Paris, Paris, Paris,
De mes amours c’est lui le favori
Josephine Baker really put into words the enchantment of Paris. The above lyrics are from “Paris, Paris, Paris,” which is a song that says “Paris” so many times that it stops sounding like a word. However, it is also one of the songs that was playing on repeat in my head as I took the train to Paris on a cool Friday morning last November.
So, welcome to what will be a very long post that could be properly given the title: “Paris: Everything I Did Wrong While Traveling Alone.”
But really, I was fine. And I had fun. Going back, there are things I would do differently, but I also would not trade my experience in Paris for anything.
As in the post I wrote about visiting Chile by myself, this will be split into three parts: (1) What I Did, (2) What to Know, and (3) What to Do.
What I Did:
Day 1: I’ve written before about my trip to Paris (here and here), but basically during my semester in France, I took a weekend trip on my own from Aix to Paris. I arrived at about noon on Friday and left at noon on Sunday. I planned that I would mostly be out and about on Friday and Saturday and decided to get a two-day Paris Visite Pass. This was a good investment for me since I was hopping all over the city and didn’t have to worry about reloading fare or buying a bunch of one-day tickets.
Once I’d picked up my Paris Visite pass, I continued walking instead of taking the metro, and I ended up at a very crowded Notre Dame for a few minutes before continuing across the river to Shakespeare & Co. I had planned ahead and knew that Notre Dame would be busy at this time of day, so for the moment, I was just passing by. Shakespeare & Co. was my first real destination because it is the famous bookstore where all those American Expat novelists hung out in the 1920s. Again, it was very crowded in the middle of the day, but I bought a book and got it stamped with the Shakespeare & Co logo. That was one of my main goals in going to Paris, so I was very happy at that point.
Afterwards, I decided to get lunch and have a picnic by the Eiffel Tower. I had read online somewhere that I should eat on Rue Cler, which is basically one street over from the Eiffel Tower. I should point out that at this point it was approaching 2 p.m., and I had eaten breakfast at 6 a.m. in order to catch my train. By the time I got to Rue Cler, I was starving and couldn’t wait to pop into a little boulangerie and buy a delicious sandwich.
Rue Cler is a somewhat expensive street, and most of its food is located in little restaurants where you’re expected to sit down and eat. I found one bakery though, and I paid more than I should have for a disappointing sandwich. But I did stop by Laduree to buy some macaroons. These were also expensive, but they were much more worth it. Either way, I had my lunch and was about to enjoy a lovely, sunny picnic on Champ de Mars.
It was November. It was very foggy. It was cold. I was by myself, eating lunch on a bench while every hustler in the park came up to sell me things. By the time I finished eating, I couldn’t feel my fingers, so I decided to go to my hotel…
And my phone stopped working about halfway there, which meant my walking directions no longer existed. This was Very Frustrating, and I was low-key panicking – to the extent that a police officer asked me if I was okay. The good thing about that experience though was that I ended up walking into the nearest metro station, and I forced myself to figure out how to get to my hotel. Lo and behold, what would have been a very long, very cold walk turned out to be a ten-minute metro ride that let me off one street away from my hotel.
A quick aside on the hotel: It wasn’t my favorite, but it was very cheap. For what I paid, it had solid accommodations and was close to the metro. The downside was that it was very out-of-the-way, and there wasn’t really anywhere for dinner (in my price range). More on that in a bit.
After relaxing for a bit in my hotel, I took the metro again and headed to the Louvre, which stays open until 9:45 on Friday nights. Also, the Louvre is free for anyone under 26! I arrived around 6:30, got very lost but saw a lot of amazing art, and by 8:30 I was ready for dinner.
The museum was definitely a high point in the day. A Parisian guy was very insistent trying to chat me up as I left, but I eventually was able to get on the metro and head back toward my hotel where I planned to pop into some cheap place and get dinner….I couldn’t find anywhere, so I ended up buying a turkey sandwich and an Orangina from a convenience store. It was not the best way to end the day, but I had also walked twelve miles at this point and fell asleep as soon as I finished my “dinner.”
Day 2: I was determined on this day to have better food since I was in Paris, so when I left my hotel to go to Notre Dame, I made a point of stopping by a bakery to enjoy a millefeuille. Fun fact: “Millefeuille” is the most difficult French word invented, and the man who ran the bakery actually corrected my pronunciation before he gave it to me. It was worth it though, and since most tourists are not out and about at 8 am on a Saturday in November, I had a whole park to myself in which to eat breakfast.
Notre Dame opens at 9 am, and there is free entry to the cathedral itself. The only cost is going up to see the towers, which, honestly, I wish I had done. Notre Dame is still amazing though, and it felt kind of like the culmination of what I’d been working toward in learning French since it was a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time.
Following Notre Dame, I took the metro to the Musée Rodin because Rodin is one of my favorite sculptors. The museum is also in his house and includes art from his personal collection, so it was amazing! I have no regrets, and I would absolutely go again.
I then went to the Musée d’Orsay, which again was Awesome. I was there from 12-5, and I absolutely could have stayed longer. I also met up with other students there, and we ate lunch on the top floor of the museum. It was expensive, but it was also the best food I had while I was in Paris (which is not saying much given the food I ate on Friday).
