May 6th, 2009 06th

2

Exiting the Metrpolitain

There’s a lot of things that can be said about living in Paris, and there are quite a few people that have illustrated the glamor of this city over the years. There’s also no doubt that the metro is vital aspect in the Parisian culture. Entering the underground is accessing a world of its own, with its history and charm. That one thing I noticed recently, however, is that the best part of the metro is not going in, it’s actually exiting the Metropolitain.

It’s something that’s very difficult to describe. And no matter how good someone is at any given language, I would like to think that coming out of the metro in Paris is something that can only be lived and experienced. It’s this amazing rush that seems to comes out of nowhere and hits you: you’re in Paris, and this is beautiful. You’re probably still daydreaming about whatever it is you starting thinking about when you entered (and in many cases, triggered by something you’ve seen during your travel), but the moment your back at the street, it all just disappears to make way for a much bigger sensation.

The architecture of the buildings, the lights of the shops, the cafes with terraces, the people walking by….it is all condensed in an instant, and it’s over-whelming. It’s what makes this city enchanting, charming, and attractive in every way. It’s something that only the people here could understand, and the people on the outside are missing out on. It’s magical and could make your day.

Perhaps it’s one of those things that you get used to, or lose interest in over time, but I feel warm knowing that everyone who’s passed through the second city of love, has shared this experience with me.

May 4th, 2009 04th

0

World Record: 0 Euros Spent

Yesterday was one of the “stay in” days. I had a lot of work to do, and got less than half done, but it’s still progress. I’m starting to get into the flow of things, as far as my freelance work is concerned. The fact that my window overlooks the street and lets in a lot of sunlight has helped me stay at home, work, while still enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Another advantage of not going out is saving cash monies.

In fact, I have matched the world record of 0 Euros spent in the ENTIRE day. Nothing spent on food, drinks, bread, ridiculous and useless objects you buy on a daily basis – nothing. Thus, I’m extremely proud of this achievement, and will reward myself by spending a lot of money in the near future. Seriously, though, it’s good to settle in with home-made food, fill the fridge properly (because a lot of the grocery shopping that I had previously done was rather useless), and be able to get on with what you need to do. At the same time, I’ll have more freedom to spend when I next have the opportunity.

Today I spent 60 Euros at InterMarche on groceries (don’t worry – it was money well spent). I actually came across a ready-made Mussaka3a! It’s basically almost cooked, all you need to do is throw in the oven for a couple of minutes. While I’d like to think I’ve got this whole living-alone thing down, I’ve sadly discovered that I am far from independent. In fact, I might just be a bit of a disaster.

So here I am all excited to eat the Mussaka3a, and I throw it – as is – into the over. A couple of minutes later, I find that its plastic (yes plastic) container, and the plastic lid were not as excited as I am and decided to start melting all over my dinner. So I had to take it out quickly (using a towel that has been destroyed due to the plastic molding into it), and quickly flipped the contents onto another plate, and threw the remains of the 100% natural plastic that it came in. The sad but true story was that there was a bit of melted plastic that has infiltrated the food by then, but to be honest, I didn’t care and went ahead and ate it. It was delicious! My only complaint (besides what I would argue were not clear-cut instructions on the box) would be the quantity – price value. At a little under 4 Euros, it’s not a lot better than Khalil and the people back at Fine’s Beak doner kebabs. But it’s definitely a good alternative to eating out, and goes very well with some home made basmati rice.

I don’t remember being anywhere near as bad when I was living in Madrid, it must be that I’m getting a little rusty. Nevertheless, there’s reason to celebrate the marvelous achievement of equaling the world record for the least amount of money spent in a single day in Paris.

April 30th, 2009 30th

1

Staying In, At Home

My financial situation has been a disgrace as of late, which has had its own influence on the Parisian experience.

Yesterday, for example, I stayed in the entire day, and only stepped out at around midnight for about 15 minutes to buy some bread and withdraw cash from the ATM. However, it was quite a productive day, as far as my freelance work is concerned.

Today wasn’t very different; besides the 3-hour French class downtown, I have spent the entire day at home, between the different projects, emails, to-dos. And even though the weather is currently competing with exotic England, you cannot help but feel bad for not spending more time out in the streets of Paris. But the truth is that part of settling in, and making yourself at home, is getting on with your daily tasks and routine.

On Tuesday night, I went to an Irish bar downtown with a bunch of Catalans to watch Barcelona FC fail to score for the first time this season again a stubborn Chelsea side in the semi-final of the Champions League. While it seems like a simple get-together to watch the game at a local bar, I burnt over 20 Euros in the process (I swear to God this city has a miraculous ability of sucking money out of you). And even though last night it was my team Arsenal against a far superior Manchester United, I refused to go anywhere (and thankfully wasn’t tempted by anyone) and stayed in to watch the game perfectly illegally over the internet.

It is just not possible to spend everyday out in the streets of the Capital.

As far as the French course is concerned, I have decided to continue with the extensive track (thanks to ALL of the people who voted in my poll to help me decide, all four of you!), as oppose to switching to the daily intensive one. There are many reasons behind the decision, but the two points that standout are the difference in price, and the time required to work on the different freelance and personal projects. Therefore my schedule will continue as is: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursday from 13:30 – 16:30. This way I’ll have more time for my projects, as well as the freedom and flexibility to roam the city (and perhaps if the money starts flowing, the country) and engage on a cultural level.

My apartment is a comfortable place to spend time in. My windows overlooks the street Simplon; quiet and calm, and only 50 meters from all the action and noise:

outsideview

I also get to watch some French TV, and have downloaded a lot of French movies to watch in the near future. Next step: infiltrating the rigid social circles and become friends with Frenchies and Parisions.

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 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.

April 18th, 2009 18th

2

Blog Inauguration – Welcome!

Finally, after two weeks of intense pressure, stress, sudden sadness and sheer joy, I’m officially inaugurating my Paris Blog. Now all of you (friends, family, etc.) can follow me as I pursue my life-long dream of living in the second City of Love (second to Cairo, that is) and learn the Romantic language that’s so far away from Latin, it’s hard to remember it’s placed in the same category with the likes of Spanish and Italian.

This way, I can keep you posted with what’s new and improved around here, and how I’m coping with it. It’s also a good chance for me to keep my thoughts organized, and get myself to write (and hopefully one day, read) on a regular basis.

I’m expecting this to be a unique experience, and it has already surprised me a couple of times. But an experience is never complete without the interaction of those you care about, which is why I would love for you guys to leave your comments and fill me in with your own thoughts and reflections. You’ll also notice that there’s a Photo Gallery that I intent to keep fresh with new content as frequent as possible. And since I’m using the most amazing, yet simple, open-source CMS ever (WordPress http://www.wordpress.org/) I’ve added some widgets, most notably the calendar, to keep you all in the loop in various dimensions.

So on y va! Let’s get kicking! Welcome to my Paris Blog, and happy dreaming.