I slumped into my seat on the metro and smiled. Despite my exhaustion, I was filled with pride at having survived my first attempt at traveling alone.
I was still smiling foolishly as we pulled into the next station and every single person in my car exited. The train showed no sign of closing its doors and continuing its route to Gare du Nord, so I joined the herd of passengers congregated on the platform.
“This line is closed for the night,” a man in a highlighter-yellow and orange vest announced.
Well, my pride was nice while it lasted.
I hadn’t gone to Paris with the intention of traveling solo. I was sure I’d fail at navigating a foreign city, as I often manage to get lost in cities I’m familiar with, even when following the savior that is the little blue GPS dot on the iPhone map. On every other trip I’d gone on, I allowed others to take the reins whereas I couldn’t even begin to tell you how we got from point A to point B.
Since my friends and I arrived in Paris, however, it was clear that our priorities differed, so I decided to familiarize myself with the metro system and prepare for a day of experiencing Paris on my own.
Equipped with my map, directions from our hostel to some Paris hotspots, and my fully charged phone, and an unusual amount of travel confidence, I crept out of my hostel early the next morning, refusing to pass up the opportunity to go running by the Eiffel Tower.
That run was definitely a highlight of that weekend. Seeing the route map on my logyourrun app still makes me smile.
I realized quickly that traveling alone had its perks. I was able to move at my own pace and make time for attractions that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to in a bigger group. After the run (and treating myself to lunch) My mission of the day was finding the Stravinsky fountain, a little-known Parisian gem that I had recently learned about in my modern art class.
Travelling alone also forced me to become a more proactive traveller, and I was excited to take on that challenge. As I treated myself to lunch, I scanned my map for the fountain and found the nearest metro stop. I decided to take some extra time to improve my travel skills and part ways with my trusty blue GPS dot, relying solely on my paper map instead. I did, however, make a few wrong turns, and ended up Centre Georges Pompidou, a modern art museum. For ten euros, I decided to make a quick pitstop-turned-two-hour-detour.
Once I felt thoroughly cultured, I continued my hunt for the fountain. After ten minutes of wandering, I gave up and used googlemaps. Turns out, the fountain was tucked to the side of the museum. I was three feet away from it. I’m great with maps.
Getting there was worth it, though. The fountain, designed by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle, is home to numerous moving, brightly colored sculptures. Couples sat on the edge of the fountain with the sculpture of large red lips that tilt back and forth, water seeping from the mouth, behind them. A few feet away, a birdlike creature towered above the other sculptures. The bird was covered in colorful, childlike patterns of squiggles, stripes, and polka dots, with water leaping from the spikes atop his head. A similarly patterned life size mermaid lounged beside it, hovering inches above the water’s surface with a stream of water forming an arch as it soared out of her breast. Children ran through the squares, and street artists lined the perimeter of the square, spray-painting giant canvases on the ground.
As I lost myself in the day’s events, I became a little too comfortable and a little less careful. That night was Nuit Blanche, or White Night, when museums remain open from 7pm-7am and offer free exhibits in an attempt to make art accessable. While the metro usually closes at 1am in Paris, I knew that certain lines extended their hours for the event. When I met up with a friend that evening, a number of her friends informed me that my line would remain open. I didn’t question it. And so, at 4 a.m I was alone on a Pariasian street with no idea how to get home.
Men aggressively yelled at me in a language I couldn’t understand as I attempted to hail a cab. A second cab stopped, but the driver wouldn’t let me in, giving an explanation in French. My hands shook as I headed down the street and fumbled through my purse for my phone. I was just thankful to have a fully charged phone and my friend’s number, who was able to find me and call me a car.
Back at the hostel, it took me all of two minutes to look up the train info and learn that my line was in fact running throughout the night, but only to a select number of stops. Doing that research prior rather than trusting word of mouth certainly would have saved me fifteen minutes of pure panic. Those fifteen minutes of panic, however, taught me a few more rules of solo traveling to bear in mind for next time. And, while I hope to avoid such traveling disasters in the future, I have to say that the pride of successfully handling one is pretty nice too.