After the Musée d’Orsay, I did a lot of hopping around on the metro. There were places I really wanted to see, but I did not have the time or the money to actually visit. So I went to the Pantheon, walked around the Palais Garnier, and took a picture of the Moulin Rouge. After that, my plan was to head back to the Eiffel Tower to meet up with other students, but first I decided to get dinner.
Right next to Shakespeare & Co is the Rue St. Andre, which has fantastic food that is not ridiculously overpriced. So I bought some shwarma, rode the metro to the Eiffel Tower…and could not find the people I was supposed to meet. I ate by myself, but I could actually see the tower this time, and it was pretty nice. Then my phone died, and I went back to my hotel to go to sleep.
Day 3: I only had the two-day metro pass, so I would have had to figure out the actual system for paying for the metro on Sunday if I had wanted to take it anywhere (I should have). There was another museum I wanted to see, but given how far I was planning to walk, I didn’t think I would have time. Instead, I walked to Shakespeare & Co (do not recommend) and ate breakfast at the café next door (do recommend). I walked to the Place de Bastille and took a few pictures then just headed to the train station. I was very early, but it was actually a good thing because this was the first weekend of the Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vests protests, and there was increased security. My train left Marne la Vallée at 12:22, and though this was the most cost-effective choice, I would have liked to take a later train and been able to do more in Paris.
What to Know:
Paris is a major travel destination, so they’re used to tourists. It’s not a hot-bed of crime, and if anything, there will be opportunity crime. Basically, just be smart and don’t leave your stuff unattended.
Also, a lot of French guys seem to do this thing where from about 15-25 they follow no rules and do whatever they want. After 25, they turn into staid banker types. However, the ones in that wild, ridiculous age-range are very aggressive in their flirting. It’s really best to just not interact.
The metro can be confusing, but I never felt unsafe while riding. The worst might have been the going in and out of the metro, but again, just hold onto your bags and don’t walk with your phone in front of your face.
Also, avoid protests and know when they might impact your travel.
What to Do (AKA Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned):
- If you take the cheap train and arrive at Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy instead of Gare de l’Est, you should first look at where you’re heading next, while remembering that Paris is quite a large city. With that in mind, you should not take the RER only to Gare de Lyon and then decide it would be fun in chilly November to take a 4.6 rambling walk to the Eiffel Tower in a city you are not familiar with. Paris has an excellent subway system, and making use of it is a good idea (especially if you already bought an unlimited pass for the weekend).
- Related to the subways: If, on the day you are leaving Paris, your hotel is somewhere in Montparnasse, and you need to take the RER from Gare de Lyon, you should remember the lesson you learned on Friday: Paris is a large city. It may look close on a map, but you do not actually want to walk between these, especially if you know that you are prone to getting lost. Pay for a subway ticket. (I think it would have cost me literally $2.)
If, however, you do decide to walk from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon, you should remember that you are prone to getting lost, and you should consider not wandering away from your planned route to find La Sorbonne or to hunt down a good café for breakfast. Just plan where you want to stop before you go off Wifi and take the subway. That said, I did find this cool painting on the side of a building.
Also, other things not related to my bad decisions about walking:
- Carry a fully charged portable charger. I actually did this one, but the thing is, when it’s cold your phone dies faster, and when you’re out walking around all day, you end up using up that portable charger. Therefore, consider carrying more than one fully charged portable charger, or at the very least plugging in to every wall outlet you see.
- Plan your routes ahead and screenshot the directions while on Wifi to avoid using cell data. I mostly did this, and it ended up being very useful, and I felt less like a conspicuous tourist than if I’d been staring at Google Maps directions or unfolding a real paper map every two feet.
- Make a dinner reservation, and given that it’s Paris, budget to have some fun.
Going into specifics of how I would change what I did.
On Friday, I do not recommend the long walk I did. Also, if there had not been protests, I would have liked to walk down the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Instead of eating on Rue Cler, I would go to Shakespeare & Co and eat on Rue St. Andre. I would also only eat at the Eiffel Tower if (a) it were warm, (b) I was with friends, or (c) both. I would also love to go up the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t do this when I went by myself because I wasn’t sure if my backpack would be too big, but honestly, I would try to make it happen in the future. I would still see the Louvre in the evening, but I would also make a dinner reservation somewhere before going back to my hotel.
Saturday, I think it would have been better (read: warmer) to eat breakfast at that café by Shakespeare & Co before visiting Notre Dame (and actually going up into the towers). The millefeuille was great, but I was cold. I would also go to the Musée des Egouts before the Rodin and the Orsay. This is the one museum I did not get to see that I really wanted to, and doing it first would allow me to have the rest of the day for the other two. In the evening, I would want to actually see a show at either the Moulin Rouge or Palais Garnier. At t he very least, I think it would be fun to take an evening cruise on the Seine (which is only 20 euros actually, so why did I not do that???). I would, however, repeat the nighttime picnic by the Eiffel Tower, given that I had a back-up phone charger.
Finally on Sunday, if I were still leaving on that early train, I would probably just sleep in, take the metro, and leave. However, if it were possible to get a later train, I would have loved to visit the Centre Pompidou, the Garden of the Tulieries, the Sacre Cœur, or even Versailles (though that probably needs an entire day to visit).
Honestly though, I did love Paris, and despite all the mistakes I made, I would 100% go back and do it again!
Until next time ~