kitchen. For people like us who love cooking (and eating), that’s just perfect. The thought of cooking up our own breakfast or a nice dinner or a midnight snack sounded just too good to exchange for room service.
  5. Everything you need is only a few doors away. There are bakeries, cafes, patisseries, grocery stores, pharmacies, fresh fruit… You could dial room service a easily pay twice as much for a croissant . But think about actually standing at a bakery, picking what you want and waking up in the middle of the night slightly hungry and finding a basket of croissants waiting at the dining table.
  6. Appliances. I’m a big coffee drinker and I like walking up to the kitchen and refilling my cup whenever I want to. If you’re staying longer, nothing beats having your own washing machine and dryer. Or a microwave to warm up a little leftover that’s sitting in your refrigerator.
  1. Cleaning up. You’ve got to do it all yourself, just like you would at home. Some apartments have cleaning up help (which you need to pay for as extra).
  2. Linen. Your linen isn’t changed every day (or alternate day) like it is at a hotel. Want your linen changed? Wash it, press it and change it yourself.
  3. Dishes. Although every apartment I came across had a dishwasher, you need to do the dishes yourself. You’re not eating every meal at home, so it isn’t really a huge chore.
  4. Essentials. Toilet paper, shower gel, shampoo, dishwashing powder, detergent, soap, etc., you have to get yourself. Although many apartments come with a few bare essentials to get you started right away, you need to get the rest yourself during your stay. No elf that replaces used bottles of shower gel or shampoo while you’re away spending the afternoon with a naked Venus at the Louvre!
  5. No room service. 3 am hunger pangs? Sorry but there’s no quick dial on the phone to order a sandwich.
  6. No bellhops. Some apartments have elevators, some don’t. That’s something to think about while packing every item of clothing you own.
If you do decide on an apartment, make sure you check on a few things.
  • Check which floor your apartment is on and if there’s an elevator. Lugging baggage up a very high floor may not be a good idea. Also consider climbing 5 floors after a night of partying.
  • Check on linen. Most apartments come with linen and a set of towels. Don’t expect 5 star quality linen. This is just the kind of stuff you have at home so you should be fine with it actually.
  • Check on the security deposit - how does it get paid and how long before you’re paid back. 
  • Some apartments also offer a cleaning service if you’re staying for long periods. If there isn’t one, check with your owner if one can be arranged. 

In the end, it all comes down to the kind of holiday you want. A hotel works great for some people. For others, an apartment is more originally Parisian. As Rick Steves says, we prefer traveling through the ‘back door’. It keeps you closer to the streets, gets you to mingle with the locals on the streets, puts you in touch with the local bakers…essentially, it’s living local in a foreign land.

Before I began doing any kind of research, I first went through some of these sites. I’m sure there are many like this, but here’s where I got started.

Brief overview of Paris
Visiting Paris on
Paris Escapes
Understand France
David Lebovitz
Paris Notes (a wonderful site that has unfortunately stopped its service but you can still access all its back issues)

There’s lots of other information elsewhere. Notably, Lonely Planet, which gives you great information but I’ve found it more tuned to budget travelers/backpackers. So make sure you go through a few of these for a couple of days and get a fix on which one’s best for your travel.

Apartment Listings

Honestly, there are millions of places that can help you out. So what I’m adding here is only a short list of the ones we went through.

Lodgis: It’s an agency that throws great options and I’ve interacted with them briefly and they seem good. Just remember while dealing with an agency, there’s an agency fee that you need to pay as well.
AirBnB: Great place if you need to get in touch with the owners directly. AirBnB has listings for entire apartments as well as B&Bs or rooms with apartments that you can share with guests. There’s a small fee attached with the service.
All Paris Apartments: Again a great place to find an apartment. From what I’ve seen, a tad less pricey than the others.
Holiday Rentals: Great prices, loads of options. You can contact the owner directly so there isn’t an agency fee attached.
Feel Paris: Nice user-friendly site, average prices and some really good apartments. Again, it’s an agency, so there’s an agency fee to cough up.
Paris Attitude: A fairly good collection, lots of price brackets to swing between.
Vacation in Paris: Lots to pick from, fairly good prices.
Homelidays: Great place, great apartments, lots and lots of options. This is actually a listing where owners list their apartments, so you deal with the owner directly. This was the one we finally settled with! We found a great apartment and a wonderful owner we’re dealing with. But more on that later.

Things to remember:
  1. Do a bit of reading before you go hotel or apartment hunting. It’s going to give you an overview of the different sections of Paris so you can decide which area suits you best.
  2. Really, really do consider an apartment over a hotel.
  3. It’s tasking but go through a million apartments before you decide on the one you want.
  4. Make a shortlist of about 8-10 apartments and then begin contacting the agency or owner to check availability, extra costs, etc.
  5. Once you’ve found one, don’t ever, ever, ever look at another rental site! You will find more interesting ones and it just doesn’t ever stop. Ask us!
  6. Important: Don't judge the quality of an apartment by either the quality of the website that it's listed on or the quality of the photographs.
 Coming up in the next post: We know where we’re living, so now what?


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