May 6th, 2009 06th

1

Mes Que Un Club

Tonight was a crazy night. Those of you who follow the beautiful game will understand exactly what I mean. In the return leg of the semi final of the Champions League, FC Barcelona had traveled to London and managed to score a last-gasp goal to book their place in the final against Manchester United in Rome. There’s so much to talk about, it’s ridiculous, but I guess it’s better to leave that for another time.

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The fun part of it, for a neutral like myself that doesn’t really support either team, was that I was surrounded by a large group of Catalans at a bar in Mouffetard. It’s always a lot of fun to be amidst a group of Catalan-speaking football fanatics. And with the way the match ended, the entire bar and neighborhood went WILD. Even though the main idea of living in a city like Paris is to meet and get to know Parisians, it’s still rather entertaining to spend time with a group of people like that. After the game, we all went to another nearby bar for some drinks before I headed back home.

Another striking feature of tonight was getting to know a new area of Paris: Mouffetard and Place Monge – REALLY cool area. There are cobble-stoned narrow streets with bars and restaurant left and right. More importantly, and rather surprisingly, they are (relatively) cheap, which in turn draws a lot of the university crowd, making it an even more interesting area. It’s the kind of zone that surprises you, because you realize what this city is truly capable of. There’s so much to live here, it’s over-whelming.

In an earlier post, I talked about Bip Bip Pizza, who earned my acknowledgment as the best creperie in town. While I stand by my word, I must say that he’s facing tough competition from AUP’TIT GREC. This place is famous and has people lining up to pick up crepes. Don’t bother with the sweet crepes, they’re just as good as in most other places. What makes this place special, are the salee crepes, offering various ingredients including Feta cheese, Mozzarella, and mushrooms. All crepes come accompanied by free onions, tomatoes and lettuce, converting the crepe into a full meal. To top it all off, they’re rather reasonably prices, so it’s definitely something you wouldn’t want to miss.

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So I think everyone should visit the aera at one point, and pick up a egg and cheeses crepe, for example, from AUP’TIT Grec. To get there, just catch line 9 to Place Monge, walk one block down until you cross Rue du Mouffetard. Enjoy!

May 3rd, 2009 03th

1

Parisian Nightlife: The Good Version

Last night I went to a sports bar with one of new Catalan friends, Alberto, to watch the Real Madrid – Barcelona clash at the Bernabeu. As many of you already now, the result was a shocking humiliation of the Madridistas by the Catalan club 6 – 2. Little did I know that I was about to meet the Spanish community in Paris.

The Spaniards are the same in any part of the world, be it Cairo, Paris or even Portugal, they form groups that share the foreign experience together. You can’t blame them, though, infiltrating the Parisian social scene is not a piece of cake, and almost all of them get to know each other from the interchange program between their universities back home, and then ones here in Paris. Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun to watch El Clasico with people from all over Spain.

Following the game I hung around with them as we passed by a liquor store (run by Egyptians from Shobra), where each one picked his of her drinks, and then we took off to the Louvre. Personally, I have never visited the museum, but I always had the intention of doing so. The big surprise for me was how the complex surrounding the museum pyramid is actually converted into a strategic nightlife spot to go with friends, relax, and have a few cheap drinks that you brought along. Apparently, a lot of people know about this. Maybe it’s because I’m from the 18th and am a bit of a foreigner to the central and touristic areas.

The view is spectacular, as the entire complex is lit-up (including the pyramid), and you can see the Eiffel Tower shining from a far – breath-taking. There’s nothing better than being able to enjoys this city’s magic without having to spend too much, and without having to be in crowded, noisy areas. And don’t worry about the space, there’s plenty of room for everyone, and you’re not going to have to be too close to any other group.

I think hanging out late at night at the Louvre complex is ideal for any kind of group. I personally think it serves as a romantic hotspot as well (and it was demonstrated repeatedly infront of us). The weather at this time of the year is glorious (except for the rainy days every now and then), so be sure to live “the other side of the louvre” if you are in the French capital.

April 27th, 2009 27th

5

Back Home, In Paris

I’m back from Gran Canaria, and even though I knew this has been home to me, I wasn’t sure what would be the things I would do or feel that would leed me to think so. So I paid attention and realized that the Paris metro is probably the best indicator of whether or not you are at “home”.

One of my best friends, Waleed Fateem, once told me that when you’re in the Egyptian army, you take so much crap until you reach a point when you become a soldier. That’s when nothing matters to you, nothing scares you, and no thoughts are strong enough to penetrate you and trigger feelings such as fear, nervousness or exhaustion. That was very inspirational. Not that coming to Paris is in ANY WAY related to joining the Egyptian army, but here too, you reach a point when you’re no longer a visiter – you’re a habitant, and this is your home.

