One Week: The Paris Commuter
Once you've settled into your temporary Paris digs, you need to get out there and explore. Use your first day to orient yourself to the city and its major landmarks as you shake your jet lag. Pick up a free city map at a tourist office or invest in a Michelin guide of the city; it's indispensible if you're going to make Paris your home.
Today is also a good day to secure your travel passes. If you plan to use a combination of public transportation and walking, spend €12 on a carnet of 10 tickets good for the Métro and city buses that will last the duration of your stay - if you limit your travel to one or two rides a day and walk the rest. For about €40, you can splash out on an unlimited Navigo pass that'll get you to and from the airports on the RER, as well as the suburbs of Versailles and Fontainebleu, if you choose to voyage out and about. Less expensive but more restricted Navigo options are also available; all can be purchased from kiosk vendors in train stations, some Métro stations, and many tabacs.
Days 2 and 3
Now that you're familiar with the layout of the city, get to know some of the quartiers you're considering settling in. Outdoor markets are a good way to get a feel for the neighborhood. See who's shopping there, who's selling, and what they're selling. Stop in to the friendliest-looking café for a glass of wine or a coffee, pick up a baguette sandwich from an inviting boulangerie, find a bench in a park or square that's perfect for people-watching, and tuck in.
Along the Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement, you can join the others lounging in the sun along the water, sharing an afternoon picnic. Farther north, near La Chappelle, take in an Indian thali, then walk it off heading toward La Villette, where joggers, cyclists, and parents pushing strollers make good use of the open green spaces. If it's a Saturday morning, mosey over to the lively Batignolles neighborhood, where a weekly bio (organic) market is in full swing. While you're here, stop into every immobilier (real estate office) you pass and pick up a copy of its latest listings.
From here, hop on the Métro and migrate south toward Parc St. Cloud, where you can look back at Paris and admire the view, as Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III once did, while getting a taste of what suburban Paris has to offer. Crossing the périphérique back into Paris proper, head toward the Alésia neighborhood in the 14th, visit the cool (and kind of creepy) catacombs, then pick up a copy of Particulier à Particulier at the nearest La Presse kiosk, tote it to an inviting terrace café, and enjoy the last rays of the sun while perusing your collection of apartment-rental listings.
Days 4 and 5
You have a feel for the city now, and you've even prowled a few prime neighborhoods. It's time to brave the French-speaking sphere by making phone calls and arranging visits to some of those Parisian abodes you've been scoping out. If you don't have a phone or a phone card, pick one up. It's as easy as a visit to Phone House (there's one in nearly every arrondissement), where €25 will get you a portable, a SIM card, and calling time to make those vital connections. Don't forget to check out Craigslist and FUSAC for both housing and job leads.
If you're leaning toward a certain neighborhood, this might be a good moment to explore your banking options and even open a French bank account. What- ever branch you select will become your "home" branch, so be thoughtful in your choice - changing banks isn't impossible, but like every other bureaucratic process, it is time-consuming and a tad draining. If you're planning to buy rather than rent, consider discussing mortgage prospects with your banker, too.
Spend a bit of time exploring the campus of the Sorbonne, or visit any private language school you're considering. With a little planning, you could also hit a Meetup (www.meetup.com) to get to know some of the locals before you make the big leap.
Spend your penultimate day in Paris exploring the close suburbs and enjoying a spot of relaxation while you're at it. To the east, over the périphérique, the Montreuil flea market (Saturday through Monday) is worth a stop before you head into town to explore this affordable alternative to Paris. One town over and a short walk or Métro ride away is St. Mandé, with its old-fashioned downtown and close proximity to the beautiful Bois de Vincennes. Pick up your comestibles at the open-air market, then head to the 1,000-hectare park for lunch in a verdant setting. As you relax beside Lac Daumesnil, synthesize your experiences and make a mental checklist: What neighborhoods can I really imagine living in? What job prospects deserve further consideration? Do I need to make another visit?
With all the real estate information, business cards, email addresses, and phone numbers of new friends tucked safely into your suitcase, you can enjoy your final breakfast of a croissant, thé, and Le Parisien before heading to Charles de Gaulle for the flight home.
From the book Moon Living Abroad in France by Aurelia d'Andrea. Excerpted by arrangement with Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. For more information, visit http://www.moon.com.