Ways to Visit France on a Budget
May22

Ways to Visit France on a Budget

France usually doesn’t fit within the category of “budget”. However, I’m a firm believer that you can really travel anywhere on a low-budget, even somewhere as “rich” as France. Sure, it’s not easy, but it is completely possible. Here are some of my tips.   Find the Best Flight Deal Of course, booking a trip on a budget starts with the flight booking. In general, flights are the cheapest when booked about 2 months in advance of your departure date. Also, it tends to be cheapest to book into the biggest destination in a country. For example, flying to Paris tends to be cheaper than flying somewhere like Leon. Moreover, if the exact dates don’t matter, flights on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday tend to be the cheapest days to fly. Don’t Stay in Hotels Hotels are expensive in France, especially the chains in the big cities. Luckily there are a lot of other options available to you when travelling through France. For example, if you’re on a bit of a higher accommodation budget, you should look into the guest houses that are smaller and much more affordable. Other alternatives are AirBnb. Or, if you don’t mind crowds, you can always stay at a couple hostels to really save money. Get a Rail Pass If you’re planning on travelling around France a lot, get a rail pass. If you buy tickets individually, it will become expensive. With a rail pass, you’ll also have the flexibility to change your plans and be more spontaneous. If you plan on moving on the trains more than a couple times in your visit to France, you’ll likely save a great deal by getting a rail pass. Visit the Countryside Cities like Paris and Nice are beautiful, but they can also be extremely expensive. Out in the countryside of France there are some incredibly beautiful towns and places worth exploring. And, the best part about it all is that they are actually much cheaper to spend time in. Personally, I’m all about discovering places off the beaten path, and the added bonus is that it tends to be cheaper anyways. Find the Free Activities There are plenty of free things to do in France, and if you’re on a budget you should focus on these things. Thankfully, there are a lot of free opportunities in the country. For example, some of the country’s best museums actually have days that they are completely free to visitors. In general, most tourists spend a huge chunk of their money on excursions and tours that they could do on their own for cheap or free. So, do yourself a...

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Remembering Yerevan
Apr25

Remembering Yerevan

“You know what day it is today?” I ask. “Hm? No,” mumbles Hrach, his mind adrift in the Internet. “Yeah, you do. Come on, look at the date.” “Thursday?” volunteers our flatmate Ed. “The date! The date!” Hrach sighs and hovers his mouse over the bottom-right corner of the screen. “Yeah yeah, I know. I knew that. I knew what date it is today.” This time last year, Hrach, two other friends and I were walking to the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in a park overlooking Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. There were approximately two million other people walking with us. Many of them were crying. Almost everyone carried flowers, clutched upside-down at the stems. The sun was bright in the blue sky. Inside the memorial, a flame flickered in a concrete hole at the centre, surrounded by a gazillion flowers and twice as many cameras. It was quite a spectacle. There was a hush within the memorial space. The 24th of April marks the date when, in 1915, Armenian intellectuals were rounded up in Istanbul. It was the start of a spate of mass deportations and killings by Turkish officials in the Ottoman Empire, which led to, among other things, one of the most widely spread diasporas in the world; mass graves of Armenian bones in the Syrian desert; and, I suppose, my wedding. My husband’s grandmother survived the genocide. She, like many others, ended up in Syria, where she met his grandfather and gave birth to his mother. Awareness of the genocide is inescapable in Yerevan, where every newspaper story (at least the ones in English) are related, often somewhat tenuously, to either genocide recognition or the evils of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Many Armenians are terrified of Turkish people to this day. There is a deep animosity and distrust on both sides. The Turkish state doesn’t recognise the genocide. Turkish people are brought up with, and will recite with startling regularity, the same word-for-word slogan: “There were killings on both sides. Nothing is proven.” Armenians were one of the largest minorities in Ottoman Anatolia, spread across the eastern regions called “Western Armenia”, “East Turkey”, or “Kurdistan”, depending on who you’re speaking to. Now, there are a mere 40,000 Armenians in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul. Are we to believe the killings were equal on both sides? Show me the mass grave of Turkish bones. Show me the pictures of Armenian soldiers marching Turkish women and children, starving, into the desert. Today is the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Next year will be the centenary. Surely something needs to change? This is what Hrach tells me as he pulls himself away...

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Three German Wagon Communities
Mar29

