I can’t say that Paris was a destination that was high on my list when I was in my 30’s. But, after watching Pixar’s Ratatouille countless times, I decided I had to go. I mean, thinking about Remy’s expression as he comes out of the sewer and realizes he’s in Paris…well, Remy’s excitement and child-like awe sold me on the City of Light.
So, I decided to add a 4 night trip to Paris at the end of my time in Italy. And yes, I was traveling solo – my favorite way to travel!
Arriving in Paris
I booked a train ticket from Milan to Paris – a seven hour train ride. I had two issues. One – I was coming to the end of a three week trip and didn’t have a lot of money. And, most people know, Paris isn’t cheap. Two – the hotel I was hoping to stay at in the Latin Quarter didn’t have a room available the first night. I was booked there for nights two through four. So, I was going to risk it and go there first, hoping that there might be a last minute cancellation. What did I have to lose?
When I departed the train at Gare de Lyon, I decided to walk. Yeah, I know. From Gare de Lyon across the River Seine and into the Latin Quarter. I didn’t want to spend the money on a taxi or navigate the Metro. It really wasn’t that far and I enjoyed the walk after the long train ride. I used the map in my Paris guidebook and found the Hôtel de l’Esperance. Although they didn’t have any last minute cancellations, there was a hotel right across the street that had a room for the night.
So what does a solo gal traveler on a tight budget do in Paris?
Well, I was fascinated by Notre Dame cathedral, so it was definitely first on my list. After dropping my bags in my room and freshening up a bit, I grabbed my camera and my map and out the door I went. It was a Friday and getting on toward evening. It was early June, so the days were long. I made my way to the Île de la Cité and there it was – flying buttresses, scary gargoyles, Gothic in every way. It’s free to go into the cathedral so after taking some snaps of the façade, I entered. And my jaw dropped to the floor. Stained glass windows, pointed Gothic arches, and a mass in progress. The other visitors and I gawked in silent respect.
I ate out at that night at some restaurant near my hotel. I have to admit that I didn’t get into the Parisian restaurant scene. Number 1, I didn’t have the money for it (although I could have eaten at some of the inexpensive and numerous cafes). Number 2, after being in Italy and eating my way through pasta and gelato (and loads of tasty wine), I wasn’t so crazy about the food in Paris. It was heavier, meat based (I’m a vegetarian here in the States, but I do let go of that often when I travel) and just not to my liking. At least not at the time. But I do love all the French cheeses and wines. So, after eating out that first night, the next morning I shopped at the Market on Rue Mouffetard and loaded up on fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, bread and wine. I was set for the next couple of days. And, I saved a lot of money and got to eat some incredible cheese!!
Being solo and on a budget in Paris is not difficult. There are plenty of free or inexpensive things to see and do. By walking and taking in one site per day, I didn’t spend a lot. And, I saw a lot of the Paris neighborhoods, or arrondissements.
Day 2 took me to the Musée d’Orsay
Home of the Monet’s. I love this museum. I love the building (an old train station) and the works of art here – Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse. I fell in love with Henri Matisse’s work here. There were kids from a school sitting on the floor in a couple of the rooms when I was there. They had sketch pads and were trying to copy a work of art up on the wall. It was inspiring to see kids learning about art. I wandered about the streets between the Orsay and my hotel on my way back – popping into shops, watching the people go by and taking photos of the streets and buildings. It’s a great way to see the city and it’s free!
The Louvre was on tap for Day 3
Again, I walked. I loved walking in Paris! There was no line at the Louvre. I think I got lucky. You could spend weeks here and still not see all the works of art. Of course, the Mona Lisa is the big draw. And while I definitely wanted to see her, I took my time and wandered about, seeing some other great works of art. Venus di Milo is housed here and I spent some time with her. I found a statue of the Greek god, Pan. All I could think of was the Cake song that went like this – “I just want to play on my Pan pipes, I just want to drink me some wine.” I know! Crazy, right? After the Louvre, I took in some of the area around it, in the 1st arrondissement. Wandering as I do and photographing. I ended up in front of Notre Dame again. It kept drawing me back. I couldn’t help it! I thought about Remy again, my little rat muse. I was in awe of Paris as much as he was.
On Day 4 I walked to the Eiffel Tower
I had mixed feelings about this structure, but knew I had to at least see it. Once there (it was a long walk), I found myself in line for the ride to the top. It’s one of the more expensive things to do, but still not terribly pricey at €17. Being early June, it was crowded. Once at the top it was very crowded and I was getting annoyed. I was tired of being with all these damn people! I took some photos and found the next elevator going down. I stopped at one of the lower platforms and got off the elevator, walking the rest of the way down. I just needed some space. In fact, I walked along the River Seine on my way back to my hotel as I wanted some quiet. I wouldn’t do the Eiffel Tower again (okay, maybe at night), but I would go back to the Louvre, the Orsay and of course, Notre Dame.
During my days in Paris…
I wandered around the streets and gardens. I popped into shops and talked to the shopkeepers. I found the Parisians to be nice if not overly warm. Saying a simple “bonjour” when entering a store, is expected and the polite thing to do. And it will ensure that you are not seen as the “rude American tourist”. I even got a hug from a Moroccan man who is now a Parisian. I told him I was from America and he told me he loved America and gave me a hug. He was a cute, little, old guy!
My last evening found me wandering back to Notre Dame. I thought about Remy again, that little rat who became a chef, whose passion for Paris inspired me to make this trip. As I looked up at the grand old dame of Notre Dame, I knew I had chosen wisely in coming here. I also knew I needed to return.
And, I know I will. Now, more than ever, Paris needs us to visit. To not be afraid. To follow those Parisian dreams. To look at her with the wide-eyed wonder of Remy who fell so in love with her…