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The Best Bargain in Paris

Cafe de FloreIt is a given these days that a stay in any world metropolis is going to cost you, especially in Europe. With the euro near record highs, une tasse de café (a cup of coffee) at a major café in Paris such as Les Deux Magots or the Café de Flore on the Left Bank will set you back the equivalent of a good six or seven dollars.* Ouch. Or as the French say, "Aïe!"

With that sobering benchmark in mind, a bargain in Paris sounds like an oxymoron at best. But you don't have to look far to find a great deal in the City of Light-you can buy it at any newsstand or kiosque. It's called Pariscope.

PariscopeA small, newsprint magazine of more than 200 pages, Pariscope comes out each Wednesday and costs less than a euro. To be exact, it is only .40€. That's about 60¢ U.S. So what's inside? Pariscope is the guide to what's happening each week in la Capitale. Current art exhibitions, new films (movies open on Wednesdays in France compared to Friday openings in the U.S.), theatre, music, opera, dance, festivals, walking tours, sports. You name the activity, it's in there.

While the low price and rich content are the good news, the "bad" news is that it's all in French. However, with a few contextual clues plus the help of your hotel concierge, you can pull together the ideal Paris itinerary from this insider's guide. The most interesting offerings can be found in the following sections of Pariscope:

En ville
This short entry spotlights a particular area of the city or weekly topic. For example, one Pariscope I picked up last year focused on "Paris for antique lovers." Another, "Paris, homeland of artists," described small museums that used to be homes of famous writers and artists such as Victor Hugo and Eugène Delacroix. In February of this year, the En Ville section of four to five pages was a "Passport to China" and captured events in Paris related to the Chinese New Year. At a glance, you discover a major happening or theme for the week.

Musique
If you are a lover of music in any form, this section is for you. Classical music, opera, ballet, jazz, and rock are listed here. Concerts are organized by type of music and day of the week. Saturdays and Sundays are particularly interesting in the classical section as there are often free concerts in area churches over the weekend. At the other end of the spectrum, i.e. paying concerts, you have some of the greatest musical talent in the world performing in Paris. I will never forget a chamber music concert I attended at the jewel box Théâtre du Châtelet in the heart of Paris some years ago.* Violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and cellist Lyn Harrell were playing the works of Brahms among others. The evening was pure magic. Musicians, instruments, audience and venue came together in an extra-extra-ordinary way, and you could have heard a pin drop throughout the performance. As proof of the divine musical gift, there were five standing ovations at the end. Bravo!

Arts
Museums are top of my Paris travel list. The Arts rubric spells out all the current exhibitions on view at museums and galleries across the city. It's nearly an embarras du choix (too great a choice). You can check what is on view at Le Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée Rodin and other well-known museums. Many lesser-known museums are included such as the Musée de la Poupée (Doll Museum), Musée de la Chasse (Hunting Museum) and the Musée de la Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honor Museum). Also listed are the days and hours each museum is open as well as entry fees. Pariscope will tell you if any museum is temporarily closed for renovations.

Promenades et Loisirs
For monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, walking tours, fairs, conventions, boat tours and other activities, the Promenades et Loisirs section is full of choices. My favorite part is the Visites Conferences where various guided walks are listed by day of the week. What makes the guided tours special is that they often take you into private or little known corners of Paris. The latest Pariscope I bought included descriptions of an enchanting tour of the Ile St. Louis, several mansions and secret courtyards of the Marais, and the Palais Royal neighborhood. Even if the tour guides speak only French, just seeing the riches not accessible to the regular tourist make the walks worth every euro.

As you might have guessed, Pariscope is a staple for all my stays in Paris. After I get off the plane and take my first breath of Paris air, I head straight for the newsstand. The best bargain in the city awaits.

* Les Deux Magots is located on the Left Bank at 170 Boulevard St. Germain in the sixth arrondissement. The Café de Flore is almost next door at 172 Boulevard St. Germain. The closest Métro stop is St-Germain-des-Prés.
* The Théâtre du Châtelet, or Châtelet Theatre, is located on the Right Bank at the Place du Châtelet in the first arrondissement.

June 18, 2008

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