Solo Flight : Lost in Paris

Just me and Paris, May 2014

"In unfamiliar places I find comfort
The things I love, and myself in disguise..." - S.ty

It's been a while since I last travelled solo (Phuket - 2010). I've always wanted to do it again, I just never really got around to it. So imagine my thrill that even just for a day, I was able to travel solo from Amsterdam to Paris during my recent Eurotrip. It may not be a long trip, but still one day is still a day of perfect solitariness that I was able to relish in a foreign city - a city as vibrant as Paris.

To be honest, I was quite nervous to travel solo again, let alone go to Paris, for the very first time, by myself. I read a lot about the scams they have in there and it did scare me. It was a good thing, in a way that I have read those beforehand. At least I was prepared for whatever I may come across with.

So in the wee hours of a cold morning spring of Amsterdam, my cousin dropped me off to the Central station to catch my early train ride to Paris. 

The journey took about three hours. I was still sleepy but I refused to take a nap. I was staring out the window and enjoying whatever view I can see. I wasn't nervous any more, I was more excited to see Paris for the first time. 

The sun was already out trying to warm up the day when our train arrived at Paris Nord. With only a backpack as my company, I ventured out into the streets of Paris,  trying to find the nearby metro station. Directions, maps and navigating are totally my weakness . My cousin already printed out a map for me where to go to as soon as I get out of the train station and I still missed it! Ha. That's how bad I am with directions. So I was already getting nervous because there were a lot of cab drivers outside trying to offer a ride. They seemed harmless but still, I was paranoid what they can do to a young, solo female traveller like me looking so lost in Paris.

So I stayed away from the crowd and found myself at the backside of the train station and just walked until I saw a train track. Easy peasy. I didn't need a map after all! Just to make sure I was walking towards the right Metro station, I asked a French lady, but she couldn't speak English so I tried to break my question into two words- "Metro? L2?" and she pointed towards where I was headed. I wanted to give myself a pat on the back for overcoming this first challenge that I had. 

The Parisian metro has a lot of zones and some ticket options are only valid for certain number of zones. I didn't want to stress out finding out which zone/s it was only valid for so I walked straight up to the ticket counter and got myself a three-day-all-zone-metro-ticket.

Tiny Metro Ticket
Since it was way past the rush hour when I arrived, there weren't a lot of commuters on the metro. I tried to blend in with the crowd and pretended it wasn't my first time so I wouldn't attract much attention from pickpockets. But it was so hard not to observe what a normal looking day for Parisians are even just inside the metro! Listening to them converse in French was like music to my ears. 

There were six stops before I reached my destination so I tried carefully to roam my eyes around. It just looked an ordinary day for everyone else inside except for me. It was my first day in Paris! It was my first time in Paris! If my excitement couldn't have contain itself it would have radiated like a glow. The highlight of that short metro trip - there was a group of musicians playing inside the train trying to get a few Euros and entertain the bored looking commuters. 

As soon as I reached my stop, I tried to look for our B&B. My cousin already helped me out to look for it via Google Maps before I left Amsterdam so from my understanding of his instructions, just go straight and cross the road. So I did just literally walked straight until I saw the street name. Looking for the building number was a bit difficult. I thought we got scammed and I started to panic! There is no such address! I called the lady who was supposed to give me the room key. It turns out the house numbers in Paris are arranged one side - even numbers, one side - odd numbers. I was looking at the wrong side apparently.

Street view of our B&B at Rue des Dames, Paris
So after giving me instructions and tips about the neighbourhood, building code, internet password and some house rules, I was left on my own.

I was supposed to meet up with a Parisian greeter but because I got lost a bit and the train didn't arrive on time as scheduled, I was not able to make it. Before my trip, I signed up with Parisian Greeters. It is basically a free community with local volunteers who would meet up with visitors and will make a free walk-tour on Paris, depending on what your interests are. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip as I wanted to see more than just the Eiffel Tower and to be shown by a local around should be a great experience. That was my plan to spend my solo day in Paris and I didn't have any backup plans! I didn't anticipate the circumstances should I fail to make it happen.

