Today’s sponsored post is by ArgusCarHire.com’s Fiona Hilliard. Fiona usually writes about car hire in France but on a recent budget break in Paris she gave the Metro a whirl and discovered countless curiosities and hidden delights.
SHABBY CHIC IN PARIS
The idea of visiting Paris on a budget is enough to make most seasoned travellers howl with laughter. The truth is there are tonnes of things you can do in the city for free (or almost). Paris is a city made for getting lost in, so have fun exploring!
Bargain at the Market
6am and I’m awoken by the sound of tick, tick, tick. It’s not an alarm clock – in fact, it’s not even coming from inside the room. Outside, on the road below my window, a middle-aged man whistles and beckons wildly to a reversing delivery van. The driver opens his door and the engine rattles as his indicator light flickers and clicks audibly on and off. Mystery solved. It’s barely dawn but the working day has already begun for the hardy market traders of Richard Lenoir Market. Already, a mountain of oranges has been carefully shuffled into a zesty display and finishing touches are being added to a lively stall of bric-a-brac.
The twice-weekly market starts at the Place de la Bastille monument and runs for almost a kilometre. Two food-filled avenues offer all sorts of goodies from cheap and cheerful handcrafted jewellery to tasty gourmet jams and pungent cheeses. Every few paces come calls of “Bonjour Madame” and “Bonjour Mademoiselle” as market dealers attempt to seduce you with the sweet wafting warmth of freshly baked pastries and baguettes or the salty kick of net-fresh scallops, oysters and prawns. Follow the queues to the stalls of famous wine purveyor Eduard Mace and Jacky Lorenzo, the finest fishmonger in Paris. With produce this fresh and inexpensive, it’s well worth your while getting up a little early – if only to experience an authentic slice of Parisian life. The market is located along Boulevard Richard-Lenoir in the 11th arrondissement. It’s open on Thursdays and Sundays, from 9am till 1pm.
By Metro: Line 8, 1 and 5; Bastille stop
Pay Respects at Père Lachaise Cemetery
When was the last time you saw people bringing a picnic to a cemetery? Indeed, it’s not something you encounter very often. But this is not your run-of-the-mill kind of cemetery. Easily doubling as a park, Père Lachaise is the most picturesque graveyard you’ll ever come across. Locals refer to the cemetery, nestled in a sleepy enclave of northeastern Paris, as La Cité des Morts, “the city of the dead”. And rightly so. Père Lachaise is as lively as it is charming.
Strolling around the leafy tombs and winding, moss-clad alleyways, it’s easy to succumb to the haunting beauty of this sprawling graveyard for an hour or two. One of the most visited graves is that of Irish writer Oscar Wilde. If you’re having trouble finding it, look out for a stone Egyptian-style figure, tattooed with hundreds of lipstick kisses. Edith Piaf’s fittingly petite plot also draws large crowds, as does Jim Morrison’s final resting place which is tucked away in Area 6 and surrounded by metal barricades. Père Lachaise houses some 300,000 graves so make sure you check the visitor map at the entrance which tells you the exact location of notable figures.
By Metro: The cemetery is best reached from the Gambetta (Metro Line 3) entrance. Here you’re very close to the sites of Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.
Magic and Masterpieces at the Musée d’Orsay
If you’ve got some time to spare, it’s worth taking the scenic route to Musée d’Orsay through Tuileries Park. Tuileries is an enchanting tree-lined park situated in the heart of the city with surprises around every corner. Fairy-lit merry-go-rounds, pony-driven carriages and quirky outdoor art installations prove that you don’t have to go to Disneyland to find magic in Paris. Did I mention that entry is free?
From here, it’s a five-minute walk across the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay, home of the world’s largest collection of paintings and sculptures from the period 1848–1914. Be sure to check out the iconic works of Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. They may have been re-printed to death, but there’s something undeniably thrilling about seeing the tiny brushstrokes up close. If you’re under 26, admission is free to all permanent collections of neoclassicism, romanticism, impressionism, expressionism and art nouveau.
By Metro: Line 1; Tuileries stop. Cross the Seine to reach Musée d’Orsay. En-route you’ll catch glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.
Soak up the Oberkampf Nightlife
By day the streets of Oberkampf and Jean-Pierre Timbaud are filled with the busy chatter of green grocers and the pavement clatter of café society. But come 11pm, the area fills with students, young professionals and bohemian night owls. Rue Oberkampf lies at the heart of the unpretentious yet trendy 11th arrondissement. For somewhere so hip and happening, it’s surprising to find that food and drink cost just half of what you’ll pay in similarly “buzzy” areas like Saint Michel and the Latin Quarter. Most impressive though is the fact that Oberkampf manages to retain an old-fashioned Parisian atmosphere, with hilly thoroughfares and narrow, dimly lit neighbourhoods. You won’t have to look too hard to find a cosy bar around here. Down-to-earth favourites include Le Petit Garage on rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud and Le Mecano and Le Nouveau Casino on rue Oberkampf.
By Metro: Line 5; Oberkampf/République stop
Sunday Shopping in the Marais
With the rest of Paris taking a well-deserved day-off, there’s only one place to go on a Sunday if you find you’re suffering from shopping withdrawals – the Marais in the 3rd/4th arrondissement. As the city’s traditional Jewish quarter, Marais closes for the Sabbath on Saturday but teems with life on a Sunday while the rest of Paris appears tightly locked up. Marais has been at the centre of Paris’s artistic and cultural scene since the 1960s and to this day you’ll find an eclectic mix of bookstores, art galleries, second-hand clothing stores and chic designer boutiques. Shopped out? Take a tour of local hero Victor Hugo’s house or visit the Picasso Museum where you can see both works owned by and painted by Picasso.
By Metro: Line 1; Saint-Paul/Marais stop