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Patience Is a Virtue When You're Visiting Paris : French capital has plenty of options for budget travelers willing to walk a little and ask questions.

March 07, 1993|LUCY IZON

Budget travelers should pack some patience along with their belongings when planning a trip to Paris.

If you're lucky, your budget hotel will have an elevator the size of a closet. If not, you'll probably be hauling your luggage up several flights of stairs. You should just about make it to the top when the timer on the hall light runs out and thrusts you into darkness.

Still, you're dying to head out on the town. So after waiting seemingly forever to get into the shared washroom down the hall, you're tempted to treat yourself and call a cab.

Wrong. Taxis in Paris are not only expensive, they start their meters the moment you order them, not when you get in.

Fortunately, for young travelers getting their first taste of Paris, services are set up to help you get settled in suitable surroundings with a minimum of hassle and without having to spend too much.

The Accueil des Jeunes en France (AJF) offers an accommodations and information service geared to travelers under 30, at four offices throughout the city. The staff can help find a bed while you wait--at a hostel, student residence or budget hotel. There is a 10-franc (about $2) fee for making the reservation.

The AJF has 8,000 beds available year-round, and 11,000 in the summer. Most beds are in rooms shared by other travelers of the same sex--i.e., youth hostel-style.

The one drawback is that you don't get a chance to see the room before you commit yourself. Your first night's accommodation fee must be paid at the booking office.

AJF offices can be found at 119 Rue St-Martin (open year-round), opposite the Georges Pompidou Centre; inside the new station at Gare du Nord (open June to October); at 16 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe (open year-round), near the Hotel de Ville Metro stop, and at 139 Blvd. St-Michel (open March to October) in the Latin Quarter.

When the weather is good, Paris is a wonderful city for walking. A good spot to start is the tourist information office at 127 Champs-Elysees. The office has a special brochure for young visitors. As you head out of the office to your left, you'll see the famous Arc de Triomphe. And if you turn to your right, you can stroll down the famous Champs-Elysees past trendy shops and sidewalk cafes to the Place de la Concorde. If you continue, you'll cross through the Tuileries gardens and eventually reach the great Louvre museum.

If while strolling you get the urge to sample one of the city's sidewalk cafes, part of any Paris experience, note that the same establishment can charge three different prices, depending on where they serve you. The least expensive place to be served is standing at the bar. If you sit at a table, it will be a bit more costly; if you relax in a sidewalk seat, you'll be charged prime prices. Travelers will find that restaurants display their menus in the window. Fixed-price meals are much better values than ordering a la carte.

If you plan to stop at museums along your route, be sure to find out which days they close and if there are any special rates for slower periods. For example, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, and the regular fee is about $6. Travelers 18-25 pay about $3 any day, and all visitors are charged only 16 francs (about $3) on Sundays. (The down side is that you can expect bigger crowds.)

When it's time to leave Paris, be sure to check which rail station your train departs from. The city has five stations, each with trains headed in different directions.

Travelers under 26 can buy reduced point-to-point second-class rail fares from Paris to hundreds of other European cities through many student/youth travel agencies. One of the names used for these types of tickets is Eurotrain. Agencies that cater to youth and students in Paris include the aforementioned AJF offices and Council Travel at 51 Rue Dauphine, near the Odeon Metro stop.

France's Ministry of Tourism has published a free 40-page booklet called "France--Youth Travel," which provides details on youth information services, rail discounts, lodging services, activity holidays and youth discounts.

Copies are available from the French Government Tourist Office, 9454 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Beverly Hills 90212, (900) 990- 0040 (6 a.m.-3 p.m.; calls cost 50 cents per minute).

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