The Best Viennoiseries & Crêpes in Paris for Under 5€

 

Le Fournil St. Michel – situated on a side street off of Boulevard Saint-Michel, this bakery offers quality for cheap in the otherwise expensive 5th arrondisement. Ignore the paint-chipped building and untidy display cases and join the line of hungry students who’ve hopped over from the Sorbonne, ready to pig out on generous portions. Whether planning a picnic at the Jardin du Luxembourg or looking to escape the commerical restaurants along the Seine, stop by to stock up on fresh sandwiches, paninis, crêpes, gaufres and desserts.

 

 

 

 

Coquelicot – a few steps from the Place des Abbesses, this boulangerie à l’ancienne has served homemade French staples since 1978. Choose from a large selection of fresh and cooked pies, quiches, éclairs, small pizzas, burnt creams, flans, chocolate fondant, madeleines and macaroons—everything ready to take away and under 5€. For those with more time, take a seat in their cottage-themed upstairs, but be prepared for long wait times and unpleasant servers. Avoid their menu formulas and order instead à la carte: rich drinking chocolate or coffee in a bowl accompanied by slices of warm brioche; homemade vegetable soup; or a typical croque monsieur—toasted ham and cheese sandwich—with the same authenticity of a French countryside kitchen.

 

Le Corner – halfway between metro stops Rue Saint Maur and Père Lachaise on the Avenue de la Republique, this café has yet to gain popularity (even a Google search doesn’t have any results), so take advantage of the solitude while possible. They have paninis & sandwiches for 3€, most crêpes sucrées for 2€ and salées for 4€, and fries, desserts, drinks and coffee for 1€. The only thing that could make it better: if they stayed open all to satisfy drunk customers stumbling down from Parmentier.

 

 

Chez Alain – venture past the Lebanese and African stalls located in the crowded Marché des Enfants Rouges  to an eccentric Frenchman named Alain. Here, street food is an art that deserves quality ingredients and proper attention. While watching Alain singing and joking, taking his time despite the accumulating crowd, one gets the impression of having been invited into his private kitchen, a rare warmth in an otherwise stoney city. The sandwiches are hearty and worth the 7€ , but Alain is infamous for his crêpes: the perfect thickness and a melt-in-your-mouth quality for just 2,80€. Choose from lemon and sugar, Nutella, jam or honey. Alternatively, organic gaufres with powdered sugar, Nutella or maple syrup are available as well. Support Alain by liking his Facebook page.

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Choose Optimism

Five months after graduating college, I had ended up doing the one thing I claimed I never would: working as an over-caffeinated, disposal employee in corporate America. With the same indifferent demeanor I had adapted from weeks of daily routine, I started researching new cities and jobs, the first ripples successful in disrupting my stagnancy. Not longer after came two part-time jobs, agency websites, electronic applications and visa visits, all marks on my to-do list that swelled towards a tangible future. Quit job—check. Pack up apartment—check. Plane ticket to Paris—check. Once at the airport, I sat on my boyfriend’s lap and cried, terrified of being alone. I interrupted the airport security line a dozen times to kiss him goodbye, but still I passed through the gates, drifting forward until too many people had passed between us and he disappeared.

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In retrospect it sounds a bit like the beginning of a corny romantic comedy, but I didn’t feel worthy of a lead role even in a made-for-TV movie. It didn’t take long to realize that Paris was not as hospitable as my small college campus. I stuttered over foreign syllables, attempting conversation with disinterested classmates. I spent days shut in my small studio due to the fickleness of that first Parisian winter, calling home almost every day, obsessing about getting back together with my boyfriend and Facebook-stalking my friends. I had thought coming to France would make me happier, but if anything I felt worse than before. I resented the ever-present melancholy that settled like fog between my thoughts. For as long as I could remember my mind floated everywhere except the present, whether it grieved the past or anticipated the future. Why couldn’t I be happy? The question eroded my mind until the emphasis shifted the way syllables do when a word is repeated continuously: why couldn’t I be happy?

For nearly half my life I had jumped from one long-term relationship to the next, craving the affection of romantic relationships to compensate for the love I wasn’t ready to give myself. I followed my boyfriends’ ambitions to avoid creating and pursuing my own. Rather than trying to heal I evaded my problems, letting them decompose until negativity consumed me. I feared happiness and the accountability that came with it but I was tired of waiting for someone to help me actualize myself. I decided to stop listening to the self-doubt and challenged myself to shift the focus. Of course I couldn’t be appreciative of the present if I mourned everything I’d left behind (which couldn’t have been that great, considering I did leave them). I stopped thinking of myself as a victim and started taking responsibility, stopping making excuses and instead made decisions. I forgave myself for the past and identified self-destructive behaviors, vowing to eliminate them. I identified the type of people I wanted to surround myself with, the way I deserved to be treated and all the things I wouldn’t tolerate. I conceded that I needed to take better care of myself physically and aimed for more sleep, a more natural diet and more exercise.

