Thousands of artists have come to Paris and starved in a garret. How they found that garret is what I'd like to know. For some inexplicable reason, the cheapest hotels in Paris won't allow stays of more than two weeks, and affordable apartments are as scarce as Parisians in sweat pants. But for a solo traveler, not only is a room of prime importance when trying to sleep, it's the first step in carving out a niche in the City of Lights. Rooting around the local markets, pâtisseries and neighborhood cafés brings a connection with the city no sightseeing expedition to the Eiffel Tower can match.
Unfortunately, staying long term in Paris often means drifting through a series of rock-bottom, budget hotels, at least for awhile. This is not all bad it's a great way to get acquainted with the different districts or arrondissements as they say en français. Each arrondissement has its own character. They're numbered from 1er to 20er radiating outward from the center around the famous Louvre museum.
Here are my suggestions.
The Latin Quarter (5er), lively, touristy and overrun with Greek restaurants, is central, cheap, and heavy on backpackers.
For a trendier scene, cross the Seine to the Marais, a gay-friendly, right bank locale filled with chic bars and funky boutiques.
Alliance Française is a gargantuan, non-profit language school offering a variety of month-long classes. Registered students have access to an accommodation and job board you might even learn French.
If you want to try lining up a place beforehand, try the following options, all of which have websites featuring apartment rentals. A recent search turned up studio apartments in central arrondisements priced in a range from 750 to 1,500 per month (C$1,250/US$937 to C$2,500/US$1,895).
But no matter how hard it is to find a room, there's no point in sitting in it every night even if you're alone. The only way to survive cheap lodging is with the odd decadent splurge. And nothing says splurge like a French luxury hotel. You might not be able to afford a room in one, or even a meal, but nothing can stop you from having a drink at the bar (except the maitre d' so I wouldn't wear jeans if I were you).
At the Hôtel de Crillon (where Marie Antoinette may have studied music) on the Place de la Concorde (8er) (where Marie Antoinette lost her head), the Piano Bar is international Paris at its most haute, even if the designer mirror mosaic gives it the ambience of a Las Vegas brothel.
Sitting at a table alone here one night, I amused myself by eavesdropping on the group next to me. Two starlet-like women in extremely tight outfits seemed determined to impress two well-dressed men.
"Daddy pays for everything," one of the women said, waving her coral talons.
Engrossed by such scintillating remarks, I was keenly disappointed when they left. But when their place was taken by a French journalist, I graduated from listening to a conversation to actually having one. Sitting in a Paris landmark, drinking French wine, talking to a local suddenly all those budget hotels seemed worthwhile.
>> From Terry Kelly: Just wanted to say thanks for the information on traveling to Paris. My daughter is planning on studying abroad in France this summer. Being a typical mother, I'm putting together all the travel guides I can find for her. She's pretty fluent in French, so she's not worried, but you can never be too prepared.