What Shoes to Pack for Paris


Zero-waste minimalist shoe guide Paris France
Isabel Marant sneakers. Celine loafers.  Louboutin espadrilles. Jimmy Choo 'Youth' boots. Ferragamo 'Vara' pumps. Christian Louboutin heels. Vara pumps also available secondhand at 25 Janvier, 97 Rue Vieille du Temple.

Here's what I've found after years of walking here and combing through peer-reviewed orthopedic studies- if you're coming to Paris on vacation, you only need two pairs of shoes. Residents need three (not including specific use shoes, like running shoes or hiking boots). In the fall and winter, pack ankle boots; in spring and summer, sneakers or espadrilles, depending on your style. Your feet will feel good after hours of walking on sand and cobblestone, and you won't look like a tourist.

Contrary to popular opinion, Parisian women do wear sneakers all the time. Stan Smiths are the most popular, but you'll see New Balances and Nikes everywhere. One ethical, sustainable option that wicks away sweat and absorbs odors is Allbirds, made from durable, comfortable merino wool. Experts recommend investing in a supportive "city shoe" with 1-2 inch shock-absorbing heel (not Repettos or Tods- they wear out fast!). I like Salvatore Ferragamo's Vara pump, found for $12 at a thrift store in Cleveland. They come in four widths and are great for walking, even during rain. Don't bother with rainboots, nobody wears them. Same goes for calf length or knee high boots.

Suede in any form is popular in Paris- to remove stains, rub shoes with a piece of bread. The best part of buying secondhand, apart from the cost-per-wear savings? Shoes are already broken in, ready for use. For natural, plastic-free shoe care, click here


Paris to Go

Albi

 

Before I let this trip get too far away from me, let me tell you about Albi, an ancient town in the Midi-Pyrenees, on the Tarn River.

 

Our hosts, JPG and Françoise, are accomplished personally and professionally. They lived in Algeria and the US and their whole family is talented, engineers and architects and magazine editors and writers. We stayed in an old, beautiful maison, eating every day in a converted candle factory. It's story is very interesting, a sort of French, post-antebellum Tara: With the invention of the light bulb, the family candle business suffered, and the matriarch did everything she could to keep their home. The family lovingly restored the place, turning its offices into a modern residence and cultivating a garden around a river running through the backyard. Stepping into the original residence is like visiting a panorama of the French Third Republic.

 

The central part of Albi is a UNESCO heritage site. Many pilgrims visit the giant brick cathedral in the city center, and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum is one of the oldest castles in France. We visited the town market, Saint-Salvi cloister and Musée de la Mode, an extensive, expertly-preserved collection in an old convent. Downstairs, the curator's "mood-board" loops onscreen: My Fair Lady, Gone With the Wind, and Dangerous Liaisons inspired his selection, fitted on custom mannequins in air, temperature, and light-controlled chambers. Nearby Rodez houses the stunning Musée Soulages, a must-visit, if you can tear yourself away from Michel Belin long enough.

 

I learned so much about French culture and life staying here. They were zero-waste before that was a thing- the hostess makes her own everything (confits, jam) at home, their compost bin is steamy and well-attended, and the host installed solar on the usine, which shoots enough power back into the grid to garner a check from EDF every now and then. All the household items are largely plastic-free, special and built to last: A friend's little boy played all day with the vintage wooden train set and Red Flyer wagon. Françoise gave me a special, colorful addition to my 10-piece wardrobe, and my friend Fiat made the incredible Thai meal seen above... he prepared the red curry paste, from scratch, himself!


Paris to Go

Zero Waste Sparkling Water

 

Paris restaurants serve room temperature water, from carafes, almost exclusively. Did everyone know this except me? I drink tap water, so I never noticed, but recently friends visited from the US and were incensed by the lack of ice and straws (they asked for buttered bread, too). "Only Americans have an obsession with ice water," my husband sniffed. When our German relatives visited Paris, they had a different issue entirely. "We drink nothing but sparkling," they announced, with Teutonic brusqueness, before ordering me to tell the waiter.