ImageEvery day I become more lucid. No longer do I fear silence or solitude. I stopped searching for a new relationship, content to have a relationship with myself. The more at peace I become, the more I recognize the world’s vivacity and open myself to others, savoring moments of aliveness that pass between us. I choose to be optimistic. Moods fluctuate and bad days happen, but since I started loving myself the way I wanted others to love me—unconditionally—my happiness has more or less stabilized. To quote Warsan Shire, “I belong deeply to myself.” It took twenty-three years of traveling, but I’ve never been to such a beautiful destination.

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Inexpensive & Trendy, Part Two: Where to go for a Drink as a 30-something in Paris

A ten-minute walk from Place d’Italie is the Butte Aux Cailles, an unassuming neighborhood nestled in the 13th arrondissement. Tiny ivy-twined townhouses line cobblestone roads, street art overtakes all available wall space (including most storefronts), and shoppers and tea-drinkers dip into small bistros and boutiques. Once happy hour begins, the otherwise quiet streets revive as bars along Rue de la Butte aux Cailles and Rue des Cinq Diamants welcome a bobo crowd, many still donning work attire but ready to relax and indulge until the hilltop closes around 2am.

Start the night at Chez Gladine’s, a cordial dive serving Basque specialties. The inside is rustic, with checkered tablecloths and chipped paint, but its sub-par appearance doesn’t deter many; be prepared to wait for a table and then be crammed between strangers. Wine starts at 2€70 a glass and the most expensive dish is 12€. Food presentation won’t be any prettier than the locale, but the quality hits the same heartiness and authenticity of a homemade meal, with portions so big they’re difficult to finish.

The bars range from sporty to fancy to grungy, with my favorite (and the cheapest) being the latter. The Le Merle Moqueur is so cozy that it feels like walking into an intimate party. Choose from low-priced beer or over twenty rums and vodkas spiced on-site, and then push to the crowded dance floor to join the others as they rock to an upbeat mix of French pop and ‘80’s hits.

Just around the corner, the equally stuffy and unkempt La Folie en Tete offers pints from 5€, so long as you can make it to the bar without hitting your head on the instruments and street signs that hang haphazardly from the ceiling. If you’re lucky you’ll snag a small table where you and your friends can shout at each over the most eclectic music choices ever, from varied live performance, to jazz, rock and even world music.

Want more ideas? Check out my original Inexpensive & Trendy post.

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The Ten Easiest Ways to Avoid Extra Expenses When Traveling

1. Do Transportation Research Figure out what will be the most cost-effective way to get from the airport/train station to your destination. Public transportation will probably be cheaper than shuttle buses, and shuttle buses are definitely cheaper than cabs. Copy down clear directions to avoid complications, and factor that cost into your budget.

2. Measure and Weigh Luggage
Following luggage restrictions is the easiest way to save potentially hundreds of dollars. Most flights only allow one bag per person, and there’s usually a weight and size limit. I’ve paid $100 to check a second suitcase and $200 for overweight luggage (extra pounds add up quickly). Check your airline’s preferences before packing.

3. Bring Entertainment & Food
Chocolate, chips and candy all look really appealing during that boring three-hour layover. Impulse buys are easily avoidable by packing snacks and an empty water bottle in your carry on. Do you really need to buy that WiFi package? Bring a magazine or book and enjoy being disconnected for a while.

4. Pack All-Weather Essentials
A warm sweater, small umbrella and a good pair of shoes will prevent purchases of already-owned-but-forgotten items.

5. Skip the Money Exchange
If the exchange rate is already poor, adding an overpriced transaction fee hurts. ATM’s offer wholesale exchange rates and depending on the card company, withdrawal may even be free of charge.

6. Invest in a Credit Card for Travelers
Reward programs and benefits offered by cards crafted for travelers are too awesome to pass up. From miles per dollar to free hotel stays, at the very least dozens of companies waive foreign transaction fees.