The following are the traits that come to mind:

  • You jump over the entrance bar leading to the metro to avoid paying an “airport supplement” (it’s almost 8 Euros, can you believe it?). More importantly, you’re not bothered to look around you when you’re doing so, because you’re confident of yourself. In fact, people will look at you and say “this guys is from around here”
  • You know where exactly to stand so that the door opens right in front of you, and you get into the wagon before others do (hence a higher possibility of finding a seat). Moreover, when you arrive at your station, you find yourself right in front of your exit
  • When you swipe your card (assuming you have a pass – because buying tickets is for out-of-towners), you don’t even pay attention – you know exactly where to go and don’t hesitate for a second
  • You never look at a map, and if you do, you’re usually too embarrassed and worried someone might see you
  • When there are various options as to where you can sit down, or stand up, you know how to calculate it so that you’re comfortable, but you don’t have to go through too many obstacles to reach the door when you need too

There’s probably a few more. But I would say that those are the kind of actions you would be taking when you reach the point of considering Paris home. This reminds me of the days of Madrid – such beauty!

April 27th, 2009 27th

3

Yeray The Magician

To get from this:

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To this:

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You need Yeray the Magician:

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To do this:

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The price:

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A hug!

Beats any barber’s place in town (although this was in the Canary Islands, not Paris, but I’m sure you can find similar service near you).

April 22nd, 2009 22th

0

Thinking Of The People Back Home

As I was getting ready to go to bed, I checked my Facebook wall and saw that my buddy Hazem Mohamed Ahmed had written me a HILARIOUS note about my earlier post with the award I handed to Bip Bip Pizza!

Basically, he was making the sound argument that, besides the fact that I am ruining the business of many tour guides in Paris with my blog entries, I made the shameful act of giving credit to a “pizzeria just around the corner” and never mentioned any of the champions we boast back home in the City Victorious. Most notably, “Ma7roos”, in Garden City, will always be remembered as the best fool in town, and by far the best atmosphere you can experience.

Unfortunately in Egypt we don’t really use maps, so to get to ma7roos, just get in a taxi, ask him to take you to Garden City, pay him half what he asks you for, and ask random people in the street for Ma7roos – you’ll never get lost. Make sure you try two different fool dishes, and don’t waste your time with the siders, you’re there for the fool, and you mean business. If you go WAY overboard, you might end of paying LE 20 (less than 3 Euros), so saving up shouldn’t be on your list of things to do before you head to the headquarters of fool.

On a more serious note, small things such as a comment by a good friend make you look at the situation from a different perspective. No matter how many people I meet here, and how interesting they may seem, nothing will EVER compare to spending late nights with friends in the streets of Cairo. So while I may seem to be flirting with Paris, I am absolutely clear on where my heart lies.

Same7ny ya Zuma! hahaha. Leek 3andi crebbaya lamma tegeely insha2allah.

P.S. Credit to Reem Abulleil for introducing me to Ma7roos, and insisting on taking me there when I had been convinced for ages that competitor El Baghl was the king of the fool domain in all of Egypt

April 21st, 2009 21th

4

The Best Grec/Doner Kebab In Paris

You knew this one was coming, how would I travel anywhere in the world without infiltrating the community of immigrants that bring the tastiest and the cheapest meal in Western Europe? Well here it is, I’m going to share with you the best place I found so far, to get what they call a Grec (a.k.a. Doner Kebab, Shawerma, etc).

Where I live, in the 18th arrondissement, there’s a bit of everything. People might know the area due to the famous Mont Martyr, but my immediate neighborhood, while a mere 10-minute walk from the touristic hot spot, couldn’t be further away culturally. The main street in my area is called Ornano, and is full of Arab and Muslim immigrants. That means that on every corner, you will find a halal butcher, a cyber cafe with phone booths, and Grecs.

I’ve tried a number of the Grec joints in the area. While it’s impossible to try each and everyone in less than three months (unless living past 30 is not a priority), I can comfortably say that I have found the best one in the area (and thus in all of Paris, of course). The place is strangely called “Fine’s Beak”, but don’t let the name throw you off, it’s run by Tunisians who take their Grecs very seriously.

