Everyone knows Paris is the epitome of romantic getaways, a city of history, high end fashion, art, food and of course, a city of love.
Paris has been depicted in every chick flick I can remember as being the one place to fall in love, the place you go when you've made it working in a prestigious fashion magazine, or the place to run away to if you are searching for yourself... and some really good food. Ya'll know which movies I'm talking about!
So, when I booked my train tickets to Paris, for one night and two days, you can imagine how excited I was! My expectations were high, I selected my outfits carefully (you can't go to Paris and just wear anything!), I was ready to be whisked off my feet beside the Eiffel tower by my French prince charming. Well, not really, but you get the picture. This was going to be awesome!
I had been spending time with family in Antibes, so the train took around 6 hours (a round trip was €70) and departed at 6am. Side note:- I went with OUIGO, if you do the same, be aware that they don't sell food or drink on the train so you need to take your own. Also, they don't have charging points as standard so you have to pay extra for seats with sockets.
Starry eyed (with slight dark circles from lack of sleep) and full of hope, I embarked on my epic adventure to Paris. Little did I know what was to come...
Paris taught me three lessons, and the first I learnt as soon as I arrived.
Lesson One: Always Opt for French over English
I suppose this goes without saying, after all; you're in France! But you'd be surprised how many people didn't even try to speak French. Thankfully, I was already clued up on how the French appreciate tourists speaking their language, so I had some lessons with my 4 year old nephew before I left.
But sure enough, when I went to use the €0.50 public bathrooms, I was greeted with a "Bonjour" and a spiel of words which I guessed meant "please pay over here". I responded with a "Bonjour" and preceded to use my very minimal French to ask where to pay with card. The guy gave up pretty quickly and switched to English letting me pay.
However, there were American tourists behind me who came in with a very loud and slow "Excuse me, where can I get change for the bathroom?". He responded with, "Je ne parle pas anglais!". #awk
This rule generally served me well over the week that I spent in Nice, Èze, Antibes, Cannes as well as Paris.
Lesson Two: It's Actually not that Safe
So I hadn't left the station yet when I put my backpack down for a moment and placed my phone in my pocket whilst I rearranged. A man sitting near me got my attention, "Excusez-moi," followed by a long string of French that I could only pick up a word here and there. But by the look on his face, the gestures he made and the few words I caught, I knew exactly what he meant. I took my phone out of my pocket and zipped it into my bag, thanking him with a smile "Merci beaucoup". He seemed satisfied and relaxed back into his chair.
Adding this conversation to the fact that I had just spent the 6 hour train journey trying to be out of the eye line of a shady dude who just kept staring at me, it put me a little on edge as I started to make my way to the first point of interest I'd marked on my google-map.
The majority of the day was uneventful but I generally didn't feel too safe, particularly in the Bastille area. I was looking to stop for lunch, though, so when a friendly guy at a nice looking restaurant called me over, I decided to have a look at the menu. "Come and sit down, I'll get you a free glass of wine, it's on me!"
Well I couldn't resist the offer so I sat and sipped on my rosé watching the world go by.
The waiter kept coming back to make conversation, and he seemed funny and friendly so when he offered to show me around Paris after his shift, it seemed like a great opportunity to see Paris from the eyes of a local. Maybe not.
Now I wasn't born yesterday, so I'm fully aware that guys can be... a certain way. So in true me style, I nipped that in the bud early on, "listen, if you're expecting anything from me, it's not gonna happen!". Yeah, it might seem abrupt to you, especially as he was giving me all this free wine, but I don't have time for that kind of shit so I have to be direct. He was all, "me? noo, not at all!" At the time.
Bitch, please. Instead of showing me around Paris, he decided to take me to a bar and he kept the wine flowing. That would be totally great if he was someone I knew and trusted, but I was not about to let myself get drunk with a total stranger. I felt super awkward and was starting to get the spidey-senses going, like danger-danger. So I was turning down the wine, and eating Calamari and Olives to keep my stomach full. But then he started getting too close to me and touchy-feely and I was all like erm, hands off. And he's all like, "don't worry, I don't want to have sex with you, I mean I do, but you don't want to so..." At this point, I've already had enough, I'm like "l'addition s'il-vous-plaît" and he's all like, "no, bring two more glasses of wine".
I'm kicking myself, like why am I even here?! But I stood my ground, "cheque, please". And a polite, "thank you very much for the wine, but I have to go." He replied, "Come and see me next time you're in Paris, but remember, next time I'm gonna f**k you."
Omg, I ran away from there like someone was chasing me bruh.
I was tired, cold, my feet were killing and I was so ready to crash in my AirBnB that I'd booked with a view of the Eiffel tower. But first there was 120 steps to climb to get there, and once I was in, I suddenly realised there was no toilet! The 'apartment' was just a small room, with a sink in one corner and the tiniest shower I'd ever seen in the other corner, a bed taking up the whole other side of the room and a table in the middle. And I thought London was bad! (I mean it probably is!)
