We’d already booked the flights when I started looking for accommodation in Paris. After reviewing the prices of endless hostels I had resolved to abandon the trip all together. There had been a great deal of wishful thinking on my part to imagine that a holiday in Paris was within my budget. Then came my discovery of Airbnb: a website for people to rent out lodgings. Pierre owned a studio near the centre of Paris in le Marais. He was away on a work trip for a week and was renting his studio for half the price of the cheapest hostels.
I arrived with my girlfriend late at night one evening with no idea of how to get to our destination. “I’ll give you the details when you arrive” Pierre had said. I received a number of ominous texts over the next couple hours, our liaising resembling that of a wildly suspicious transaction under the cover of night: “Walk down this street…now the next…now type x code into y door and walk through that unlit alleyway.”
I was beginning to fear for my own safety but unbeknownst to my partner I had quickly realised her potential as a human shield. Plus she was carrying the more expensive phone which I thought stood in my favour. Comforted somewhat I continued to follow Pierre’s instructions. When we arrived he told us he’d hidden the key in one of the plant pots in an unlit courtyard. This wasn’t immediately apparent, however.
Since Pierre’s English left a lot to be desired and I’d failed to scrape a pass in GCSE French, establishing the keys whereabouts proved challenging. “It’s in the Ert”, Pierre sighed over the phone. I quickly established the absence of a yurt and told him he was deeply mistaken. A bewildering exchange and half an hour of digging later, we found the key under a foot of earth. I fell asleep to dreams of receptions, check-ins, key cards, hotel staff and elevators that night.
I was well aware that Pierre’s photographs would be misleading. You don’t need to be an accomplished salesperson to recognise the importance of being economical with the truth. But in this case the circumvention took the form of a toilet-cum-kitchenette. To best illustrate this unconventional pairing: you could very easily fry an omelet whilst taking a shit.
Yes, the hobs were quite literally at arms length from the toilet with an adjacent sink posing simultaneously as a place to wash your hands and dishes. While I appreciate the efficiency of this set up, for a romantic get-away there was something particularly unsavoury about the studio layout. Though the photographs were careful to evade highlighting the proximity with which you’d be cooking and relieving yourself, to Pierre’s credit the utilities section on his profile did read ‘Toilet:0.5’.
Naturally I understood this as an unfortunate typo. To make matters worse the bedroom-cum-dining room and toilet kitchen were separated by a flimsy curtain. This lack of sound proofing provided all the more incentive to spontaneously make solitary excursions down the 7 flights of stairs and out onto Rue Portfoin. Here a sullen waiter would begrudgingly point in the vague direction of the nearest loo in the knowledge that you wouldn’t understand a word of their response to your half hearted “Ou est le toilette”.
It was my idea to go to Paris. A friend of mine was living there for most of the summer on 180 euros and was doing “just fine”. I was convinced that my girlfriend and I could afford a measly 4 nights. I fell victim to mendacity for a second time when I found my friend in Paris utterly destitute. I should have known that Tom would be dwelling in a rouge Parisian’s attic living off multipacks of ‘le pain’ (curiously enough there is a breed of French bread which directly translates into ‘the bread’. Miraculously, this doesn’t appear to confuse bakery staff).
We met him a couple of metro stations along the central line for a drink and invited him back to ours. “It’s quicker back on the metro”; “I couldn’t possibly, the metro costs 1.70 and I have 4 euros to last me until Thursday”, he cried in a bout of maudlin self pity. “I’ll walk to yours!” He pronounced, ran his hands through his immaculate 1980s mop, lit his cigarette and pretentiously swaggered off in the general direction of Le Republique. Tom proceeded to get steadily tipsy off a carton of fermenting wine whilst regaling us of tales of his impoverished and solitary life in Paris, reading Voltaire, chain smoking, ‘le pain’ and the time when he was accosted by a man looking for a “PA” and narrowly missed starting a career as an escort.
That was my rather long-winded way of letting you know that Paris is bloody expensive. And when cooking your own meals involves manoeuvring around a toilet, you’re more disinclined to avoid eating out. Essentially, if you’re a student looking for a romantic weekend away in Paris, I hope you landed that nicely paid summer internship. I certainly didn’t.