The International Writers Magazine
: Paris Weekend

Saturday Night – Sunday Morning in Paris
Sam North

Paris. A Birthday. Eurostar. Seems easy. You buy the tickets on-line, you have a choice of hotels, you go and spend your money.

You’ll need a lot of money by the by. Paris is more expensive than Tokyo. And then there is the dog shit. A lot of dog shit, you have to look down a lot. I am not kidding.

You can get to Paris cheaper than by train, but then again, with all that security and the cheaper airlines operating from inconvenient airports, train is the best option. You have trains leaving virtually every hour through the day, their first one leaving before 5am, getting you to Paris in under three hours. (It’s a bit slow from the UK side but speeds up once you get the other side). At the moment you leave from Waterloo Station and arrive in Gare de Nord. You can also take the Eurostar direct to the Alps for skiing and of course to Lille or Brussels.

Arriving in Paris you can go by Metro to your hotel and the smart thing to do is buy a Carnet, ten tickets to use on single journeys anywhere on the Metro. If you know your bus route, you can use the ticket on the bus too and often, except at rush hour or when they are digging up the streets, it’s much better to go by bus – at least you will get to see Paris.

On the point of hotels, do watch the small print. Eurostar’s website gives you a whole bunch to chose from at cheaper rates but you might be disappointed.

We stayed at Residence Monceau Etoile on Rue De Saussure in the 17th Arrondisment. Their normal published rates are 164€ a night which is high for a tiny room with a shower. But what was really disappointing was that for this price it was a sofa bed that sagged in the middle and customer service was ZERO. They just couldn’t give a shit. My advice NEVER stay at this hotel. It is better, off season, to book something yourself using the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet Guide. Deal direct with the hotel and ask them what kind of bed, if the shower is hot, if there is any soundproofing, so you can’t hear next door throwing up all night and that kind of thing. Don’t worry about breakfast. There are tons of wonderful pastry shops that serve coffee and hot chocolate just around any corner and a lot cheaper, absolutely fresh and more fun.

In season it is probably best to use the Eurostar service and perhaps go higher than three stars as you really don’t get much for three stars these days. *Although your room price will include taxes, guess what, when you hand the key back they also charge a head tax of one euro a day and won’t give a receipt, so we figure it’s a scam. It’s not much, but if all the hotels do it to all the guests, that’s a lot of scam. Everyday.

*If your in France and can use the motorways, of course you can stay in perfectly reasonable chain motels for around 40€ a night on the outskirts of most cities in France.

One of the best ways to see Paris is to walk it. Sure you can ride, but in fact you will miss so much of you go underground or whiz by in a bus or taxi. We spent a fun afternoon in St Germaine looking at wonderful little boutiques selling trifles and whatnots for exorbitant prices. This is interspersed with buying Café Latte at 5€ a pop (£3.50p and most of them completely undrinkable) but not really enjoying the the fact that people smoke right in your face. Hell it’s probably against the law not to smoke in France. Thank god for Starbucks who have opened in Paris and it’s no smoking as normal, real drinkable coffee and clean toilets. I take back any bad word I ever said about Starbucks. In Paris they are an oasis of civilisation.

We met up with the writer Roman Payne and had a fun evening chatting about books and Paris in an Italian restuarant (and being pressured to give up our table by the waiter) and then going on to an underground bar in St Germaine. We lasted about two minutes. The smoke was disgusting and it is true, everyone and his dog smokes in Paris. Nowhere is safe from it and you find yourself stinking from it later. Health isn’t a priority in this city. Like the dog shit, air quality is an unknown concept. Neverthless the handsome and just recently single, Roman, ex Seattle, has been entirely assimilated and loves Paris. He has immersed himself in the culture, learnt French and is writing novels set there. Living the writer’s dream and loving it. You can read about his first novel here.

It’s was Kit’s birthday, and it was a Sunday. That’s another thing, Paris is closed on Sundays and most of Mondays and Tuesdays – if you’re planning a weekend, make it Thursday to Saturday if you want to have fun. I exaggerate of course, but it is quiet. The Louvre is open and free on the first Sunday of the month, sadly every tourist in the world knows this and the queue to get in was backed up all the way to Berlin. Kit settled for the Cartier-Bresson Foundation which opens at 1pm in the afternoon on a Sunday. (2,Impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris). It doesn’t always have an exhibition of his wonderful photographs, but luckily this week it did and the portraits of people such as Coco Chanel, Stravinsky, Camus, were striking and what struck us most was that his focal point always seemed to be their hands. Brilliant images and an amazing studio space above. You’d kill for such a place to write or work.

We hit a movie afterwards back in St Germain. Most of the new films are in ‘version originale’, which helps. It would be cool if the French films were with subtitles in English too, so you’d be tempted in. But although I am a huge fan of French cinema, I have to say that they know absolutely nothing about the art of trailers. It is almost as if they are daring you not to want to see it. We saw ‘Faux Amis’ in the end which turned out to be ‘The Ice Harvest’ starring John Cusak (one of our favourite actors) in a film noir pastiche. At least I assume it was pastiche. At any rate, it could have been a B movie from the 1940’s with femme fatales, mob men, lawyers running off with mob money and Billy Bob being surprisingly upbeat despite being a bad guy. What the heck it passed the time.

I’ll skip the dinner. Ok we had dinner at Dome on Villers and if you like spinach swimming in butter or salmon fried in butter, fine, but it took about five Rennies to cope with it and to be honest I don’t think the French know how to cook anymore. The non-fumeur section was right next to the smoking section too and the French don’t seem to have cottoned on to ‘les foreigners’ wanting a smoke free dining experience.
On the last day, Monday we snuck over to Boulevard Hausmann and Galerie Lafayette, surely one of the most glamorous department stores in the world. One store the size of Bloomingdales just for women, another the size of Macy’s for men and another the size of Barneys for furniture and the like. The original store (for women) has the usual decorative dome in the centre and all of the store centrered around it, but it is astonishing and a real and lavish retail experience.
Experience it yourself here

Of course you can’t afford anything. If I was French I’d pop over on Eurostar to London to Harvey Knicks and you would think you are in a dime store by comparison. Everything is about double what it should be and people pay the prices. So good luck to them. The canteen is cool too with a great view of the Iffle Tower. People pile their plates high and have masses of ice cream and no one is fat. I guess tobacco is good for one thing huh. Die slim.

Two nights in Paris on the cheap and we still spent 500 pounds in all. ($875 US) Ok it’s a birthday, but we spent a whole week in Spain for that in October and it was warmer.

Is Paris worth it? Hmm, well if you plan on being poor or bohemian there, I’d wait for summer, there are enough beggars sleeping rough. (Even on rich Hausmann we saw literally a pile of people sleeping rough and one guy bivouac in his tent on the sidewalk). If you are rich, well, you’d don’t care anyway. If you have a spare 500 pounds you can just about do Miami for the same price in February and methinks it’s a better deal in this cold. But then again, you don’t get jet lag on a train.
I'm just glad Charlie Hebdo didn't publish the (cartoons) until we left.

London-Paris Eurostar 2hr.35mins
Eurostar on the web here.
© Sam North Feb 8th 2006

Sam North is the author of Diamonds - The Rush of '72 - Story of the Great Diamond rush of 1872.

Buy now from 'a terrific piece of storytelling' Historical Novel Society Review
Also printed in the UK and available from

More World Destinations


© Hackwriters 1999-2006 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.