Paris on a Shoestring

The Paris Tourist Information Office can provide budget travelers with free copies of an English-language booklet on exploring Paris on limited funds.

"Youth in Paris" is a 32-page booklet that has helpful facts on transportation, budget accommodations, night life, sightseeing, postal and telephone services, public holidays, exchanging money, rail discounts, camping facilities and where to buy discounted unsold theater tickets.

The publication is available at the Paris Tourist Office at 127 Avenue des Champs-Elysees, which is a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe, near the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile Metro stop.

At this welcome center, travelers can also exchange money and make hotel bookings, but student-style visitors may prefer to head to one of the AJF (Accueil des Jeunes en France) offices, which make reservations but also cater to younger travelers on tight funds.

The AJF staff will make hostel/hotel reservations while you wait. You don't pay an extra fee because they get a percentage of the hostels' or hotels' regular rate. In winter, they have 8,000 beds available in the city; in summer, 11,000 beds are available. Many of these are in dormitory rooms. Some are in school residences.

Expect to be charged about $19 to $38 per person for a bed in a youth hostel or residence, with breakfast.

AJF offices are at 139 Blvd. St.-Michel (near the Port Royal Metro stop) local telephone 43-54-95 86; at 119 Rue St.-Martin (near the Chatelet-Les Halles Metro stop) tel. 42-77-87 80; and during the summer holidays at Gare du Nord (which has its own station), tel. 42-85-86-19.

The rail system may appear confusing at first, but it's really quite easy to use. There are 15 different lines, each identified by a color, and the direction is identified by the name of the station at the very end of the line. The fare is about 85 cents; however you can purchase 10 fares at a time for about $4.75. Budget travelers tend to sell off their unused tickets to each other.

Travel on the bus will require one or two fares depending on the route you use. "On the Loose--Paris" ($12, a 204-page Berkeley travel guide, written by Berkeley students in cooperation with the Associated Students of the University of California) offers detailed insights into cutting costs during a Paris visit, including good bus routes for do-it-yourself tours. For example, if you get on bus 69 at Champ-de-Mars, the park beside the Eiffel Tower, it will take you through the Latin Quarter, close to the Louvre, along to Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and out to the Bastille area.

Paris is a great walking city, so plan to pack a picnic for a park and set out on foot. Some interesting sights don't cost you anything. For example, you could follow in the footsteps of thousands of other visitors who have spent an afternoon headstone hunting in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Famous residents include: Isadora Duncan, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf.

Scheduling a visit during a holiday or event may mean a challenge finding accommodations, but it can make a big difference in the atmosphere of the city. Travelers with unlimited rail passes can consider staying outside the city and heading in for the celebrations. The Paris Marathon will take place on April 2; the Paris Air Show is June 11-18. The Tour de France Bike Race begins on July 1 and winds up in Paris on July 23. Bastille Day, the national holiday, is celebrated with street dancing and fireworks throughout France on July 14.

The following Paris youth hostels are now hooked into a "France-Fax" booking system that enables travelers to book beds at other hostels in France, 24 hours in advance. Travelers are charged a fee of 35 cents, and must make a $5 deposit toward their first night's accommodations.

Hostels offering this service include: Paris D'Artagnan at 80 Rue Vitruve (Metro Porte de Bagnolet); Paris Cite des Sciences at 1 Rue Jean-Baptiste Clement (Metro Hoche); and, Paris Jules Ferry at 8 Blvd. Jules Ferry (Metro Republique or Goncourt).

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