Paris cheap eats: International yummies for 10€ or less

My first year as an expat in France was spent in Paris as a struggling English teacher plagued with visa problems.

I didn’t eat out a lot.

When I did splurge on something that wasn’t pasta, I wanted the yummiest possible food for the least possible cost.

Actually, I still want that. So now, whenever I’m in Paris, I hunt down the best cheap food I can find. These are some of my favorites so far.

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One day in Cassis

Fun fact: Cassis the town is pronounced without the final s, ca-see, unlike the liqueur that goes in a kir, Crème de Cassis, which is pronounced ca-cease and comes from Dijon, not Cassis, oddly enough.

I didn’t love Cassis as much as I thought I would, but I didn’t not love it either. I’d wanted to go for awhile, but good heavens not in the summer (too crowded) or the winter (too cold! need beach!) Instead, I grabbed the chance to go in September. I spent one lovely day there… and that was enough for me.

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Lyon: Tips for La Fête des Lumières

Lyon’s annual Fête des Lumières is spectacular, but it has its downsides.

With such a huge influx of people, the city’s population triples for the weekend. Therefore, we can make a few conclusions: one, it will be difficult to find accommodations, two, prices will skyrocket because of the demand, and three, Lyon will be crowded.

So I have a few ideas to help you make the most of the Fête des Lumières and your time in Lyon.

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Flashback to 2013: La Fête des Lumières

In a week and a half, the population of Lyon will triple for four days. Hotels have been sold out for months, and good luck getting into a restaurant in Vieux Lyon.

Why?

La Fête des Lumières!

Lyon has more than one claim to fame (the invention of cinema, the silk industry of Croix-Rousse, and Paul Bocuse, to name a few) but the Fête des Lumières is by far the most important annual event.

I didn’t know what to expect from the Fête des Lumières (which literally means “festival of lights” in case you were wondering). I kind of imagined lots of little tea lights in windows. That’s part of it; Lyon residents do sometimes put little candles in their windows. But it’s more like an artistic explosion of colorful moving light all over the Lyon that transforms the city into a magical alternate universe fueled on vin chaud for a span of four days.

Here’s a look at last year’s Fête des Lumières.

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Wine tasting in Vouvray: Domaine Pichot

Before May 2014, I wasn’t totally sure what Vouvray was apart from my mom’s favorite wine. Turns out, it’s actually a small town in the Loire Valley and all the wine produced there. It’s an especially nice because it’s easy to pronounce, for a French wine. Voo-vray.

Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc grapes, so it’s a white wine and sometimes a sparkling wine, and it is yummy. It’s not the most famous wine within France, but it should be because it is delicious enough to make me put down my rosé. If you’d like to know more, I’ll go ahead and direct you to Wikipedia or another reputable source of your choosing, as this is not my particular area of expertise.

If you’re in Vouvray and you’d like to go wine tasting, you should call and make an appointment, especially off-season. Otherwise, busy wine makers will look at you like you are crazy for showing up unannounced, even though their website implies you can. Our lovely hosts at La Bagatelle recommended we check out Domaine Huet, one of the big-wig producers of Vouvray, and it was very nice. My favorite, though, was Domaine Pichot.

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Never have I ever… in Paris

Have you noticed that when you have a long period of time to explore a place thoroughly, you don’t? It’s easy to live somewhere for a year and never get around to seeing some of the major sites. Please tell me I’m not alone here!

Example #1: I grew up on the central coast of California, yet didn’t visit Hearst Castle until I was 26, and still haven’t been to the Winchester Mystery house. (I have listened to two podcasts on the latter, though! Geek alert.)

Example #2: I lived in Chicago for five years and never went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Big fail. (I regret this almost as much as I regret not eating more Big Star tacos.)

When there’s no deadline, there’s no urgency to explore a city’s attractions. If you can go any day… why go today? Life gets in the way, and routine takes over.

To ward off a future steeped in regret, I keep a little Paris bucket list so that I can take advantage of the city while I’m here. It’s easy for me to get lulled into the mindset that I can visit whenever I want, but the fact is once I go back to Lyon for la rentrée (back to school), I won’t popping up to Paris for the weekend anytime soon. I try to check something off the list every day, even if it’s a simple as wandering around the North Marais or trying the tacos at Candelaria. (Verdict: Delicious but overpriced.)

So on this note, I’m going to share with you some famous Paris attractions that I have never, ever visited, even after two years in France. Don’t judge me.

The Moulin Rouge

Paris Moulin Rouge

How many Parisians have actually been to the Moulin Rouge? Seriously, I want to know. Is it like, something everyone does once? Is it only for tourists? Do they have regulars? Do they have a Nicole Kidman doppelganger?

The Catacombs

Paris Catacombs

I hear the Catacombs are really, really cool. Can someone explain this one to me? What is down there besides a lot of bones in a damp subterranean tunnel?

The Versailles Gardens

Versailles canal

I’ve been to the chateau. I’ve been to the canal around back (yesterday!) but I haven’t been in those gated gardens. I’d like to go one day, but after all the chateau-ing we did in the Loire, I’m a little burned out on manicured hedges right now. Remind me to show you the gardens of Villandry… and you can tell me if Versailles tops them!

The Pantheon

Paris Pantheon

I routinely forget about the Pantheon. What am I missing out on?

The Eiffel Tower

Paris Eiffel Tower night

No no, I have seen the Eiffel Tower. It commands so much real estate in the Paris skyline, you can’t not see it. But you know what I’ve never done? I’ve never been up the Eiffel Tower. Not up to the top, not up to the first floor, nothing. It is fun to watch people trudging up like little ants, though. I don’t feel bad about this one – everyone says the best view of Paris is from the Tour de Montparnasse anyway. (Although… I’ve never been up there either. What is wrong with me?!)

