Paris in the almost-spring.
For this past trip home to Paris, we decided to try renting an apartment, since too many of us would be visiting my eldest daughter and my son at the same time, and we felt that nobody had enough couch space for us all to fit. Besides, it comes a time when one does not want to invade the precious spare space of another's Parisian flat. After all, who has a spare bedroom, or two, in a city where real estate prices are so high?
So, the adventure of renting an apartment in the city of my birth was quite unsettling at first - was I going to feel like an invited tourist in my own town? But at least we would all have breathing space and each our own bed. We decided to use Airbnb, one of the most popular systems of vacation rentals by owners in the world.
Of course, you don't just show up and look for a place. This needs planning, researching and communicating. First, we were lucky to know exactly where to look. We were not going to be lost in a peripheral location with remote access to a métro stop. I knew where to look, as I wanted to be within walking distance from my older daughter's apartment, to avoid mass transportation that can be very slow at certain hours of the day, like in any capitals.
What I wanted.
One pre-requisite wish was to each have a bedroom, one for me + boyfriend, and one for my younger daughter. Since we were splurging on a rental, there was no couch sleeping for anybody. Another desire from my youngest, who lives in Africa, was to make sure there was a bathtub, as she does not even have running water in her isolated village. She treks to a well a mile away each morning with two giant jerry-cans that she fills with filtered and purified water. So the nec plus ultra for her was to be able to entirely submerge her body in water.
So a full bathroom with a tub was what she had been dreaming of for months now. In Paris, that was not really a problem, unless you live in a tiny studio, most bathrooms have a tub. And in France, the toilets are usually in a separate enclosed room of their own. I am thankful for that. When I first moved to the United States, I discovered that Americans had their loos inside their bathrooms, and that seemed really odd to me at the time.
Another thing I wanted to avoid was for the location to be a fifth or sixth floor climb-up with no elevator. After days of walking through Paris and exhausting shopping, I did not think we would want to haul bags of stuff, or food and bottles up so many flights of stairs. So my maximum number of floors was three -- which in the U.S. equals to fourth level.
I would also request Wi-Fi and possibly wood floor, as carpets anywhere gives me the creeps. I don't believe they can ever be clean - at least not as clean as I would want them to be. Remember, this was not going to be a hotel room cleaned everyday, even though I would also have some shabby stories to tell about this as well!
One thing to consider is the fact that most airliners coming from the States land in the city of lights early in the morning - ours came in at 7:30 a.m. - by the time we got our luggage and hopped in our Uber, we arrived into town at around 11 a.m.
Our Airbnb was not available to check-in before 3 p.m. Since check-out happens at 10 a.m., this is the time gap needed between renters to clean the place. So we went to my daughter's place for brunch and a nap, but what are regular tourists supposed to do? Sit in a café? Wait by the front door? These few hours could be used to visit a museum, but what about the suitcases?
What we got.
So my shopping for a place had started way before we left the States, in fact just about one month prior. The offerings for our dates on Airbnb were absolutely stunning. So many choices had me wondering why so many Parisians would rent their place, when real estate is so dear in the city? I suppose many investors are buying property in the sole goal of renting it out and making money.
A lot of the locations in fact did not quite look lived in, from the pictures, and some could not possibly have had families actually residing there. So I was discovering a new fact: some Paris apartments are not even owned by Parisians!
This was confirmed when I learned that the owner of the place we settled on was a Greek citizen living in Hong Kong. This has been his apartment a few years back, but now he was simply renting it all year long, but for just two weeks each year, when he was himself visiting. From the calendar of dates, it looks like his place is booked at least 35 weeks per year!
So my choice fell on this two-bedroom flat on a third floor with a bathtub and nice wood parquet floors. The high-ceiling living room had two tall windows facing a very quiet dead-end alley with no car traffic. And just around the corner was a beautiful pedestrian cobblestoned street with the most amazing fruits and vegetable stands, and a multitude of flower shops and restaurants with terraces.
There was a large living room, an office (with Wi-Fi), two bedrooms plus a mezzanine, a small open kitchen and a bathroom. Tons of closet space, lots of light, quiet and private, but no washer/dryer. I did not care, I was going to buy so many clothes, I did not need to wash anything, and besides my daughter's place was equipped with those. Two couches could in fact allow for more guests but we did not invite anybody to sleep there.
And even though this was March-April, the weather was nice enough to actually sit outside for a meal, or a cup of coffee. I was pleased with my choice and even with some minor flaws, this apartment was very much to my liking. The fact that it was in the center of Paris and a ten-minute walk from my daughter's own was a big plus. We rarely took the subway, and only a few times did we hopped on a bus. We walked everywhere.
Things that did not work too well.
The host had a few maps and guide books on a table, which I'm sure can be useful to visitors that are not from Paris. A few things did not work well for us, but maybe it was just a glitch and was since fixed.
In the open kitchen, there was a coffee machine that did not function, overflowing with water, although I am pretty sure my mate knows how to use one of those. But we had plenty of cafés down the street (including the inevitable Starbucks) to satisfy our coffee quota; still it would have been nice if the machine had worked.
Also, a fancy blender looked very inviting until we realized that the distance to the nearest plug was way too far for the tiny cord of the blunder - and, no extension cord! So unless you wished to carry and blend at the same time, which I don't recommend, there was no using the said blender. Oh well.
Damp sheet and towels.
Since we were there at the very end of winter, the weather was still kind of cool, and unfortunately, so were the sheet on the beds and the towels in the bathroom. The cleaning person, whom we never saw, had obviously not had the time to dry the linen enough at the laundromat. We had to turn on a couple of radiators and dry them ourselves.
The previous renters had left a few fruits and some milk in the fridge, which we obviously tossed, because we are Americans now. We don't eat anything we did not purchase. I think it should have been put in the garbage. Talking of garbage, only one bag was left under the sink to replace ours when it became full, and that was not enough. We used the multitude of shopping bags we gathered after going nuts in the stores, to use as rubbish bins.
Finally, the lock-box where your house key is left was inside a small courtyard with very little light and we sometimes had to fidget to get it open at night. We had to use our cell phones lights to see the numbers to be punched but even then, it was always a struggle to open the box. We wished we could have had a spare key, as the three of us sometimes had different plans and came home at different times - we had to leave the key in the box, or face being locked out of the apartment. Those keys are not meant to be copied.
We used Uber car service quite a lot at night after going for dinner with friends. They have the most beautiful cars: Mercedes, BMW, and the like, are always at your doorstep before you expect them, and are über-friendly! The drivers are not fop doodles; they all have a story to tell, and share with you their very own insights on French politics, best food, and other fascinating subject matters.
Never have I had such deep enthralled conversations with taxi drivers. They make you feel like you are chauffeured around - my youngest even sat in front one day, just because. We used the service to and from the Charles de Gaulle airport as well. Of course you need to have a smart phone that will work where you're going to be able to use Uber.
It was a good experience, because our chosen flat was in a fabulous arrondissement, the place was super large, even by American standards, and the location was ideal for what we were there to do. It even had a working fireplace and a third bedroom, unfurnished for some reason, so it could have been used by six people in fact.
Being from Paris myself, I was happy with the style, the décor and the area of this Airbnb and as a result, I will try again to use the service. At 129 euros per night, for three people, this was definitely cheaper and much larger than a hotel room, or even two rooms. In Paris, when you book a hotel, you typically do not get two queen size beds in each room, like often in America, you usually get one, so for three people, it's not practical.
If you do go visit Paris, I recommend the service instead of a hotel, especially if you travel with several people. For one person, it might be better to stay in a hotel and not have to worry about sheet, blender, tub, and keys.