Simon Calder: The high price of the good life in Paris
Saturday 29 August 2009
As I handed over the cash, I thought (but, being British, did not say), "I asked for the bill, not an on-the-spot fine." The kind of people who are inclined to drown their sorrows maintain that the world looks better through the bottom of a glass. I was gazing at the bottom of a glass, specifically an all-too-empty 25cl vessel that had latterly contained draught lager. For the previous hour I had been emulating millions of other British travellers: practising the art of sipping slowly.
The venue was the terrace of Le Select, one of the classic "writers' and artists'" cafés in the French capital. But I imagine that when the notable and the notorious of the creative community were drinking here, they were paying rather less than the equivalent of more than £10 a pint.
The service was impeccable and friendly, as you would expect it to be at €4.80 for less than half a pint of lager. "Keep the change," I mumbled as I handed over a five-euro note (being British, I was naturally embarrassed to be giving a 4 per cent tip).
Of course, if all you want on a hot August night in the French capital is a beer, then plenty of supermarkets will sell you a can of Kronenbourg for a euro. But you elect for Le Select because sipping the (steadily warming) amber liquid takes a distant second place to drinking in the ambience of an alluring location abroad. You are renting the priceless experience of a balmy evening on the Boulevard Montparnasse – with the warm rays of sunlight shattering on the façade of the Brasserie la Coupole, opposite, the amiable cacophony of Parisian street life, and the occasional scent of an unfiltered Gaulois drifting in the air. Here quality of life is more important than quantity of cash – and, besides, the locals are lucky enough to earn euros. In the 14th arrondisement, la bonne vie is alive and well.
* The British are now such determined tourists – we spend £20bn a year more travelling abroad than foreigners bring here – that we need an inflation index that reflects the fact that most of us spend a steadily increasing fortune going abroad. The price of a pint of bitter in Barnsley is less pertinent to the average Brit than the cost of a small lager on a Parisian terrace, just as the slice of holiday spending that goes on a pizza Margherita in Naples is more relevant than at your local Pizza Express. I hereby volunteer my services to compile a new Overseas Travel Index, so long as the bill for testing and tasting the drinks on a terrace in Paris is met by someone else's liquid assets.
* The price of the most essential liquid, water, is perennially high for travellers on low-cost airlines: easyJet charges €2 for one-third of a litre of the stuff. To stretch your cash in order to afford the odd beer as the sun sinks over a foreign field, road or beach, it's well worth taking an empty bottle through airport security and filling it when "airside". But when one of our writers, Ben Crichton, turned up at Sofia airport in Bulgaria last week for a flight to Milan, he was fresh from the Rila Mountains and forgot he was carrying a full two-litre "hydration system" – 20 times the official limit. Liquids are easily detected by scanners, but he was let through unchallenged. Three years after the "liquids, gels and pastes" ban came into force, causing massive disruption in the UK, some airports continue to take a relaxed view – or, perhaps, use some form of rudimentary profiling to save squandering their time and effort searching passengers who pose no threat.
Why some guides aren't child's play
“Buy your château ticket in advance of stepping foot in Versailles.” A curious sentence, introducing the notion of “stepping foot”, but advice that on its own justifies the £12.99 price of |Lonely Planet’s Paris City Guide.
The index to the book, though, shares with the château at Versailles the characteristic of being the work of a wildly imaginative mind. There is not the traditional single index, but 11 of them. The main one begins, bizarrely, with “13e arrondissement & Chinatown” and ends “zoos, see Sights subindex”. This directs you to |one of a series of speciality indexes covering topics such as “Gay & Lesbian Paris” and “Sleeping”. Supposing you were keen to find somewhere to keep the children entertained, looking up “children”, or “kids” in the main |index will get you nowhere. Instead, go to the Sights subindex and look under “F”, between “Factories” and “Forests”. There it is: “For Children”. Bon chance.
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