Solo but nurtured in Paris

by Betsy Herbert

Paris was my first stop after disembarking from the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on May 17. The last time I was in Paris I was just waiting to get on a plane home after spending a semester in Spain and hitchhiking around Europe for the summer...back in 1964!

I remember that time quite distinctly because a combination of factors left me feeling not quite up to sightseeing in Paris. I had gained some 20 pounds during my previous 6 months in Europe (wine, peanuts, tapas, fried fish, and cafe au lait  during my homestay in Spain, then lots of beer in Germany). My good American shoes had worn out while hitchhiking and my arches were falling. As a result, my lower back was killing me. Plus there was a record heat wave when I got to Paris, and I had run out of money. I was definitely ready to come home!

This time, though 50 years older, I was much better prepared. I had been working out with a personal trainer for 6 months before my trip. I had brought 4 pairs of good quality shoes, and I had a decidedly larger travel budget.

This time around, I booked a charming hotel near the Eiffel Tower called Hotel de la Motte Picquet. It was a gem, perfectly located for walking, taking the Metro, and the bus. Plus it was just around the corner from the Rue Cler, which had several wonderful cafes and bistros. An older building, this hotel had recently been remodeled and offered all the modern conveniences including great wi-fi, comfortable bed, hot showers, and a view of the street, complete with geraniums in the window box.

I was alone most of the time in Paris and I regret to say I knew only a few rudimentary French phrases. But I did manage to get by, mostly because the staff at my hotel spoke excellent English and gave me great advice in getting around.

In one week I managed to visit the Musee d’Orsay, the Musee de Quai Branly, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. I also ate well and did some very fun shopping and people watching. I walked some 8 -10 miles per day. I also took the #69 bus across Paris and back, which was a wonderful way to see the city; nice and slow, inexpensive, and not at all touristy!

I was impressed by all the transportation modes in Paris. There were city bicycles for rent everywhere, and they were in constant use. The underground Paris Metro is legendary (though intimidating for first-timers) and the buses were great. But...there were also so many cars!! It all happens here.

Above: My hotel was just around the corner from Rue Cler and the Eiffel Tower

The highlight of my trip was the last two days, when I met up with some American friends who have lived in Paris and its outskirts for several years. I met Ethan one day for lunch at Paris cafe (he took the Metro all the way from his office just so I wouldn’t have to make the trip). The next day Ethan’s wife Lisa came to my hotel and shepherded me through the Metro to the Montrmartre. There, she took me fabric shopping and to a fabulous little restaurant. I stayed on to visit the Salvador Dali museum.

The next day, I spent the evening with Lisa and Ethan at their home outside of Paris where Ethan and I took an evening bike ride along the Seine, and I had the privilege of learning to play Uno with their children Jonathan and Talia.

And I will be forever grateful to Ethan, who drove me the next morning to the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris and managed to get me on the train to Aix-en-Provence.

What a great way for a Paris newbie like me to wrap up a trip unscathed! Now, onwards to Provence...