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In this podcast episode I share tips for travelling solo in Paris. Where to eat? Where to stay? How to connect with locals? I also chat to our LFF fave Frenchy Sarah for updates on her solo travels to Pau in southwest France.
So… Travelling solo in France…
I have often headed to Paris a day or a week earlier than my friends have arrived on certain trips. One of the first things to consider when travelling alone is your accommodation. I have a friend who will only stay in hotels when travelling solo as she feels safest with a concierge there to support her if needed, and I completely understand that perspective and think that’s a great idea if you haven’t been before or have any safety concerns for the time period in which you are travelling. I am happy most times to stay in an Airbnb whether alone or not, as I get a sense of what it would be like to live in the destination I’m visiting. When in Paris, there are particular things I look for when booking accommodation by myself. Firstly, security. I ask questions in quite a bit of detail from the owner to ascertain what security measures are in place. Many apartment buildings in Paris have huge oak doors onto the street which require a code or key for entry. This is a further security measure I like! There is a whole hidden world in behind those doors, and sometimes I’ve found the owner of the apartment I’m staying in lives in the same little bubble behind the big oak doors, which is always helpful.
On one trip when I travelled solo, I stayed in a tiny apartment right on the river on the Ile Saint Louis. The characteristic grand oak doors lead to a petit pathway or traboule that was a dead end with a theatre at the end. My apartment was one on the ground floor only a few doors from this tiny theatre. It was so beautifully French or even Parisienne. Pop over to the Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles Insta account to have a look.
Don’t be afraid to eat out by yourself and go out alone in Paris…
I went for a whole week on my own to Paris once, and set myself a little task to visit cafes all over the city and order the same thing everywhere I went. I then sat at the dinner table on some occasions and pulled out my iPad to type into a blog I was writing. I rated the different cafés on the same dish. So every day I went to a café somewhere in Paris and ordered three of my fave dishes in the world! First un soupe de l’onion, or a traditional French onion soup as we would call it in Australia. Then escargots, and finally a crème brûlée. The French onion soup was different from what I had come to expect in Australia. (Find the recipe for Soupe de l’onion down the bottom of this blog post). The point of the task was to give me a purpose whilst eating on my own. It turned out I didn’t need it though, as once I started eating by myself at cafés I noticed how many other people were doing the same thing! The food and café experience when done solo, also became a wonderful people-watching exercise. I loved sitting in a bubble of calm by myself and witnessing all the hurried life taking place around me. People with dogs, kids on their way to school without uniforms I noted, old folks chatting. It was an unexpectedly calming experience to dip into their world momentarily. This is something you may not notice when travelling with others.
One particular day during a week I spent having a solo stay in Paris I did something quite special. I set about doing many of the things I had planned over the years to do with my dear late Mum, but we never made it to Paris together. So I decided to do the things she and I had chatted about and I knew were her faves along with a few of my own favourites thrown in too.
First up on this day I spent some time wandering around the Marais. Much of Paris is a complete sensory overload if you’re into architecture like me, so being on my own I meandered at my leisure through the streets of one of the oldest sections of Paris. I lit a candle at the church of St Louis and St Paul and had some peaceful respite in the glorious surrounds there before heading off to lose my self in the boutique windows all around. Meandering and window gazing are terrific things to do when alone as you’re not locked into time restrictions that can occur when travelling in a group.
I kept the last part of my exploring to the little shops de brocante in the St Paul region of the Marais on the right bank or Rive Droite. If you are into antiquing then this is the area for you. I then crossed the river to the Ile Saint Louis to have lunch & order the three dishes I spoke about earlier and then headed across the river again to the Rive Gauche opposite Notre Dame. For FrancoFilers who have tuned in before, you may remember in Ep 1 I spoke about going to the Shakespeare & Co bookshop. It is one of the loveliest places on earth to me. It has that beautiful smell of old books and tiny little nooks and crannies to sit and read in. I found a gorgeous cat asleep on a chair, and any store with a resident kitty is a winner in my book!
I came prepared this time to Shakespeare & Co, and after browsing the books through various corners of the store, I pulled out my iPad and sat at the desk in the window at which Hemmingway wrote. Now I was only writing the rating in my blog for the three dishes that I’d recently had for my déjeuner, but writing is writing right? Maybe not! But it was a lovely little experience. I did buy a divine petit book of flower poems and from there I headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Now this is one of the most delightful gardens of Paris! It’s in the 6th arrondissment. There are little gypsy style caravans dotted around the gardens serving crepes avec fraises (strawberries) et Nutella. The vendors use huge big round irons or hot plates, pour on a little crepe mixture in front of your eyes and then swish it around with a little wooden paddle that looks like a fairy sized garden rake with no tynes or teeth. In winter these petit caravans also serve the most exquisite mulled wine. There’s a beautiful café near the Medici fountain to sit and watch the communal playground for Parisiennes who live in nearby apartments. In the after school period of the day watching school children and adults alike wander through the gardens, going around their daily business is intriguing when sitting there alone. On this particular day, I took myself to the café with a mulled wine and read my newly bought flower poem book, and observed the joie de vivre of regular French life swirl around me. This is something to embrace when travelling alone, as when with your children, family or other friends travelling we tend to miss the detail of what’s around us.
