How to See Paris in Four Days (Or Less!)

Yes, I realize this is my third “Paris” post within week, but I don’t feel bad about it at all. I’m trying to make the most of my time in Europe while I can, and that includes writing and writing all of my thoughts down. You think this is bad? You should see my journals.

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Something I’ve mentioned time and time again is that as an au pair, I’ve had to learn to live on a tight budget. This means that when I want to travel somewhere, I have to save up for it ahead of time. I’ve been putting money aside for some sort of trip since I got here, but wasn’t sure where I would be going or when I would get to go. The family I work for didn’t need me for the entire time they were on vacation, so after some budget checking, I decided to go to Paris for a long weekend.

side note: any costs I mention are in Euro currency (€), not US dollar

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Love Bridge

I booked my trip as soon as I knew my dates. For any long train trips across Europe, I highly suggest Deutsche Bahn. Maybe it’s just that living in Germany for the past six months has made me a bit biased, but it is by far the nicest train line I’ve traveled on over here. I splurged a bit on my train ticket to get the most favorable departure time, but I could have easily saved €20 or more if I had booked earlier or chosen a different time.

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Parisian streets

I did some research on the public transportation in Paris ahead of time and found a deal on a five-day pass for all the public transportation. I was planning on spending €72 for the pass, but after arriving in the city and looking at the map, I realized that almost everything I wanted to do was in the first three sections of the city. A five-day pass for that was only €35, and I could pay for a one-day pass that goes to the fourth section to get out to Versailles.

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Palace at Versailles

Many of the things I was interested in seeing were landmarks in the city. You do have the option to go inside many of them, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but you have to spend more money. If you’re on a budget, I think even just standing next to these huge monuments are worth it without spending the money to see the inside. Other landmarks, such as Notre Dame, are free and you are able to enjoy all of it without spending a dime.

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Louvre

I went to the city with €300 total, allowing myself to use up to €200 of it and making sure I saved at least €100 for emergencies. I ended up spending just a little under €150, and I feel like I got a very full experience of the city, and was even able to enjoy some good food and got a souvenir* along the way.

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Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

Day 1:

I arrived in Paris around 5pm and eventually met my friend at the train station. She helped me get a train pass, then we were off to meet a friend of hers and get some dinner. This day just consisted of meeting some French people and enjoying a bit of the Parisian nightlife.

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Relaxing

Day 2:

Saturday was a day full of train rides, which just goes to show that when you live in a city, you can still get a bit confused on where you need to go. We spent time gazing at the Eiffel Tower and then decided that because it was such a beautiful day, we would catch a train out to Versailles. While we were there, we toured the palace and got some macaroons (at McDonald’s of all places). After we finally found our way back into the heart of Paris, we again met up with some Parisians for a picnic along the Seine River. Leaving the picnic, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.

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Macaroons from McDonald’s

Day 3: 

Sunday was probably the busiest day, but still didn’t feel overwhelming. We visited Notre Dame and just sat inside gazing up at the architectural beauty for a while. I feel like I’ve been in my fair share of cathedrals this past year, and this one was easily one of my favorites. We walked along the Seine for a while and ended up crossing the Love Bridge and walking through the courtyards of the Louvre. We ended up sitting on the side of the fountain for a while, bathing our feet and cooling off, before walking through the Tuileries and the stumbling upon the end of the Tour de France. We stood around for a good couple of hours waiting for the finish of the race, and then it was off to get dinner at a small crepe place and watch the Eiffel Tower light up from the amazing view my friend has at her apartment.

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Notre Dame

Day 4: 

Monday started off very lazily with sleeping in and a late breakfast. I went by the Arc de Triomphe, got some pictures, and then met up with my friend at the Louvre after her classes were done for the day. As soon as we got inside the Louvre, we got out some maps of the museum and plotted out where we wanted to go. There was no possible way to cover all of the museum in the few hours we had, so we chose our top few things to see and mapped out the quickest course. After the museum, we did a bit of shopping to try and find a souvenir, then sat down in the grass of the Tuileries and relaxed until it was time to go home.

