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 couchsurfing.com 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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices