So how does a family afford to spend a year in Paris? you might be wondering by now. The rent for our two-bedroom apartment in the 8th arrondissement near the Champs Elysées is double what we pay for a large house in a leafy Vancouver neighbourhood. But everything is relative: we once saw a guy dole out 5 Euros for a bottle of Coke in a café while our wine was 3 Euros.
And while eating out is very expensive, bread and wine are about 70 percent less: It’s like money in our pocket! And all that cash we used to spend on Sodastream cartridges? There is a free sparkling water fountain in a park near our house. “Right next to the cheese tree?” our British friend Andrew joked. But it’s true – there are six such fountains in Paris where you can fill a bottle with sparkling or still “Eau de Paris.”
But don’t get me wrong, we’re not living like martyrs. Last week, instead of dining at Alain Ducasse’s Michelin starred restaurant in the Plaza Athénée, we went to Champeaux, his new brasserie in Les Halles. We ordered French onion soup, while the girls had a cheese soufflé, which arrives dramatically from the kitchen on a silver tray in all its puffed up glory. The bill was less than we would have paid for a couple of glasses of wine anywhere in Vancouver.
But with all the cheese and baguettes, I am really missing my YMCA membership back home. Yoga and Pilates classes here are punishingly expensive and mostly private. But on the bright side, I’ve found a great running partner, and we do 5 kilometre jogs around the Parc Monceau after dropping our children at school. The French mothers, with their cigarettes and high heeled sneakers, watch in astonishment.
Not having a car is saving us a ton of money, too. We walk most places, and spend less than 50 Euros a month on Metro tickets. Direct flights from Paris to Morocco are 59 Euros for heavens sake! There’s also Velib’, the shared bike system. I once read a description of it on a French website that said “Make sure you return your bike within 30 minutes or you will be fined!” Rough, I thought, until I realized that it simply meant the bikes were free for the first half hour. So Parisian!
We are also taking advantage of the many, many cultural activities that Paris offers for free, like the no-cost entry into most museums on the first Sunday of the month (children are always free). So far we have been to the Georges Pompidou, with its outré modern art, to the Musée de Rodin with its breathtaking sculpture garden (pictured), and to the Musée de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s Water Lillies. Put a price on that.
When we were killing time at the Montparnasse train station, I noticed a very strange kind of vending machine. It dispensed free French short stories, on a scroll! You could choose between a three, five or a 10 minute read. The girls printed out about 10 of them I think.
Between the culture, the travel, and the language education we’re all experiencing, I think we’re getting the deal of a lifetime. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost dinnertime here. I need to run across the street to the Nicolas wine store to splurge on an excellent 8 Euro bottle of Bordeaux.