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The Louvre is well known as the home of the most famous piece in art history — Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, also known in French as La Joconde (the light-hearted woman).

If you’re in the Louvre and wish to see her, I suggest that you go and see her first before you get yourself lost in the labyrinthine halls of this huge museum.

The Mona Lisa is currently located in Room 13 on the first floor of the Denon wing, together with other paintings by the Italian masters from the 17th and 18th centuries. Click on this link on the Louvre’s official website to see an interactive floor plan of the famous museum and find out where exactly the Mona Lisa is located.

And when you are at the Louvre yourself, please ask one of the Louvre’s staff for directions as often as necessary because there are so many stairs and so many halls that it is very easy to get confused and lost.

Once you get to a hall with a crowd of people jostling for a view of a small painting in a cordoned off area, then you know you’ve found her.

The Mona Lisa is smaller than what most people expect — 77 x 53 cm (approximately 30 × 21 inches) — and looks even smaller because you can only view her from a distance. As I said, she is cordoned off from the crowd some 6 to 10 feet away. Oh yes, there will be a crowd, and you’d have to elbow your way to get to the front and take a quick look at the famous masterpiece and perhaps have your photo taken with her. They say the average that people get to spend staring at her is 15 seconds only. And I’m not surprised. There are just too many people that you won’t have a chance to reflect on her real identity or ponder about the possible reasons for her enigmatic smile or even try to test the theory that her eyes seem to follow you if you view her from various angles.

Worse still, the Mona Lisa is protected by a sheet of bullet-proof glass, so you won’t get to examine the brush strokes or even the frame because the glass obscures the painting like a veil.

But if you’re going to Paris and you’ve decided to go to the Louvre, do see her. If you don’t, it will be like going to Australia and not seeing the Harbour Bridge… or going to KL and not seeing Petronas Twin Towers. In the mean time, feast your eyes on this photo that I took of her. Click on this photo to see a bigger version. Sorry for the ‘blur’ — it’s because of the bullet-proof glass, not camera shake.

With the continued strengthening of the Euro, you can expect a holiday in Paris to significantly dent your bank account. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to stretch the power of your (limited) amount of Euros. Here are 10 tips which I hope you’ll find useful:

1. Pick your hotel wisely and be prepared to lower your expectations. Next to the airfare, your hotel bill will take up a huge chunk of the total cost of your holiday so use the internet to your advantage and do some research on possible hotels to stay in long before you travel. Read traveller’s reviews in various websites but take them with a grain of salt, as some of the reviewers have very unrealistic expectations, e.g. complaining about ‘Ikea-type furnishings’ in a 1-star hotel.

You must keep in mind that hotels in Europe are a lot more expensive but much smaller than hotel rooms in Asia. So if you have a limited budget, work within your budget and try not to expect too much so you won’t end up disappointed. Just think of your hotel room as place to sleep in, after a long day of walking and sightseeing. But be warned: smaller hotels tend to not have lifts, so be prepared to carry your luggage to your room on narrow — and often winding — stairs!

If it’s winter or spring, you can save a bit more by opting for rooms that don’t have ensuite baths. It will be so cold, it won’t matter if you don’t shower daily. [For the info of our non-Malaysian readers, most Malaysians shower twice a day. Everyday!]

You’d also save a lot of time and money if you stayed in a hotel that’s close to a Metro station.

2. Use public transport whenever possible. The metro is a very cost-effective and efficient way of getting around and is much, much cheaper than taking a taxi. Arm yourself with the RER/Metro/RATP map — check with your local Alliance Française before leaving for Paris or ask for one at the nearest Metro station upon arrival, or get a copy of Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement from a newsstand. At the Metro station, ask for directions from the information counter and make sure you get on the right train going to the right direction, as some trains share the same track but go to totally different destinations.

Buy your tickets in carnets from the train station or from a newspaper vendor. A carnet of 10 tickets only costs €11 or , effectively, only €1.10 per ticket. If you buy a single t-ticket, it will cost you €1.50. You can also use the same ticket for the bus. Train tickets to and from the airport cost a lot more so if you are going to the airport, be sure to specify it upon purchase.

3. Consider buying a Paris Visite Card. Depending on how long you intend to stay in Paris and where you intend to go, you might want to consider getting a Paris Visite card. Not only will it give you unlimited travel on the bus, metro, tramway and RER networks in Paris and its suburbs, the card also comes with some special offers. The Paris Visite pass is valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days in zones 1 to 3 (close suburbs). Airports (Orly/CDG) and Versailles are not included in the zones covered by this pass.

Prices for the Paris Visite Card vary, depending on the validity:

Price Adult 1 Day (12 and over): 8,50 €
Price Child 1 Day (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 4,25 €

Price Adult 2 Days (12 and over): 14 €
Price Child 2 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 7 €

Price Adult 3 Days (12 and over): 19 €
Price Child 3 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 9,50 €

Price Adult 5 Days (12 and over): 27,50 €
Price Child 5 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 13,75 €

Check out Paris Info for more information on this card or to buy from them online. The card can also be purchased in all Paris Metro, RER, Transilien SNCF stations, bus terminal ticket counters, RATP Boutiques, RATP sales desks at Orly and CDG airports and Paris tourist offices. You can also buy your pass in certain travel agencies and tour operators overseas.

