I originally had no plans of traveling throughout Europe beyond where our plane landed (Copenhagen) and where our plane was to take off (Stockholm). But after planning the Copenhagen side of my/our trip, I couldn’t find much that really sparked my interest in Stockholm – at least not four days’ worth. And even though this wasn’t intended to be my crazy Euro adventure of traveling to 10 different cities over 3 weeks, I figured since I was going to be all the way over there, I could take a little pit stop somewhere else. And here’s how it went:
Me: “If I could visit one other city in Europe, what should it be?”
Coworker: “Paris. It’s my favorite place in the world.”
*Proceeds to immediately book an AirBnB in Paris.
That’s how it went. Spontaneous and rash. Which is not like me. But I was already going to be traveling solo, which is as far away from ME as possible, so why not?
My husband then said it’d probably be a good idea to also immediately book plane tickets because who books a place to stay before they even have a way to get there?
Once I decided to go to Paris, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I don’t have a long list of European cities I want to visit, and Paris had never really been at the forefront of my mind. But after I booked it, the magic of it was all too alluring, and I spent the next few weeks daydreaming about Paris…PARIS.
So, as with Copenhagen, I researched. I read Paris blogs and found other people (women) who had traveled solo to Paris and read how it was everything they dreamed it to be (and safe…enough). Sure, I’d have to be careful. But walking the streets of Paris, sitting at a cafe, having wine and a baguette in gardens and under the Eiffel Tower and next to palaces? I didn’t have time to be worried because it was all going to be SO WONDERFUL.
And this is where I wish I could tell you it was everything my heart could have imagined. That I fell in love with the city and never wanted to return home. That all the beautiful things you hear about Paris are true.
But this is where I’m going to be honest.
I don’t know how I feel about Paris.
The entire first day it rained, and the second day it was all gloom. Mix rain with narrow sidewalks smeared with dog crap and people everywhere, and, well, it just felt dirty. My boots were disgusting. If I wasn’t maneuvering around hoards of tourists, I was trying to avoid scam artists. I was trying to stay dry and always trying to be safe. The river was brown, and buildings were all the same color (some version of off-white), so I didn’t even have that respite from the monotonous gloom. I felt lonely and tired and my feet hurt – what was I doing here anyway?
Let’s get one thing straight – I arrived in Paris on the wrong foot. I took the train (with my giant suitcase) – even though I’d been advised against it if you’re carrying a lot of luggage. It was full, so I had to stand the whole length of the ride. After getting lost in the metro station (to make my connection), I had to lug said giant suitcase up several flights of stairs only to get out into the open air and RAIN. My first meal was in a crowded restaurant (cue loneliness), and though I wear my boots on the daily, my feet really hurt after walking miles in them. The inside of the Sacre Couer was breathtaking and a nice refuge from the city, but once you step outside you’re immediately reminded of where you are (not in a good way). I made it to the Arc de Triomphe only to realize 1) you have to walk up it, which was not happening with my sore feet, 2) it was unbearably crowded, and I was already over the mass of people by that point, and 3) it was so cloudy, I wouldn’t have gotten a good view of the city anyway. And my GPS on my phone had been acting up the whole day (my only means of getting around), which only added to my frustration. I decided to call it quits and head to the restaurant I planned to eat at early. The only thing that could save me was a big plate of steak and fries, a glass of wine, and a cozy seat inside and away from the rain to rest my feet.
So I headed to Le Relais de l’Entrecôte (suggestion from co-worker). They open at 7:00 pm and only serve steak and fries. From review suggestions, I showed up at 6:40 to get in line and be included in the first dinner rush. Once the restaurant is full, another line forms outside, and they bring the next diners in at about 8:00.
After I was seated, a woman being seated at the table next to me asked if I was also eating alone. I said yes and invited her to join me. And man, WAS THAT MY SAVING GRACE. After a day of frustration and sadness, the only thing better than having a plate of delicious warm food in my stomach and red wine flowing through my veins was a friend to talk to. As fate would have it, she was also from Los Angeles, on her first trip to Europe, and traveling solo for the first time. She was super cool, and after dinner and a couple glasses of wine, we went and had macarons and coffee at Ladurée and adventured out to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night (which was breathtaking and so worth it to see up close -especially at night). Instead of going up it, we rode the carousel at the bottom, and while doing so, the Eiffel Tower’s lights started twinkling. This is how you’re supposed to spend a night in Paris.
