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Finding the Perfect Apartment in France

Planning a monthlong trip to Paris, I realized I wanted to live in the city, not just stay there. So I decided to rent a furnished apartment, figuring I'd also save on hotel and restaurant bills. Yet short of hopping on a plane, I wasn't sure how to find the best place.

The Internet, it turns out, made it easy. I typed the words apartment rentals in Paris on the search engine and up came hundreds of sites. Browsing was fun-- many companies, I discovered, offer discounts in low season or on visits longer than a week-- but to get anywhere I had to be more specific. I keyed in apartment rentals in Montmartre and waited for the results.

Vacation, Inc., had photos of big, bright rooms, but two bedrooms equaled too much money-- $6,000 a month. Things seemed more promising at Locaflat, where I found an artist's studio with 25-foot ceilings for $2,400 a month (there were other, less attractive ones for as low as $1,630 a month). Too bad it wasn't vacant the month I wanted.

After seeing a number of interiors on the Web, I divined the different standards for Paris apartments. Take the phrase "fully equipped kitchen." It appears in almost every listing, yet it could describe anything from a sink and hot plate to an oven, dishwasher, microwave, and dining area for six. And Parisian bathrooms are often just a sink and a toilet. Throw in a shower and it's "modern"; add a tub and you're talking "American style."

I forged onward. World Wide Travel Exchange had a studio with wood floors, potted plants, and floor-to-ceiling French windows in a 1930's building overlooking a cobblestone street. The copy promised a kitchen Martha Stewart would love. Another click sent me off to the bedroom. The sleigh bed looked dreamy. In this case a "modern" bathroom meant a tub with an American shower and fluffy bathrobes. The rent was right in my ballpark. Four weeks, with a 10 percent discount for stays of more than two weeks, came to $3,000. And it was available.

I E-mailed the landlady a list of questions. Within 24 hours I had a reply: Yes, utilities were included; yes, there was a television; yes, she could let me in the day I arrived. She was also happy to recommend restaurants and theaters, and even to make reservations for me. I asked her to fax the lease, along with instructions on where to mail the deposit. Suddenly things were settled.

Or were they?I'd done my research, trusted my instincts, and accepted that all travel carries an element of risk. Still, my qualms stayed with me-- until I walked through the front door. Everything was exactly comme il faut.

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