How many have you have dreamed about
sporting a beret and living like an expatriate in the most cultural city in
Europe? Have you dreamt of that garret in Paris with a loaf of bread, work
clothes and a laptop?
Have your read Adam Gopnik’s,
Paris To The Moon and said, “I can do that.” Well, it’s possible but not as
easy as it sounds.
I found it easy since my wife and I speak French. Your
first problem is language. As they say, ‘It ain’t easy’.
I enjoyed Gopnik’s book. But I’ve been here countless
times because of my work and interest. I knew the places he referred to and
the annoyances he encountered. Still, I decided to find an apartment and
discover what living here was like. We also had the advantage of not
traveling with a child. I also know the city better than most people.
When I was teaching, I taught a course that dealt with
Paris in the Twenties. I know exactly where most expatriate artists and
writers lived, worked and frolicked.
Let’s get to the problem of finding what we wanted and
what we wanted to spend.
First, we had to find the right apartment in the right
area for us. Hotels for long stays are for the rich and unless you have to
do your own shopping and find the newspapers, markets and Metro stops, you
are not living here. You’re only on a stopover, a visitor for a few days.
Living here means cooking, shopping, laundries, and just adjusting to a
smaller space and the day-to-day getting things done. It can be exciting but
it could be daunting.
Take cooking, for instance. Does the apartment have all
the cooking facilities? Do I have to buy staples I’ll never use up? Will I
leave them here or cart them home? How often will I actually cook in the
apartment? Eating out all the time can be boring and expensive. Yes, these
are basic questions but you have to plan in advance. For example, how are
you going to spend your time? Being a tourist for two or three days is easy.
Keeping occupied for a month or two can be more complicated. Then there’s
the question of location. How well do you know the city to know how to get
around and what to see? In our case we had all that figured out. Paris was
well known to us.
Our visit here started with the web. I had to find a logis;
a rental. I knew approximately where I wanted to be and how much I could
afford for rent. I also had an idea of how much space we would need. I was
in for some surprises.
There were many rentals available in or near Paris. I
wanted to be as close to the center as possible. As I said, knowing the city
helps a lot. I zeroed in on the 5th and 6th arrondissements which meant in
the center of the city near KM zero, in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
As luck would have it, there was a studio on a tiny street that I knew well,
away from the traffic. When I saw the price I was very excited. Even in
Canadian dollars 250 Euros a week was a bargain. (Three star hotels in
Paris can cost 200 Euros a night.) I calculated that as $1500 Canadian a
month ($1000 US). So far I had gotten two of the three things I wanted. The
question was size. How big would a studio be and what was the configuration.
I settled immediately when I discovered the following. While the studio was
only 17 X 17 it did have a loft platform with a double bed. I assumed 17 X
17 was the main room. So I wrote to the agency who said the apartment was
available. They also told me it was on the third floor without elevator.
Third floor apartments are four flights up as the main floor is floor one.
That was a negative I’d have to get used to. When they told me that there
were two 12 foot windows facing the street I was thrilled. I was ready to
sign but the landlord had to OK the lease. This happened three days later
with a note asking if I knew the apartment was small. By then I was so keyed
up I went around measuring the rooms in my Montreal home to compare sizes.
I assumed that the apartment was the same size as my
living room in Montreal, plus the loft, plus the bathroom.
The landlady insisted on a month’s deposit plus the rent
in advance. I wasn’t thrilled. The agency also asked for 250 Euros as their
finder’s fee. But I had made so many plans by then and my wife was so
excited about the prospects of a month in Paris, that we went ahead, bought
airlines tickets and began listing the things we’d see and do.
We arrived on Monday the 11th of November. We didn’t know
that it was a holiday to commemorate Armistice Day. At first I thought Paris
was simply empty since it wasn’t the tourist season. We took the empty train
from the airport and pulled our luggage two short blocks from the St. Michel
metro station. We lugged our baggage up the four flights to find the door
open and the landlady waiting. I walked in to what would be my home for the
next month. I was surprised that it was brighter and looked out on one of
the most lovely street corners in Paris. It was clean and had beamed
ceilings. The downside was the size. It was 17 X 17.5 INCLUDING the loft
bed, kitchen and bathroom. We paid our rent, got the key and closed the
We’ve been here now for just over two weeks. We are used
to the apartment and its size. True, I wish it was larger but we have a nice
sitting room with sofa, table and two chairs. Included is a closet, dresser
and bookshelf. Once we unpacked, we began to feel at home.
We live at #5 rue de La Bucherie. Une buche is a log and I
imagine, years ago, they cut wood along this narrow street. The sidewalk is
not wide and there is no parking on either side. It is one-way, sens unique,
and room only for the smallest cars. It’s a curved street with a tiny square
at the corner and a little clump of dainty trees just outside our window.
