By Molly Heath
For a while, I’d had a very romanticised view of going to Paris on my own. ‘Romanticised’ seems a strange choice of word when talking about going to the City of Love without company. But that’s the way I wanted it. I’ve never been one for soppy romance; the idea of upping the ante in a city famed for locks on bridges and making commitments atop landmarks was beyond me. I just wanted to wander without the distraction.
When my friends suggested a trip to Berlin, I finally saw the opportunity and the days of annual leave I needed to use up. I checked the feasibility, and found it was almost cheaper to go via Paris the day beforehand and stay the night. Everything was perfect. I could have my glorious day to myself, then join my friends elsewhere. I booked the train the day before our Berlin arrival date and thought about how cool and artsy I had just become.
Then I took another look at the booking confirmation. There was something significant about the date and I ran through why it might feel that way. My mum’s birthday was the day before, that couldn’t be it… but then… hang on…
OH GOD I’M GOING TO PARIS ON 14th FEBRUARY. ON VALENTINE’S DAY.
ON MY OWN.
The side of me that loathes cliched romance had betrayed me and thrown me into the belly of the beast in the most tragic of ways. I instantly saw myself trudging behind people in love, growing more and more frustrated until I was forced to shout about how not sad I was.
While this could have been easy to ignore, it threw me into doubt. I’m typically extroverted and don’t normally do well on my own for long periods of time. Without company and taunted by loved-up couples, this could be a nightmare.
I decided I need to have a plan; I found a walk which went past most the major landmarks, and decided I was going to do that. This was fine, I knew what I was doing, maybe everything was going to be okay. Thus, armed with fear and no grasp of French, I went to Paris alone on Valentine’s Day.
6:00am – I arrive at the Eurostar terminal and begin to move through security. There are some couples, but probably no more than are normally present in a London train station. Everyone’s expression is the same as mine; sheer confusion and mild upset about why they are currently awake. It is not romantic yet.
6:13am – I get in an outrageously long queue at Pret to buy an outrageously necessary coffee. This is less romantic than walking through the human scanner. Any visible couples look like their relationships may not last the queue.
7:00am – I have achieved the coffee! I am onboard the train! It is moving! I become briefly obsessed with how fast it is going! I nod off to a podcast about serial killers.
Either 08:00am or 09:00am – We emerge from a long tunnel and I think that we could be in France. I suddenly realise I don’t know. If I had someone with me I could ask them. But I can’t. Am I in France? Does that field look French? How do I not know what country I’m in? What if I’m just an idiot in Kent? Does the Eurostar even go through Kent? WHERE IS KENT?
09:03 am – It becomes clear that I am in France.
10:35 am – I arrive at Gare Du Nord and walk down to my hostel. I get lost on the very short walk and learn that in Paris there is an alarming lack of regard for road safety. It seems that without supervision I am unlikely to survive the day.
10:41am – I check into my hostel and mercifully, the woman at reception realises my French is unusable so speaks to me in English. No-one here is a couple; there is a man on his own and he looks fine. I could be fine like that. I buy a bottle of water and leave.
11:20am – Having had a walk far longer than I expected it to be, I arrive at Notre
Dame. I take a seat and eat a yogurt that I have cleverly packed awaiting this moment. There are a couple making out very aggressively next to me with brief interludes to look at their phone. Love appears to be at a normal density here.
11:21am – A man asks if he can draw me. I say no. He tells me he is heartbroken. He leaves. My Paris love story is over.
11:30am – I walk over to Shakespeare and Company, a famed beautiful bookshop that I anticipate being a very romantic old-timey setting. What it actually is however is incredibly quiet and somewhere that would have been awkward to walk around in silence with someone. I appreciate being alone for the first time and sit down and read.
12:00pm-1:30pm – I continue walking along the Seine, going past various monuments. Paris is effing beautiful, and there still aren’t that many couples; in fact, for all the clichés you wouldn’t yet know it was Valentine’s Day. I go past Les Invalides, where I learn you do not need a boyfriend to take a perspective shot. A man on a bike laughs at me. I do not care.
1:30pm – I stop for lunch. It is expensive. I wish I had a rich husband. I read and enjoy no-one speaking to me. Walking recommences an hour later.
3:00pm – I hit the spot I knew would be the worst; the Eiffel Tower. It is as bad as I thought. There are literally rose petals on the floor. I have no intention of going up it but I’m sure love is happening up there. I actually don’t mind – the queue looks long and if someone was with me they might want to get in it. I march on.
3:05pm – 4:30pm – I continue walking through Paris, stopping whenever I would like without having to be concerned for anybody else. It’s really nice. No-one judges me when I take a picture of a fancy crepe shop with a red carpet and a man guarding it.
4:30pm – I am utterly exhausted and cut my walk slightly short before hitting the Louvre. The sun is shining and while my feet hurt, I feel extremely relaxed. I realise how pleasant my own company has been, and return to the hostel for a nap.
6:30pm – Nap completed, I hear other human beings in the room.
7:00pm – I spoke to the humans and have friends now! They are American!
7:01pm – 9:30pm – I go for a drink with the Americans and have good chats about cultural differences. I realise I am now inebriated and go to bed.
It was a really long day. But, it was actually a wonderful one; once I eased in, I felt peaceful and relaxed in my own company. And a few unexpected things came from my solitude – namely that:
- I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by not sharing the view with someone. In fact, I possibly enjoyed it more. This is what I feared the most from being on my own; that I would see something, want to talk about it, wish I was sharing the moment with someone else. I’ve had that feeling before when doing things alone. But on this occasion it was okay. If I saw something funny, strange or interesting, I could text people and tell them about it, or tell the story when I got back. However, I had the space to take in the view, look at it for as long as I wanted without feeling like I could annoy someone else, and it was great.
- Paris is mercifully nowhere near as romantic as you’d expect on Valentine’s Day. The cliché really is just a cliché, and you realise that it’s just a normal day for most people in the city. Sure, things heat up around the Eiffel Tower, but that was actually it and I didn’t feel like my loneliness stuck out.
- Being alone makes you enjoy the company of others a lot more. Where previously a weekend with 10 friends might have been overwhelming, I left the day now incredibly excited to be around some of my favourite people. I had calmed down, exorcised some of the stress I had from the UK and made room for them. As my wonderful friend Jess arrived to meet me the next day, I felt so content in the company I was about to keep. Even if it was just for a day, being alone had made me so much happier to be around other people.
I’m not sure I could do it for a whole trip; like I said, I’m still an extrovert and like other people too much. But to decompress for a day without feeling social pressure was wonderful, and contributed to me really enjoying the trip as a whole. And I still left with the same opinions of Paris and romance.
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