Ile de la Cite
I headed after this back towards my accommodation, but headed to the Ile de la Cite first. There’s a garden there at the tip of the island called the Square de Vert Galant which I’ve visited on many trips, one time together with 20 of my family. So I visited to watch the boats passing right beside me on the Seine, hearing native French all around. Right near on the top of the nearest pont or bridge, Pont Neuf, is an artist who I’ve often stopped and visited. The local artists in Paris produce a huge amount of work which doesn’t cost much, but it means the earth to them that we as tourists buy it, and it keeps the memories of wonderful Parisienne adventures alive when we return back home. On this day I had a sweet brief browse of the bouquinistes, the open-air green metal stalls that line the Seine, on the way back to the Ile Saint Louis. It was here that I found a fabulous tip for any individuals travelling alone.
Take away food on the Ile Saint-Louis
Eating out is lovely but can be expensive when done up to two-three times daily. There is a street called Rue Saint-Louis en l’île that runs through the centre of the smaller island in the middle of the Seine. On a corner there is what seems like an ancient restaurant called Aux Anysetiers Du Roy which has a little hole in the wall to order take-away. Now food to-go or a emporter is not overly advertised in Paris, so this little find is a gem! The belle femme who was a constant at the window, Lilianne, was ever so patient with my French. She spoke English but when I asked to test my French on her, she enthusiastically took on her role as my language mentor. Given I was staying around the corner Lilianne became my new best friend in the little village of Ile Saint-Louis, calling out and testing my French any time of the day I walked by! But the best thing of all was the quality of the food and the much reduced cost to eating in at a local café. Taking a divine serve of Aubergines au Four, or eggplant with tomato and parmesan down to the river outside my apartment together with a verre du vin rouge was a beautiful end to the main part of my day.
Solo theatre visit
Now lets just go back to refresh your memory about where I was staying during this solo vacance en Paris. I had a little apartment in the lane way leading from the huge oak doors which fronted the Seine to a petit theatre which filled in the dead end of the lane. I had struck up conversation with some of the crew who were working backstage in a production the night before and bought a ticket to a piano recital to attend on this night. The music was unexpectedly emotive and beguiling, but even better was the connection that travelling alone provided me with the staff and performers. Knowing I was alone they went to extra effort to ensure I was cared for.
Marais – Rive Droite (right bank)
Brocante in the village of St Paul (near the Seine in the Marais)
Dejeuner or Dinner on the Ile Saint-Louis
Aux Anysetiers du Roy (take away or a emporter)
On the Rive Gauche (left bank)
Ile de la Cite
The place to find bouquinistes on the larger island in the Seine
Ben Mazue – La Femme Idéale
This a song about women. Those of us who are women of a certain age will relate, whether we are in a European country, Australia, America or anywhere around the world. This song talks of a woman who needs to be a mother. Who needs to earn a living to keep a roof over the family head. Who needs to meet the community ideal of femininity as well as strength. A women who can be sexy at the end of the day regardless of what she’s gone through. A woman who can be both a leader and maternal. Today I’ve spoken about the ideal day I would spend in Paris with my mum if we had have had the chance. This song to me is about her and the type of woman she was. But it is also about the women who live amongst us. The women who hold the fabric of our society together as we want it to be. The women who are leaders, workers, mentors, examples for our young girls, mothers, lovers, friends and sisters to other women around the globe.
Traveling to Pau with Sarah Zwick!
In this episode I described a task I set myself on one solo trip tp Paris to rate three of my favourite dishes. One of those was soupe de l’onion.
French onion soup is a very old recipe, dating back to the Roman times. It was in times gone by considered a dish for the poor as onions were common and easy to grow. But today, the French version of soupe de l’onion is made with beef stock and caramelised onions as the main ingredients topped with a piece of toasted baguette covered with melted cheese. It is a very popular dish in French cafés and you can find it on menus even in the most prestigious French restaurants. I have a quick and easy recipe I make, which would probably horrify a French chef, but when we are working mum’s living a fast paced life, the version I make hits the spot for me without taking hours of slaving over a stove! This link above is very similar to the version I make so you can cook up a storm yourself!