I've also never put a lock on a bridge. But you're not supposed to do that anyway.
I’ve also never put a love lock on a bridge. But you’re not supposed to do that anyway.

 

The truth is that Paris is a city with endless possibilities, and I don’t think one person could experience everything it has to offer in a lifetime. So many museums, so many famous patisseries, so many restaurants where Hemingway drank tea kahlua whiskey? (What did Hemingway drink?) But I’m slowly chipping away at Paris, little by little. And if I move back one day? Who knows, maybe I’ll finally make it up the Eiffel Tower.

Have you visited any of these? What did you think?

 

Best of Montpellier: Visit, shop, eat

Remember how much I loved Montpellier? Well, one thing that made our 24 hours so awesome was this great guide to Montpellier from Design Sponge. Natalie, the author, use to live and blog in Montpellier, and I wish I could find her on social media to thank her for writing such a fantastic comprehensive guide. We visited quite a few places on her list, and all of them were hits.

With only twenty-four hours, I didn’t feel bad about staying in the city center, although next time I’d love to venture out to other neighborhoods. We skipped the beach, since we had just come from Sète anyway, and spent hours wandering the charming winding cobblestoned streets of Montpellier, eating and drinking and taking photos. Here are some of my favorite places that were on Natalie’s list (and a couple that weren’t).

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I love/hate Paris

Coucou!  I’m baaaack!

Can I tell you something? It is a lot easier to write blog posts when you are in the middle of the French countryside and you can’t leave the house because you can’t drive in France anyway. When I was in La Campagne, the days were long and calm and often filled with nothing in particular except for sunshine and baking cupcakes just because. (Seriously.) In the city, I feel like I don’t have time to catch my breath sometimes. There is always somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see, and in a city like Paris, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out if you stay home.

Did I tell you I’m in Paris?

Well, I am. And today, I’m staying home because it’s the first time I’ve been able to call somewhere home since I left La Campagne (…two weeks ago. I’m so dramatic.) I don’t actually live in Paris, but I unpacked my suitcase and saved the wifi password in all my devices, so I think it counts.

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Paris. I lived here for about a year before I moved to Lyon, and even though I love to visit whenever the opportunity presents itself, I don’t think I could ever live here again. This is how I feel about it:

Love: It’s so beautiful!

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It’s so international with many opportunities to meet new people.

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It is rich in culture and has world-class museums.

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It has Mexican food!

Hate: But it’s 11€ for a thimble-sized margarita.

You get the idea. There are many reasons I’m happy to live in Lyon instead of Paris, but the sheer cost of Paris is oppressive, especially for a thrifty girl like me. I hate overpaying more than I hate people who spit on the sidewalk and cut in line at the post office (because I’m pretty sure it’s the same people) and in Paris, it’s not difficult to overpay.

But… it’s Paris. Just look at it.

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I’m so excited to be ending the summer here and I’ll tell you all about it. What do you want to know?

Have you been to Paris? Did you love it or hate it?

More musings on Paris here and here.

Falling for Montpellier

The last time I was in Montpellier it was 2009. I was traveling with three girlfriends and we had about 24 hours to explore Montpellier. We got tan at the beach, went out dancing, and wandered without any purpose except to enjoy frolicking on a summer evening in August. I think it was August.

I had fond, vague memories of Montpellier, but no particular attachment to the city. Five years later, I made my way back and this time, it was true love. Before the first day was over, we vowed to find jobs in Montpellier and move in 2015.

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Why did we love Montpellier so much? 24 hours is hardly enough time to really get to know a city – we didn’t even leave the center of town. We spent hours wandering the winding streets, discovering boutiques and street art and cafés. It’s hard not to love a city with an endless maze of streets like this this.

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The city was buzzing on Friday afternoon and evening with Montpellier-ians (?) shopping the sales and enjoying a drink or a bite on the many outdoor terraces. On Saturday morning, the streets were quiet. I guess Montpellerians like to sleep in.

Montpellier Place de la Comedie night.jpg

The local arts culture is apparent with posters for dance and music performances and tattooed creative types strolling the streets. Maybe it was the TGIF effect, but the whole city gave off a cool, laid-back vibe. Paris it is not. (And therein lies its charm.)

Montpellier Place de la Comedie.jpg

I think what I loved most was that I found myself longing to become a regular at each bar, restaurant, and café we visited. I wished we had the time (and the dough) to duck into each unique boutique we passed.

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Does the charm wear off when you stay longer than a day or two? We don’t know. But it’s a sure thing that getting a taste of life in Montpellier made us want to “poser nos bagages” and stay.

 

Click here to read about some of the cool shops, restaurants, and parks we found in Montpellier. 

 

Instagram postcard from Sète

I already told you about some highlights of Sète, a charming fishing town in the Languedoc Roussillon region of France. You may have remarked that I like to take pictures. A lot of pictures. (My chéri is not so enthused about my photography habit. Apparently, it takes forever to go somewhere because I stop every three feet to take a photo.) At the time of writing, I have 1873 photos with Instagram, so that gives you an idea.

I am not a “real” photographer and I don’t have a fancy camera. I have an iPhone 4s. All my photos are taken with my iPhone. Convenient for all the Instagramming I do, you know?

Here are some of my favorite Instagram shots from Sète.

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Here you get to see a little more of the town of Sète, including some fun street art at the local high school. More about Sète here.