What can you buy for only €1.40 in Paris?

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It’s a Friday afternoon in Paris and you find yourself with €1.40 left in your wallet. What can you buy with only €1.40 (equivalent to around $1.80) in Paris? Nothing, right? Well, most would think that, but I was determined to continue to explore Paris after class today without having to go back to my apartment for more euros.

How did I end up with only €1.40? Totally out of character for me since I always have at least the value of $20 wherever I go, along with a credit card. We all face traveler’s dilemmas, and today was my day of malchance. I  was low on cash given my past couple days of cash-only expenses (side note to prospective European travelers: despite the modern world of credit cards, always have cash on you!). I went to lunch at EIX between classes and noticed that my credit card was declined. My first thought was that this was a security warning which often happens when traveling. I knew that I was well below my credit limit. I tried to call my bank but realized my new SIM card only calls French phone numbers (and my bank is in the United States). My friend recommended that I call the bank through Google Hangout. After Internet struggles, I finally got a hold of the bank through Google Hangout and they told me that there were no security holds on my account. I explained my situation and while the bank gave me a hard time, they finally realized that my card was dysfunctional, so they would need to send me a new card. Without a functioning credit card and only coins in my wallet, I felt doomed for afternoon exploration. But I really wanted to visit Sacre Coeur since it was only a 1-mile walk from where my school is located in L’Opera district.

My adventurous side prevailed and I began the journey to Sacre Coeur. I walked through cobble stone streets that slowly started to elevate as I reached Montmarte. In the distance was the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica, which was breathtaking at this time of day (the sun was shining perfectly on it). I walked passed cafes and boutiques, busy with those arriving to Paris for the weekend. I walked up several flights of stone stairs, every so often turning around to see all of Paris around me. With each step came a higher and more beautiful view of the city.

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I was slightly frightened by very aggressive vendors who were trying to put string bracelets on me or have me sign petitions. I had to say “no” very forcefully in order for them to go away (side note to prospective European travelers: never stop to sign petitions! They are a sneaky way for people to pickpocket you or force you to pay them for the “cause” they are pretending to represent). Once I made it all the way to the top, though, I was separated from the vendors. I paused for a moment to enjoy the spectacular views and reflect. I felt so lucky to be standing there in that moment!

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I decided to walk into the Sacre Coeur Basilica. As with the Notre Dame Cathedral, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. I looked at the beautifully painted ceiling with religious figures, specks of gold, and pews with hundreds of people praying. I sat for a moment to pray for my loved ones. I walked around, viewing statues and luminaries. I stopped by the St. Pierre statue and touched his foot, a common Catholic custom. Sadly, I was not allowed to take photos inside, but I encourage you to visit regardless of your religious interests. It was one of the most fascinating cathedrals I have seen, and I enjoyed seeing it even more the second my time (I first visited it with my mom in 2011).

Departing the cathedral, I decided to wander around the artsy corners of Montmarte. Every store was either an art gallery or a cafe. Artists lined the streets, drawing pictures of the scenery and portraits of tourists (little did I know this would be significant to me a half hour later). Mon petit-ami called me via WhatsApp and we had a great conversation discussing my day in Paris, how beautiful it is in Montmarte, and his exciting new internship with the Attorney General in South Carolina. Sadly, our conversation was short-lived because my phone died. More malchance. At this point, I was without a phone or a credit card, and had only €1.40.

I must have looked helpless when an artist, Sylvie Alan approached me and said he would like to draw a picture of me. I told him “no, merci” politely “parce que ne j’ai pas argent.” He refused to let me walk away and started drawing my portrait. He said “if you don’t like it, don’t worry, I’ll take it back.” He was a fantastic artist and made me look way better than I think I actually look. He described how he lives in Montmarte and enjoys sketching pictures of the backs of women and portraits of tourists. I explained my crazy story of malchance to him and how I was studying in Paris for 3 months. A few minutes later, he finished the sketch and said in French, “normally I sell this for 45 euros, but you can pay whatever you’d like.” Little did he know that I was being honest that I had no money except for the coins in my wallet. He said “don’t worry about it, come back and buy me a glass of rose wine.” I knew that I would go back to Montmarte to pay him and visit again, as it quickly became my favorite destination in Paris.

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With all that I did not have (no phone, cash or credit card), at least I had a new portrait of myself. I luckily found a cafe that would let me charge my phone. I explained my story in broken French, and didn’t even have enough money to buy coffee. I will have to go back with un cadeau for the cafe owner’s generous help.

I walked around on my way back from Montmarte desperately looking for something to drink that cost less than 2 euros. I found it funny that almost nothing to eat was that cheap, but I could buy a painting or post card for 1 euro!

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I finally stumbled upon a tourist cafe that sold espresso for exactly €1.40! Finally some bonne chance, and clearly a sign to help me get home with enough energy. A half-hour on the metro later, I am happy to say that I made it home. Now for a relaxing evening, dinner with my host family at 9pm, and a fabulous weekend ahead exploring the Parisian museums. Starting tomorrow, I will always have more than €1.40 in my wallet.

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