The bread is fresh, the meet is substantial and juicy, and their sauces…well, what can I say? It’s a pain to make a choice because you end up with this inevitable feeling of guilt for not choosing another one – they’re all just outstanding. Oh, and they’re fries are perfect (not all places give you a good chunk of fries, and they’re not always at an acceptable level, but Fine’s Beak has perfected the sider). When you go in, you’ll notice a choice of about eight sauces, I strongly recommend you start with the Algerian, and then the Moroccon (yes, you can go for seconds!). When you’re at an advanced level, you should then move on to the Andalucian.

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Getting there is easy, as always. It’s right next to metro Place de Clignancourt, which is the last stop on line 4. Exit the metro and walk towards Simplon (ie towards down town), and you’ll find it to the left, about 50 meters from the station. Go in and ask for Khalil, and tell him you know Tarek the Egyptian, he’ll take good care of you. Since I’m there every other day, you’ll probably run in to me, if not, just ask them, they tend to know my whereabouts. When you’re done, don’t thank me (as that will surely be your reaction), just leave a small tip – these people work long hours everyday of the week, and their work of unprecendented magic tends to go unnoticed.

April 20th, 2009 20th

2

Where To Get The Best Crepe In Paris

It’s a pickle, there’s not doubt about that! Probably the toughest question to answer, but when you’ve done your research like I have, you might just find yourself in the position to dare and make the bold and contraversial statement “I have found the best place for crepes in Paris”. I must have had over 20 crepes from 15 different places, and I make accurate observations with each transaction.

Firstly, let’s go over the basics; A Nutella and banana crepe can cost anywhere from 3.50 to 5.50 Euros. And while you can get one practically anywhere, there are a few aspects that you need to pay close attention to when you’re ready to make the investment:

  1. Price: You should not be paying five euros for a crepe, that money should be spent on lunch or on a late-night supper. So stay away from the touristic areas with the high prices
  2. Freshness: A crepe that’s already been made and is piled up and waiting to be heated should not be called a crepe. Take a good look at the joint you’re about to do business with, and make sure he or she doesn’t have a bunch of already-made pies waiting to be sold
  3. Size: Very few areas will actually dare to amend this vital column of the crepe structure, but I have come across it before, and I hope to God no one has to go through the same. Make sure it’s a full crepe, not a two-thirds or half a one
  4. Contents: There’s nothing worse than a full jar of Nutella that only spills a spoonful, that’s something you CANNOT be stingy about. Also, if you’re having bananas, take a peak at the bunch, make sure they’re ripe
  5. Dough: This is actually impossible to tell until you try it yourself, but some places have perfected the mix more than others

Without futher adu, I am proud to anounce the winner of the once-in-a-lifetime Crepe Au Shalaby award: Bip Bip Pizza

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Before you laugh off at the name, or at the fact that it’s a pizzeria, and not a creperie, believe me when I say it is THE BEST crepe you can have. A unique mix, fresh and firm, unlimited Nutella and a full ripe banana (Their egg and cheese is awesome as well), and above all, a rare Parisian smile from the old man as he passes you a piece of heaven, wrapped in a paper envelope and a tissue. All for 3.60 Euros (nuts included) which breaks the record for the cheapest as well.

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Getting there is easy. Just catch the metro to Jussieu (where you’d get off to get to the impressive Arab Institute), and you will find it right infront of you as you exit the station.

You will thank me for this! In fact, I don’t think I should be telling anyone, but I have faith that the old man will stick to his authentic and delicious recipe, without going commercial and over-charging.

April 18th, 2009 18th

2

How To Find An Apartment In Paris

The Capital Of Romance quickly becomes hell on Earth when you’re hunting for decent shelter, it’s not a cup of tea for anyone – regardless of your length of stay, budget and requirements. For me, it wasn’t any different. However, I did manage to secure a room in an apartment just three days after arriving in Paris, and I’ve decided to share my success story to my fellow strugglers.

I was looking for a room in an apartment with one or two (at most) people in a spacious apartment in a cool where I had my own room and didn’t have to spend much to make it feel like home. My budget was 600 Euros. and my stay is about four months. So if you’re on a higher budget and are planning to stay longer, your techniques and strategies might be different than mine, but I hope you find this post useful nonetheless.