IMPORTANT: Before buying this card, plan your trip carefully and estimate how often you’ll be travelling by train or bus because it might be cheaper to buy individual tickets if you won’t be taking the train or bus that often.

4. Get a Paris Museum Pass. If you’re into museums and culture, buy a Paris Museum Pass. It will allow you to visit as many times as you like more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris and the surrounding area, such as Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Sainte Chapelle. Click here to see the full list of museums and monuments.

With this card, you also save time by not having to queue to buy tickets. In certain places, holders of this card go through a special entrance. For instance, when visiting the Louvre, there is a special entrance at the Richelieu passageway, instead of having to queue at the main entrance at the Glass Pyramid.

Prices, as of this writing, are:

Price 2 Days: 30 €
Price 4 Days: 45 €
Price 6 Days: 60 €

To get an idea of the savings that you get from buying this card, if you are buying the 2-day card (€30), you can already recoup your investment from the cost of admission to the Arc de Triomphe (€8), Louvre (€15) and Musée d’Orsay (€8) alone.

But plan your trip properly because the card is valid for the consecutive dates specified on the card and those cannot be changed. Many museums are closed on Monday and Tuesdays so it may not be very useful to use a 2-day card on those days. Do your homework beforehand to make the most of your card.

Children below 18 are allowed FREE access in most of the museums and monuments included in the Paris Museum Pass itinerary. But, seriously, how long do you really expect kids to keep quiet in a museum?

5. Go to places with free entry. Some places in Paris actually offer free admission every day, all year round.

* Musée national de la Légion d’honneur et des ordres de chevalerie (National Museum of the Legion of Honor and the Orders of Knighthood and Chivalry) – 7th arrondissement
* Musée Bible et Terre Sainte (Museum of the Bible and Terre Sainte) – 6th arrondissement
* Musée – Librairie du Compagnonnage – 6th arrondissement
* Musée Curie – Institut du radium (Curie Museum – Institute of Radium) – 5th arrondissement
* Musée du Parfum-Fragonard (Perfume Museum) – 9th arrondissement
* Théâtre musée des Capucines-Fragonard – 2th arrondissement
* Musée de la Préfecture de Police (Museum of the Police Prefecture) – 5th arrondissement
* Arènes de Lutèce – 5th arrondissement
* Atelier Brancusi – Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou (Atelier Brancusi – National Museum of Modern Art) – 4th arrondissement
* Le Plateau – Centre d’art contemporain (Centre of Contemporary Art) – 19th arrondissement

Most places are also free on the 1st Sunday of every month but that also means mammoth crowds on those days, so go early!

6. When dining out, take the set menu. If you eat at a café, brasserie or restaurant, opt for the Plat du Jour (Plate of the Day) for the best deal. It normally comes with a starter, the main course and a dessert or coffee. Prices, as of this writing, range from €12 to €17 in brasseries and cafés. If you choose to take à la carte, that same amount (€12 to €17) can only get you an appetiser or main dish or, sometimes, just the main dish.

7. Have breakfast outside. If your hotel room rate doesn’t include breakfast, do NOT take up the hotel’s offer for breakfast at some ridiculous price of €20 or so. Instead, go for a walk and look for a nearby café or pâtisserie (bakery specialising in pastries and sweets) or boulangerie (bakery). Have a cup of coffee (from €1) and a croissant (€1.20) or half a baguette (€0.80). Or try one of the flaky pastries. From the flaky, buttery, layered goodness of the pastry and croissant, you can tell that they don’t scrimp on the butter! And don’t worry about the calories — just walk it off!

8. Eat crêpes on the go. Crêpes are a cheap, fast option when your tummy starts growling. Prices range from €3 to €5, depending on the topping, which can be sweet (sucrée) or savoury (salée). Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, is a very popular sucrée option, while the ham and cheese salée option is like a meal by itself already.

9. Ask for water. Practice saying “Un carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait” (a ka-raf-DOH, sil-vu-pleh). That’ll get you a small bottle of purified tap water, more than enough for 2 persons, when you dine in a café or brasserie. And it won’t cost you a single cent, believe it or not. Photo of the carafe d’eau from Paris Breakfasts.

A 500ml bottle of Evian will set you back by around €3 in a café; €1.60 if bought from a vending machine. In comparison, a cup of coffee (un cafe) costs around €1. Oh, and if you want coffee with cream, ask for café creme [ka-fe-KHEM].

10. Take a package tour. Many package tours include fare, lodging and meals, sometimes even entrance to a few well-known spots. The upside? After taking everything into calculation, this might just prove to be the cheapest option. However, I find it a major disadvantage to have to follow the tour group’s schedule. You will, more likely than not, end up not having enough time to stay in the places that you’re most interested in. Ask around a bit before committing to a package tour because some unscrupulous tour operators spend very little time in the popular tourist spots — with very little time to even take photos — but set aside hours for shopping.