Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Dollar


In late April, 2003, the Euro was worth $1.09. In late April, 2008, the Euro climbed to $1.59 against the US dollar. That means that, in five years, the Euro has risen 46% in value against our beleaguered dollar. In July of 2005 a non-stop flight from Washington, DC, to Paris cost $789 R/T; this summer those same flights are about $1350. So how can we, as tourists, cope with this staggering increase in travel costs while visiting Paris?
It’s easier than you think. For most people, the greatest cost savings will result from downgrading hotels – just by lopping off one star. When an average French family comes to Paris for a vacation, they stay in 2-star hotels. I stayed in a delightful one in January, 2007, in the 5th arrondissement, just a short block from the Censier-Daubenton metro stop. What differentiated this property from the typical 3- or 4-star hotel I usually stay in? Space and the lack of air conditioning (not a problem in January). Period. The bathroom had only a shower (no tub), but everything was modern and scrupulously clean. The room had less than two feet of space on either side of the queen size bed, and maybe four feet at the foot. There was a minuscule desk with a chair by the window, a free-standing wardrobe about three feet wide, and that was it. The cable- TV was placed inside the wardrobe on the top shelf. Small, yes, but I had everything I needed, including a hair dryer, and the buffet breakfast cost 10 Euros instead of 14 (a typical price in a 3-star hotel). There are non-smoking floors, and the rooms have WiFi access. I paid a whopping 89 Euros a night for this room, excluding breakfast. I must also mention that there was nothing remotely down-at-the-heels about this place. The rooms and public spaces had been professionally decorated and recently refurbished. The hotel faced onto a quiet side street and small neighborhood park. Excellent!

Everything a tourist needs is provided by the two-star Hotel Maxim Quartier Latin. Double click the photo to enlarge.

Travel blogs are full of rants from American tourists who encounter their first Parisian hotel room. They simply can’t believe how small it is. Yet they never complain that some vital element went lacking. I read recently that 50% of all Parisian apartments are no larger than two rooms and a bath. That means one room for sleeping, and the other for cooking, eating and living. This explains why so few Parisians entertain at home. The average working class Parisian sleeps and has breakfast at home, but spends the evenings with friends at a local café. Once you snag a table at a café, it’s yours until closing, if you so desire -- for the price of a single glass of wine or cup of coffee.
For the truly frugal, it is possible to buy a sandwich (typically ham and cheese on a baguette) or tartine (open faced sandwich, with fewer carbs, to boot) for lunch at 5-8 Euros. Dinner at a crêperie is an astonishing, yet delicious, value. Crêpes, a specialty of the Breton region of France, can be either savory or sweet. A glass of wine and a savory crêpe with salad can be yours for about 12 Euros, less if you substitute cider for wine. Today the Montparnasse neighborhood is home to a large concentration of people from Breton, so it is there that we find the greatest concentration of crêperies. Many crêpes are sold from carry-out windows or by street vendors.
Here is a video visit to a Parisian crêperie, a well-known one in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou in the 4th arrondissement, just four or five blocks north of the Seine.
Enjoy your visit to the Crêperie Beaubourg, at 2, rue Brisemiche.

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