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Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre

Day 5:

I feel like it’s only fair to include Tuesday to point out the fact that it was just a day of traveling for me. I made good use of my five-day pass since I still had to use it to get to the proper train station, but leaving at 7:30am means no sightseeing.

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Arc de Triomphe

Overall, I feel like it was a very successful trip and I was able to see all of the big things I really wanted to without spending too much money. Paris is, in general, a very expensive city. Even most of the food was twice the price of the exact same items in Frankfurt, so I had to be very aware of what I spent and where I spent it. The basic breakdown of where my money went (lodging and transportation to and from the city not included) is as follows:

  • Five-day Paris metro pass: €35
  • Versailles: €15
  • Louvre: €12
  • Food and extras: roughly €88
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Eiffel Tower sparkling at night

*a note on souvenirs: I try to find something that is useful for me in my everyday life instead of just a knick-knack that will sit around collecting dust. In Israel, I chose a small bowl made out of olive wood to hold my jewelry. In Berlin, my parents were kind enough to buy me a scarf. In Paris, I picked out a couple of travel makeup bags that are more practical than the big one I keep at home.

A Reflection

When I started this blog, I fully intended on writing at least twice a week. Once a week would have even been a decent goal. Writing one time twenty days ago does not really fit those intentions.

I’ve had the week off  thanks to the family I work for leaving on holiday. I treasure this quiet time more than I ever imagined I would. I get hours to spend skyping friends and family back home, all the time I can dream of to write, and a quiet house to myself. Just as an example, I typically wake up in between 6 and 6:30 for work, but I got to sleep in until 11 today. I had a lazy lunch complete with a bowl full of mango and pineapple left over from a late-night snack last night, played some music as loud as I wanted and actually sang along, and now I’m out on the second floor balcony watching the sun set while I drink a coffee and get more writing in. While I was cooking up an easy dinner (mozzarella and pesto grilled cheese- hooray simplicity!), it occurred to me that I have been living in Germany for exactly 6 months today.

When I first moved here, I didn’t know a single person. I knew the smallest handful of words, but nothing that would be helpful in communicating with any German speaker. Most importantly, I had never lived further than a day’s drive away from home and had no idea what living in another country would entail. Although I know many people probably saw this move as a way to escape from reality and the problems that had been haunting me for a few years back in the states, I truly believe it was the best decision I could have ever made for a multitude of reasons, including these:

  1. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone
    • When you move to another country, you leave your old life and habits behind. I’ve always been an extremely picky eater, as any of my family members can attest to. While I realize trying new foods may not be a big issue, it’s a huge one for me. I eat more vegetables on a daily basis now than I did in several months back in the states (but no mom, I still cannot stand broccoli). I’ve also had to learn to put myself out there in terms of getting to know people. As a textbook introvert, small talk and making the first move when trying to meet people are two of the most uncomfortable things I can imagine doing. However, not knowing anybody meant that I needed to put myself out there and make friends. I’m just happy the people I met felt inclined to invite me along when they went out.
  2. I’ve become more financially responsible
    • I’ve said this before, but an au pair makes a very very small paycheck. The job is more about experiencing life in another country than building wealth, which I was aware of getting into it, but what I wasn’t aware of was how expensive it is to live in one of the biggest cities in the country. I typically spend at least two days or nights a week doing something in the city, so I’ve had to really learn to budget my money to allow for all of the dinners and drinks spent out with friends.
  3. I’ve expanded my world view
    • When you move out of your country for the first time, especially one as present in the media as the United States, you get a lot of different responses when you tell people where you are from. You get all sorts of questions about your opinions on every topic imaginable, and it can come as a bit of a culture shock when you have to explain certain beliefs or practices that are commonly welcomed in the states. As just a singular example, when the American spy discovered in the German parliament scandal broke, I really had to put myself into the German mindset to understand how they must be feeling. Perhaps it can be attributed to our history in the Cold War or the overwhelming obsession that Hollywood seems to have with espionage, but while discovering spies in a government-type environment was a bit shocking, it didn’t seem like a huge deal overall. However, the German experience with spy networks was very different than the American one because of the division of the country after the second world war, but it wasn’t something I had ever really thought of until living here and seeing how private most of the German lifestyle is.
  4. I’m learning to be more independent
    • While I’m still not very proficient in the German language, I can understand enough to survive at a grocery store, restaurant, or wandering around town. I’ve learned how to navigate public transport better than I had imagined seeing as I had never lived with public transportation prior to six months ago. I can figure out solutions to my problems easier than I knew possible, and traveling by myself is an incredibly exhilarating experience. shameless plug- make sure you’re following my instagram in the next few weeks as I get to visit Paris, Lugano, and Alaska!
  5. I’m happy
    • I haven’t written much about this on this blog, but until late last year, I had been struggling with severe depression for several years. It caused me a myriad of problems, including extreme weight gain, terrible body image, staying in unhealthy relationships, and just a general dismal outlook on every aspect of my life. While moving halfway across the world isn’t the only positive change I’ve made in my life since last year, it’s certainly one of the biggest. I’m still working through some of those issues, but I believe completely removing myself from that atmosphere was a huge help. Even though being an au pair definitely isn’t in my future for several years, I am appreciative of the lessons I’m learning through all of this hard work, and I know that the discipline I’m learning will pay off for the rest of my life. I’m growing up, and I’m happy in the direction that growth is taking me.
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A cloudy day in the old Frankfurt city center