I only had a day to get lost in Paris.

Three of my other friends were scheduled to arrive the next day and we had already set our itinerary for two days. I wanted to go to those other places where we won't go but I just couldn't resist to see the Eiffel Tower on that day. I just had to. I know it sounds so touristy but you can't really go to Paris and not see this famous tower. 

I don't believe much that there are places anywhere else that are "recommended" for solo female travellers or are "safe for solo female travellers". I think whether you are alone or not, female or male, it shouldn't hinder you from seeing what you want to see. I hate it when some people categorise such places.

So after a few self-talking and debating whether I should do it or not, I went out and find myself back on the metro, on my way to Champ de Mars.

To keep a low profile and to not look much of a lost tourist, I didn't bring any maps or my camera. I just wrote down the stops I needed to remember, important phone numbers and the B&B address. 

Paris Metro

Riding the metro was quite easy. I didn't have much of a hard time finding my way to Champ de Mars from our B&B, except for the metro doors. Some of the doors in the Parisian Metro require to be opened physically or you need to press the stop button for you to alight on the next stop. 

The metro door lock

As soon as I stepped out from the metro and walked towards the park, I was welcomed not only by a heavy rain but a group of scammers awaiting for their next victim. Since I have already read about their "tricks", I was prepared to ignore them and just walk away. They really looked legit and I am so sad to see other tourists fall into their traps. They will ask you first if you speak English and if you say yes, they will try to talk you into donating money to a non-existing charity. The tip is to just ignore and pretend you can't understand them. Just play like a dumb tourist and they will leave you alone. There were a lot of them around the park which made it hard for me to steer clear because I was an easy prey - solo and female. So I tried to walk beside a group of other tourists to make it look like I was with them. That did the trick for a while.

There was not much of a shelter around the area where people can wait for the rain to stop. It was so cold and the rain poured so heavily that seemed like it will continue for the rest of the day! I was already worried I won't be able to stroll around even just for a bit. After a few more minutes of waiting under the Eiffel Tower, it finally stopped. A few more minutes, the sun finally came out.

Now these are one of those very rare moments of my life that I'm sure my future self would thank me for. It was one of those unplanned moments of a trip that I will always remember - to see the Eiffel Tower just for a day, alone. There's just something so special doing the things you have always wanted to do and to finally achieve it by yourself, feels even much better. I was as giddy as a kid and wanted to roll on the grass of Champ de Mars. I just can't believe that I am in Paris!  

We were scheduled to see it anyway with my friends the next day but I am so glad I had a head start because the next day I was with them, it rained the whole day so it was really gloomy. I was glad to see it under sunny, clear skies.

Stunningly beautiful. No editing required for this photo and I just took it from my iPhone. 

They said Paris is for lovers and should be seen with someone special . I didn't need anyone to make it special. It was already special on its own.

I think I just stayed there for like almost an hour. I took a few photos and just enjoyed the sun, sitting on the grass, admiring its beauty from afar. 

After tiring my eyes out, I crossed the street to Trocadero. They said this side has the greatest view of the tower. 

I was enjoying watching the fountains dance when another scammer came up to me. This is another popular scam in Paris wherein they will try to put a bracelet on your arm and then ask money for it - making it appear that you "bought" it from them. I tried to avoid this guy but he was really very persistent. I had to leave.

I didn't want to go back to our B&B yet because it was still quite early and I feel like I haven't had enough of Paris yet so I checked out Arc de Triomphe and walked along Champ Elysees. 

So this has been my first time and first day in the City of Lights! Even if I wasn't able to go to the Parisian Greeter's tour, I was still able to enjoy a day alone, wandering and exploring. It made me realise that sometimes those unplanned moments in your trip are always worth remembering. I was literally lost in this city's charm and grand architecture.