Alone in Paris
Being in Paris: alone as a senior woman in winter. Sounds awful. It started intimidating, tiptoed into fun and ended up being terrific. Full admission: I speak French. Full admission: I trust French people as they are vaccinated, masked, polite about distancing. Full admission: I am a tour operator who organizes many tours to Paris.
Day 1 of my and my husband’s vacation was when my husband broke his leg. He was taken to a French hospital by the ‘pompiers’ firemen, I was now ‘alone’ on vacation. I had 10 days in Paris to explore solo; visiting hours were only late in the day or at night.
Health and Safety: 90% of all French have had at least one shot. Everyone wore masks where required. No arguing. No politics. Zero tolerance. No CDC card, no restaurant, museum or hotel entry. Again no arguing. No politics. I can attest positively to the French health system; my husband had a top notch operation, fine nursing and yes, good food. Read health safety guidelines here.
Money: ATM’s were available in busy pedestrian areas so it was safe to withdraw needed Euros. Of course, we had told the bank we would be using overseas ATMs. Problem one solved. The hotel agreed to extend the reservation indefinitely. We had insurance. Problem two solved. Now what to do? What were the Covid rules? Where to eat alone? How to get around cheaply? How to know if the areas I visited were safe? And how to do it all and not look like a dufus.
I’ve been in Paris many times, still immediately found four wonderful new museum exhibits. When you are alone in a foreign city, start with a museum. Why? There will be other visitors who might speak English and voila: you will not feel isolated. Georgia O’Keefe’s art was in the tubular Pompidou Center, Josef and Annie Albers in the 1930’s Modern Art Museum (included videos and her weavings), De Kooning’s – Soutine in the L’Orangerie, and finally the most talked about exhibit in Europe this year: Morozov Family Impressionist art from pre-Revolutionary Russia, much never seen before in the West. The Albers was first because it was near the hotel and was not only art but videos about the US art scene. Easier on jet lag brains. The Morozov was last as it was a distance away in the Fondation Louis Vuitton and included 9 rooms of never seen before art.
Suggestion: Do your own on-line research; concierges often send you to the ‘big five’ and do not always suggest temporary events. They also rarely tell you to use public transportation. Mine recommended a museum shuttle to the LV Fondation; a subway ride and beautiful a parkside walk was more efficient. If you are going to several museums, pick different themes. Viewing art day after day gets tedious for us regular folks. Save the biggest exhibit until over jet lag. Use the museums as a home away from hotel/home. Museums have Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms, places to lounge, shop and many have restaurants. Here’s a guide to non-touristy experiences.
Public Transportation is better if you are alone. It is safer, there are drivers and riders to help you. Paris has numbered buses, a vintage Metro system (subway), and regional trains which connect to the Metro. And there are taxis of course, once you find the queue. Hotel freebie maps are ridiculously tiny. Take a photo of the map section you need, enlarge it on your phone. To chose transportation, try www.rome2rio.com. With this app, you get different transit types. Chose one then screenshot the step by step directions. Some distances in Paris are longer than you expect; The Right Bank, for instance, was redesigned in the 19th century to be grand and spacious.
Buses were the best. You buy tickets in subway stations, then you fumble around onboard, until you work out where to insert the ticket. Signage is excellent; bus stop signs have a black line and an arrow showing direction and naming each stop. Metro is not as easy; at one station (Chatelet), I wandered edgily until someone took pity. Lesson: do not panic, find a uniformed person, look pathetic, ask for help. You do not need French, point to where you are going with your map.
WIFI: every place had free Wi-Fi: airports, train stations, department stores, restaurants, museums etc. When lost without wifi, get help from strangers. No French needed; just a furrowed brow above your mask. It is unsecured; do not access secure information.
Safety: All big cities have some crime. In central Paris during the day, just watch your purse, walk with it away from the street side, and don’t wear flashy jewelry.When you need a map on the street, step into a doorway or store entrance Use the hotel safe, take out money you need and only one credit card. At night, walk on busier and wider streets or those with outdoor cafes. Chose a hotel that has activity outside and or a sidewalk cafe. Read a local English language newspaper for Paris.
Eating alone: Easy is eating in museums like Orsay or Louvre Food Court, harder is eating in your hotel (boring and expensive usually), even harder is walking into a restaurant solo. Use Yelp and local French sites that list good eats. Avoid glossy magazine lists (no names mentioned here), they list expensive places. Look for menus posted on the street that have 2 or 3 course prices and something tempting. The fact that many have English translations is not a turn off; just a convenience for UK tourists. Choose a brasserie rather than a bistro. The former has a bigger menu, dining areas away from the bar and less noise. A bistro menu is limited. Some good chain restaurants in Paris are Pre a Manger, Brioche Doree, Chez Paul, Tarte Julie. Wine: when asked Rouge ou Blanc? You are to chose red or white wine. Simple. Note: generally you cannot swap around menu items like we do here: mashed potatoes come with chicken or else! Guide to restaurants.
Shopping: Get your wallet ready. French department stores are irresistible. Inventory is different, gorgeous, expensive and you will want it all. Shoes have a slightly different last. Sizes are smaller. Note to self: you will never look as fashionable as the French. For big 19c stores, Right Bank. For adorable boutiques, Left. For food gifts: here are 2 ideas: food halls in big stores have it all. If you want to stroll outdoor markets, get the days/times/streets and plan ahead. Most will have gift items like soaps, herbs, candles, oils. For super cheap (but they will never know) gifts, regular supermarkets like Monoprix downstairs, or Carrefour have tins of pate, jams, flavored salts, fun paper goods at every day prices.
So conclusion, it is more fun to travel with a group, listen to an expert guide, not have to think out every details, and laugh in the company of others. But if you are careful, organized and not afraid to get a lost and look a bit dumb, you can do some solo travel at any age. Best suggestion, take a tour then add days to the end once you have your bearings.
The Womens Travel Group includes our Paris trip.