Is backpacking a craze only because it goes light on the pocket? The draw towards this type of travel is much more than the money factor. Even the Frommer’s-packing, Leica-wearing variations of our species overlook some of the most endearing experiences of a place.
A labyrinth of pristine chapels, works of art by Masters, engineering marvels, suave fashion boutiques, fine restaurants and historical landmarks. A turn left off mainstream Paris – for the casual traveler, there would seem little hidden by the mammoth shadows of the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. One could not be more wrong. The whole city is a sight in itself. These are the ones which a frugal traveler always catches.
At Le Grenier à pain
There is a boulangerie or bakery in every nook and corner in Paris. The divine ones, however, are found at Le Grenier à Pain on Rue Abbesses in Village Montmartre. It was the winner of the ‘Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Francaise de la Ville de Paris’. Or simply put, “the best baguette in Paris”. Plagued on most days with serpentine queues but certainly worth the wait. The greatest smelling breakfast – under € 5.
While having that phenomenal breakfast, the next idea that comes along – rediscovering Montmartre on foot. The bohemian lifestyle shines out the best at two of my favourite locales in the neighborhood – Butte Montmartre (or the Mount of Mars) and Montmartre Hills. These are the places where Parisian artists and literary hopefuls (and some subsequent successful ones) thrived in a tax-free air, while Montmartre free-wheeled into decadence. Up came, however, many bars and a lively spirit.
The funicular takes one straight to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica but it pays to keep off the temptation. Hoofing it up the hill has its rewards. A better idea is to go for a guide. A little bit of local help never fails. Oriel Crane is just brilliant, and is commissioned with ‘Paris Walks’.
And endless array of bistros, cafes and bars dot the tiny road sides. And, of course, at the end of the walk looms the grand Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
All that worthwhile walking – € 12 with Paris Walks.
The Marais District
Perhaps the most endearing neighborhood in Paris, and it does not count as one of the obvious ones. A shame, if you ask me. The Marais Distict is stock full of art stores (some of them quite funky), cafes and fashionable boutiques. The real draw, however, comes in the form of Place des Voges, right in the center of town. By far the oldest planned square in Paris, it is nestled amidst red-brick facades and vaulted arches. At a tiny corner, not far, is Maisons de Victor Hugo – an apartment-museum of the writer; he penned sections of Les Miserables here. The property is rich in artifacts, and opulence shines in the form of the ancient four poster bed among a myriad of other exhibits.
A retreat into Quartier Latin
The City Lights Books
The fragrances of Marche Aux Fleurs
A Saint Germain Dinner
The Seine River Cruise
There are as many as 37 bridges across the river and you may traverse from under them in many types of boats – from the glass encased uber (best keep out the German lingo while in Paris) luxurious rides, or the open and breezy versions. The batraux-mouches are a prime choice; popular and charming. Alternatively, there are the simpler hop-on and hop-off options. It pays to keep a look out for a very special bridge – the Pont Alexandre III. Ornamented with art-nouveau lamps, sylvan nymphs, and griffins, it does stand out. Pont-Neuf, the oldest bridge over the river, looks to be equally enchanting. A ride at € 11
A day in € 50; off mainstream Paris.