 

The sparkling water industry generates a lot of waste, of course, which is why I was overjoyed to discover Eau de Paris. Six fountains distribute free, fresh sparkling water in the capital, using a clean, temperature-controlled carbonation system. I've visited the dispensers at Parc André Citroën and under Pont du Concorde. It's nice having unbottled bubbly for picnics and parties. Every few weeks or so, I take my panier over and fill four swing-top limonade bottles from the free fountains. Voilà, zero-waste eau pétillante! You can achieve the same effect at home with a vintage seltzer bottle.

In total, there are six carbonated water dispensers in Paris: Fontaine du Parc Martin Luther King (Batignolles, 17ème), Reuilly Garden in the 12ème, 19 Rue Neuve-Tolbiac in the 13ème, and 28 Rue d'Aubervilliers in the 18ème. For more information, click here. Let me know if you ever want to make zero-waste egg creams!

Paris to Go

How to Bike in Paris


Dior sunglasses / Petit Bateau t-shirt / Alexander Wang pants / Nike Sky Hi Dunks

Renting a Vélib' is easier and cheaper than taking the Métro, but you'll need a credit card or Navigo. Some cards work at the machine (kiosks offer instructions in English and seven other languages), others need to buy 1 or 7-day passes online. Once you have your pass, enter the ticket number and four digit security code of your choice. Choose a bike- checking the tires, pedals, chain, saddle, and brakes first- then enter its number on the keypad. Press the release button next to your bike and go.

Prices are 1,70€ for a one-day pass, 8€ per week, and 29€ for a year. Vélib' preauthorizes a 150€ deposit, but journeys under 30-45 minutes are free, depending on your subscription- after that, each additional half hour is 1-4€. Be warned: these bikes are heavy. In Montmartre, I'm in first gear constantly, and the other day in Parc André Citroën, it dragged me down a slight incline. It's not uncommon to see fit, able-bodied young people sweating, huffing and puffing on Vélibs, while elderly, white-haired men and women bike by, outpacing cars and talking on the phone.

This concludes my unsolicited Vélib' informercial. Here's how to ride safely in Paris:

How to Bike in Paris

  1. Ride in the street. Policemen are constantly booting confused cyclists from the sidewalk, threatening them with fines. Watch out for people walking in the street and bike lanes. Pedestrians are your worst enemy biking in Paris. Make it a habit to shout "Attention!" [ah ta(n) syo(n)] loudly at people wandering aimlessly.
  2. Pay attention to pavement markings. Bike lanes come and go in Paris, so consult this map and plan ahead. 
  3. Ride big. It's your right to ride in the street, even where no designated route exists. Take your time- drivers here are used to people in the street, so don't panic or swerve if a car is coming up behind you. 
  4. Remember priorité à droite. Drivers on the right always have the right of way. If you're riding on the left side of the street, you're obliged to yield to any bus/taxi/car approaching the intersection.
  5. If riding in a skirt or heels, adjust the seat. The saddle should be high enough so your skirt doesn't get caught in the chain and your legs can extend completely straight. This trick for keeping your skirt in place is cute and very popular- in America. Parisian women tuck the front of their skirts under one leg so it's snugly secured on the saddle. When biking in heels, ride on the balls of your feet.
You can buy a recycled bike every Saturday from 10 am-1pm and 2-7 pm at 14 bis rue Cloÿs, 75018 Paris.


Paris to Go

Eat in Paris for €50 A Week: 10 Ways to save money on Groceries


When I was single, I spent $25 a week on groceries. Mostly vegetables, my diet included steel cut oats and beans supplemented by locally grown seasonal fruit. Growing up, I'm sure my mom spent less than that to feed four of us, before celiac-friendly products became widely available. I didn't eat a lot of carbs and stuck to things that were inherently gluten-free, which left plenty of money over for secondhand designer clothes and solo travel.

Paris is expensive, though, and it took me a while to get past my shock at local food prices- the average couple in our neighborhood spends €220 a week on groceries. I needed a way to feed our family of two- and my own personal appetite of four- without coupons. Here's my situation: I don't have kids. Most days, I leave home before 9, walk to St. Germain-des-Près or Iéna, and come back at 6:00. Since this is France, I get an hour-long lunch. French people eat later than regular people, eliminating the pressure to put dinner on the table right away. Everybody's situation is different, and this coupon-free plan is location-specific. If we lived somewhere else- even within Paris- we'd probably spend less, but I'd be lost without all the fresh spices and purple vegetables I find in the environs. People who can't cook every day can prepare meals one day a week and pre-package them in portable containers, like my beautiful, busy, and capable friend Melanie does.

