When I was much younger, I recall being set on the idea of going to Paris with a boyfriend. It is, of course, the ultimate cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason, and I had this idealistic notion of being whisked off to Paris by some hot man for a weekend of romance in the City of Love.
After a while, I realised I could be waiting A Long Fucking Time to see the French capital if I stuck to this idea of how a trip to Paris should be in my head. Yet despite the better part of a year’s solo travelling around the world under my belt, I still didn’t want to go alone. This of course goes against everything I now believe and feel, but being in your thirties is a very different ballgame from navigating your early twenties.
Eventually, my first trip to Paris came in the form of a Secret Escapes deal with my mum, much of which involved her being (quite rightly) fuming at the fact I was incredibly hungover for the duration of the first day after an impromptu night out spent drinking with a boy I fancied. (In hindsight he was not worth the time or the hangover – they rarely are.) The second visit would be with a friend on the last leg of a mini inter-railling trip through Italy and France after my cousin’s wedding in Lake Como and the third would be a flying, one night visit with my best friend for her 30th birthday, where we couldn’t be arsed to do much other than eat and drink. Which really is pretty spot on for any trip to France.
I can’t say whether it’s because I finally did Paris solo or because I’ve been to Paris several times before, but my recent trip was my best yet. I imagine it’s a combination of the two, and Paris has always been a bit of a grower for me – I enjoy it more every time I go. When I first went, I was a bit underwhelmed, but then we hadn’t done a great deal of research and rushed around to fit in all the big landmarks, as one tends to do on a flying city break. Though to be fair, that hangover probably didn’t help either…
Something I’d never had time to do on previous trips despite always being keen (or moreover, no one else was ever that bothered about it) was visit the Palace of Versailles. The best thing about solo travel is doing exactly what you want on your terms, so I made a commitment to myself to get up and out first thing to make the journey out of the city to finally see the palace of gold.
Since I travelled to Paris after work in order to minimise the stress of travelling and sightseeing in the same day, in theory I should have woken up refreshed and ready to hit the ground running, particularly since I travelled exhausted off the back of an astonishingly bad two day hangover (there’s a trend here) after celebrating two of my best friends getting married to each other. In theory. Zoom into me getting next to no sleep despite my exhaustion and waking up absolutely raging about it. But still, I didn’t have any one else’s bitching and moaning at the 6am wake up call and no one – bar anyone watching my Instagram stories – had to deal with mine! Oh the beauty of being alone. I managed to get myself out around 7am, when the sun still had not risen – gross – to go to famous Parisian bakery Du Pain et des Idées for a couple of pastries and some coffee before catching the train out to Versailles, swearing about how “this better be worth it”.
Reader, it was worth it. The Palace of Versailles is amazing. Without doubt the most extra place I’ve ever been, and totally ridiculous on so many levels. Outrageously camp with gold gilt everywhere, the stunning Hall of Mirrors is where one of the Louis’ (look, I was very tired – probably Louis XVI?) would go to showcase that days outfit from all angles to an actual audience, like an 18th century What I Wore Today post. Photos cannot do the room justice. And the size of the grounds (I refuse to call it a garden) – no one needs that much space. No wonder the French got pissed off living in poverty and chopped the royal family’s heads off, to be honest. It has to be seen to be believed.
I booked my ticket in advance with a time allotted slot which guaranteed entry within 30 minutes of the time booked, allowing me to skip the queue that was forming as I arrived. I highly recommend doing this and also going early doors, as by the time I was finished at the Palace the queue that snaked out of the gates was huge. Prime example of how a bit of organisation and an early start can work to your advantage on a short break. A quick steak frites and a couple of glasses of Bordeaux in the un-forecasted sunshine sorted me out with a bit of energy before heading back into Paris for the rest of the day.
The afternoon looked like this: a quick duck into my favourite building in Paris, Notre Dame, an obligatory Sephora shop and a slow wine bar crawl from Le Marais to Montmartre, punctuated by cheese boards, charcuterie and a Nutella crepe for dinner. Aside from the practicalities of knowing where you are, recognising the streets and understanding how to get around a little better, this is the real beauty in a repeat trip to a place – the lack of pressure to Get Everything Done. The ability to just take your time to sit around drinking wine, reading your book and taking in what it feels like to just be somewhere. And Paris is one of the best places to do this; to practice the art of doing nothing.
So much so that I did much of the same the following day. After a long awaited breakfast of buttermilk pancakes, maple syrup, eggs and crispy bacon washed down with coffee at Holybelly 5 on Rue Lucien Sampaix that totally lived up to the hype, I wandered over to see the stunning stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle before heading to Notre Dame Cathedral for my allotted time slot to climb the towers. The views were everything I hoped they would be, and of course writing this now I feel incredibly lucky and pleased that this was one of the things on my list that I made sure to carve out time for. Seeing it go up in flames ten days later was horrific on many levels; a building so old and special, though of course it is a relief that no one lost their life and that so many treasures from inside the cathedral were saved. It may not be made of the same stuff but it will be rebuilt – as we so often have to do in life. After taking in the views amongst the gargoyles, the afternoon was dictated by galettes, wine, patisserie and Angelina’s incomparable hot chocolate.
I ate one of the best meals I’ve had in Paris at Breizh Cafe, a restaurant focused on food from Brittany using the freshest of quality ingredients, and made an executive decision to sack off seeing Monet’s waterlillies for Chablis in the sunshine. In light of the recent fire I feel a little bad lazily drinking wine in the Paris sunshine instead of seeing this old, famous art that actually might not always be there, but at the time wine in the Paris sunshine is what the heart wanted, and it’s what the heart got.
That whole thing about waiting for a boyfriend to take me to Paris? Thank God I sacked that off. Not as quickly as I sacked off Monet for Chablis, but I got there in the end. Don’t wait for someone else to take you somewhere you want to go, take yourself. Paris is always a good idea, whether you go with a partner or friends or solo. However for me, having it all to yourself as you eat and drink your way around, doing what you want, when you want, is better.
Where: Paris, France
When: April 2019
How long for: 2 days, 2 nights
Music in my ears: Movement by Hozier
Book in my hand: Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant by Joel Golby