We were both staying in AirBnBs a 10 minute walk from one another and shared the same metro stop, so after saying goodbyes I was able to walk back to my apartment safely (even at midnight there were so many people out and restaurants lit up).
We were supposed to meet up the next day, but she only had access to WiFi where she found it, and by the time I heard back from her the next evening, I needed a night in.
I had spent the entire day walking around Paris – across the Seine River, by Notre Dame (too long a line to get in), along Le Marais in hopes to do some shopping (not much luck – French designer clothing is a bit out of my budget), in Le Palais Royal Gardens, and to the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens.
I wanted to grab lunch at Ellsworth, but they were closed by the time I got there, so instead I settled for a coffee and chocolate chip cookie (SO GOOD) from Café Kitsune and relaxed in the Jardins du Palais Royal– my favorite spot in Paris. Though it’s next to the Louvre, there was hardly anyone there. It was quiet and relaxing and beautiful with the famous green chairs and blooming flowers and tree lined paths, and this, this was how I dreamed Paris would be. This beautiful oasis somehow hidden in the center of bustling Paris.
Though I’d been told the Louvre is an all day thing (which I didn’t have time for during my short trip), I went for a couple hours anyway. Of course, even though I went during an “off-peak” time, it was still tremendously crowded. And since I was there, I had to see the Mona Lisa. Honestly, it’s not that impressive, especially compared to all the other artwork and the palace itself (the ceilings were the most beautiful). But with some deep breaths and inner mantras to myself, I made it to the front to see it. Then I high-tailed it out of that mob of people because man, people are animals.
I meant to relax in the Tuileries Gardens afterward, but after being hit on by a stranger (something that still, always bothers me), I found I couldn’t quite let myself. Instead, I hid with a baguette before making my way down to sit in front of the Ferris wheel. I’m afraid of heights, so I definitely didn’t want to ride it alone. I wish I’d had a book with me (I didn’t feel like carrying one all day), but instead I just sat by myself for a bit. Until I decided I’d had enough of Paris and went back to my AirBnB (with a mini bottle of wine).
If you got through all of that, you might be thinking I’m a party pooper. I just want to be honest and transparent in hopes that my experience might shed some light for you if you decide to visit. There’s enough sugarcoated reality online already. But I do have to say this – though Paris was not what I’d hoped, I’d like to visit again. I think if I traveled with someone and the weather had been better, I might have had a really beautiful time. I’m greatly affected by the senses, so the weather really affects my mood. I do not enjoy the rain- when it rains twice a year in LA, I’m still not excited about it.
My husband won’t like the chaos of Paris (it’s like NYC on steroids), but he will appreciate the architecture. Though the buildings miss the whimsical color of Copenhagen, their scale and design really are something else. Plus, isn’t Paris the city of love? It might be nice to be there for a romantic getaway, not a solo expedition.
How to Say Hello: “Bonjour!”
How to Say Thank You: “Merci.”
Favorite Pastry: Pain au Chocolat.
Favorite Food: Steak and Fries at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte.
My Least Favorite Thing About The City: Always feeling on my guard (didn’t help that everywhere you go were announcements warning you about pickpockets).
The People: Because the French don’t have a distinct look, and Paris is home to so many different people (and tourists), I could never figure out who was actually Parisian. This, weirdly enough, made me feel even more isolated and lonely. Was it because I didn’t know who to speak to? Who to trust? Also, restaurant servers don’t have the same courtesy as they do in America, which really threw me off.
Shopping: I thought I’d do most of my shopping in Paris, but I had a hard time finding a reasonably priced Parisian brand. The highlight was finding a pair of unworn Ferragamo heels at a secondhand store (I just happened to stumble upon) for only $28!
Things I’m Sad I Missed: Exploring the city with someone. Having a picnic with wine. Taking a cooking class. Eating at more restaurants and sitting in cafés (I just didn’t have the time).
Advice for Your Stay: Travel with someone. Stay close to everything – I was able to walk and take the metro everywhere. Spend more time here, so you aren’t rushed and have time to relax (and have a better chance of experiencing Paris in the sun).