How to Live like a Local When Traveling

Staying in an apartment gets you into a neighborhood and off the beaten path. You can become part of the neighborhood, if only for a little while. I stayed at an Airbnb in Paris for 10 days, and one in Amsterdam for three days. It was my first time to use Airbnb, and I loved the experience of having an apartment as home base.

After I dumped my bags in the apartment, I explored the neighborhood. I wanted to check it out during the day so I could feel comfortable returning there at night. I wanted to see what restaurants were nearby; and the nearest laundry, yoga studios, public transportation, and food markets.

Amsterdam canal

An Amsterdam canal in Oud West area – Airbnb apartment was one block away.

Random arch in Paris

Street arch near the Airbnb apartment in Paris

Synagogue in North Marais

Synagogue de Nazareth in Le Marais – often guarded by soldiers

The Paris apartment had a “full-size” refrigerator — still tiny by U.S. standards — and I went to markets for breakfast foods, snacks, and beverages.  I was able to eat bread and cheese as the French do because I found a market that sold gluten-free baguettes.  They were delicious — crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, as a regular baguette would be. I noticed that cartons of eggs in markets are not refrigerated. Eggs were on shelves just like cans of peas. I bought and ate a half-dozen unrefrigerated organic eggs. I live to write about it.

Organic market in Le Marais

Organic market in Le Marais (Paris)

Gluten-free baguette and log of chevre cheese

Paris market purchase: Gluten-free baguette and chevre

Market mural in Marais

Market Mural in Le Marais

To feel like a local, I cultivated favorite places. In both Paris and Amsterdam, I was recognized as a repeat customer at some neighborhood cafes. It was great! Although, maybe it was my poor French and lovely — as opposed to “ugly” —  American-ness they remembered (??)

Anyway….

In Paris, I found a charming creperie called Divin’ Art close to Arts et Metiers Metro station. The restaurant was a straight shot from the front door of my apartment building. Divin’ Art had only been open for business a week. It worked for me because all their food is gluten-free. It was reasonably priced and the restaurant had a small bar with a nice selection of hard cider.

To think that, before I found Divin’ Art, I had spent hours one Sunday trying to find a gluten-free creperie I’d read about. That creperie’s website claimed it would be open on Sunday. It was closed when I got there. I was starved and indignant!

Divin Art exterior

savory crepe

Savory crepe: fried egg, caramelized onions, and smoked salmon

In Amsterdam, I found a great breakfast place and became a “regular.” The second time I went there, they remembered my special order from the day before. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, check out Ted’s All Day Brunch in Oud West (Old West) Amsterdam. It has wifi and is two blocks up the street from my Airbnb apartment.

Teds All Day Brunch

Ted’s All Day Brunch

Ted's All Day Brunch - my breakfast

My breakfast – scrambled eggs with sides of mushrooms, smoked salmon, and sauerkraut

Another way to live like a local is to continue your usual activities. In Paris, I took a vinyasa yoga class at Make Me Yoga. I was lucky to have stumbled upon a studio that accepts drop-ins. The studio was in an area called Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement, and a walkable distance from the apartment. The teacher offered to teach the class in English because of me, but I asked her not to. I wanted to be guided through the poses and meditation in French. I followed along just fine by watching her and the others. I even started to understand the French instruction for sun salutations.

A bonus was seeing a French yoga student in an Ohio State Buckeyes shirt. She had no idea how it warmed my heart to see O-H-I-O, my home for real.

Make Me Yoga classOhio State Buckeye Fans in Paris

Now a few words about the apartments themselves:

The Paris AirBnB. I selected a studio apartment for the wifi, location, price, and full kitchen. It was a third floor walkup. My first impression was shock when I put in the door code at street level and entered. In the U.S., the building might be considered derelict based on the entry and uneven stairways. The lonnng walk from the front door to my set of staircases was creepy. Actually, that’s an understatement.  I dreaded what it would be like to enter the building at night. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

20150929_145245

Creepy hallway

Well, chalk this up as a bohemian experience in the Marais. I memorized where the lights were in the hall so I wouldn’t find myself in the dark, and set the fears aside.

Bottom line: the apartment itself was updated, unlike the common spaces of the building. I knew the building was seriously old, not that its ancient history should excuse chipped paint, falling plaster, hanging wires, and an epic lack of aesthetics. Regardless, when I returned to the apartment at the end of a day, I was “home.” The apartment was clean and the area was safe.The building itself didn’t lose its creepiness; but, as I always say … you can get used to almost anything. (However, if there had been any pests and bugs, I think I would have lost my mind.)

A note about the apartment’s shower stall: it was the tiniest ever — a perfect little 2×2 square. Unbelievably, it had a luxe array of shower heads, including the rainfall. I had to sidle out of the shower sideways to exit, and I’m not a big person.

Tiny shower stall

The street where I stayed had an entrepreneurial, semi-gritty, and artsy vibe. It was also near three Metro stations, which was a huge plus. A variety of good cafes, bars, Pilates and massage studios, coffee shops, boutiques, bars, galleries, supermarkets, and a guarded synagogue were in walking distance.

My building was next door to two bars, whose clientele gathered at tables and chairs set up outside. It seemed the courtyard below amplified the noise. Even with windows closed, I couldn’t sleep until the bars closed around 2 a.m. Being unable to sleep when I was ready to sleep was my deal breaker. Had I only known….

[BTW, my nephew and his partner stayed at an Airbnb in Marais also. It didn’t take long to figure out we were not only in the same part of the Marais, but on the same street! He said their staircases were so steep they had to hang onto a rope while going up three flights. They called their apartment Les Miserables.]

David's Airbnb

Les Miserables staircase.

The Amsterdam Airbnb.  I got great sleep at this apartment! The bed was so comfortable. The studio was a spacious and clean third-floor walkup. It was adjacent to the host’s rooms, and I had complete privacy, a bathroom and washing machine. I also had for my use a small refrigerator, electric teapot, and pantry. The apartment’s location was Oud West, near the city center and Jordaan. It was also a walkable distance from the main museum district. If I’d used my fitness tracker, I would have racked up the step count in this walkable city.

View from Amsterdam apartment

View from Amsterdam apartment

Amsterdam rowhouses, houseboat, and bike

Amsterdam row houses, houseboat on the canal, and a bicycle

The apartment building’s architecture and staircases were typical of Amsterdam. I had never climbed such steep stairs in my life. They were the closest thing to a ladder that a staircase can get. Thank goodness the host met me at the door and carried my bag up. He was very accommodating and helpful throughout my visit. When it was time to leave, I wondered whether the bags and I would both make it down the stairs. I admit I thought about throwing my bags down each flight. (See my Airbnb review of the apartment here.)

Amsterdam apartment staircase

Amsterdam apartment staircase

All in all, staying in apartments gave me a different way to experience Paris and Amsterdam. I was happy with the neighborhoods I selected and the price I paid for the apartments. And, I would definitely stay in the Amsterdam apartment when I visit the city again!

2 thoughts on “How to Live like a Local When Traveling

  1. Rindi

    Sounds like a good and adventurous trip abroad!
    I’d been hearing quite a bit about airbnb and have been considering giving it a try. I guess the hit or miss comes with the territory. ;c)

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  2. Rindi, I think airbnb can work out fine if you know what is important to you about where you put down your bags. Communication is a two-way street. In my case, the host should have disclosed the noise from the bar every day of the week. It won’t bother some people, who might still be out late themselves. But, it mattered to me. I should have asked whether the neighborhood was quiet at night. I’d use airbnb again. It’s part of the adventure!

    Like

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