10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries


1. Hit the marchés. 

Cash-only limits unnecessary purchases, and eating in season yields immediate savings. Look for stalls that let you fill your own paniers; otherwise, you pay extra for packaging weight. I like Serge Baudry at Bastille for rainbow root vegetables and golden raspberries. Don't bother with Marché Belleville- it isn't worth the long and arduous trip nor the pushing, shoving, and screaming that follows. If I wanted to be yelled at by Asian people, I'd gain weight and visit my family.

2. Skip the bulk bin. 

Bulk bins in Paris carry "trendy" grains and foodstuffs like quinoa and pre-made granola. But paying a hefty premium for eating bird seed makes no sense when you can eat whole foods like a human being. Instead of having carb-heavy bulk cereal for breakfast, enjoy the micronutrients in baked sweet potato or roasted beets (they taste so good here, neither need salt, oil, or butter). The money I save by skipping inexplicably popular, expensive fads- e.g., kale- is better spent on nutrient-dense, satisfying foods that fill me up and actually grow here.

3. Lay off the meat. 

The single biggest change you can make to lower your grocery bill is lower your meat consumption (giving up meat altogether reduces your carbon footprint 25%). Whole chickens are cheaper and more versatile than chicken breasts, and you save more money buying salmon with skin than without. Buy meat on sale and use vegetables to stretch it out, adding steak haché to ratatouille or poaching fish with squash and fennel. Buying fresh tuna at the market, then boiling and shredding it saves money and spares you the additives and preservatives of BPA-laden canned tuna.

4. Avoid canned/packaged foods. 

Why buy canned beans when all you have to do is soak dried beans overnight? Why buy dried when you can buy fresh beans and fry the pods? Here are things you can make at home to save money: Tomato sauce, mustard, jams, harissa, ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, yogurt, nut milks, pickles, chips, pesto, vegetable broth, creme de marron, hot sauce, bread, cakes and cookies, even fresh gluten-free pasta. For mayonnaise, mix mustard with egg yolks until combined. Whisk in oil and water, a few drops at a time, incorporating fully before moving on. For vinaigrette, combine herbs, mustard, and pepper; use a fork to mix in oil and balsamic vinegar. Try greek yogurt, anchovies, lemon juice, parmesan, and pepper instead of salad dressing. Remember: Filling your own container at Mariage Frères is more economical than buying less prestigious packaged brands at the grocery store. Note: Some people only have access to canned foods, and shouldn't feel guilty about buying them. If I can't find gluten free beans, for instance, I buy them canned. For those concerned about BPA, Eden Organics and Native Forest are BPA non intent, BPS, BPF, and BADGE free, with oleoresin linings.

5. Shop a few times a week, carrying reusable bags for spontaneous purchases

This flies in the face of everything you've ever heard about saving money, but in Paris, you need to be flexible, ready to stock up on deals wherever they're found. Trying to buy everything in one place raises your grocery bill because different neighborhoods offer better prices on certain items, while inflating prices for others. For instance, pineapples at Bastille are €1, but the same vendor at Raspail charges €4.80. I shop twice a week for produce and meat and once a month or less for spices, staples, and household goods (which amount only to baking soda, vinegar, unpackaged soap, cat stuff, and toilet paper).

6. Grow your own herbs / tea and mix your own spice blends. 

Rue Keller, Sur les Quais, L'Epicerie Fine, and countless other spots in Paris offer spices en vrac. Instead of paying per botte, grow your own mint, basil, thyme, and ginger at home (I confess, I don't do this anymore, because my cats are the only ones who get to eat it!). Finishing salt lasts a long time and elevates the humblest meals, making inexpensive ingredients taste fancier than they are. Invest in a good grinder (peppercorns are cheaper than ground pepper) and make your own chili powder, tandoori spice, garam masala, even green and red curry pastes.

