Visiting Paris was a no-brainer for me.
I will never forget my first trip out of the country. I had traveled around the United States for work as a speaker, consultant, and instructor in my field of contracts. However, the lure of traveling to Europe was a constant dream. It was 1984 and I had just started a new position at the University of Maryland Baltimore County – so look out world – I was ready! I have always been a very frugal person and while I wanted very much to travel, I was cognizant of my other financial obligations and knew I had to make every penny count.
First, where to go? As if there was any question about it at all – Paris!!!! I had lived, loved and studied all things French in high school, and minored in it as well in college. The French language was like music to my ears. I listened to French music, sang French songs, read French newspapers, listened to French radio and even (big admission here) talked to and answered myself in French. The conversations were awesome! Seriously, while it may have looked strange to people passing me in their cars or walking down the street, it was a great way to practice my French. There was no question that my first trip abroad had to be to the land of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful river Seine.
You can travel on a budget and single.
I spoke with a travel agent and found a reasonable airfare (code for cheap) and a safe hotel not on the left bank where everyone chose to stay in those days but on the quieter right bank. I set a daily budget from which I would not deviate – a whole $25 a day. Even in 1985 that was a lot of money and it was more than enough. For me then as it is now when I travel, the journey and the experience is what counts – not expensive gifts or shopping but what I experience along the way. One other very important thing – for me, it had to be done alone. This was the trip I had dreamed of for most of my life. Like reading a good book in the quiet of your bedroom, it had to be experienced through my eyes, at my pace – alone. I was comfortable in that aloneness and looked forward to it. I was thirsting for travel and Paris was the trip to begin to quench that thirst.
Since my budget was limited, I loaded my suitcase with peanut butter, cheese crackers, and other filling “snacks” that sometimes substituted for meals so that I could really indulge myself when I wanted to and stay within my budget. Not the healthiest of diets but this was the 80’s and getting to Paris outweighed my concern about carbs at that time. I was so excited that if I spent less that $20 on a given day, I could really treat myself by adding the excess to the next day’s budget.
Some of my favorite places to visit
The things I enjoyed most were all free like walking down the Champs-Élysées, strolling in the Luxembourg Gardens, gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, and eating a warm baguette while sitting on a bench in the Jardin des Tuileries. I could not wait to stroll the streets of Paris with a freshly baked baguette in my hand biting off luscious morsels as I walked. It cost nothing to go into the Paris shops on Rue St. Honoré and the other streets of Paris to just saunter by the shops and gaze in the windows taking it all in as I passed.
I had to visit as many museums as I could so I raced through the Musée du Louvre (which if you have ever been you know this is a serious feat in and of itself), fell in love with the Musée D’Orsay (an old Paris train station turned into a beautiful impressionist museum flooded with lots of natural light) and actually danced in the gardens of the Musée Rodin. They all brought tears to my eyes not only because of the beauty that they held inside and outside (as in the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin) but also because I could not actually believe I was there. Living my dream and seeing the photos and writings that I had studied for years come to life in front of me.
Always an avid reader, I had to visit Shakespeare and Company, the famous independent bookstore in Paris which opened on the left bank in 1919. It still exists today but in a new location specializing in used books and English language books. It was a reading library now overrun by American tourists who have also heard about its history and vast collection. See, in my mind my studies and books had already taken me to Paris through photos and my imagination. As a dancer, I was in the world of Josephine Baker.
As a lover of jazz, I was surrounded by the sounds of American jazz musicians who found acceptance and appreciation before French audiences in the small clubs and cafes on the left bank. There was an endless array of monuments, architecture, street performers, and just the never ending sport of people gazing. I mastered the Paris metro system long before I mastered the NYC metro system and the talent you would hear playing music in the metro stations rivaled any musicians I had listened to on stage anywhere in the world. At night I would sleep with the windows open so that I could hear the sounds of Paris in my sleep and smell the sweet smells of Paris when I awoke. So thus began my love affair with the city of Paris and my first journey of many discovering the world.