listening to: Ed Sheeran

What do you do?

When I started telling people I was moving to Germany to work as an au pair for a year, the most common response was a blank look. It turns out, the term “au pair” isn’t one that many people in the states are familiar with. In simple terms, it’s basically just someone who provides childcare. In a bit more detail, an au pair is someone who helps out around the house and acts as a older sibling figure in the family they work for. Au pairs are most commonly found in Europe, where the job originated. Every country has different restrictions and regulations, so it’s hard to give a ton of specifics. I can, however, give a breakdown of what an au pair position can look like in Germany

  1. It is part-time: German regulations stipulate that an au pair can only work for 30 hours a week and get at least one day off per week (at least once a month, that day should be a Sunday). This means that I only work 5 hours a day during a normal work week, or 6 hours if I happen to get the full weekend off. In all reality, I probably work closer to 40 hours a week, but those hours are pretty difficult to regulate when you’re right in the middle of the week. I also get 4 weeks of paid vacation time for the year, but that’s something to expect for any job in Germany.
  2. The work is not just child care: On top of watching two children under the age of 4, I also take care of laundry for the family and keep the kitchen relatively clean. I don’t have to do any heavy-duty cleaning since the family I work for employs a housekeeper on Fridays, but cleaning dishes after every meal is something that usually falls under my duties. I also occasionally do the grocery shopping and do some photography/computer work for the family.
  3. While the pay is low, the benefits are nice: Au pairs easily make less than minimum wage if you just look at the spending money you receive per month- €260 in Germany, which roughly translates to $355 in the US at time of publication (that’s about $2.95 per hour). However, that money is just spending money. Families are required by law to provide full health care/insurance, and free room and board. My family also pays for my monthly train pass, half of my language class, and makes sure to buy me some special food at the grocery store they wouldn’t normally purchase (we’re talking peanut butter, top quality cheddar cheese, and the most delicious greek yogurt I’ve ever encountered, people!). Overall, a €260 allowance isn’t too shabby if you learn to budget your money properly.
  4. It’s also a cultural exchange program: As I noted in my last point, the family I work for paid for half of my first language class. Part of moving to another country is to be submerged in the culture of that country. This means learning the language, eating the food, practicing the customs (which obviously means beer-tasting in Germany if that’s something you’re into), and meeting locals. This is something my host family has been great about- they’re constantly encouraging me to go out and explore and are always willing to let me take time off to see the friends I’ve made in the city.

There’s no denying that working as an au pair can be very challenging, but I think the pros outweigh the cons any day. I was incredibly lucky to find the family I did, which has been the main reason why this job has been so enjoyable so far, so if you ever consider becoming an au pair, make sure to be pretty selective when it comes to picking a family.

Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river
Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river.

listening to: The Neighbourhood