Well, it's true what they say, the time does go fast. It's hard to believe it is now September, with August behind us and all that it brought. Just a month ago we were putting the finishing touches on our packed luggage...
But with September comes so many good things: back to school, back to work, and back to working on this little blog and all it encompasses :) I hope you'll all stick around to see what we've got up our sleeves! While we get back to normal life, it's my pleasure to share in my next three posts a few tidbits from our time in France - starting with a few things that made a big trip not only more affordable, but really, that much better.
Travel is a real luxury, and as you all know it can sure get costly. I hope you'll enjoy this little round-up of 5 ways we travelled well with (just a little) less.
And no, I don't mean run away with a French man on a motorcycle! As tempting as that might be :) ...but really, I am referring to accommodation, as anyone knows that after flights, the place where you lay your head is likely to be your biggest expense, particularly on a longer trip. And really, fancy hotels aside (which are sweet if you've got the budget) - just how much time will you be spending in said place of sleep?
I referenced the quaint french apartment we took in Paris, and it was just that: small, old, perfectly lovely, and right in the heart of where we wanted to be (for those of you interested we stayed in the Marais district). After all, this is how the vast majority of people live in big cities like this, so it was fun, and not to mention for the four of us, (just a little) less hit on the budget & a whole lot more authentic.
We did just fine cosied up in our tiny kitchen, enjoying simple foods made with basics (my next post). This was the start of the food journey that has not only affirmed my approach to food more than ever before, but forever reminded me just how simple foods made with quality ingredients are best, and how important it is to enjoy each and every bite. After all, that is precisely what the people do in France. And it certainly shows!
Part of the fun of having a real place to shack up in is the chance to live like any other person might in that part of the world (at least for me it was and I suspect this would be the case for many of you too!). Cooking in a strange (tiny) kitchen is an adventure, one I was up for, and one we had a blast with.
It was a beautiful thing - heck - I was cooking dinner in Paris! What a sheer delight it was, and one I took with gratitude and pleasure. I mentioned the produce market that set up literally at the steps to our door twice in the time we were there. I bought melons, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, nectarines, apples & berries. They were all pretty amazing, yes. The block we stayed on had a store that stocked every fine oil, wine, preserve & jelly you could want, and the boulangerie on our block made just the right baguettes and chocolate croissants for the girls, who enjoyed them daily.
Eating in saved us tons of money, and it also meant that the three of us vegetarian girls weren't struggling with menus (and our French) every night. It also meant we ate like royalty & had plenty of time & money left to hit the streets for some quality sight-seeing, and maybe an ice cream and a nightcap (or two). Of course, we ate dinners out too, and we enjoyed it (just a little) more when we did. The best part? Reserving the majority of our sitting time for chilling at our favourite cafes.
Cafe life in France, and in Paris especially, is just about the funnest thing you'll ever experience, as no one is ever in a rush. The people watching is just about the best in the world, not to mention the goodies you are likely to enjoy. A few days in I gave up my afternoon coffee and switched it to white wine or beer. And then we simply sat. And watched. And drank. And talked. Until it was time to be on our way.
Set out on Foot
A big city like Paris is (obviously) more than well set up for tourists, and they are pros at handling all those visitors. There are tour buses, stacked double-deckers, boats, bike tours, and of course, the metro is superb. But nothing is like seeing the city on foot both for your waistline and your wallet.
We walked for hours & hours each day, which many of you know is a wonderful way to get fresh air, exercise, and views that you just don't get from a tourist bus, or underground on the metro. Plus, how will you see that top in the window or find that off-the-beaten-track patisserie with the best pastry you ate the whole trip? That gorgeous old cathedral you stumbled on that time you got lost? Nothing says adventure like traipsing around a city with just your bag, a camera, good company and a good stylish pair of comfortablish shoes.
Pack Coffee/Carry Water
Depending on your preference for coffee, this might not apply, but I was glad to have brought along a few bags of ground coffee from home to make French Presses while I greeted the day and acclimatized. The kids were often tired (especially at the start of the trip), and given my (fairly unreasonable) requirement for caffeine early in the day, I got amped at home before leaving the house.
I'd done quite a bit of research on some coffee places I wanted to hit - places that are doing quality coffee like we are lucky to enjoy at home. My first try yielded a closed sign (Telescope seemed to be closed for the month) and the others were just too out-of-the-way and not convenient to drag the whole brood to. For a full list of great spots to hit, check out this post on Alice Gao's beautiful blog here. Alas, maybe next time. Besides, I see plenty of snazzy coffee shops here (it's my job), and I realized that day that I didn't need to travel to Paris to see them there too.
So the home coffee was a major lifesaver, not to mention an easy way to avoid the Oranginas and other goodies you buy every time you sit your kids at a table (cause you know they can't sit there with nothing). But believe me, they got plenty of Oranginas. In fact, I am pretty sure we spent more on those drinks than most anything the whole trip. But more on that in another post too :) And bring water wherever you go! All that walking will make you tired, and many places might leave you high and dry (read: thirsty) and succumbing to overpriced drinks you otherwise wouldn't need.
Buy a Museum Pass
Okay. So really. This one made me very, very, happy. My husband deserves the credit here, and this action turned out to be genius. And not strictly for financial reasons. In fact, all in, we figured that by the end of our week in Paris, we broke even on the cost of this. The real savings, however, turned out to be of the more precious kind.
This thing saved us precious and irreplaceable time. No line ups! Visiting Paris in August means the height of tourist season there - in fact - there were (what felt like) more tourists than locals, and given the high rate of shop closures for 'Vacances', I'd say this was correct. We bought a one week pass that got us into any museum, sans line-up. A sweet deal considering we packed a good 'sight a day' into the itinerary. And did I mention the time savings? Brilliant. But this is my husband we are talking about. I married him for a reason, or two ;)
On our 'must-see' cultural list was: Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, The Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Les Invalides, Versailles, The Pompidou Centre, and of course, the Eiffel Tower (which we did not go up as one of the lifts was broken) - there are quite a few more amazing sights to see, but traveling with a young one allows only so much, and these kids were stimulated to the max. Truthfully, they were amazing. As was my husband for buying this pass. Brilliance.
Looking back, it seems crazy that all that is behind us now. Time really flies. True to one of my fave Dr. Seuss quotes, I've got to tell you that I'm pretty darned glad we did that, and my smiles feel pretty darned wide. I've since returned home to enjoy the blessings we enjoy here, such as
good great regional food, clean tasty water, and truly great friends.