Like many people of my generation, I say that I love to travel, that I'm open to absorbing other cultures and grasping any opportunity that I'm given. And it's true, although often travelling with friends allows you to fall so easily into the tourist trap. You become lazy; you're around English speaking people and so fall into bad habits from your native country. I wondered, what would happen if I went somewhere with no back-up, no safety net, no fellow tourist? So I tried it.
On the morning of July 31st I boarded the Eurostar from London to Paris, both excited and nervous to visit a country I felt most comfortable seeing on my own. It didn't take long for the differences of solo travelling to holidays with friends to become apparent; I found my seat and sat down, ready to read my book. A few moments later, a man came along claiming that this was actually his seat. We compared tickets, and realised that his was seat 16, Coach 17, whereas I was seat 16, coach 16. He insisted that we were in coach 17 despite the fact I had checked multiple times that I was in the correct area, and so relinquished my seat to him to save causing a scene. Had I been with somebody else, I may have stood my ground a little more. It wasn't a big deal - I had no precious attachment to the chair I had been allocated, but it did mean that I was nervous when the announcements came on to instruct passengers to ensure they were in the correct seats. Note: I checked to see if he moved after any of the announcements. He had not. It meant that I found myself on those small fold down chairs near the toilets, in between cabins. It meant that my meant-to-be-comfortable journey was a little less so.
Nevertheless I arrived in Gare du Nord on time and, gathering my confidence, hopped in a taxi to find my hotel. For Paris I stayed in The Best Western Montcalm, which I highly recommend. I had found a good deal for my single room on booking.com, so don't be put off by any advertised rates - I paid far less than what is attached to the back of the room door. I had arrived late that night and so popped over to the small supermarket to purchase some snacks and a bottle of wine - I hadn't yet plucked up the courage to go into a restaurant alone for dinner - and settled down for the night. Close to the Best Western are two metro stops, Commerce and Felix Faure. I have to admit that I have used the Metro before, so I wasn't nervous finding my way under the streets of Paris. Above them, however, was a different story.
Day One found me excited to re-visit Musée de l'Orangerie. Last time I had been, Monet's waterlilies had been closed due to refurbishment, so I thought that this was the perfect time to finally see them. In theory, it would have been, but the fates were working against me and I had forgotten to check if the museum was open on Tuesdays. If you're organised (like I clearly wasn't,) then this won't be an issue for you, however it wasn't until this break away that I realised how much I rely on my friends to affirm our plans and ensure that they actually can happen. Not to be discouraged, I decided to find musée d'Orsay instead. This was far easier said than done as I had no map, no mobile data, and a terrible sense of direction! I ended up walking for approximately fifteen minutes, enough time to glimpse the Eiffel tower, and to realise another negative factor to solo travelling: there's nobody to take pictures of you in front of pretty things. As vain as it sounds, I completely embrace the culture of commemorating memories via photograph. We are not the first generation to do it, though we may be the first to coin the selfie. And so a selfie had to suffice, though I did miss my friend's skills with angles.
Instead of Musee d'Orsey I came across a place called Le Patit Palais, a little palace that is anything but little. Listening to spontaneity, I ventured in. Even the entrance makes you feel special, and I definitely had a princess moment on one of their staircases.
Museums are definitely one of the few places that being alone isn't considered abnormal. As a culture, we are so often expected to be accompanied by somebody, particularly if you're a woman, that solo travelling is already considered daring - almost shocking. The amount of times I had somebody express concern to me before I left was very high; if I had a pound for every comment I received, I'd be able to afford to do the whole thing over again! Wondering through history is therefore very refreshing.
I did brave eating out for my second night in Paris; I went to a lovely little place on a corner near my hotel, however I did feel very self-conscious, especially when they asked if I was waiting for anybody. It didn't help that the battery on my phone had died, so I had nothing to do but sit there with me, myself, and I. Eating alone was definitely something that I didn't like, but was something I had to get used to, if only for the week. The next morning I had pancakes at the Starbucks across the street from my hotel, and it was a much more comfortable atmosphere there than in any other eatery nearby.
From Paris I went to Bayeux via train, a journey which took around two hours but was definitely worth it. The views were stunning, all countryside and wide green landscapes. Bayeux is definitely a town you can do in a day, however I would have loved to spend more time there as it's the most quaint little town. Having seen the Bayeux tapestry when I was on a school trip around ten years ago, I didn't bother queuing for it again. Instead I spent the day exploring and staring in awe at the cathedral. Again, a moment when I wished I had someone with me so that I could have got a picture taken in front of it.
My favourite part of Bayeux was undoubtedly the active watermill that is only a short walk from the Tapestry museum. I joked that I travelled all the way to France to see one, but I was partially serious. There's something incredibly calming about standing in warm weather, staring at a wheel turning under the movement of water. That, and having the most amazing chocolate and banana ice-cream. It's the best flavour combination, nobody can convince me otherwise.
Moving on from Bayeux, I caught the bus to Arromanches-Les-Bains and found my way down the old cobbled streets to my apartment for the next two nights. Arromanches is the perfect place for a quick beach break; there's not a whole lot of activity in the immediate area for those who like to be doing things, but by this point I was ready to do nothing but lie on a beach and paddle in the sea. And paddle I did! The water in Normandy isn't as clear as the south of France, but you can blame us Brits for that. Still, it was pleasent enough to dip in and have a splash around. Golden hour is ridiculously pretty here and it was nice walk along the seafront as the sun set.
One prominent feature of Arromanches is the 360 degree cinema which sits on a hill atop the main section of the town. It's a bit of a steep climb but definitely worth it, as the views are incredibly pretty once at the top. It's also very interesting to watch a film (war footage) in 360. It immerses you like a normal cinema cannot, and often you find yourself not knowing where to look. Definitely worth giving a go! I did cheat a little and got food to take away in Arromanches as I was quite looking forward to just opening a bottle of wine, coseying up on the sofa, and watching netflix as I ate. It did mean that there was washing up to do, but I'd take that over awkward social situations any day.
Finally my time in France came to an end, and although it had been an incredible experience, I was glad to be heading home. I enjoyed travelling alone, the amount of freedom it gave was so liberating and I'm sure it's a time I'll look back on with equal parts pride and fondness in future, but I do wish I had someone to meet up with in the evenings. One more bus took me to Caen-Oustreham where a ferry was waiting to take me over to Portsmouth, and from Portsmouth, home. I had forgotten just how cold it gets on a ferry overnight, so if that's how you're planning to travel, please take a blanket.
Sometimes you have to give yourself some quality time. Treat yourself to ice-cream for lunch and do nothing but sun bathe. Where better to do it than in a foreign country, absorbing different cultures and climates? I would definitely recommend travelling solo, but I couldn't do it for more than a week. That's something new I learned about myself during my time in France, and I bet you'll learn a few things, too.