Catch up on Leesa’s previous Travel Tale here.
“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, you love, well that’s just fabulous.” – Carrie Bradshaw
My solo trip to Paris taught me many things. However, what I was most pleased about was how the trip took a turn for the better. It started off with a turbulent beginning because of my canceled flight. However, the end of my trip and the evening of my birthday turned into one of the best nights of my life. Whoever said Paris was for lovers — well, ok — but I happen to think its nickname stands true: Ville-Lumière (‘The City of Light’). It is the city of lights and I was about to find out why. It was the most self-satisfying feeling I had felt in my life. I was treating myself to a night tour of Paris by car and learning all about the monuments and history of Paris by night with my soon-to-be-new-friend, Chris of Cedric’s tours.
Night Tour of Paris by Car with Chris of Cedric’s Tour
Paris is huge and I got my first taste of it at night by viewing the Eiffel tower the evening prior to my solo birthday extravaganza on the town. I wanted to see more of Paris than just the touristy spots. A friend of mine who visits Paris frequently recommended Cedric’s Tour.
Chris picked me up at my hotel in his 2CV green car at 9:30 p.m. I opted for the two-hour tour package because 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 realized I was young and had so much to learn. However, at that age, we think we already know it all… don’t we?
Moulin Rouge was the first stop on our tour. It was not as big as I thought it would be. When I think of Moulin Rouge, I think of Nicole Kidman’s performance in the movie. I didn’t really think of the meaning behind what Moulin Rouge actually stood for. I guess that’s the naive part of me shining through. Chris explained to me that this Parisian neighborhood was not the safest to wander around past midnight by yourself. I started looking around after he said that and thought, “fair point,” after we drove past a few night clubs.
Like any city, alcohol can impair the judgment of others so it’s probably best to stick to less “party-ish” neighborhoods when traveling as a solo female. I felt glad I saw it during my night tour of Paris. I had missed my chance to see a show inside Moulin Rouge the first night because of my delayed flight. Looking back, I probably won’t rebook that show, but it was great to see this part of the city at night.
Chris pulled over and snapped a few photos of me in the car and gave a detailed explanation of the area that made up for it, times ten.
After Moulin Rouge, we made our way to what would soon become a favorite — Montmartre. As Chris drove up the hill, my eyes focused on a lit-up gem called Sacré-Cœur, or the Sacred Heart. My eyes froze and my heart stopped. Beautiful and stunning, my fascination with cathedrals grew to almost an obsession while living in Europe. Each cathedral is so beautiful and completely different from the next.
On the steps of Sacré-Cœur
Chris maybe felt my silence but didn’t realize it was a comfortable silence. He spoke up and said, “Sacré-Cœur” in his Parisian accent. I about melted with glee. He explained the best view in Paris was from this spot and that it’s best to come at night. I’m surprised I could hear him say that because it felt like I was in a trance. He helped me out of the car and I walked up the steps to the entrance and turned around. There she was: Ville-Lumière, the City of Light, and she was gorgeous.
I felt a pang in my heart — the good kind. I knew that I was happy and that this moment was one to hold close to my heart. Although I took photos, they aren’t even close to what it looked like in person. I turned around and walked into the church and smiled — it was beautiful too.
We got back into the car and Chris drove me around Montmartre to see Paris’s only vineyard. It was small! We drove past Place du Tertre, which is the square where Paris’s artists hang out and draw on the sidewalk. Many notable artists hung out there such as Picasso and Monet, just to name a few. It was cold that evening and we were limited on time so we didn’t spend too much time there, unfortunately. Plus, I knew I would be back sooner rather than later.
The Eiffel Tower
After the unforgettable moments in Montmartre, we ventured down to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is a must-see for every night tour of Paris. It was almost 11:00 p.m. Chris explained that the Eiffel Tower sparkles with twinkling lights at the beginning of every hour. He didn’t want me to miss it, so we hurried down the hill to get there as soon as we could. And sure enough, we did not miss it. It was breathtaking! The Eiffel Tower was constructed from 1887 to 1889 and was built to be the entrance of the 1889 World Fair. Chris explained some more history as we stood in front of the Seine river and took photos of the twinkling iconic figure. What I found most surprising is that it is the most visited paid structure in the world and that at first, some Parisians hated the structure! WOW!
Champs de Elysees and Concorde Square
Our final stops on the night tour of Paris were around the Champs de Elysees, starting at the Arc de Triomphe. We drove past the famous Louvre to Concorde Square, then back to the hotel. This is probably one of the most touristy areas of Paris and on my first visit to Paris years prior, this was where I explored partially on foot. I’ve been back to Paris since that trip and have not stayed in a touristy location. I prefer to stay out of touristy areas in order to fully immerse myself in the culture. This is my preference and having lived abroad clearly had an impact on my preferences.
Chris stopped the car on the side of the Champs de Elysees snapped some additional keepsake photos, then, we proceeded to drive down to Concorde Square, which is at the end of the road and directly across from Champs de Elysees. Concorde Square is the largest square in the capital of Paris. Most of the buildings in between Champs de Elysees and Concorde Square have survived centuries of historical royal families, not to mention revolutions. The drive was brisk yet very informative.
Solo Traveling Has Made Me Stronger
Paris was a blast and it not only made me a stronger traveler but it also helped me to have a solid relationship with myself. If I had been in the United States and gone out alone to celebrate my birthday — 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 when I say this.
My feelings in Paris were quite the opposite. I was relaxed as I was touring the city with Chris, a complete stranger but soon to be friend, during our night tour of Paris. My 20-year-old self would have never gone to a foreign country, let alone by herself. Years later, there I was sitting in Paris, looking up at the stars and fulfilling a dream that I had dreamt of my entire life.
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 more you are less 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 cliche 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 Brenner
Stay tuned for my solo travel What I Know Now piece up next!