For any first timer solo traveller, a big city like Paris can be overwhelming or intimidating. I was in another continent, alone, armed with only a handful of French words and keeping a close watch over my expenses. I came here without a budget for buying a local SIM card. So for any location that I wanted to go to and see and experience, I need to google it first at my lodge where there is free wifi, download the offline map before heading out the door. For 8 days, that’s how I survived going around Paris.
Day 1 in Paris
I am an avid reader and a big movie fan, so on the top of my list, I wanted to go to Shakespeare and Company bookshop and buy myself book stamped with the Shakespeare and Company logo. I’ve seen too many movies with the location set in this old quaint bookshop. It is in my bucket list to own a book from this store. So I stepped out of the metro at Maubert – Mutualité Metro and headed out to walk to Rue de la Bûcherie.
I was enjoying the cold breeze on an early September and feeling like a true Parisian in my outfit, I couldn’t stop smiling. There was too much happiness in me for making it this far in my travels and here I am on my first trip to Europe and Paris, my dream destination. Well just for this week and next week I’m back to my office desk wearing my old crappy business pants and tops.
I took out my phone to bring up the offline map I downloaded earlier, but turns out it wasn’t downloaded completely and the app was asking for a wifi connectivity to continue downloading. Epic fail for technology on this one. It got me a bit nervous but I shrugged my shoulders Oh well, I still remember the street name and remember it being near River Seine, so it should be easy. First stop, a real pastry from a real boulangerie in Paris!
I saw a small boulangerie with a couple of small coffee table set outside with those familiar red and white checkered patterns. The smell of baked pastries was so inviting even from across the street so I crossed over and went in. I got myself a sweet-smelling slice of raspberry pie. I bought it “to go” so I didn’t have to pay the additional 1EUR for dine-in. So happily back to walking, I even have this music playing in my head.
I have been entertained by the cute shops and apartment buildings around me that I realized I have been walking for more than an hour now. I have been looking for the street name that I remember from the map, Rue de la Bûcherie but it seemed that I have been in too deep in this maze of narrow side streets. Nor am I seeing the main road that should take me to River Seine.
After a while, I admitted defeat and that I’m really lost in these patches of arrondissements. I went inside a small DVD shop and after browsing thru some titles, I muscled up my strength to ask the guy at the counter. In my broken French, I asked the guy how to get to Rue de la Bûcherie. He said he does not know any street by this name, so I mentioned the name “Shakespeare et Company” hoping it rings a bell. Blank stare. Negative answer.
Back to the cobbled stone side street, I head to the main street hoping to see a familiar landmark. Nothing, I don’t see the river. I traced back my steps and head to the other direction. Hoping at the end of this street is River Seine. Negative. Ok now, I’m really lost. Calm down Carla, you got this. You got this. I keep convincing myself.
I am now in a serious panic mode. I looked around for a cafe that show a “free wifi” sign. Negative. I am now walking faster, not really sure how to find my way. OK breathe. It’s almost lunch time now, I have been walking for hours but somehow I am more scared than tired.
Another side street. Turn left. Nope. Maybe turn right. Nope. All around me are majestic office buildings in roman architecture and no way I would go in and look stupid asking for directions.
I looked up the elegantly old style building with its enormous pillars, it says Université Paris-Sorbonne. I don’t remember seeing it on the map. But anyways, I’m already here so might as well enjoy a walking tour instead of being scared like a lost puppy. Walking on, I find myself in front of Lycée Louis Le Grand along Rue des Écoles. Most of the shops are closed and not one human being on the street except me.
I just kept on walking and whispering to my angels to help me find my way and send me signs. I came across a closed church, Église Saint-Ephrem. After whispering a short prayer to help find my way and admiring its architecture, I head on. I found the main avenue or highway, Rue Monge. I turned left without knowing why, heck I am lost anyway so just turn left. One great thing about travelling solo, no one to debate with if you get lost and who’s fault was it.
After walking for a few more blocks, observing around, and taking a lot of selfies while walking, I saw River Seine! What a sigh of relief! Though I haven’t found my bookshop yet, I happy to see the river because I knew there were a couple of Metros along it that could take me home. I was ready to give up on my Day 1 itinerary and just go back home.
But not just yet, as I fell in love with the River Seine. I just stood at its banks and remembering all the movies that I’ve seen that was shot here. To my left I see Jesse and Celine (from the movie Before Sunset) walking towards me still smiling and chatting while walking along the banks.
I walked further up the bank and reached Pont au Double. I excitedly walked towards the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. It is jaw dropping-ly tall! I couldn’t believe I’m here standing in front of it! Never mind that I am lost and tired, skipped lunch and was already walking for more than 4 hours. I walked in and realized that a mass has just started so I stepped inside to hear until it ended.
After the hearing the mass while standing, I’m beginning to feel the pain in my lower leg and feet. They’re crying for a break time from all the walking. I walked back to the other side of River Seine and found a park. I sat for a while and took out my now already mashed raspberry pie and water bottle from my backpack. My pie was gone in sixty seconds. Didn’t realized that I was that hungry. I just sat there in the middle of the park absorbing the smell, sound, traffic, and sun of Paris. It was now 4PM. I’m tired and sad that I don’t have my stamped book from Shakespeare and Company yet. I was ready to give up, go home and just look it up google maps again.
I gathered my stuff, stood up and walked to the other side of Square René Viviani park. I glanced to the right while walking and saw something familiar, something green. It was the banner for Shakespeare and Company! I must’ve looked lost, stupefied, dumbfounded or any other adjective that you could think of for someone who was so happy and speechless. I rushed towards the gate of the park. There was the bookshop, just outside the park! Alleluah, thank you my angels!
A photo posted by carla abanes (@justtravellingsolo) on
I idled around the bookshop for about an hour. I browsed thru old titles, new titles, collector’s item titles, rare books that were really old and well preserved, carefully selecting that one title that I would want to take home stamped with the bookshops’ logo. I went up the very narrow and rickety wooden stairs, played with the owners’ cat for a while, sat in one of the old benches and did some people watching. I imagined seeing Owen Wilson there. Maybe he would come up the stairs and waved at me. I hear, he always frequents this shop whenever he is in Paris. But not today.
From this experience, I remember Dory, my favorite Disney character, who always forgets and lose track of what she needs to do. Most of the time her forgetfulness gets her caught in the middle of challenging situations. But in every challenge, she just sings, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. A gentle reminder that if we get lost or side tracked in life, we must not stop and cry. We must keep swimming, or in my case, a first timer lost in Paris, keep walking.
Liked this article? Share it using the sharing buttons below!