Poor Pisa. One of Tuscany’s most popular daytrip destinations, this compact city is generally touted by travelers as being worth nothing more than a quickie. Each morning, visitors are shuttled in by bus and train, flooding the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the city’s most famous historic buildings (the most noteworthy of which is, of course, the Leaning Tower) are found. They poke around and take their pleasure for a few hours (which generally amounts to taking goofy photos and enjoying a “traditional” Tuscan lunch somewhere), before returning to Florence or Siena—cities with a little more on offer than a wonky tower. Hardly anyone sticks around for more than half a day. Indeed, most visitors opine that there isn’t much more to Pisa than her listing edifice and is otherwise so banal that she doesn’t even rate a one-night stand.
When we set ourselves a daily budget of $100US for our RTW trip, we assumed that we’d come in well under this while traveling through Asia, but more than make up for that by steamrolling it while in Europe. I was certain that if London didn’t annihilate our budget, then Paris surely would. It’s not a city known for being friendly on the wallet after all. (Especially if, like us, yours is stolen while on the Metro at rush hour…)
But I guess you don’t travel for 20 months without learning how to stretch your budget, even in Paris: a city famous for haute couture and the finer things in life. Many of our favorite moments in Paris were the ones that cost nothing at all and many of our favorite meals were the ones we prepared for ourselves or were shared with friends. Would it be nice to have unlimited funds when visiting Paris? Absolutely. But we hope this post shows you that it’s certainly not a prerequisite and it’s definitely possible to visit Paris on a budget. Paris was a great reminder for us that often our best moments when traveling are the ones that money simply can’t buy.
Read on for details on how we tackled the City of Lights and actually managed to come in under budget!
I used to say that I could never hack it as a vegetarian because I love hamburgers too much. I know this is true because a no-meat eating phase I dabbled with when I was a teen ended rather abruptly when my craving for a cheeseburger got the better of me; after 10 months of going without, I sunk my teeth into that grilled patty blanketed in ooey gooey cheddar perfection and I never looked back.
I’ve become a little bit less carnivorous as I’ve aged, and now I say that if I had to give up meat for some reason, I probably could. But I don’t think I could ever go vegan, for the simple reason that I’m not sure I could live in a world without cheese. From sharp Cheddars to pungent Stiltons and Roqueforts that look like forgotten science experiments to nutty Gruyeres and creamy Bries and Camemberts, I love them all. After 20-some-odd months in largely lactose-free Asia AND given that I tend to subscribe to the “the stinkier the better” school of thought when it comes to cheese, I eagerly looked forward to the party in my mouth that Paris would surely bring.
To say I am not a museum person is putting it lightly. Sure, there are certainly other activities I dislike more—hiking up mountains, is probably one of them—but as a traveler, world-class museums are rarely a draw for me. I’d much rather spend my time wandering around a city—strolling through the markets, rambling down the streets, sitting in a café, or lazing in a park—than prowling the halls of a museum in search of inspiration. The more I travel, the more I find myself preferring to dwell on the smaller moments, the moments that would seem boring or inconsequential (perhaps because I simply don’t take—or make—the time to appreciate them) when we’re back home. To me, the lure of being on the streets learning the rhythms of local life and being able to witness the crescendo of millennia of history by directly immersing myself in it will trump a museum visit every time.
But I knew I would have to make an exception to my “Museums = Meh” rule when we visited Paris. I may have personally been excited for our visit because of the food and the chance to practice my French, but I knew Tony’s artistic interests meant I’d be mixing in a little Cézanne with my Camembert. Additionally, when I realized that our visit would overlap with the first Sunday of the month (i.e., a day when many of Paris’s museums and attractions are FREE!), I knew at least one day would be spent trying to see All The Art. After all, you can’t argue with free!
Throughout our travels, I’ve learned that there are very few places that can be adequately captured—whether it be in a blog post or novel, a photo, or even a film, there is just no substitute for being there. Indeed, perhaps my greatest frustration as a writer and Tony’s as a photographer is that the general rule seems to be that the most beautiful places and moments tend to be ineffable, and our very best efforts will still only allow us to capture a fraction of their magnificence. It’s vexing, yes, but it’s also one of the things I love most about traveling—that the act of seeing the world can be so profoundly humbling, and there’s really no substitute for being somewhere and experiencing it yourself