Spring in Paris – a Solo Survival Guide
Paris in the spring is world famous for lovers and romance. But what’s it like going solo? I began my 48 hour flirtation with this engaging French capital with the company of just my smartphone and a downloadable Paris Guide PDF from Expedia.
I’m turning heads in Paris
Outside the Ministry of Justice a policeman turns his head my way. At Place St Germain-Des-Pres a motorcyclist nods and smiles. Half way along Avenue des Champs-Élysées a taxi driver almost waves. Is it my English rose complexion or stylish shoes? No it’s because I’m tootling around the capital in a red, white and blue 2CV.
“People watch and interact with this car. It makes them smile. Everyone has a story about it and they love it from the bottom of their hearts,” says my driver and guide Arno Vincendo.
At the Eiffel tower the two symbols of French freedom collide. Not literally; that would be an insurance nightmare. We park up and take a quick snap before the police move us on. And when we drive away, we don’t go quietly.
“The 2CV is a living car. It makes sounds when it is moving. It is funny for kids,” says Arno, squeezing the car expertly through the morning traffic. Arno is a rock musician when he isn’t driving 2CV’s around Paris. Could there be a cooler combination of office jobs?
The 2CV Paris Authentic tour has come recommended in Expedia’s Paris Survival Guide. This downloadable new resource offers both touristy and more off the beaten track suggestions for adventures in the French capital. It is themed in sections, for couples, the young and lively, families etc. Curiously there is no section for a mum of three who is going solo on a European city break for the first time in her life. Surely I can’t be alone in this?
Seeing Paris anew
I’m here to see if 48 hours following this guide can change my mind about Paris after previous underwhelming experiences. The first time I was a poor student, shivering in the January cold rather than paying for coffee. Next time around I was eight months pregnant in peak holiday season, on the way to Euro Disney where I wasn’t allowed to go on any of the rides. The third time I stumbled off an overnight train into the heat of an August dawn and stood, hands over my ears at the Arc De Triomphe, trying to block out noise from traffic alongside tired, wailing children.
Paris in chocolate
Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a ‘must see’ according to my survival guide so that’s where I begin. On the way up the hill I stumble across Le Petit Musee du Chocolate. Its giant sugary versions of La Tour Eiffel and Notre Dame are triumphs in glucose, but it’s the lifelike versions of olives, moules and almonds that I purchase as an energy boost for the hill ahead.
Stairway to Heaven
I follow the other tourists up a narrow street before ascending angel white steps that seem to lead to heaven. Paris viewed from above is a joy.
My Expedia guide leads me away from Sacré-Cœur to Moulin Rouge, where I imagine myself partnered with Ewan McGregor on the rooftop of the famous club. Then I head across the city to the heights of Notre Dame Cathedral. On the way along the sunny Seine I stop to briefly watch a jazz band and admire the ornate grandeur of Hotel de Ville before joining the queue for the bell tower. It is late in the day and luckily I am the last in. That gives me time on my own where I grin like a gargoyle while taking a picture of a grinning gargoyle and chat with his mates about one of the greatest loves stories on earth. A security guard unromantically comes to move me on. Up and up I go, high above Paris, where in the dizzying afternoon light, the shadow of the magnificent gothic building falls onto the streets below.
Last tango in Paris
It‘s time to tango, according to my online guide. At the Seine. Where else? It doesn’t take me long to find some dancing. Outside the Trocadero couples spin and kick, as the day starts to fade from the Eiffel Tower. (Also in my guide- another one ticked off!) Their electric energy will soon be replaced by the tower’s innovative lighting. But not before the sunset.
Stairway to the bells
Alexander III bridge is a popular place to picnic while watching the sun go down. I am alone and yet in good company; the entire Paris workforce appears to have come here straight from the office. I sip wine and eat Pringles and we collectively cheer as the dinner cruisers go past.
I become one of the cruisers myself after noticing a landing stage further down the river. Bateaux Mouches (translated as ‘fly boats’) are the most established of the city’s cruise boats and hold hundreds of people on open decks. They tour left and right banks of the Seine, providing commentary as cathedral skies turn red and towers turn into fairy wands.
The jewels of Paris culture
Next morning, Paris culture calls. I flick through the virtual pages of my guide to see what catches my eye. A short subway ride takes me up through a creatively beaded metro entrance to the sculpted gardens of the Palais Royal. The early risers are out walking the dogs and feeding the birds at this elegant mix of former royal residence, posh shop and outdoor space and art exhibit. But I can’t stop for long, over the road is one of the cultural highlights of the city.
I may not have the kids with me but the Nintendo 3DS XL tour of The Louvre appeals. I hire one and revel in my aloneness as I wander through courtyards of 17th century sculpture, following the flashing dot on my handset from masterpiece to masterpiece. I take my first ever selfie in front of the Mona Lisa. Apt for my first self guided tour of a city.
For an evening activity, my Expedia guide recommends spoken word evenings at Au Chat Noir; right up my street. Sadly they only take place on a Monday evening. But the suggestion inspires a whistle stop tour of culture cafés. I take coffee in Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain, a place where Hemingway wrote. And I take even better coffee at Aux Arts Etc, an art gallery café that looks out onto Notre Dame and revisits the famous Parisian literary cafés of the 18th century. Beatriz Ronzero and Aleksandar Nanovic aim to provide a new dynamic space for art and creativity with seven different artists’ visions of Paris. People are invited to drop in and chat about culture over coffee, says Beatriz.
“We like to render this vision of our magical city and share ideas in a playful open space.”
Time to end the love affair
My 48 hours are almost up. Just time to absorb some street art on my way back to the airport. I am simultaneously energised and exhausted by my solo tour of Paris. My Expedia Guide has been the perfect companion. And unlike my family, it doesn’t moan, complain about the heat, hunger or boredom. I think it might be soon time to take one on a solo trip to Rome.
I found it surprisingly easy to do Paris solo. I never felt unsafe, either on the metro or on the streets, even late at night. I was staying near Opera and RoissyBus took me straight there from just outside terminal 2 of CDG airport for €11. On the way back to the airport I took the metro; a slightly cheaper ride at €10. While in Paris I got around on the subway by buying a little book of ten tickets for €14.
My 2CV private tour was with Paris Authentic. (The cars take up to four people including the driver.) The company offers a basic tour, a two hour tour, and more tailored excursions including a secret places tour and a romantic tour. I took the classic two hour tour beginning at Bastille. Prices depend on selected tour and size of group and are bookable on the Expedia website.
Entry into The Louvre costs €14 and the Nintendo 3DS interactive guide is €5.
Entry into the public gardens around Palais Royal is free.
For a basic Bateaux Mouches cruise (without dinner) an adult ticket is €13.50. Child tickets from age 4-12 cost €6 and children under four go free. You should allow up to two hours for the tour but some are shorter.
Tango and lindyhop dance sessions pop up all over central Paris depending on the day and season. Ask at a tourist office for information.
You can download Expedia’s Paris Survival Guide by following this link.
Disclosure Note: My trip to Paris was a collaboration with Expedia, testing out their Paris Guide PDF #ExpediaGuide. As ever, the experience, prose, photography, opinions and secret romance were all my own.