Let’s get started with 5 points you need to keep in mind before you start scavenging for your place:

  1. Be realistic: 400 Euros won’t get you anything decent here, unless you want to be taking the regional rail for 45 minutes before hoping on the metro, or long for being imprisoned in a 1.5m squared kiosk miraculously converted to a “fully-furnished, spacious studio in strategic location”.
  2. Be prepared: It’s always going to take time. Make sure you find a place to stay with someone your comfortable with so that you don’t feel pressured or rushed into leaving. You should know that it’ll probably take you a week to 10 days to move in, and another 5 days to get settled. And forget about meeting anyone while you’re searching for a place, unless it’s after 10pm and not for long, so that you can get up early the following morning.
  3. Be flexible: Out of the 20 arrondissments that make up Paris, you can knock out 2 or 3 at most as places you wouldn’t consider. Anymore and you’re risking depression. You need to be willing to live anywhere that’s decent.
  4. Know you limits: What’s the most you’re willing to pay? How many people are you willing to share a bathroom with (if any)? How small of a room can you sleep in? As long as you stick to point number 1, setting limits will save you time and help you make decisions.
  5. Stay positive, and don’t give up: You’ll probably reach low-points you didn’t even know you were capably of reaching, hang in there, and everything will be just fine in no time.

In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to start searching for an apartment, studio, or your room in a shared flat until you’ve arrived in Paris. Having said that, the following is my suggested order of actions that you should be taking:

  1. Get your French cell phone
    Come with a phone that will accept a sim card from here. Don’t try to make the dramatic sacrifice of roaming until you have the time to pick up a phone – people might not pick up, and they’re probably not going to take you seriously, besides the fact that they won’t have a way to get in touch with you. Getting a phone is as easy as walking into a store (any day but Sunday) paying the money and placing the new sim card in your phone. There are various operators. I personally used Orange, and haven’t had problem with them so far. They have an offer where if you get 100 Euros of credit, they’ll give you 150, so given that you can control your calls, it’s a steal.
  2. Forget the papers, use the website
    You need to be somewhere with free wifi and use your laptop, or spend a lot of time at a cheap cyber cafe. Buying the papers is a waste of money and time. There are two websites in particular to stick with:

    • Appartager – http://www.appartager.com/: The design is ghetto, it gives you the impression that is was built in the 90s and hasn’t been updated since, but it’s the best website out there to find a studio or a room in a shared apartment. Sign up for a premium account (20 Euros for 10 days) so that you can see the full contact information. And beware of scams, but don’t worry, they’re easy to spot. Anyone offering you a palace in the middle of Paris for 200 Euros and asking you to deposit the money in his or her account before hand isn’t trying to make this world a better place
    • De Particulier A Particulier – http://www.pap.fr/: This one’s free and has a simple design that makes it easy to use. These are actually the same offers that are published in the papers. If there’s an offer that’s 5 days old, don’t bother calling – it’s either already taken, or unbearable for any human being
  3. Prepare your French
    You hear all the time that Parisians are not the friendliest of peops, I’m yet to confirm that stereotype, but I can confirm that they’re not willing to bend backwards on the phone for you. Prepare everything you’re going to say, you have 30 seconds of fame and you have to impress. Don’t hesitate and speak with confidence, anyone who’s being a complete moron on the first conversation isn’t really worthy of being your landlord or roommate
  4. Get ahead of the pack
    This is the most important step of the process. To start with, very few landlords are willing to pick up the phone, so they usually leave their voicemail on and listen to a bunch of the messages at the end of the day to chose the lucky winner who might just receive a phone call. What you need to do is the following:

    • Send an email through the website if the option is available
    • Call and leave the message you were working on earlier
    • Send a pre-written SMS from your cell phone with a nice intro for them to call you
    • Repeat the process with at least 20 apartments, before you can take a break for a Grec (Doner Kebab)
  5. Visit apartments
    When you get a call from anyone, or actually have someone pick (uncommon), try to get an instantaneous appointment to go visit the apartment. If it’s good, it’ll probably be taken if you wait more than an hour to visit. Get there a little early, dress smart (not formal, but smart), and make it seem like you would like to stay there, but you’re not dying for the apartment because you can afford better.
  6. Give’em the OK
    After five to eight visits, you will have found the suitable place. Give the landlord the firm OK so that they don’t consider giving it to anyone else, but make sure you ask all of the questions in the world before you do so. Hopefully you’ll be able to move in the next day, and when you do so, make sure you remove your info from the websites and send an SMS so all of the landlords you were in touch with telling them that you found a place, or else they’ll keep calling you.

And that’s it! You’ve found a place to stay in Paris! Now invite all of your friends and family to come over and stay for a couple of nights. I found my place in the most amazing area (in my opinion), near metro Simplon towards the north of the city with an awesome roommate, and a clean spacious room for 600 Euros a month in as little as three days. I consider myself lucky, and I hope you all get even luckier.