They clean the street daily and wash it down almost every night. Small green
trucks arrive every morning to automatically pick up the fallen leaves. I’ve
never seen such a clean area.
If you are looking for it on a map, it would face the
south Rose Window of the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are apartments
across the street that block that view. (All people in the center of Paris
live in apartments.) These buildings are partly covered with ivy that is
turning red and orange as I write. The leaves have started to fall, but it
is almost December. Being one street from the Seine, it’s romantic, peaceful
and close enough to the hustle bustle that is Paris. We are only yards from
KM zero which is not only the center of the city but also the center of
France. All measurements are from the tiny Km-0 plaque in front of Notre
Dame. After the Eiffel Tower, it’s the most recognized landmark.
Notre Dame was built on Ile De La Cité, which is where the
original settlement was started. The river gave it protection but not enough
to stop the Romans. We live on the left bank just outside the original wall.
It is less than 300 yds from a wonderful bakery. It is my
job to get the bread (baguette) every morning. It’s a pleasurable task and I
often bring home a French or English newspaper or fresh flowers, as there’s
a market around the corner every other day.
We are now residents, of sorts. People get to know us in
the neighborhood and we get to know where to buy one thing or another, where
to get the best pastry, where to buy books, have tea or eat a meal. We don’t
have to pack and unpack. We do our laundry at the corner Laundromat and we
have a multi hour membership at the Internet café up the street. They know
me there now and I’m greeted with a smile.
I can read, put my feet up, have a drink in a warm setting
and learn more French by reading French newspapers and watching French
television. I may even take in a play, in French. I did attend a concert but
that doesn’t count. Or does it?
Our Apt. is three floors up with no elevator. At home I’d
balk. Here I accept it as part of the scene. It consists of a fair sized
sitting room with couch, T.V., table & chairs, cupboards and small dresser.
The bedroom is more of a loft. The kitchen barely holds two people at a time
and the bathroom is modern enough for Paris. It is all carpeted and has two
twelve foot windows bringing in the light. It’s charming and on the best
street for my tastes. While it is not large, I would come back any time. I
did the best I could. Perhaps I could have done better. Actually, I think I
did very well.
We have walked to most places like the Bastille, The
Marais and Place des Vosges, the Picasso Museum, the modern Pompidou Center,
Ile St Louis, The Conciergerie, Ste. Chapelle, the Pantheon, Arche de
Triomphe, Louvre and the Luxembourg Gardens. We even walked to Montparnasse
and along Blvd St Germaine. We’ve taken the Metro to The Museum of Modern
Art, near the Eiffel Tower, the beginning of the Champs Elysées, to
Montmartre and a flea market at the northern end of town. We’ve been to a
number of museums and the concert was at Notre Dame. Yesterday we visited
the old opera house, which is one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve ever
seen. It has a Chagall painting on the main theatre ceiling. It is difficult
to believe that a thirty-five year old architect designed it.
We eat out almost every evening in different types of
restaurants from Swiss fondue spots to, Italian, Indian, Iranian and, of
course the local brasseries. Even the Chinese, Thai or Japanese places are
good. Today we had lunch in the Marais area, in a neighborhood restaurant
without tourists. You could cut the atmosphere with a blunt knife.
Each morning, as I said, I walk to the corner for a fresh
baguette. Bakeries are an institution in this cosmopolitan city. We have hot
coffee and baguette in our charming apartment every day. No, it’s not as
large as my home but it’s a place to stay for a month. It’s clean, warm and
even better than I imagined. I would gladly do it all over again. It’s the
perfect holiday for us. Aside from the internet, we have a telephone so we
are not out of touch with family and friends.
There are less and less apartments available in Paris each
year so the price goes up. But Paris need not be an expensive city and you
do not need a car. Come in the off-season. It’s more fun to move about
While there’s some rain, I find this season most
enjoyable. Summers here can be very hot. Now, we walk around with hats and a
raincoat in a city that is getting ready for Christmas. The decorations are
unlike those in North America. The Champs Elysée is lined with lights and
the Galleries Lafayette, known for its decorations, looks like it’s wrapped
in snowflakes of light. By the way, we noticed that store trees and those
sold to passers-by are mostly covered with some white material. That’s
because there is no snow here. That’s certainly a change for this Canadian
If you want to benefit from my research and knowledge of
the city, I’d be happy to help you. Send your needs to me and I’ll try to
find you something special. I can at least help you select a good area.
Being within walking distance of the main areas is beneficial and often
I can be reached at
End of part 1
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)