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SWMBO reporting from Caen, France.  We had planned to camp at the amazing little municipal campsite in Domjean.  It was to possibly be our first foray into stealth camping since we were planning to set up without paying.  However, there is no place to actually pay there so whether we would have been breaking any rules is unclear.  The campsite is right in the centre of the village next to the little grocery store.  It has washrooms, showers, a pond, a park and several adorable hedged campsites.  Unfortunately, it started to pour rain.  That was just before the hail.  That was just before the thunder and lightening.  We aborted, got back in the car and ended up in a motel in a commercial zone of Caen.  The price was right (37 euros per room x 2 rooms = about $115).

Personal campsite with perfectly trimmed hedge, Domjean

Personal campsite with perfectly trimmed hedge, Domjean (notice the rain falling)

When you travel with a professional chef and you end up in a crappy motel, you do not open a can of baked beans and eat them right out of the tin.  No, you do not.  Even if it is already 6 pm.  Instead you drive to the nearest hypermarché (which will never be more than 2 minutes away in France), you get a buggy and you put in: a two-burner hotplate; a set of cutlery for 6 (one person will have to eat like a caveman); seven ceramic plates; seven ceramic bowls; several baguettes; salad items; a fruit tart; a rotisserie chicken (for the kids) and a lobe of foie gras (for the adults).

Did someone say 70% off foie gras?!

Did someone say 70% off foie gras?!

Did he proceed to create the most delectable pan-seared foie gras worthy of a Michelin three-star restaurant?  Why, yes he did.  From whence came the cherries and apricots that added the sweetness that pairs so well with foie?  Stolen from the fruit tart in a stroke of brilliance.  With incredulity in his voice, he said, “Did you know that some places don’t allow hot plates in the room?”  Really?  I’m not surprised.  We sent the kids to the other room with lots of wifi devices and proceeded to enjoy our shabby chic meal – foie gras while watching “Le Grand Bêtisier de l’Année” (the biggest stupidity of the year) on t.v.  That’s date night on the road.

Cooler.  Check.  Dishes.  Check.  Foie gras.  Check.

Cooler. Check. Dishes. Check. Foie gras. Check. (Second lobe of foie to be made into a terrine…)

Now, let’s get down to business and save some money in Paris!

Paris metro ticket

Paris metro ticket

When you go to Paris, if you have feet and can use them, please do so.  And now that we have left Paris, I would like to say that the following applies to most places.  In Lisbon, a single use ticket for the trams costs 2.85 euros ($4.50)!!!  And in NYC, a friend and I purchased the daypass because we wanted to use the subway A LOT and when we worked it out at the end of the day, we would have been better off just buying tickets!

All the discussion forums online will tell you all about how great the Paris metro is and how to buy the various passes.  Yes, the Paris metro is great.  AND EXPENSIVE.  Use sparingly!!!  As an example – a day pass costs 10.85 euros ($16.70) for those 10+ and half price for younger children.  That means $100.20 for us to ride the metro (unlimited in the city centre) for ONE day.  Would we ever do this?  I think we all already know the answer to that one.

Barbès Metro Station

Barbès Metro Station

There are lots of other options – 5 day pass, weekly pass, monthly pass, individual tickets etc.  They are all expensive. There is a good value youth day pass available on the weekends though.

I bought a “carnet” of 10 tickets for 13.70 euros ($21) for ages 10+ and another carnet for 6.85 euros ($10.50) for younger kids (aged 4-9).  But we treated them like gold.  We also visited a gypsy who cast a spell that turned our 11 yo into a 9 yo and our 4 yo into a 3 yo.  That helped.  Mostly we walked all day doing stuff and then if we found ourselves 6 km from our apartment and we were exhausted, we took the metro home.  I think the carnet offers the best value.  It can be used whenever by whomever.  But how to use it?

Kids at fountain, Paris

Kids at fountain, Paris

I really believe that many people choose to buy the day ticket just to avoid the stress of using metro tickets.  But using Paris metro tickets isn’t so intimidating.  At main stations like Gare du Nord, you can buy tickets at a wicket.  In smaller stations, you will probably have to buy them from a machine.  Often the person in the wicket doesn’t sell tickets or can’t accept cash payments.  The machines can seem scary because they are machines and because there are always lots of people rushing to buy tickets.  Hold your ground, select English as your language and proceed.  The largest bill you can use to pay for tickets is a 20 euro note.

To actually get into the metro, just insert the ticket stripe side up.  Then make sure to keep your ticket.  You will probably never need it but in a few metro stations you need your ticket to transfer or to exit.  And also for proof of payment.  Paris metro tickets can be used to transfer from one line to another but once you leave the station they can’t be reused.  So a return trip will require two tickets.  Tourists tend to stay within the centre zone so don’t worry about tickets for more zones.  If you plan to use the metro to get somewhere farther, like say CDG airport, just go to the wicket and ask for help.  You ask if the person speaks english.  They shrug and say “not really” or “no” or “a little bit” but persevere and you will get your ticket.

Metro ticket - insert with stripe side up

Metro ticket – insert with stripe side up

Make sure to get more value from your metro tickets by spending time looking at the metro stations while you are in them.  Many of them are historic and beautiful.  Art nouveau anyone?  Gorgeous tiles?

Art Nouveau Metro

Art Nouveau Metro

Happy Paris and Happy Saving!