I had to make my way to the other end of the corridor which seemed to go on forever around in a square, to find the toilet, only to discover it doesn't even have toilet paper! Guys, I'm telling you, Paris on a budget is Paris on a BUDGET!
So finally, I was ready to crash, I had a shower, doused my blistered and aching feet in freezing cold water, brushed my teeth and lay down fully intending to plan some more on my phone for the following day. I fell asleep instantly with the light still on.
4:30am I woke up to the sounds of someone messing with the door lock, severely confused and with a hangover already setting in, I thought maybe someone had the wrong door and I called out "erm, excuse me?". No reply.
That's when I saw the newspaper slid between the crack of the door trying to open the latch- this person didn't have the wrong door, they were breaking in!
I. Was. So. Scared.
Omg, you have no idea. My immediate reaction was to shout really loudly, and that seemed to do the trick. The paper slid back and I just heard a man say "Oh, sorry" in a Parisian accent but then it sounded like he moved on to the next door and carried on. In shock, I didn't know what to do, my mind flashed back to the dude from the café- had he followed me somehow? Should I call the police? But I don't speak French, would they have translators? How would I let them in to the complex? There was NO way I was going out there. I realised the door wasn't fully bolted, but when I put the key in to bolt it, it wasn't moving. I could still hear sounds outside, was he waiting there for me? I pulled the key out gently so he couldn't hear, no idea what to do next.
Thankfully, my best friend was online on a Texas timezone; he told me to push the bed against the door, but seeing as I couldn't move the bed the glass table had to do. It probably wouldn't have held much but with a glass propped on the edge and some extra spoons for good measure, I was sure that if this guy attempted anything, I would be woken up. It took a long while for me to be able to sleep again but the next day I was grateful to be in one piece. Tired, hungover, but in one piece.
My mood was met with a full on thunderstorm outside that morning, and no, I didn't have an umbrella.
Lesson Three: Paris is What You Make It
I've been all around the world by myself and two days in Paris had me running back home! Overall, I guess you could say, Paris wasn't for me.
But that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time. Nope, it's like anywhere really, Paris is a big city, all big cities can be dangerous and if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, shit can happen. The important part is this; don't let it mess up your whole trip.
Am I shaken up? Yes. Will it put me off solo-travel? No! And neither the rough night, nor the thunderstorm stopped me from exploring Paris a little bit more before catching my train home.
So, before I put you off going entirely, here's some of the awesome parts of Paris.
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre is a must visit by day and night, if not to view the world's largest art museum, then for this incredible piece of architecture; the Louvre Pyramid.
By day it looms symmetrically against the backdrop of the stunning 13th century Louvre Palace. By night, it's lit up casting a stunning reflection over the surrounding waters.
The Eiffel tower is the most popular landmark in Paris, it's what makes Paris, Paris! So why wouldn't I take the opportunity to explore this stunning structure?
Of course, for a price you can enter and climb to the top of the tower, but after the night I had, that was not going to happen for me! Maybe next time (and there is going to be a next time come June, it's already booked guys so I have to go).
For all it's grandeur during the day, it doesn't compare to the incandescent display that it is at night time. Crowds gather to wait for the sparkling light show that happens every few minutes all over the tower and for that moment, you could believe in magic.
It wouldn't be right to visit Paris, after what happened so recently, without stopping by to show respect to this incredible historical Cathedral.
It was tragic to see it on fire, but it was even more tragic visiting to see how much was lost. But, as you can see, not all is lost and work seems to have began in the rebuilding of the great Notre-Dame.
Presently, the whole street accessing the Cathedral has been blocked off, but you can see it through the gate and you can also get a good look from one of the river cruises.
History & Architecture
From hotels to bridges, there is stunning French architecture to enjoy on every street. Cathedrals full of history are dotted all around Paris, all free to enter and enjoy ancient art impressed on every wall.
The best way to see all 26 bridges (or ponts) is by boat, a cruise can be as little as €15 for an hour and you get historical context given as part of the tour (not just on the bridges but on all points of interest that you pass).
Grab a Bite
Everywhere you go, you are lured in by tempting smells and the sound of clinking glasses, chatter and laughter as people sit outside of the brasseries or cafes eating.
There are so many options when it comes to food in Paris, you can get Japanese sushi, American burgers, Italian pizza and of course some typical Parisian French cuisine. Which was exactly what I was after when I found La Brasserie De L'Isle Saint-Louis, at the advice of a French gentleman sitting beside me, I ordered the Coq au Riesling Maison. See for yourself in the photo below, it was delish!
So the Parisians get about town using a slightly different method of transport than you may be used to... Electric Scooters!
You can see them everywhere just sat there waiting for someone to use them. So, how do you get hold of one of these scooters? It's easy, just download the app (there's several brands, so choose get the app of the closest scooter) and it's about €1 a go! The same goes for bikes.
You can find the scooters or bikes using the app and you unlock them by scanning a QR code. When you're done, you leave it, lock it and the app charges you.
So, as you can see there's plenty to do and see in Paris so don't cross it off your list just yet. Just have your wits about you when you go.
Stay safe guys, but don't stop travelling!