7. Eat internationally. 

Kimchi, curries, miyeokguk, plantains, Bo Bun, and Chinese eggplant in garlic and bean paste are cheap to make, nutritious, and somehow very impressive to serve. One of my all-time favorite snacks- that only costs $0.88 per kilo- are bitter gourd chips. Blanch, slice thinly, roll in flour, tandoori spice, salt, chili flakes, minced garlic and ginger; drizzle with olive oil, and bake 30 minutes at 220 ° C. While living in Paris, take advantage of French bread and chèvre- for tartines and to accompany beans, salad, or pasta. Try toasted bread with goat cheese and blackberries or figs, thyme, and homemade pesto and olive oil.

8. Use every part of the food. 

Fennel pollen and carrot, radish, and beet greens are some of my favorite ingredients, along with various valuable peels and skins. These oft-untapped sources of nutrients and insoluble fibers lend themselves nicely to sauces, pesto, hummus, and soups; candy fruit peels and skins or use them for tea (leaves and stems work too). I love raw or roasted root vegetable greens- I never buy lettuce. For tips on using and re-growing food scraps to save money, click here and here.

9. Know what you have before going shopping. 

Communicate what's at home to other family members, so nobody wastes money on surplus ingredients. With organic food, it's especially important not to overbuy, because everything spoils quicker. Shop your pantry first: Try using cookie crumbs for pie crusts, or pour in milk like cereal. Turn old chips into nachos, and scraps of bread into croutons or meatloaf / meatballs. Make new meals from leftovers, e.g. mashed potatoes into gratins, soups or gnocchi; pot roast into shepherd's pie, pasta into casserole, etc. My mom adds leftover vegetables to pancake batter for easy pajeon.

10. Forget meal planning. 

You never know what's going to be at the market from one week to the next, so making a menu in advance is a big waste of time. It helps to familiarize yourself with the growing season and how ingredients you already have work with what you might find shopping. Take stock of what's available, and plan recipes accordingly.

These photos represent €20 organic produce, enough to last a week or more.

Pantry Staples


I don't have a pantry- I have a cabinet. A cabinet in which I stock flour (paper wrapper), sugar, honey, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (glass bottle, no plastic topper), white vinegar (recyclable plastic), black pepper, Persian blue or Himalayan salt, whole ginger, my own tandoori blend, mustard seeds, fresh herbs, whole garlic, onions, and fresh chili peppers. Purchased every two months, staples total €20.

I buy dairy occasionally, using my own container and consigned milk bottle. I don't buy all of the following at once: butter, faisselle de chèvre, yogurt, fromage blanc (delicious with berries and fennel), or milk, around €2 each.

Paris to Go

Zero Waste Cats

 

Meet Kar and Toffel. Their names, when transliterated into French, mean "Pomme de Terre." In other words, meet Po and Tato.

They could be zero-waste, but I was overly indulgent with them as kittens and now they don't respect my life choices. I tried Swheat Scoop litter and cooking their food myself; they went on a hunger strike and Swheat Scoop made them (and me) vomit (was I eating it?), so we switched to bulk silicone litter from Truffaut or Gwendog. The flushable litter biodegrades in a month (for a reusable litter option in France, click here). We use the plastic litter box they came with, and when it needs replacing, I'll get a stainless steel hotel pan from Les Halles to match the stainless scoop I already use. Meanwhile, I scrub the box with baking soda, then vinegar, weekly.

 

Bulk cat foods seem unhealthy and gross. Here are recipes I tried for homemade cat food (all foods can be stored in the refrigerator three days; add nutritional yeast for flea control):
Ground beef 85% lean 15% fat, crumbles, cooked, pan-browned + sweet potato, baked in skin without salt. Pan-brown ground beef in a pan until fully cooked. Drain excess fat. Bake sweet potato in the oven without any added salt. Cut sweet potato into small pieces. Mix the beef and sweet potato and serve.
Chicken breast, meat only, without salt + sweet potato. Bake chicken and sweet potato in the oven without any added salt.  Cut sweet potato into small pieces and mix well.
White potatoes with flesh + chicken breast. Scrub well without soap or vegetable cleansers. Bake chicken and potato in oven without any added salt. Cut into small pieces, mix, and serve. 
Atlantic salmon, wild caught, or Coho + sweet potato. Bake wild caught Atlantic or Coho salmon and sweet potato in oven without salt. Cut into small amounts and mix well.
Based on advice from a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, I used twice the amount of protein than carbs and eliminated oil and supplements, using meat drippings instead. My French friends make their own cat food, consisting of boiled or baked chicken, rabbit, fish, and sweet potato, nothing else. Their cats are healthy, happy, and live past age 20! Kar and Toffel don't trust my cooking, but enjoy homemade cat treats. I buy Almo Nature and Acana food in fully recyclable packaging- PETA lists them on their most humane pet food lists- and use a bamboo and stainless steel feeder (similar here). They have eaten vegan Ami and Benevo in addition to their regular food before, but male cats can only eat about 20% vegan, it seems, without risking urinary tract problems. Our cats don't mind the bowl; if your cats need a fresh supply of running water, Pioneer Pet makes plastic-free stainless steel and ceramic fountains.

