My solo trip to Paris taught me many things. What I was most pleased about was how the trip took a turn for the better. It started with a turbulent beginning with a canceled flight but by the end of my trip and the evening of my birthday, I was enjoying one of the best times of my life. Whoever said Paris was for lovers — well, ok — but I happen to think its nickname stands true: La Ville Lumière (‘The City of Light’). All of which I saw first hand on a Paris by night tour, learning all about the monuments and history of the French capital with my brand new friend, Chris of Cédric’s Paris.
The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.” – Carrie Bradshaw
Paris by Night with Chris of Cédric’s Paris
Paris is huge and everybody checks out the Eiffel Tower first but I wanted to see more of the French capital than just the touristy spots. A friend who is a regular visitor to Paris recommended this tour. Chris, Cédric’s brother, picked me up at my hotel in his 1977 classic green 2CV car, Yuna the oldest of the collection, at 9:30pm.
I opted for the two-hour package as I am a history nerd who wanted an extra half hour to hear and see as much as possible. After all, this had been a dream of mine since the French classes of my third year at Florida Atlantic University. I had dreamt of studying in France but didn’t get the chance because that September, the 9/11 terror attack happened. The uncertainty of the world’s safety put more than a damper on traveling at the time. Well, for me it did at least. As I look back, I realize I was young and had so much to learn. However, at that age, we think we already know it all… don’t we?
The Moulin Rouge was the first stop on our tour. It was not as big as I had imagined. When I think of Moulin Rouge, I think of Nicole Kidman’s performance in the movie. I didn’t really think what the Moulin Rouge actually stood for. I guess that’s my naivety shining through. Chris explained to me that this neighborhood was not the safest to wander around on your own past midnight. Looking at the nightclubs as we drove by, I thought: ‘fair point’.
In truth, it is probably best to stick to less “partyish” neighborhoods when traveling as a solo female but I was glad to see this iconic neighborhood during my night tour of Paris. So I missed my chance to see a Moulin Rouge show that first night because of my delayed flight. I probably won’t rebook that show, but it was great to see this part of the city at night.
And I recorded it for immortality. Chris pulled over and snapped a few photos of me in the car and gave a detailed explanation of the area. And that made up for it, times ten.
After Moulin Rouge, we made our way to Montmartre. As Chris drove up the hill, my eyes focused on the lit-up gem of Sacré-Cœur, the Sacred Heart. My eyes froze and my heart stopped. I had already developed an almost obsessive interest in cathedrals while living in Europe. Each is so beautiful and completely different from the next.
On the steps of Sacré-Cœur
We drove in silence, but a comfortable silence at that. Chris told me the best view in Paris was here and the best time to view it was at night. He was not wrong. As he helped me out of the car, it all felt like a trance. I walked up the steps to the entrance and turned around. There she was: La Ville Lumière, the City of Light and she was radiant.
I felt a pang in my heart — the good kind. It confirmed that I was happy and that this moment was one to hold close. I tried to capture it all in photos but they don’t even come close to what it looked like in person, either the church, inside and out, or the view.
We got back into the car and Chris drove me around Montmartre to see one of Paris’s only vineyards, and a small one at that! We drove past Place du Tertre, the square where Paris’s artists, going all the way back to Picasso and Monet and even before that, traditionally hang out and draw on the sidewalk.
The Eiffel Tower
La tour Eiffel is best seen on a night tour of Paris, preferably late on, say at 11pm. Chris explained that the Eiffel Tower sparkles with twinkling lights at the beginning of every hour and he didn’t want me to miss it, so we hurried down the hill to get there as soon as we could. I was literally breathless! The Eiffel Tower was constructed between 1887 and 1889 and was built to be the entrance of the 1889 Exposition Universelle World Fair, Chris explained as we captured its twinkling form from our vantage point in front of the River Seine. The most visited paid structure in the world, it is incredible to think that Parisians once hated it. WOW!
Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde
We completed our tour by driving around the Champs-Élysées, through the Arc de Triomphe. From here, we drove from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the city, and headed back to the hotel. I had seen all this before on my first visit to Paris, on foot, but this was magical, something else again. I stay outside the touristy areas when I visit Paris and would recommend that as it helps you immerse yourself in the everyday life of the Parisian.
Chris stopped the car on the side of the Champs-Élysées to allow me to snap some more photos before we proceeded down to Concorde Square, which is situated at the end of the road. The buildings en route have witnessed centuries of French history, from royal dynasties to revolutions. If only the walls could talk, now what would they tell you?
Solo Traveling Has Made Me Stronger
Paris was a blast and helped me to form that solid relationship with myself I so wanted. If I had stayed in the United States and celebrated my birthday alone there it might have felt odd. Others might be staring at me (this happens) to find out why I was all dressed up and alone or it just might have felt strange to go out when I had friends around that I could have invited. Expats and those who solo travel already can appreciate where I am coming from.
My feelings in Paris were quite the opposite. I felt relaxed with my guide Chris. My 20-year-old self would have never gone to a foreign country, let alone by herself. But years later, here I was sitting in Paris, looking up at the stars and fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Listen to Your Heart and Tour Paris by Night
Not only did I see Paris, I saw her come to life at night. I felt the very being of my soul open up to receive it. My life felt more complete, having accomplished a trip and celebrated my birth on my own time by doing something that meant so much to me. If you take away anything from what you’ve just read, my message to you is to defy social norms — go eat dinner on your own — celebrate yourself on your own because the more you are at peace on the inside, the less you are likely to care what others are doing or saying around you. The less you care what others think, the more you will have your own sense of internal peace.
As cliched as it sounds, we only have one life, and our time is limited. Live your life completely. Live it on your terms and don’t listen to what others think you should do. Listen to your heart — let it guide you. May your next birthday bring you as much happiness as a solo birthday in Paris brought me (years after dreaming about it!)
“We are born alone, we die alone. Everything in-between is a gift.”- Yul Brynner
Catch up on Leesa’s previous Travel Tale here.