I wanted to skip Paris altogether. It felt too romantic for a solo traveller. I thought I would start to feel lonely, or worse, regretful. I changed my mind, which I can do without consulting anyone, because I’m the only passenger on this train. I do whatever I want whenever I want. It’s my adventure. All mine. Admittedly, the many fantastic women I’ve met and a few distant voices from back home had a hand in this decision. Offering more pros than I could deny. Those fierce females were right. God bless them.
I’ve learned that I can deal with pretty much any sort of travel after a month on the road. It is when others are involved that I lose my resolve and begin to care more about their comfort than my own. (An issue I continue to struggle with and am diligently working on.) But I can travel in a cardboard box if needs be. And my trip from London to Paris was just about as comfortable as riding in a pet carrier atop an elephant. It’s the point in the trip where I have to make some hard choices and I opt for the overnight bus from London to Paris, the cheapest way to get from England to Europe. This way I can take a train from Paris to Barcelona. I’ve been told by nearly everyone I meet that this is a splendid route. Pure window-peering porn.
I order window seats in first class at a spectacularly low rate yet still at the top of my travel budget. You see train travel is cheap for those under 25 with a Global Travel pass purchased six months prior to travel. When you are just an adult, over 25, and buy your ticket days before your departure day, the prices are three to four times as much. Most people buy cheap tickets 90-days beforehand. This is how those over the age of 25 can travel by train affordably. Since, I’m the queen of last-minute travel, I miss out on the super sweet deals. Although, I scored some excellent deals since I am not fussed in regards to time and date. Not dirt-cheap but not a king’s ransom, either.
Since I’m due to arrive in the City of Lights at 7am and cannot check-in to my hostel until 2pm, I decide to spend my first Parisian morning at the Louvre, since I can check my bags for free and spend a good portion of the day there quite easily. This is a solid plan on paper. The reality was a bit different.
The overnight bus drops us off an hour and a half earlier than anticipated, at 5:30am, at the Gare Lille station. Sleepy-eyed and bogged down with my luggage that feels about 10-tons in the chilly near-empty transit center, I follow the signs to the Metro and look for a self-service ticket machine. The Parisian Metro is idiot proof. It’s so easy to use that I could navigate my way from the outskirts of Paris to the city center with a mushy early morning brain without a map. I just looked for the stop closest to the Louvre and it turns out that it has its own stop that spits one right out in front of the massive museum. Easy peasy. I buy my ticket with an ease of an old pro. People are asking me for help. I am the Master of the Metro! Yet when I get to the gate that guards the inner workings of the underground train system, my ticket does not work. Red X. No Go. I try another lane. Red X. No go. It’s early and those I helped are blithely gliding through with their wheelie bags and overstuffed backpacks. One-by-one, they pass me by. There is no one around to ask for help. I’m about to jump the barricade when a bright idea pops into my heavy head: there has to be a ticket booth around here, surely, they will be able to help me. President Problem Solver to the rescue! I rally and go on the hunt for help. This new Jenn is kicking ass and taking names. I really like this chick.
My beacon of hope: the information booth in the most visited touristy city in the world at the break of dawn, after a fitful night of sleep-travel, and the lady whose job it is to help people in the Metro refuses to assist me. It should be noted that the lady in the Metro information booth did not speak English. My French is shit but I try. I’ve used all the French words I know and some I invented on the spot. She still refuses to help me. She just pushes my ticket back, shrugs, and repeatedly says, “No English.” I found another transit employee who spoke English and he inspected my ticket thoughtfully and had the Metro information booth lady (MIB lady for short) check the validity of the ticket, as well. He offered the small fact that some tickets just don’t read even though they are valid. This makes me feel instantly better. I bought the right ticket and found my way through the Parisian metro system without a cheat sheet. It was a glitch that kept me out of the metal gates to the maze of underground tunnels that twist and turn with signs in French and speed walking natives working their way through the tiled labyrinth under the grey city.
In Paris, no one wants to speak English. They know English but refuse to use it. I found this to be an intermittent issue, as I always try my best to speak the native language of countries I visit; I refuse to be The Ignorant American. Most people are more than happy to speak English rather than French when they notice you have made a genuine effort and are polite but there are holdouts in the weirdest places. Take the aforementioned MIB lady for instance.
The Louvre is insanely huge with long queues for those with and without tickets. The queue to check your bags is pretty intense. Packed. I saw the Mona Lisa. I was pushed and jumbled by strangers vying for a better look at the tiny portrait. Couples taking selfies with Mona in the background, cameras in every hand in the massive crowd, and there was me, just using my eyes and actually looking at this masterpiece. Within 90-seconds of swaying glimpses of Mona, I’m pushed by an older Asian woman who needed a better view. Personal space and masterworks is not a concept that should be taken seriously as it does not exist. If you do photograph something famous prepare for the back of many heads to be in each of your photos. I just stopped taking pictures after awhile. I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.
Solo travel tip #2: When visiting a notable museum, go to areas where there are no masterworks for a breather, instead of just walking out in frustration. Generally, the air conditioning is working and at full blast since there are fewer people in there gobbling up all the cool air, there are no hordes of tourists with heavy cameras around their necks, and there’s usually some pretty interesting stuff you wouldn’t see if you just hit all the famous pieces. For instance, in the British Museum in London, I found myself helplessly lost looking for the toilet or some such thing when I found a respite in the middle of the chaos. In a beautiful display of ancient glass and Grecian urns, I stumbled upon Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask. I wouldn’t have sought it out. But just finding it upon brightly shining glass made me feel extremely proud of myself for not walking out in a huff.
After a long day of elbows and priceless pieces of artI found my hostel and was only a little lost. Wrong direction when I should be heading towards the canal. (No one knows east from west, Google maps!) But I made it by metro without a map. I dropped off my bags and had delicious sushi for dinner. Not too shabby for my first day in Paris.