Whether or not we like to admit it, the cliché is true… Paris has an unmatchable sense of romance and magic. From struggling opportunistic artists to age-old traditions, this city has the whole package. Home to the work of greats like Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci, it is no wonder this place continues to inspire. People travel from around the globe seeking the mark these icons have left in the heart of Paris forever. Personally, I wasted no time jumping right into the clichés: Eating street-stall biscotti and croissants for breakfast? Check. Walking aimlessly admiring the flamboyant edifices? Check. Sipping wine atop MonteMarte and Moulin Rouge? Check. Gazing at the nighttime spectacle of lights on the Eiffel Tower? Check. My time spent was short, sweet, and most importantly, solo.
With the hope of staying on my own time, in my own way, spending a reflective weekend somewhere in a pensive state, I thought Paris was the perfect choice. Having been there once before, (at the shallow age of 16), I would return not just to be blown away by the landmarks, rather to indulge in the wonders of the city I had before been too preoccupied to notice. So I braved the journey solo, exposed myself to the challenge ahead, and sought out true adventure… just me and Paris!
I arrived from my bus-train-plane commute and stepped outside to see a street lined with adorable cafes boasting outdoor seating and potted flower arrangements. Famished, I sat at the first affordable one I saw and struggled to order amidst the French lingo. After re-fueling, I headed to the Metro confident I could spend the whole time in Paris without needing to fork over any extra Euros for a cab. Yes, I got a little lost, but eventually found my way over to my hotel’s neighborhood. Unknowingly, I seemed to have chosen the worst area of the city for my stay – at a shady establishment calling itself a hotel but looking more like a run-down piece of crap. Vowing to look at more photos and reviews next time before booking my accommodation online, I dressed the part as a French twenty-something and left for the Arc de Triomphe – a speedy introduction into Paris culture.
Feeling adventurous and free, I anxiously went straight to the famous Champs-Élysées, a street rich with high end fashion and unaffordable luxuries. I walked the fabulous strip until I approached a quaint pub calling my name. Yes, I ordered French fries – and a burger which turned out to be a hamburger lacking a bun but gaining an over-easy egg. I made friends with a Texan couple who had a daughter my age, and after a free shot from the friendly bartender, we journeyed across the street to the famed Arc de Triomphe. The Arc honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Lit up at night, it is a commanding sight to see. After snapping some photos and walking underneath the Arc, I bid adieu to my Texas pals and apprehensively made my way back to the dodgy part of town. Blocking my door with a chair, I watched some French shows on the tube and fell into a slumber.
The next morning I made my way to the St. Michel fountain which I grew to love, munching on freshly baked croissants from the cheap street stall and watching eclectic tourists admire its beauty. I met up with a free walking tour of the entire city which would occupy me the next 6 hours. Our worldly group of fifteen walked the city on foot, taking in the sites and learning the deep history of all the important stops. We also walked the beautiful Seine River, found the first outdoor café in Paris, and the most expensive street in all of Europe. I love these free tours, and scout them out at every European city I visit! I learned so much I would have otherwise never known, and noticed places that the general population of tourists tend to neglect.
At the end of the tour I decided to return to the Louvre at nighttime and wander the halls a bit. I went straight for the Michelangelo statues and the famed Mona Lisa. Seeing the Da Vinci piece a second time did not change my opinion… what is all the fuss about? The thing is so small and dark, and the tourists crowd like cattle trying to snap a picture without getting the unavoidable glare off the massive glass box it sits in. Personally, I am much more impressed with some of the other pieces in the packed museum. After my feet were screaming at me from all the walking, a got dinner at a fancy Parisian lounge, of course ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. Next I decided to take a nighttime stroll, and found myself following music into a tiny street packed with people. Bars, nightclubs, ice cream shops, street stalls, and clothes shops lined the alleyway which came alive at night. I feasted on a street-stall Nutella crepe and a cup of gelato as a nightcap before making my way to the metro.
I decided I wasn’t tired enough to return to my lonely hotel room, so I jumped on the metro headed to see the lightshow at the Eiffel Tower. I made it just in time, and stood under the insane monument taking it all in. When I walked to the other side, a glimpse of light caught my eye. The blue lights (on the Tower that month to represent the European Union) were suddenly joined by hundreds of huge white bulbs, glittering sporadically into a mesmerizing routine. The gorgeous lightshow lasted about 5 minutes, and I was able to successfully get some nice photos. Sad to leave the Tower, I got back to the train station around midnight, and it was not without a scary detour in a desolate station that I finally got safely back to my room.
The next day I woke up to some rain, but that didn’t stop me. I had so much left to do! I began my day with another 1 Euro croissant at the St. Michel fountain, and walked to the timeless cathedral, Notre Dame. As I walked through the tall wooden doors, I immediately felt humbled by its presence. The architecture is amazing, and the ceiling looks like it could touch the sky. I spent almost two hours inside, exploring every nook of the building in awe. I lit a candle for good faith, and stepped outside to a now-sunny afternoon, deciding it would be a good time to return to the Louvre. (Yes, I went there four times… but how often does one get to be in such a monumental place?) I conducted a self-made photo shoot outside and explored some more, before walking the Place de la Concorde and touring the military building Invalides. I ate some quick fast food to stay in budget, and made my way to the infamous Moulin Rouge for the night.
Home to can-can dancing and topless shows, Moulin Rouge is an iconic scene. The giant windmill and bright lights bring character to this part of town, and as I was too cheap to buy a show ticket, I sipped wine outside and did some serious people-watching. A little while later I joined a walking tour of MonteMarte, the mountain atop Paris full of history and art. The nighttime tour was so fun – we walked through the art fairs, saw Van Gogh’s original home, the gorgeous cathedral at the top of the mountain, and the Lapin Agile where Picasso was first recognized. It was hard to picture him here where he used to paint in the café and sell his art for food. The views at the top of MonteMarte are amazing – seeing all of Paris dressed in lights, the Eiffel Tower standing tall. I celebrated with another Nutella crepe, toured some risqué sex shops, and bought some authentic street art at one of the many stands.
My last day in Paris, I just HAD to climb the Eiffel Tower. Call it ugly or beautiful, this is one of the most recognizable and iconic monuments in the world. I waited in a long line and paid just 3 Euro to be allowed inside. Climbing the tower was magnificent! There are three levels to conquer, and the views get better and better as you make your way up. I saw several families and older people quit, but I was determined to get to the top. Over 650 stairs later, I made it! I loved taking in the city from all sides, and trying to conceptualize where I was in the world in that moment… I mean, come on, on top of the actual Eiffel Tower? WOW.
It was a beautiful way to end my trip. I had a few hours to kill so I window shopped and went back to the Arc de Triomphe before heading to the airport to catch my flight back to London. I absolutely loved this trip and did not feel lonely at all. I find travelling alone is a great way to get to know a place on your own terms, and reflect on how it makes you feel. Paris made me feel independent and free, with the whole world ahead of me. Bonjour, Paris… I hope to meet again.