Real Low Budget Visit

photo: in playground, luxembourg garden

Paris offers nearly free climbing, jumping, running, opportunities for all.

& Strictly Kid Stuff

Paris:- Tuesday, 24. July 2001:- In last week's Café Metropole Club report - dated two days after today for highly technical reasons - a long-time Metropole reader said meeting me for the first time was 'surreal' and it was an 'experience' to meet such a 'character' who was actually real.

This astute analysis was probably pretty much what my two boys, Willy and Max, thought too. We hadn't seen each other since being together way out west in Canada a year ago. Their recent visit to Paris to find out if I am 'real' was the reason for Metropole skipping an issue last week.

You may have heard that the Internet business is having some difficulties at the moment, with its bursting 'business plans,' massive layoffs and very jittery investors, who chickened-out when they discovered that Internet 'professionals' had no idea of what they were doing.

None of this has affected Metropole because it has always been run on half of a broken shoe-string. The industry'sphoto: leopard, jardin des plantes big 'crash-and-burn' will not affect the magazine's production - which has always been self-financed with virtual soap bubbles rather than extravagant dreams.

A nervous leopard in the Jardin des Plantes' zoo - or 'méangerie.'

'Self-financed' is sort of a joke because Metropole operates on less money than George Orwell had when he was 'Down and Out In Paris and London' in the late 1920s and didn't have more than two 'sous' to rub together. This 'self-financing' of mine actually dribbled away to nothing a year ago, ceasing to be even virtual.

'Surreal' and 'mystery' are the only words I can think of that explain how Metropole has continued - and are the very words I'll use if I ever get a surprise visit from the tax-inspector, who may suspect I enjoy a life-style out of all proportion to my declared revenues.

This introduction is supposed to be an explanation - long-winded, full of air of course - for why and how Willy and Max got to enjoy a week in Paris, financed entirely with less change than the average vendor of lukewarm drinks sold out of a bucket on the sidewalk, gets in tips in a day.

We all know that Paris is one of the world's 'great' cities - which basically means that it is not free. Food isn't free, métro tickets are not free, and many entries to many sights and entertainments are only accessible with ready cash.

My slender budget was relaxed a bit when Willy and Max arrived a day late on account of a departure mixup. The first big budget item was the transit fares from the airport at Roissy, especially when these would all be round-trips - which is 100 francs for an adult. Added on were a couple of 'carnets' of métro tickets.

The day they arrived it was raining. Once out of the desert of the airport we went on a tour of local discount supermarkets, looking for cheapo and bulky food. Doing this caused more hunger than savings so I broke down and took them to McDonald's - strictly as an emergency measure.

They said they preferred Burger King, and its withdrawal from France was a handy mealtime topic - for the short time it took to become aware that McDonald's seemed to be deliberately drivingphoto: antique merry go round customers away by broadcasting obnoxious sounds loudly, to accompany the obnoxious smell of the place and what passes for 'food' in it. I don't think it could even be classified as 'grub.'

Detail of one of Paris' antique merry-go-rounds - one trip is 10 francs.

On the following day, they agreed to attend a club meeting and they even willingly consented to walk to it. The weather on this day barely permitted a 'tour' of the Luxembourg gardens in a straight line from top to bottom. Max didn't start asking 'how near' we were to the club until we passed the Odéon theatre.

They enjoyed the club meeting and the members who were present, plus the plates of frites they had - because they weren't 'in training' to skip all lunches - which I do on account of the cost of potato chips at tables in cafés that are located between the Louvre and the Pont Neuf, which is not the low-rent centre of the world.

After doing that meeting's 'club report' I was really at liberty for them. Given a choice of 3,562 things to do in Paris, they surprised me by choosing 'zoo' at random.

This took us to the Jardin des Plantes, which also has several other attractions that kids could find interesting - such as big diamonds and even bigger stuffed animals. At a glance, its zoo seems very small scale - but it turned out to be exactly the right size.

Imagine, video-game-age kids, getting kicks from looking at sleeping snakes and motionless iguanas! There were dishevelled camels and sad bears, but there were also muscular mountain lions, cheetahs, a jaguar and a couple of lions, plus a bunch of monkeys. And flamingos - I must not forget the flamingos.

Without seeing absolutely everything, our visit went somewhat over two hours. Afterwards they gave the zoo high marks - not better than a video game, but different - and when they allowed me to take their photo posed in front of a statue of a mammoth, they showed no interest at all in the McDonald's right behind them.

Instead we went to my local boulangerie for some goodies and got a kilo of ice cream. In a bit of 'café life,' Dennis asked Max if he wanted a whisky, and later we ate the ice cream and watched some videos about smoke in Brooklyn - in English, after watching three hours of 'Wyatt Earp' in French, which they've mostly forgotten.

On Friday they had no particular wishes, so we went to the Champ de Mars. It is very big and doesn't seem to have many attractions, but along its sides there are minor items like peddle-cars and pony rides, and possibly marionettes.

There is also the Tour Eiffel at the far end. Both of the boys have been up it once before, so there was no reason to stand in any of the immense summer lines for another trip up it.

We got past all the hustlers and food and drink kiosks and both of the carrousels. Actually there are a number of these antique carrousels scattered around Paris and one go-roundphoto: roller high jump, trocadero is only 10 francs, and Max went on two of them while he was here.

As I expected the roller kids were doing their thing just below Trocadéro's platform, and I put another ten francs towards this when the hat was passed around by the high jumpers. At the top of one staircase, break-dancers were putting on a show too so we sat down on the steps for a while to catch their act.

