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City of Light Can Be a Light Touch on Your Wallet

November 26, 2000|LUCY IZON | Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet

For thrifty travelers, cities like Paris are best visited in winter or the shoulder seasons. There's less competition for budget accommodations, and crowds are smaller at the attractions.

For backpacker-style accommodations, Paris has seven independent hostels and five more that are affiliated with Hostelling International (HI).

For information on the five HI facilities, visit the Web site of the French Youth Hostel Assn. at Internet It has an English-language section with special Paris pages that feature details and photos of the hostels, plus links for general information on the city.

The HI Jules Ferry Hostel, for example, has men's and women's dormitory rooms with two, four and six beds, and rooms for couples. The price for a bed in a room shared by four to six travelers is about $15.50 per person, breakfast included. Nonmembers of Hostelling International would be charged about $5 more. The hostel (telephone 011-33-1-43-57-5560) is at 8 Blvd. Jules Ferry, close to a Metro station. Guests also have the use of cooking facilities, lockers and a laundry room. An advantage to staying at HI hostels is that, for a small fee, you can book beds at affiliated hostels in other gateway cities through the association's IBN reservation service.

You can get information and make reservations for seven independent hostels in Paris through the Internet at Remember, independent hostels do not have to abide by the standards set by an association. As a result, some are terrific and some are terrible. It's wise to ask for recommendations and check reviews in up-to-date guidebooks. Hostels of Europe does not offer membership, but it does sell discount cards for restaurants and museums.

Of the seven independent hostels listed for Paris, the guidebook "Let's Go: Europe" gives the 3 Ducks Hostel a special thumbs-up rating. ("Let's Go" guidebooks are researched and updated annually by U.S. university students.) You can find this hostel at 6 Place Etienne Pernet, tel. 011-33-1-48-42-0405. Beds in dormitory rooms are $14.45 per night, plus $2 for linens. Beds in double rooms are $15.80 per person, per night. The hostel closes from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and there is a 2 a.m. curfew.

Getting around the city is easy and fast by Metro. For a visit of several days, purchase a pack of 10 tickets rather than buying them individually. You'll save about 30% per ride. If you have tickets left, you should be able to sell them to other guests at your hostel.

Fortunately for budget travelers, Paris is one of the great walking cities, and, weather permitting, you can enjoy a simple picnic lunch of wonderful French breads and cheeses in a lovely park.

For an easy introduction to the city, start at the Charles de Gaulle Etoile Metro stop, by the Arc de Triomphe, which was commissioned by Napoleon. As you face the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, slightly to your right is the direction of the Eiffel Tower (a good place to relax later, with a snack on the grass).

As you begin to walk down the Champs-Elysees, on your right at No. 127 is the city's main tourist information office.

Continuing down the boulevard you'll pass sidewalk cafes. Remember that even a cup of coffee can be expensive, so check prices before you sit down to order. Eventually the boulevard spills into Place de la Concorde, where during the French Revolution more than 1,200 people were guillotined, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As you continue, you reach the Tuileries Gardens, where children float sailboats in a pond and elderly residents relax in quaint wrought-iron chairs.

Eventually you wind up in front of one of the grandest buildings in Europe--the Louvre Museum. It started off as a fortress in 1190, then was a royal palace for hundreds of years. Today it is home to some of the world's most important archeological pieces and works of art. Expect a line to see the "Mona Lisa."

Time your visit right, and the entrance fees are lowered. The reduced rates are available after 3 p.m. (the museum is open until 9:45 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays) and all day Sundays. Although you can expect crowds, on the first Sunday of each month you can visit for free.

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