Ok so you make it to Gare du Nord, what next? First thing you need to do is get yourself a zone 1-3 Visite Pass for the Metro. These can cover 1, 3 or five days and you can get them from any of the green ticket machines (don’t worry, the machines speak English). This ticket will get you unlimited use of the metro and buses and is far more cost effective than buying individual tickets. Plus it saves you time as you don’t have to keep stopping to buy more tickets, or to top up an existing ticket. The five day pass is €34 for zones 1-3.
Next trick is to stick to a budget. Paris can be a bit of a nightmare for this; case in point when a run down cafe charges you €16 for a can of coke just because it is kind of near the Opera house. I don’t even like coke. Ugh.
So, step one is to just eat out at a restaurant once a day. If you want a cooked breakfast sure thing, but otherwise just get a croissant from a boulangerie. Want a proper lunch? No worries, but otherwise just rock a takeaway ham and cheese sandwich from a chain store (which is probably what you would be getting in a cafe anyway). Dinner is where the biggest trick comes in, the supermarkets (MonoPrix) in Paris are amazing – they have some indescribably good salads for around $3 which happily did me for dinner a couple of nights. Or you can buy a selection of meat, cheese and other treats and have a picnic in a heartbreakingly beautiful spot. Oh, and always take a bottle of water with you on your adventuring, it is heartbreakingly expensive to buy in the tourist spots.
If you are planning to go hard on on the galleries and museums you should seriously consider getting a Paris Museum Pass. The two day pass is €39 and gets you unlimited access into pretty much every gallery, church and museum in Paris. Essentially if you are planning to go to three things or more it becomes cost effective.
The biggest benefit of the museum pass isn’t actually the cost, it’s that you get priority entrance into everything. Where the plebs have to queue for 20 minutes in the security line at the Louvre, you get to saunter in with a superior look on your face. Especially if you are only in Paris for a few days this time saving is crucial – I think I saved about an hour a day from queue jumping.
Finally, if you don’t speak French … don’t be a dick. I have tried my best to speak other languages but the words don’t stick in my head and not matter how hard I try I can’t get rid of my kiwi accent. But not speaking French is all ok as long as you are not a dick. People have always helped me when I’m in Paris – I would go as far as to say it is the friendliest city I have experienced in Europe, and that all without speaking a drop of French. But it is important that you follow my don’t be a dick rules:
1. Don’t ask anyone who is in a hurry for directions. Seriously if someone stopped me on my commute to work they would get a grunt and a horrified look – why would another country be any different? Approach a dawdler or a stander with a hopeful smile and you might get somewhere. Don’t be a dick.
2. In a restaurant and don’t understand a thing? Wait for your waiter to have a spare second (whatever you do don’t just yell “WAITER” across the place and expect him to be happy about it) and see if he can explain. Don’t be afraid to make some barnyard animal noises for him to pick from, and if he can’t help be happy with whatever you end up with. Don’t be a dick.
3. For the love of all that is holy, at least be happy, smiley and friendly when asking for help. I have seen too many worried tourists bark the word “ENGLISH” in a locals face – who on earth would want to help someone like that? Don’t be a dick.
Seriously though, through following these basic tenants I have had waiters read entire menus to me in English, people go half an hour out of their way to help me find my hotel and more friendly helpless smiles than I can count. It really really helps not to be a dick.
Oh, and whatever you do, wear comfortable shoes.