Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Touring Europe in a Party of One

I'm one of those people who gets nervous eating out by myself and has seen a movie alone once, but I'm so full of awe for folks who are just as happy by themselves as they are with others. One of my dearest best friends, Bret, just completed his very first trip to Europe and he went alone and had the time of his life! I asked him to share all the details on planning and enjoying a trip for one. — Amber

Every time I told someone I was traveling to London and Paris for eight days on my own I got the same vacant confused look followed by a pity "Oh! Sounds….fun. Cool…" Is it so difficult to believe that a grown 27-year-old man would enjoy sojourning all by his lonesome? Traveling alone was a great experience for me and I am delighted to share my experiences with y'all per Amber's request. I loved being able to do whatever I wanted without having to worry about a friend's need to do silly things like sit down or eat food (things I tend to forget to do).

I started planning in February using from my friend Kate's suggestion and my love of a good/terrible pun. Since I knew I cared about cleanliness and safety above staying in a party spot, I was able to find great and cheap places to stay that suited me and my needs and I basically just wanted a clean bed near a good metro. I decided to underpack since I wasn't sure how long I'd have to be carrying around my bag or how much locker space I'd have at the hostel. Of course, for me, packing light means bringing only one change of socks but four pairs of sunglasses and five striped tees.

Self-portrait with Tower of London

After being yelled at by a drunk woman either reading her Bible or crying (it was a LONG flight), I landed in jolly ole London and instantly fell in love — the architecture, the streets, the people, the gin. I loved just walking for hours upon hours through Soho, the West End, the City, Westminster, wherever my Toms-covered feet would take me. I recommend having a guidebook filled with detailed maps, especially if you're as prone to wandering in the wrong direction as me.

Traveling by myself was a huge bonus for me in London because I got to do anything I wanted, namely enjoy West End theatre. I know I live in New York and see great theatre almost every week, but when Imedla Staunton and Michael Ball are starring in "Sweeney Todd," you pay attention! Being alone and not having to think about another person's time, wants, or money made it easy for me to see this musical two days in a row without question. Some West End shows offer seats at cheap rates day-of if you just ask at the box office. I know my need to see 5 shows in 3 days would have been annoying to any traveling companion, so I was glad to be buying only one ticket.

I.M. Pei's pyramid at the Louvre.

I also wanted to visit plenty of museums and historical sites, but I like to walk through them at my own pace since it seems I'm either spending too much time looking at an object d'art or practically racing through yet another painting of the annunciation for my traveling companion's taste (seriously, there are like 10,000 of those between the National Gallery and the Louvre). I was able to contemplate a single stroke of paint on a Seurat at the Musée d'Orsay for half an hour but race through stacks of wood at the Tate Modern since those are my jam and anti-jam, respectively.

A picnic of market fruit and veggies.

Boeuf bourguignon and red wine for one.

Dining alone might be an issue for some, but it doesn't have to be. In London I mostly grabbed food on the go or nibbled on pub fare and Paris culture is all about sitting in a brasserie or cafe alone reading and enjoying a coffee or glass of wine for hours. I was able to sample tradition French dishes like boeuf bourguignon and the most delicious rotisserie chicken with potatoes all while watching the beautiful people of Paris walk by me. I also went to local neighborhood street markets to make picnics in locations like Covent Garden, Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Eiffel Tower.

Self-portrait with dead people in the catacombs.

My good friends know I have a morbid fascination with cemeteries and all things creepy (minus Tim Burton movies), but not many feel the same. Naturally I was DYING to wander through 2 kilometers of an underground Parisian ossuary with stacks of artfully arranged bones and skulls. A real highlight of my trip, the Catacombs of Paris, were built in the late 18th-century and have been a tourist attraction ever since.

I was able to experience two amazing cities I've dreamed about since childhood and I am grateful to have done it Eponine-style, on my own.

Isn't that inspiring? I'm trying to think where I'd want to go on my own...not sure I'm this brave yet, so it might be a place like the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.


Laura Rennie said...

hehe - Eponine style. I like that.

Tallulah Bankrobber said...

So fantastic that Bret took his alone time to indulge himself in two gorgeous cities!

If I were to travel alone, it would probably be in Germany, Sweden or Norway. I'm also dying to go to the Czech Republic and Hungary, but I might not mind having a companion there.