poab-p1lParis is a very sound place to go and visit for a weekend. It can be done on the cheap and it will provide a sense of being abroad, a brief experience of real foreign travel. London, in Britain, is all about shopping and economic activity but Paris is so much more about things to look at and admire. Paris is easy to travel around and you can see most of it in a couple of days, quite comfortably.

The cheapest, and one of the nicest ways to get there, is to take the coach from Victoria station in London. Book your seat on the internet and print your own ticket at home. Google either Eurolines or Megabus and it will cost an adult under forty pounds return, all in. The journey to Gallieni coach station, on the eastern side of Paris, will take about 10 hours in all. The coach uses either the tunnel with Eurostar or the P and O ferry and always runs on schedule. I personally prefer the ferry and love to look for France to appear over the horizon. I have recently used the service and it cost me 39 pounds return, courtesy my Visa card. It was the tunnel on the way out and the boat on the way back. The journey is fun and the coach speeds effortlessly across northern France to its destination.

poab-p3lWhen you arrive in Paris, you can walk right into the centre. It will take you about an hour and twenty minutes but all that you see as you go makes for the start of your experience. It is much easier though to use the Metro service. There is a station right by the coach park to whisk you into the city centre. Buy a book of ten tickets at the station. This will cost about 14 Euros but will allow you to enjoy the freedom to travel all over Paris. It is just like the underground in London.

You can find an inexpensive hotel right in the centre of Paris easily enough, costing around 40 to 50 Euros a night. Look for the last minute bargains on the internet ( www.hotwire.com ) or browse through a copy of ‘Paupers Paris’ (Pan Books). The interesting setting of some of these hotels will all be part of the French experience.poab-p2l They are all perfectly presented but make sure that you get the hot water out of the red tap and not the blue! So much of Paris is about real human life at grass roots level and should be all part of the foreign adventure.

Use your weekend to see and look at all that you can. Start off, maybe, by taking the Metro up to Porte de Clignancourt in the north of the city. In the spring and summer months you will find the most extraordinary flea market. You don’t have to buy anything but you will find everything under the sun; such things as furniture, old cameras, paintings and all manner of human life’s debris. Look hard with an expert eye and you might find a bargain. It may well pay for your visit and much more.

poab-p4lWhen you have finished at the market, travel southbound again on the train to the smarter part of town towards Montmartre. Stand under Sacre Coeur Cathedral and view the spectacular vista from the top of the hill at all of Paris spread out beneath you. There is a splendid little train to take you right to the top of the steps at the base of the Church. The Cathedral itself will be just behind you and is well worth a visit. Sacre Coeur was built a little over a hundred years ago to mark the Franco-Prussian war and it is free to go in and wander around. Come out of there and walk just around the corner to the Place de Tertre. This is where many artists fill the square and exhibit their very fine and original work. Walk amongst them and admire it all if you like art. You can have your portrait sketched if you like. Your picture will be a souvenir for life but it will cost you a bit. The artists want between 30 to 60 Euros but all expect to haggle. You can chuckle at the self conscious faces of all the takers that have to sit so still.

poab-p5lAlong the way towards the centre of Paris again from Sacre Coeur there is a large department store called TATI. It has many outlets in France and can be recognised by a distinctive purple and blue checked sign. I have bought just about all of my socks and underwear from this establishment and many of my shirts. I tell my friends that I always buy my shirts in Paris. The goods seem to last forever but the store only takes cash. TATI sells everything that people need to wear and just about everything else right up to child buggies. Go and have a look and kit yourself out at rock bottom prices. The shop is full of mirrors everywhere to look out for thieves and is a little like being at a fairground stall. Take a wad of Euros and collect a pile of bargains.

As you sit amongst the streets in Paris, look at the expressions on people’s faces.  Look for their distinctive gaps in their front teeth and their darker, sun mellowed complexions. The faces of the residents seem sculptured by French life. Look at the way that they dress and the way the French people behave as they walk with each other.  The constant intense conversation seems to reflect their eagerness for life. They all seem to love just the experience of life in the city and economic considerations come well below all of that. France presents much more of a portrait of human life than you find in Britain somehow.

poab-p6lStop by at the Pompidou Centre as you descend towards the Seine. You can find it on the free map that you got from your modest hotel. It is a stop on the Metro. The building is a modern art gallery but the view of it from outside on the street will take your attention. It is like a vast old steam ship with all the inside bits on the outside. It doesn’t blend in with any of the surrounding traditional architecture but keeps its chin up proudly as it defends its ground.

Go on to the Royal Palace and the Louvre museum and look westwards towards the Arch de Triomphe that was created by Napoleon. Everything is in a spectacular straight line as far as the eye can see. The alignment of the Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysees and way beyond as far as La Defense stands as the great architectural presentation of Paris. Line your eye up with the Pyramid at the Louvre to the ultra modern Grand Arch so far  away in La Defense and be moved by the precision. There is as much to see as there is to do ipoab-p8ln Paris and the visual experience is free.

Take your travel kettle and jar of coffee with you if you visit Paris. That really will save you a lot of money and savour the quaintness of the off street little restaurants. A brief visit to Paris is all about what you see and about life itself being experienced by people all around you. A good visit to Paris need not cost too much at all. Just keep a few Euros to hand
to top up your sock draw in TATI’s.

About Bob Lyons

Former airline pilot and now enjoying a new career as a writer. I have worked and travelled extensively in Europe and especially France. I love the continent, the people and my new life writing about them.