7. Disable Data Roaming
Smart phones can keep sucking data even when we think we’re not using any. Disable data roaming to prevent any unwanted charges and download a WiFi finder app to locate nearby hotspots. Knowing what chains always have free Wifi—such as Starbucks, Panera or McDonalds—is another way to stay connected.

8. Making Calls?
For long trips, skip international SIM card companies and get instead a local SIM card upon arrival. Otherwise, take advantage of those free WiFi areas to Skype or FaceTime home.

9. Texting?
Download a texting app such as WhatsApp or TextNow (or use iMessage between Apple products) to send text messages free of charge through WiFi.

10. Need Directions?
Download an offline maps app. It’s cheaper than a paper guide and who wouldn’t rather look like a techie than a tourist?

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Paris Underground: my Illegal Adventure in the Catacombs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mining of the limestone deposits underneath Paris started as early as the Middle Ages to provide foundations for  cathedrals and castles such as Notre Dame and Versailles, eventually resulting in over 200 miles of tunnels. At the end of the 18th century, rampant disease originating from overused graveyards (most notably the Cimetière des Innocents) resulted in complete exhumation. For two years priests transfered corpses from the suspected cemeteries to the Catacombs, and the high death rate during the French Revolution had bodies deposited there directly. A few decades and nearly six million remains later, the ossuary in the Catacombs started gaining popularity as a tourist attraction.

I have done the organized tour twice, and the juxtaposition between fascination and fear of death present in the ossuary intrigues me. People walk past the bones-filled rows while laughing and sneaking pictures, the anonymity, antiquity and multitude of the disassembled skeletons making it easy to ignore that some day we’ll all meet a similar fate.

But the ossuary accounts for only a small part of the Catacombs’ available space. The rest accommodate graffiti over bones and rebellious Parisians rather than tourists. Catacomb frequenters, known as Cataphiles, consist mostly of adventurous students and grungy individuals coming to explore, party or enjoy the solitude available only twenty meters below the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrances to the catacombs are usually kept secret to prevent discovery and overuse by other Cataphiles, but I will say that our entry involved climbing (rather ungracefully on my part) over a locked gate and walking in darkness for about ten minutes before reaching an indiscreet hole in the bottom of the wall. After a tight squeeze through and crawling for a few minutes in mud, we came to a proper path, complete with a street name carved into the wall.

Vegetation-less, rodent-less, noise-less, light-less and scattered with discards from drunken debauchery, the Catacombs feel like living inside a science fiction film or a post-apocalyptic society. Centuries worth of graffiti covered the walls, melted candles decorated wall nooks, and forms such as castles and gargoyles were carved into the limestone. One small chamber flaunted a garden of plastic plants, another displayed an array of stolen property (street signs, post office boxes and even Velib bicycles). Rainwater flooded several sections, but we trudged through waist-high water regardless. Our headlamps illuminated the tight corridors, but when we stopped in various chambers to hang out, we drank beer and nibbled on our cakes by candle light.

We encountered others along the way: two guys hoping to explore an unmapped area, a group celebrating a man’s 45th birthday, a trio of Cataphiles with a makeshift lantern and a boom box blaring punk music.  A certain camaraderie existed automatically between us; we’d chat, share our snacks and trade tips before parting ways to continue our anonymous lives.

We spent six hours in the Catacombs, though by the end I couldn’t say if it had been thirty minutes or ten hours. The timelessness was comforting. We were lucky enough to be enclosed in the veins of Paris, breathing her tumultuous history and feeling the steadiness of her pulse. Needless to say, it puts things into perspective.

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inspiration brought to you by isabelle eberhardt

“now more than ever do i realize that i will never be content with a sedentary life, that i will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” – isabelle eberhardt

 

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Tea/Coffee & Cake in Paris for 4€ or Less!

Skip the tourist-targets with over-priced and water-downed coffees, and head instead to the deliciously priced cafés I’ve listed below for an authentic Parisian repose.

 

Au Thé Gourmand

Located on a quintessential European backstreet near the Pantheon, this unassuming café sells only homemade pâtisseries and offers over twenty flavors of hot and iced teas. For 2€ I got the biggest, chocolaty-est slice of cake I’ve ever received from a café or bakery. While the cappuccino wasn’t quite on the same level, I got a larger mug than most cafés in that area would’ve given and it came with a complimentary drop of meringue—all for 2€20. A carved wooden pillar divides the small room in two, potted plants liven each table and funky handmade jewelry is on sale near the cash register. A great stop for lunch break with a colleague, a slice of quiche on the go, or an afternoon gossip session with a friend.

