Simon Calder: The man who tries not to pay anything

Social networking? Not working, at least for me. Last week, as the pound continued its freefall against the euro, I went online to to try to find a sofa to sleep on in Paris. The idea behind this and similar sites is that you tell prospective hosts about yourself and your travels, so that they can judge whether you look like a safe and rewarding bet as a house guest.

The more I revealed about myself, the more deafening the silence from the people who I hoped might lend me somewhere to snooze after dark in the city of light. Nul points from couch proprietors – which is why I find myself in dorm 214 of the Woodstock Hostel in the ninth arrondissement, location for what I believe to be the cheapest accommodation in town.

When I called to book a room, the "hold music" was "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors – a hit in the same year as the Woodstock Festival, 1969. At the time, the vocalist, Jim Morrison, was alive and well, rather than down and out in Paris, and sick sterling was being propped up with the help of stringent currency controls.

Once again, the pound looks as puny as a Parisian poodle. To stretch your sterling, you can't fault a bed at the Woodstock for €22 (£18).

Unlike many Parisian hotels, this clean and cheerful hostel throws in breakfast and Wi-Fi – but also unlike many Parisian hotels, sheets are not included: €1.25 each, or more than £1 at the current lamentable rate of exchange. Company is included, though. Pity poor Vidya, the New Zealander who, as a casualty of the arbitrary social networking that hostelling entails, finds herself sharing a dorm with the loser who couldn't find a Parisian friend online.

My miserly mission was to spend a couple of days in the French capital on as little cash as possible.

On Tuesday morning the full horreur of the plummeting pound became clear when I asked the man running the bureau de change at the Louvre how many euros he would give me in exchange for £100.

The answer was so shocking that I had to ask him to repeat it: €102.50. In other words, the pound that only last summer was worth close to €150 is now almost at parity. Do you recall the French franc, which used conveniently to trade at around 10 to the pound? Well, the corresponding rate would be Fr6.72 = £1.

By shopping around you should be able to find a much better rate, possibly as much as €1.20 for your pound. But once local inflation is taken into account, prices in the eurozone have increased by one-fifth in a year. That is why we have endeavoured to make this edition of The Independent Traveller a euro-free zone.

Come Albanian leks, UAE dirhams and Uruguayan pesos: you have nothing to lose but your ignominy.

The trouble with these destinations is distance. The pound's best performance over the year has been against the South African rand (see page 8). But Paris will always be more accessible than Pretoria. So to continue my economy drive, I have walked from the Woodstock to the Left Bank to join the 1pm "Free Paris Tour". However, it is now 1.20pm, and a half-dozen of us are waiting expectantly.

The guide, Adrian, says he has some bad news: today's "authentic introduction to continental Europe's most visited city" has been cancelled. Why? Because it is not financially viable. Hang on: surely a "Free Paris Tour" is, by its gratuitous nature, never financially viable. Adrian explains that he works for tips (about €10-€15 per person, he claims), and it is not worth three hours of his time guiding as few as six people.

Instead, I visit three of the city's great museums: the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay and the new Musée du quai Branly. "Visit" in this context does not actually mean going in, but that is not without its benefits: your appreciation of the structures and surroundings is heightened.

You get a sharper image of the angular perfection of IM Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre if you are not rushing to see the Mona Lisa. Inspecting the exterior of the Musée d'Orsay is a revelation, from the bronze rhinoceros standing guard to the engraved roll-call of gares from Quimper to Toulouse that this mighty terminus once served. And amid the slinky curves of the foyer of the Branly you can see a good cross-section of the exhibits, from African lutes to a large limestone sphere from Costa Rica.

This gigantic globe is asserted to have spiritual significance, but to me it just radiates stony silence – exactly the response to my doomed couchsurfing quest.

On your bicyclette

Free bikes is the promise of Velib, the innovative municipal bicycle scheme in Paris.

First, search for one of the "stables" of 20 bikes that have been established at various hard-to-find points around the city. Having located one, your problems are only beginning. A computer terminal holds the electronic keys to all the bikes. It took me 15 minutes to discover the right combination of keys to coax it into accepting my credit card (a €1 fee for a day's use, with a €150 deposit) and releasing a bicycle.

The bikes themselves are fine; just what you need for drifting around a relatively compact city. But it turned out to be an extremely tense means of transport.

The erratic driving practices of the Parisians were only partly to blame; more stressful was wondering where and how to return the thing before my train left. As the minutes ticked away towards departure time, I realised that these "stables" can often be full. Eventually, I found one with a space, but vowed next time to travel free by Metro instead. You buy a carnet of 10 tickets from a Metro station for €11.10. At busy locations, travellers will pay the single-journey price of €1.50 to avoid queuing. When you have sold eight, you are in profit and still have two tickets left. Regrettably, in the country that gave the world the word "enterprise", it seems this practice is illegal.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'