Getting Lost In: Paris, sleeping and shopping like a local (part un)

paris-jazzI spent four months in Paris in the fall of 2007, short enough to still have money (with the euro rising to $1.45) and to still love the city as a live-in tourist, but long enough to fall into the routine of going food shopping, doing laundry (an event in itself – the Parisians do not believe in dryers and inevitably you were going to hang your laundry outside one day and it would then rain), and running about town on errands.

Even if you don’t have four months but maybe more like four days, you can still enjoy Paris like a local live-in tourist. Here’s my guide – but check back often because I’ll post more Parisian favorites.

Where to stay

Since most Parisians don’t live in hotels, rent a pad. I often try to rent an apartment in different cities and pretend to be a local, which is way more fun than playing the tourist. I found my apartment on Paristay.com. The site comes with detailed photos, amenities, and a map with the apartment’s exact location. While it came with a finder’s fee, it was far less sketchy than the apartment I nearly took on Craigslist which promised me an amazing one-bedroom in the Latin Quarter for 500 euros ( there is no such thing). I was more fortunate than my fellow Los Angelican James, who signed a lease, wired a deposit and showed up at a restaurant which was supposed to be his apartment, and the guy mysteriously cancelled his phone number and email address. Since my one-bedroom in the Bastille came with aparis-apt pull-out couch, James camped there until he found a new place. Note: don’t expect a lot for your money. I shelled out 1000 euros a month for my one-bedroom which was more than I wanted to spend. My friends who did find luck on Craigslist landed one of those attic-rooms with a shoe closet for a bathroom, a couple hot plates, kitchen/ bathroom sink, tiny table and futon while we were in town once for a wedding. I believe it was nearly as wide as our armspan, but it was clean and cost about $60 a night, and made them feel like locals for the week. (Right: entryway to chez moi)

Food

There were a few places I shopped. One was Monoprix, the grocery plus scattered throughout the city where you could buy a sweater, foie gras, computer equipment, wine, leeks and bath towels all in the same place. I found my map book there (a blue vinyl-covered hand-sized atlas called Paris et Banlieue, which covers all of Paris and its outskirts and is a godsend). Make sure you bring a dictionary with you, because I had a lot of trouble determining which was the low-fat milk and which produce signs corresponded to which basket of vegetables. My favorite was purchasing wine on the bottom shelf, which was between 2-4 euros a bottle, and tasted better than any wine in supermarkets back home.

france-marketThe other was the farmers’ market at Boulevard Beaumarchais, leading to the Bastille pillar. There are several around the city, but this was the closest to me. On Thursdays and Sundays I would hoist two large shopping bags (by this time I had acquired two reusable ones and contemplated buying one of those fun grandma carts that all Parisians owned) and a wad of cash to make the rounds for fresh leeks, tomatoes, salmon, mussels, wine, cheese, potatoes, baguettes and the occasional roast chicken. Again, the dictionary came in handy and phrases like “une livre” were helpful (meaning a pound, or half a kilo, rather than asking for “une demi-kilo”). The best was sending  non-French speaking Jon off to the market with a shopping list and having the merchants pick out the coins from Jon’s palms because he couldn’t differentiate the euro coins yet.

When my sister came to visit, she was wary of going out to dinner with the baby so we went off to the market and my brother-in-law, who is a great cook, dished out elaborate meals in my little kitchen. For snacks, we munched on sauccisson, cheeses, fresh baguettes and wine. Quelle vie!

On non-market days, I would stop at the local boulangerie for baguettes, the bouchier for meats, the poisonniere for fish and mussels (they didn’t sell seafood at Monoprix) and the fromagerie for amazing incredible cheese. I also became rather friendly with the owners of the produce market on the way from the Bastille metro, particularly since they were Chinese, but they spoke to me in French, which was an odd cultural twist.

Note: this is not a suggestion for the four-day trip, but if you are anywhere near the outskirts or have a car and a carrefourstrong desire to see Carrefour, the French version of Walmart on steroids, you can buy almost anything, including great French souvenirs. I found several decks of French cards, where the King is an “R” for “Roi”, Queen is “D” for “Dame” and Jack is a V for something I forgot. It takes a while to win poker in Paris, but you figure it out eventually. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to shop there unless you’re on a roadtrip to wine country… coming soon.

(Right: Going to Carrefour after a day of wine tasting makes for some interesting shopping. This is our Czech friend Klara. She may still be a little drunk here).

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3 Comments

Filed under Chomping Around Town, Europe, Getting Lost In...

3 responses to “Getting Lost In: Paris, sleeping and shopping like a local (part un)

  1. Jon

    I wonder how Klara feels about having her picture posted up on the internet. Do they still live somewhere near here, or did they move out west?

  2. John D

    For apartments I found lodgis.com and homelidays.com to be pretty useful, about the same caliber as paristay.com (note your paristay.com link is broken in the post).

    For markets, that page you linked is awesome, but surprisingly it doesn’t mention the fixed market streets. A few notable ones come to mind: rue Montorgueil in the 2nd, rue Mouffetard in the 5th, and rue de Buci in the 6th. I lived near rue Montorgueil once upon a time, and it’s simply fabulous–if you go there, don’t miss Stohrer, a pâtisserie that dates back to 1730 (their fruit tarts are amazing!).

    In 2007 I lived in the 15th near Motte-Picquet-Grenelle, and there was a small grouping of really nice shops on the rue de Lourmel, including a fantastic cheese shop and an amazing Alsatian bakery that made a delicious flûte à sarrasin (thin baguette made from buckwheat).

    OK, now I’m hungry…

  3. Like always, your post is insightful plus delightfully written thank you. Keep up the good work I love your site! 😉

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