A roller-jumper clears the high bar at Trocadéro - then passes the hat for contributions.

Doing all of this had burned up quite a number of calories. Back in my street we hit one of the two Chinese take-out places for what Willy called 'Thai Food.' This cost two-thirds of a round of so-called 'menus' at McDonald's, didn't smell as bad, and we got to chose our own music.

This was followed by a Walter Hill shoot-em-up video featuring good old Bruce Willis with a high-ear haircut. Luckily, the movie's dialogue was skimpy and Bruce's French was in monosyllables, especially since both of his .45s were going more or less non-stop. Essentially, this was the movie's plot too - shoot 1000 bad guys while a sheriff looks on and says 'dern!'

Our big day was on Sunday. We went on foot by the Raspail-Vavin route to the Luxembourg - walking and chatting passes time - and the weather had improved. I paid their modest fares into the park's play area - which I wasn't sure they would go for, but they jumped for it.

It was about lunchtime in France, so the place wasn't jammed, and they managed to burn off two hours' worth of calories in it - while I got to listen to all the other English-speaking parents sitting around outside the closed-off area. Afterwards we walked back and had a lunch we made ourselves.

Then I took a chance and suggested going out to La Villette to catch some free and live outdoor music. La Villette is a big place and music was happening in three areas. Since it was live, none of the groups were close to each other. A lot of Parisians were out for it too, like an army - carrying babies - going back and forth over the canal that cuts through the park.

From there we wandered down the canal and then past Villette's wide basin, past not many sights. The 'pirate' ship was closed, and there weren't many rowboats about. Frankly, it was a long and weary walk.

Back at Denfert, after the long métro ride, we good soldiers had drinks on the terrace of the Café Rendez-Vous and topped them off with watermelon back at the apartment.

My plan for the following day, Monday, was to tramp from Montmartre's Lamarck métro station, over the top, and down through the entire right bank to the Seine.

The weather was a bit seedy and the mobs on the Butte seemed to be a bit dispirited, and my troopers were beginning to seriously droop - preferring to fool around in the oasis of a park behind the church.

The carrousel below Sacré-Coeur at the bottom of all the stairs wasn't working when Max looked it over. We scrapped the other three-quarters of my plan and bailed out of touring by diving into the métro at Abbesses.

Rest and minor recreation filled the rest of the afternoon, while I spent the time attempting to figure out how put all of the photos on a PC-Mac CD-ROM - including the photos from last year's Canada trip.

In the evening we met Dennis as arranged and he led us to an Italian place on the Avenue du Maine, where very goodphoto: break dancers, trocadero and quite sizeable pizzas were offered. Max again refused all offers of whisky, but not of a dessert. In fact, we all had some Mount-Etna thing only slightly smaller than our heads - while Dennis had a pep-up balloon of grappa.

Also at Trocadéro, a crew of break-dancers put on a good show.

This turned out to be our only traditional three-hour Parisian meal, abbreviated a bit to two hours. There are a lot of pizzerias in Paris but there are very few good ones, and this was one of these few.

If there were videos on the menu after the walk around a bit of the 14th arrondissement, I don't remember. Probably not because it was late enough.

I hate taking even short flights, because they seem to take all day. When we got to the return flight check-in, the check-in artist said we were late. Willy did not understand this, because the plane had not left yet - and there we were there, checking-in.

The airport lent them a nice lady to show them the way or roll up the red carpet after them, and they disappeared up one of the glass-tube things Roissy has, which makes travellers look as if they are being sucked into the airplanes.

I found the airport shuttle bus - take the number 36 elevators as far down as they will go, then go to the right - to the shuttle-bus stop.

Here I can offer a bit of advice. Do not look at the shuttle bus route diagrams or the bus numbers - take any bus that comes along and then try to guess when you get to 'T-9,' where the RER station is. Then, if you are arriving, buy a 100 franc round-trip set of tickets - use one and don't lose the other, or mix it up with other transit tickets.

All the RER trains go to Paris, and you can get out at any station on the 'B' line in the city, or switch to the 'A' line at Les Halles or the 'C' line at Saint-Michel.

In case your mind is wandering, this article has several other useful hints in it which may be worth repeating.

There is a lot of things in Paris for kids to be interested in, and not all of them cost a lot of money - if they aren't actually totally free. Antique carrousels at ten francs for ten twirls are affordable as well as being unique.

Kids have fairly short attention spans - two hours of anything is almost too much. If you havephoto: boys, sunny street energetic kids, walking them to places gets you free sightseeing while it runs down their power supplies.

And, surprise of surprises - the sun did come out in force for a few days.

Paris is full of 'fast-food' places that have absolutely nothing in common with chains like McDonald's. In addition to all of the store-front sandwich places that have exploded onto the Paris scene in the past few years, many traditional boulangeries are competing with them with their standard wares, plus having real sandwiches and soft drinks - often cooled - too.

Instead of sitting and eating in some dreary over-colored place with air-conditioning and canned audio-muck, Paris has about 400 parks available with benches, greenery and skies overhead - plus a river running right through its middle.

Now I'll get off my low-budget hobby-horse and finish this up. I stayed on the 'B' line and got off at Denfert so I could go to Monoprix and buy a minor but essential item. As I was waiting my turn to pay for it a lady behind me told me I had a sticker on my back.

She kindly ripped it off and handed it to me. It read, 'FRAGILE - Handle With Extreme Care' in blood-red type on white paper. I donated it to the Monoprix's five-items-or-less check-out counter, which is usually its slowest one.

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