Three German Wagon Communities

There are thought to be around 100 wagenplatze, or ‘wagon places’, across Germany: intentional communities of people living autonomously in old wagons. I visited three of them during a road trip across Europe in early 2010. Barricade Göttingen We found Barricade Göttingen late in the evening after driving around the outskirts of the city, following contradictory directions. We wandered around a small scrap of wasteland with a smattering of old circus and construction wagons, peering through curtain cracks for a light or sign of life. It was a chilly winter, and Germany, like most of Europe, was slathered with ice. We spied smoke curling out of a protruding stovepipe and called hello through the window crack. Tim was in the middle of cooking, but popped out into the cold to greet us in only a thin shirt. He took us on a brief, crisp tour of the telephone wagon, communal kitchen, woodpile, and compost toilet — then invited us over to his wagon for dinner. I love it here, I whispered to Pete on the way back to our van. Pete and I had been travelling around Europe for just over two months in his tatty white Mercedes Sprinter. While staying in Copenhagen, we had refitted it ourselves, welding and angle-grinding an old fire extinguisher into a wood stove, fitting a chimney, and nailing our bed together. Then we were searching for other people living in vehicles, and heard about these wagon communities. An hour later, we headed back to Tim’s wagon, brandishing chocolate. He had two other guests and only a small wagon, so we all piled into a larger one next door. Tim fed us bowls of pasta and handed us a beer each while we chatted about the community. With the pipes in the churchyard frozen, the single public water tap the community relied upon was out of action. Many residents had gone away for the winter months, whittling the community down to the hardiest seven. The city grudgingly allowed them to live on the land for free, but it obviously wasn’t making things easy. Between mouthfuls of pasta, Tim explained how the community was quite mixed when it came to socialising. Some kept to themselves, while others sometimes gathered in the big communal kitchen wagon, which we were also welcome to use. Residents each paid €10 a month for the communal telephone, wireless internet, and wood deliveries. Pete and I spent our days in Göttingen, exploring the city on bikes. In the evenings, we cooked dinner and read by candlelight in the communal kitchen wagon. It was large but cosy, with a wood-burning stove, gas...

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Exploring the Catacombs of Paris
Mar21

Exploring the Catacombs of Paris

It’s around 8pm on a Wednesday night, and I’m walking with some friends down a busy boulevard in one of the most chic neighborhoods in Paris — the16eme. One of my friends — whom I’ll refer to as Drakael — approaches a sewer in front of a little cafe terrace, inserts a metal key into the pothole, ties a rope around his waist, and, with surprising technical expertise, lifts the 40-pound lid: open sesame. We strap our headlights on and begin to descend a stairwell, under the bemused stares of the cafe attendants. Nobody says anything; they seem to think we’re maintenance or something. The last to go in is Drakael, who shuts the lid after him, and we are submerged in complete darkness below the streets of Paris. Drakael has been coming and going through the catacombs for a few years now. He met some people who showed him the ropes, and began turning up regularly, learning the main routes and hangouts. The hardest part is actually lifting the sewer lids, some of which weigh over 80 pounds. But with the right technique, he says, anyone can do it, even a child. It’s all in the legs, the strongest muscles in the body. Eventually he got hold of some maps and began to explore on his own. At some point in his life, he says, he spent the better half of a week underground. The second you set foot beneath the surface, it becomes clear this is a separate world you were unaware of a minute ago. Spaces like these exist in every city in the world. In Paris alone, there are over 100km of underground tunnels, most of which are abandoned and forgotten. You are completely insulated from the outside world. Light and noise do not penetrate down here; even the air is warm and moist in the winter, as if it were being internally recycled. Cell reception dies quickly. Nobody knows we are here, and few people ever come down. Because no one uses this space — and people are supposed to stay out — most of the access points are sealed shut, so you really have know how to get in and out. This means if I get lost, I can be lost for quite some time before I find my way, or somebody finds me. This first room is what you might call a technical passage — essentially an underground room with a lot of tubes and wires going through it, accessible mostly to the city’s maintenance technicians. In this particular technical passage, however, someone has hammered a hole into the wall, just big...

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Diving Hip-First Into Vienna’s Art World
Mar06

Diving Hip-First Into Vienna’s Art World

Sarah Lucas is easy to spot in a crowd of Viennese art lovers. They are mostly Aryan folk in merino wool scarves, leather gloves, and fine tweed jackets, aired by the kind of audacious pomp you’d expect from bourgeois Europeans. She, a British artist, has stringy blonde hair, an English smile, and a thick wool overcoat hiding her hands in the sleeves. Though she was the woman of the hour — the international guest, and the works were almost entirely her own — she spent much of the night looking awkwardly at nothing, then disappearing early. I envied her for that. When I told my father I was passing through Vienna, he’d offered to put me in touch with his friend, B, an art history professor whom he’s known for decades. They met when my father, once a brazen young traveller, asked her to take a picture of him in front of something like the Museum of Natural History; they wound up talking art and philosophy for two hours in a cafe, which is so stereotypically European you’d think Before Sunrise had already been released. I called B from my hostel the morning after I arrived, and she quickly invited me to the opening gala of a new art exhibit. We agreed to meet in front of the State Opera, a grandiose Neo-Renaissance achievement disappointingly aged by the addition of a pay-per-use, opera-themed subway toilet stall that bleeds tinny renditions of Le Nozze di Figaro while you poo. “We will meet at six o’clock,” B confirmed over the phone. “I will be wearing a long gray jacket and a large black hat that is made neither for a man nor for a woman.” I liked her immediately. We did meet at six, and her hat was identifiably androgynous. We drank coffee at an upscale, downtown cafe, where the waiters felt they could do a very fine job indeed if only there weren’t any customers bothering them. We shared stories about my father and compared European cities, then and now. The whole hour was perfectly sophisticated, and I expected the evening to follow suit. B led me down Friedrichstrasse to the Secession — a one-hundred-year-old artists’ residence founded by Gustav Klimt and his buddies, who wanted to secede from the popular art world and retreat into a creative safe haven. Ten years later, Klimt seceded from the Secession over creative differences, which is hysterical. The Secession was this night packed with aforementioned snooty Aryans — possibly 200 of them. B and I set our coats down and grabbed complimentary glasses of red wine. The artist collective hosting Sarah Lucas — which, as far...

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