Kar and Toffel have two toys- an upcycled organic catnip and wool Scrappy Rat and a natural hemp / jute fish from Martin Sellier, which came on compostable cardboard tied with twine (Purrfect Play makes plastic-free pet products). When their synthetic carpet cat tree finally gives out, we'll build our own Catissa, a natural sheepskin and wood house with water-based varnish, or buy something like this natural wicker cat house. They don't have a cat bed because everything is their bed.

We use the carrier and brush they came with. If you're in the market for one, try plastic-free tampico or wooden pin brushes (here and here) and wicker carriers. Fleas haven't been a problem yet. In Cleveland, I had two outdoor cats and a carpeted home- vacuuming, washing, and moderate use of apple cider vinegar prevented fleas without Frontline. For a nice homemade cat or dog shampoo, combine 1 tablespoon unscented castile soap (make sure there are no essential oils!) in one and a half cups warm water. You can also use cornstarch with lavender flowers for dry cat shampoo.

As for ordering items online- I try not to do it. Zooplus, however, ships everything in cardboard with paper tape and no plastic or styrofoam peanuts inside. They are really good about packing everything tightly so they don't move in the box. I hate recycling because so much of it ends up being wasted anyway, but I always find a use for the boxes, whether it's to make a cat fort or help a friend move, and drop them off at a resourcerie after.

Paris to Go

Knitted Hemp Cloths


Sometimes I see women on the Métro knitting and think, "I can do this." I cannot. My grandmother tried teaching me and she had to start and finish every project for me and the in-between part I simply and mechanically mimicked, like a trained monkey. Nevertheless, I needed a plastic-free alternative to microfiber facial cloths and household scrubs. Zero-waste bloggers rave about microfiber, made from nonrenewable, non-biodegradable petrochemicals. You can recycle polypropylene, but it's still plastic. It's not compostable. Besides all that, microfiber is ugly.

Inspired by No Trash Project, I turned to hemp, an oft-misunderstood fiber valued for strength, softness, minimal soil / climatic requirements, and phytoremediative potential. Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire summarizes the rise and fall of hemp production, from sustainable agronomic standby to victim of botanical bowdlerization. Growing up, the police blotter was filled with sordid tales of cannabis busts- memorably, an 85-year-old man who eluded authorities, wanted for cultivating several pounds on his property. Yet hemp is a great choice for knitting and purling; spun from a weedy plant native to Central Asia, it's widely available on Etsy and at knitting cafés throughout Paris. I think I ended up with the wrong stuff- specifically, garden twine- but no big deal. It gets softer with every wash.


To clean any surface- windows, mirrors, stainless steel, sinks, stoves- add a few drops of water and wipe away, no product necessary. This helps reduce the plastic vinegar bottles I recycle monthly. Hemp washcloths scrub better than microfiber, leaving your home shiny and your face make-up free (don't you hate when people post instructions online for "Re-usable make-up removal wipes"? They're just washcloths).

Hemp has natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, dries quickly, and smells pleasant, at least in my cats' opinion. Kar goes nuts for it, and Toffel plays with the leftover string every chance he gets. The upside of my abject failure at following this seed-stitch pattern? They hang nicely on towel hooks, ready to use in the morning.

Waste tally:
One ingenious, fully recyclable cardboard mailer, held together by tabs, not plastic glue!

Paris to Go