Living in Paris on a shoe-string budget (student, chômeur (unemployed person), intern, assistant, freelancer) is never easy. But over the course of three years in all, I managed to make it work. Of course, there were times of splurging and in-between times and times when I spent no money at all.
But when you spend enough time in a city, of course you begin to figure out the hidden (and often not-so-hidden) free treasures it has to offer. What I miss most about Paris is the parks. Of course there are the very famous ones, like the Jardin du Luxembourg, located in the 6th arrondissement, in the center of the city’s chic and bourgeois Left Bank neighborhoods.
This fall-time picture of the largest park in Paris shows a stunning view up to the Panthéon, one of the city’s more famous landmarks, located at the top of Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement. I picked this photo because fall is my favorite time in Paris, but it is a stunning place to relax in the spring and summer as well.
I do have to offer you one caution though. Should you feel the urge to picnic à l’américaine (meaning on a blanket on the grass) whilst in Paris, look for signs that say things like “Pelouse interdite” (lawn forbidden). Any sign including the words interdit or défense de indicate that something is a no-no. The no-lawn policy always perturbed me but as the park security reminded me when I tried to bargain with them about it “How could one expect such perfect grass if all of Paris were allowed to sit on it, mademoiselle?” This, I suppose is true, but imagine sitting in those little metal chairs you see in the photo for too long. Ouch. There are random times that they will permit you on and off the grass (with a whistle, I kid you not) so dedicated hanging may afford you some grass and blanket time.
There are however, other famous parks where you can sit on the grass. My personal favorite is the Buttes Chaumont, located in Paris’s 19th arrondissement in the northern park of the city and near famous neighborhoods like Pigalle (Paris’s rather tame “red light” district) and Montmartre, scene of the best movie of all time, Amélie.
The Buttes Chaumont was built towards the end of the 19th century during Napoléon III’s reign. (This I remembered on my own.) A quick wikipedia search reminded me that it is also the third largest park in Paris (Luxembourg being the first largest) and that Baron Haussmann (for whom we have to thank for all of Paris’s wide avenues and grand buildings) supervised its construction. I love Buttes Chaumont for its diversity (the 19th being a loud, fun, young and economically diverse neighborhood), its hilly paths and its vaguely kitschy feel, characterized by what I would call a pagoda, plopped in the middle of a lake, but that is officially the Belvédère or Temple Sybil:
Note as well the many warm-weather loungers on the grassy knoll:
Should one find oneself in Paris on a small or even just somewhat limited budget, I have just afforded you with a 5 – 10 euro max afternoon. First, take the métro or RER over to the Jardin du Luxembourg (line 6, RER B) or the Buttes Chaumont (line 7bis). A single ticket de métro these days will put you a out 1,60 euro. Alternatively, purchase a whole carnet (10 individual tickets) for 11,60 euros. Grab a cheap bottle of wine, a baguette and some cheese and presto! An afternoon of relaxation and most importantly, people watching, the best pastime in any hustling and bustling city.