Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Searching for accommodations in Paris -- we found just the right place

If you're in Paris for just a few days you'll probably want to stay in a hotel. But if you're staying longer than a week, or if you're in the market for a more down-to-earth experience, you'll want to rent an apartment (or self-catering flat as they say in the UK). Finding just the right place for the right price becomes a bit more challenging than locating an attractive hotel.

While at first blush the search for an apartment may appear daunting or intimidating it doesn't have to be. If money is no object and if you have very specific ideas about where you want to stay you can stop reading right now. But if you're willing to be a bit more adventurous and aren't terribly choosy about what neighborhood you want to stay in, then read on.

The last time we stayed in Paris (2013) we rented a small apartment (but HUGE bathroom) in the 4th arr. through We learned of them through acquaintances who had rented from PS in 2010-11 and had a wonderful experience. Dealing with one of the owners, Carsten Sprotte was pleasant and he couldn't have been more helpful to make our move in and move out as smooth as possible.

Naturally, when we began our search for lodging in 2016 we turned first to PS. As we surfed their site looking at the handful of available rentals we quickly found ourselves put off by the erratic prising structure. A small, one-bedroom with minimal facilities -- albeit nice ones -- was listed at "from 103€ a night but for our dates was going to cost us somewhere in the ballpark of 2700€ for 11 days! (I should point out that we had a discussion about pricing with Carsten and the long and short of it is that prices are set by the owners and consequently change with the season.)

We then turned to the popular Air BnB website where we found quite a few choices -- far more than PS offered, many at a more reasonable cost I might add. But Air BnB wanted all the money up front for a booking four months away -- and they kept the money that entire time. Nothing was turned over to the owner until right before the arrival date, as I understand it anyway.  No thank you. 

I then turned to Rick Steves’ to see what he suggested for apartment rentals. Here's what I learned from that bit of legwork:

Home Service Rental - The website is severely limited by arrondissement with just a handful of apartments available, although the listings appeared to be quite nice. I did note that the site's use of English was a bit stilted. Anyway, you have to send a request to check on pricing and availability — that information is not available directly on the site and that’s a bit clunky I thought.

Fat Tire tours — Sorry, Rick, but I could find no link to or even mention of Fat Tire providing access to accommodation listings, except on their blog. Even there it was more of a discussion along the lines of general advice rather than any specific assistance.

Haven in Paris — The site is very easy to navigate, price are posted right along with the listing shown, which is nice. You can search by a variety of criteria right off the Home page which is also useful. However, these are luxury boutique apartments and priced accordingly.

France Homestyle - Touts itself as “boutique French rentals” whatever that means. Anyway, I found the website less than user-friendly: for example, you cannot search/sort for property by any of the usual criteria (price, no. BRs etc.). However the page for each listing provides just about everything you need to know about that space in a series of easy-to-use tabs. There is also a handy calendar on the right sidebar that notes availability for the time-frame you chose in your original search.

So, no help in finding just the right place, at least not from Rick Steves. Anyway you may find yourself paying a premium, sometimes a pretty stiff one, to use a broker or rental agency.

I decided to return to grass-roots traveling, so to speak, to what we've often done in years past: rent directly from the owner. But how to go about that? Well, you can use FUSAC, of course, but that seemed to entail more work and time than I wanted to spend -- although it would be the number one go-to source if we were going to need an apartment for a few months or longer.

Instead I turned to a copy of France magazine sitting on the table by my bedside and voila! found Alistair Sawday's Special Places. I remember their books in years past, with gorgeous watercolor covers and luscious listings places at all price points for BnBs, inns and apartments. Anyway they have an attractive site, easy to use and navigate with lots of properties in Paris.

Once you see a place you like you simply email the owners to check on availability which is exactly what I did after finding the perfect place near Place Gambetta in the 20th arr. just a stone's throw from Père-Lachaise (how perfect). The apartment is twice as large as most places I looked at for less than half the money! After a handful of emails and one phone call with the owner we sent off our deposit check.


We have our tickets, our accommodations in Lille, along the Somme and in Paris so now all we have to do is go.

Monday, March 14, 2016

France in 2016

We're going back to France this year. We've got our airline tickets -- burning up air miles on British Airways is always fun -- and plan to spend about three weeks. The plan so far is: we leave Michigan 11 September, drive to Dick and Dorothy's house where we will leave our car. We then fly out of Boston on 13 September, arriving Paris on the 14th and take the train to Lille where we'll spend a few days with Glen and Christina.

On Monday 19 September Richard and Pauline will pick us up in Lille and the four of us will spend the next four days traversing and touring the Somme and Ypres battlefields from World War One. It's the centennial of those horrific events and we're eager to pay our respects.

After we say adieu to Richard and Pauline we head off to Paris on the 23rd where we will remain until flying home 4 October. Susie is already scouting potential professional development classes while I will tidy up any loose ends in my forthcoming Guide to more than 1,000 Sculptures in Père-Lachaise. (You can find the website I created that complements the guidebook right here.)

Right now we're exploring options for renting an apartment in Paris, always an interesting experience. Anyway, I hope to post the results of my research here so so stay tuned.

Update from Grand Rapids - remodeling

Quick note today -- this is an ongoing record of the remodeling of our condo so bear with me here. Anyway, the painters are here right now so things will look quite a bit different by the end of the week.

For the moment, though this is where our kitchen stands: cabinets are in and appliances set back into place; we're waiting  for the countertops to be fabricated then the flooring goes down and finally the backsplash. Probably two to four weeks out for completion.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Mardis Gras, a puff pastry presentation and kitchen remodeling

Well, it's been a while since I posted here; sheer laziness I assume. Our lives have been busy and, I must say interesting but then we haven't really done much either. Quite a contradiction of sorts, I suppose.

We had a fun time last month at the Alliance Française's Mardi Gras party. The next day Susie made a tasty presentation on now to make puff pastry to a group of curious folks at Aquinas College.

yep, Napoleon won for best costume

The big news right now is our house is in disarray, a consequence of our ongoing remodel challenge, this time an entirely new kitchen. Cabinets will be delivered this week and the template fabricated for our countertop. But here's where we stand so far:
before. . . 

and after the walls came down

Donald Wade Soper Junior turned 80

Right off let's say it -- I'm a jerk. I forgot my brother's birthday, his 80th birthday on February 22 and I'm not proud of that. But I am proud of him. He survived some terrible things in his life and came out the better person for it.

And as for me, well, if it hadn't been for him I wouldn't be typing these words right now. In one of the first postwar dysfunctional families my big brother was always there for me.

We're twelve years apart in age, rarely speak, and since we live a couple of thousand miles apart haven't seen each in years. We rarely  agree on anything -- except when it came to our dad. We never had to think twice when he was involved in our lives or us in his.

Happy birthday Big Brother and I hope it was a blowout.