Another look at Parisians

Lovers or friends?

To take-away, please. I’m going for a picnic…

A certain je ne sais quoi about her? Ooops…

Excuse me, are you a model?

I’m sorry, this is just wrong

Ah…Parisians…

I don’t think Paris would be the same without them. Their sense of style, joie de vivre, confidence (though some would say arrogance) and nonchalance ...

Marathon running Chees

A good friend recently said this to me “It’s so nice that you have a sibling to run with”.  I’ve never really thought about it that way but as I reflect about her remark, it does strike me as extraordinary (or at least within my circle of friends) that my brother Evan and I both share a passion for running. We were both athletic in our younger days though we did not share the same passion for any sport. As we grew up, we were somehow drawn to running (him more so than me) and it has become a staple in both our lives.  I was pleasantly surprised when I realised how Evan, like I do, plan his day around running. The questions we ask ourselves almost daily are “when should I run today?” and “how far should I run?” Our common love (or some would say addiction) to running led us to participating in this year’s Paris Marathon together.

I’m a loner when it comes to training for my marathons as I find it too much of an obligation to join a running club or to run with friends. Nonetheless, having my brother around in the lead-up to this marathon where we discussed how we should taper and carbo-load as well as our running attire and gear for the big day, was strangely comforting. On the eve of the marathon and the morning of the race, we were both busy with our preparations – (i) attire (long or short sleeve, single or double-layer, running shorts or tights); (ii) nutrition (what and how much to eat, are we consuming enough liquids); (iii) anti-abrasion cream; (iv) how to keep warm (with temperatures hovering around 4-8°C before the race, it was important to figure out how to stay warm); (v) what energy gels to use; (vi) what to eat for breakfast, etc etc.

The beauty of the marathon race is that it’s an entirely personal experience. How you motivate yourself, how you plan your pace, what you draw from the experience… First-time runners are probably psyching themselves to complete the race while ‘old-timers’ are seeking to improve their personal best (PB) timings. I started the race thinking that I would not be able to complete it as my training plan was rudely interrupted in January by a month-long bout of illness. As the kilometers passed under my feet and I got to the 21km mark with a timing of 1hr 56min, I was surprised as I was actually running at a potential PB pace! Many thoughts crossed my mind from the 21st kilometre mark to the finishing line near the Arch of Triumph but the one distinct refrain was: “Go for a PB”. What also pushed me to the finishing line was knowing that this time round, I would find a familiar face at the finishing line.

Paris Marathon 2012 would always hold a special place in my heart. It was a race that my brother and I had both participated in and achieved our personal best timings for the 42.195km run. Evan’s timing was an incredible 2hrs 57:30 min while mine stands at 4hrs 01:33min.

Another feather in the cap and off to train for the next marathon and this time round, a sub 4hrs timing!

Paris for the budget-conscious tourist

I was thinking about how one can enjoy Paris without burning a hole in the pocket and came up with the following tips:

1) Walk whenever possible. Before moving to Paris, I used to dislike walking around. Paris has changed me in this regard. Now so long as the distance from one place to another is shorter than 3km, I’ll choose to walk than take the public transport. The pros – appreciate the sights at a leisurely pace, save money and burn off some calories from that La Duree macaroon or cheese platter that you absolutely had to try.

2) Purchase your transport pass wisely. The two options that would apply to most visitors/tourists would probably be the “Paris Visit Travel Card” or “Ticket T+”.  The Paris Visit Card is basically a magnetic coupon which can be valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 days (€9.75, €15.85, €21.60 and €31.15) whilst the Ticket T+ are what we could consider as single-trip tickets.  With the Ticket T+, if you purchase them in packs of 10, it’ll cost you €12.50 for ten tickets based on current prices as opposed to €1.70 for each ticket.  Doing your sums would help you decide between the two. For instance, if you purchase a 5-day visit card for €31.15, it works out to about €5.20 per day. If you don’t think you’ll take more than 5 trips per day, it’ll actually be better to use the single-trip tickets.

3) Try saying this – “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait” (yun ka raft doe c voo play). French tap water is potable. I’ve noticed that waiters tend to ask tourists if they would like to have still or sparkling water and many go along with ordering bottled water. Unless you have something against tap water, it’s common practice to ask for a bottle of tap water which is free.

4) Go for lunch at Michelin restaurants. It’s a wonder Parisian women are not grossly overweight. French cuisine is oh-so-yummy and yes, it’s often (if not mostly) due to the butter/cream included in the recipe.  So it’s a pity to come to Paris without heading to one of the Michelin-starred or famed restaurants. Without busting your budget, go for lunch in these restaurants as opposed to dinner. With a reputation to upkeep, the lunch menus are often good and probably half the price of the dinner menu. We had the lunch menu at 3-star Pre-Catelan and it was a most divine experience.

5) You can choose not to tip. Tips are discretionary here in France as service charge is often included in the bill when you dine at restaurants/brasseries/cafés. If you appreciate the service provided by the waiter/waitress, you can choose to leave a few euros or your spare change as it is uncertain if the owner actually splits the service charge he collects with his employees. In the top-notch restaurants which pride themselves on tip-top service, I would choose to leave some tips (though I would not exceed 8-10% of the total bill).

6) Book tickets online. As the saying goes, time is money. Rather than spending time waiting in line to get into museums etc, try purchasing tickets online to enter the exhibitions  at certain time slots.

7) Why pay for entry? If you are in Paris on the first Sunday of a month and are willing to brave the crowds,entrance fees to many museums and monuments are free on that day. Here’s my earlier write-up about this –

https://bollychees.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/culture-on-a-shoestring-budget-in-paris/

8) Skip hotel breakfasts. Since hotel rates are already exorbitant given the constant demand in Paris, save the additional costs of having breakfast in the hotel. Go to one of the bistros and buy yourself a croissant (a flaky puff pastry) or pain au chocolate (puff pastry with bits of chocolate in the centre) with un café. This should set you back by a few euros opposed to the €10-20 breakfast you would have to pay for in hotels. If weather permits, consider sitting in one of the parks or along the river Seine and have a morning picnic.

9) Skip hotels altogether. Since we’re at it, for those who can do away with the frills of a hotel and have moved beyond hostel accommodation with shared bathrooms (yes, been there, done that, never more), consider staying in accommodation provided by locals. There’s CouchSurfing which is essentially a hospitality exchange network. Sign up, provide information on accommodation that one can provide (if any) and look for available couches in cities that you want to visit. It’s free but not necessarily possibly if you are travelling as a couple or with a group of friends.  An alternative is Airbnb (my preferred option) which is a global network of accommodations offered by locals. It’s relatively affordable and one can find decent rooms or apartments in central locations \. I’ve used this for my recent trip with my family to Amsterdam and stayed in a very cosy apartment.

10) Hang on tightly to your bags. Due to my line of work, I’ve heard many cases of people getting pick-pocketed and losing their belongings in Paris (Notorious places include train stations particularly the Paris North (Gare du Nord) and Galeries Lafayette). It would be a pity to have your holiday in the City of Lights marred by an incident of pick-pocketing or theft and to lose time and money trying to sort everything out later.

Voila, the top 10 tips that came to my mind for the budget-conscious tourist visiting Paris. Hope it’ll come in useful for some.