 

Café Maure de la Mosquée de Paris

If the city’s chaos becomes too stressful, step through the stone archway to Café Maure, one of the most sensually pleasing and calming cafes I’ve ever visited. Two quaint courtyards, overflowing with evergreen foliage, accept costumers year-round. During winter months, a canvas ceiling blocks the wind and heaters keep vitality and warmth. Dark blues and greens branch out in a flowery motif along the tiled walls, sweet sheesha smoke perfumes the air, and tiny birds flutter around, searching for crumbs. Don’t miss the 2€ hot mint tea paired with a 2€ syrup-soaked pastry. A crowded boutique adjoins the café, packed with traditional North African products such as woven handbags, beaded jewelry and an array of colorful decorations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Salon by Thé des Écrivains

Tucked behind the picturesque Place des Vosges, this softly lit salon pays homage to the natural relationship between books and tea. Neatly stacked multicolored notebooks, journals, photo albums, and notepads, all handmade with cotton paper, rest alongside shelves of over 5,000 books, artisanal pottery and whimsical furnishings. Translating to “Writer’s Tea,” the Thé des Écrivains brand captures the essence of a literary culture within a single steaming cup. Ask for a cup of le thé des philosophes chinois (Chinese philosopher’s tea) and savor its mix of green and black teas, lotus and jasmine infusions and sprinkle of poppy while contemplating life and confronting a blank page.

 

Ten Belles

If not for the mass of attractive hipsters loitering outside with cigarettes, the plain pinewood storefront of Ten Belles would easily go unnoticed. Their culinary approach, however, is anything but simple. The menu originate from that special combination of Anglophone-inspired recipes with French-quality ingredients. Their cappuccinos, light and delicately balanced, with just enough froth and no need for sugar, arrive adorned with milk-flower swirls. Come here to take refuge with a good book and a hot cup during the seemingly endless cold days of a Parisian winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Centre Culturel Pouya

Established to preserve Iranian culture, the Centre Culturel Pouya offers courses in traditional dance, theatre and yoga. Stone slabs with embroidered cushions comprise half the seating, but couches and chairs are available as well. Large photographs displaying Persian music festivals hang next to ancient instruments and bookshelves full of Iranian literature. The teas, served liberally, come with their spices still soaking on the bottom. Candles and warm lamplight give the room an intimate atmosphere, making it perfect for an alternative first date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AntiCafé

The AntiCafé charges for time, not for usage. The first hour costs 4€ and every hour after that is 3€. Enter, get an usage card from the front desk to track the elapsed time, and commence free access to coffee, tea, snacks, Wi-Fi, printing, scanning and board games. Snack items include pastries, cakes, fruits, bread, Nutella, honey, chocolate powder, olive oil and vinegar. The environment is rather studious; when I went essentially everyone stayed bent over a Macbook, scribbling on graphed paper or reading a book. The only people having conversations were those who walked straight to the conference room (rentable to anyone who needs space for a business meeting, birthday party, etc.). Overall, a cost-effective and opportune escape from home, whether to work on a project in the company of strangers or avoid washing dishes.

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inspiration brought to you by pico iyer

“abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love” – pico iyer

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Alternative Way to See the World #4: Workaway

A few months ago, I wrote about WWOOFing (find that article here), a site that connects volunteers with organic farmers throughout the world. Workaway organizes the same volunteer-host exchange, but offers opportunities beyond agriculture. From house painting, gardening, babysitting, cooking, general maintenance, construction, language lessons, and shopping, Workaway has enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest person.

All contact and negotiations are done directly between the volunteer and the host. Hosts can be families, individuals or organizations who have registered with the site, and each host has their own specifications. Since Workaway doesn’t impose a minimum or maximum stay time, you can stay as long as you and your host agree upon (provided your visa doesn’t expire). Your host should welcome you as a member of the family, and in return you’ll want to help out around the house, keep tidy, help with clearing off the table and cooking meals.

Benefits: integration into a foreign culture, learn or practice a language, acquire new skills, contribute to a cause and meet open-minded individuals. Workaway also provides a contact list of other workawayers in your area.

Available countries: over 100 countries on six continents

Cost: 22€, or $30, for a two-year volunteer subscription, and a free subscription for hosts

Compensation: the normal is 5 hours per day, 5 days per week in exchange for room and board, though work schedules vary by host. Accommodations can be anything from tents to bedrooms to couches to caravans, so know your comfort zone and discuss details before committing to a host.

Further reading on Workaway:

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