In 2015, traveling to Europe was just a dream… until it wasn’t. If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll know that my mother is from Ireland. As a child, I traveled there frequently with my family, but had not returned since 2001. School, sports, finances, etc., kept my family and I from returning together.
In 2015, I was finishing up my sophomore year of college. I was going through a transition period and it was the perfect occasion to take the trip of a lifetime. I didn’t just plan to take the trip on a whim, though. My cousin was getting married in London. So, I stole my parents’ invite and decided I was going to crash the party!
Just kidding about the party crashing part. Karma is real, folks!
I was about to go to my first wedding, take my first solo plane ride, and leave my parents longer than a few days for the first time.
Was I nervous? Sure.
Was I excited? You have no idea!
Fun Fact: This adventure is where the idea for this blog was first thought of, but it would take years for it to finally come to fruition.
In this series of posts, I’ll be telling the story of my first trip to England and my first solo trip to Ireland. Along the way, I’ll be sharing photos from the trip and as much as I can remember. Don’t forget, three years have gone by and there was a fair bit of alcohol consumed during my time in my mother’s homeland.
What was the first time you traveled alone? Have you ever or do you always bring a partner? Comment below!
Photo Info: View of Dublin from the Guinness Storehouse’s Gravity Bar.
Strasbourg was an interesting little town, much different from Paris. Both towns had old charm, but Strasbourg bled it. No matter where we turned, there was an old church, old building, and really anything else you could imagine would be in an old European town. Again, most of the buildings were older than America itself, such as the Strasbourg Cathedral, completed in 1439.
Churches marked many of the streets, reminding visitors of the immense religious influence of the town. Some cathedrals, like the Strasbourg Cathedral, were Catholic, with incredible stained-glass windows and flying buttresses you only hear about in elementary school art class. Other cathedrals held darker elements inside, such as skulls strewn around and even a few buried bodies. There were not only Catholic churches, but Lutheran as well. The Lutheran churches were usually newer than the Catholic, as the Germans (Lutherans/Protestants) entered the area much later. The Germans even have their own area of the town, Neustadt, meaning “German area,” which was formed in the late 19th century.
Our hotel in Strasbourg was a pleasant change from the hotel in Paris. We stayed in the Lagrange Apart’Hotel Strasbourg, a nice hotel within walking distance to the historic district of the city. My husband and I both enjoyed staying in the room, which had a large bathroom and a kitchenette. If we were staying more than one night, this would have been such a blessing! Another plus: the price! We booked the hotel the night before our trip (we’re fantastic planners, obvi), and ended up paying only $100, with taxes and fees. We enjoyed the food in the city, as well.
Eating tends to be my favorite part of traveling and Strasbourg did not disappoint. We arrived in the city during what one might consider “late lunchtime” (2-3 p.m.), but what the French (and many other European countries) consider “breaktime.” Siesta, anyone? We walked around the city for close to an hour before finding a restaurant that was either not open or not packed due to France playing in the World Cup. Again, we are phenomenal at planning.
Nonetheless, we ended up with a delicious lunch at a spot a short distance from the Strasbourg Cathedral. My husband had a corned beef and veggie dish, while I chose to enjoy traditional sausage and delicious potato salad. I definitely chose the better dish. Later, we enjoyed another traditional Alsace (region of northeastern France) meal. I chose to give Flammenkuchen (Tarte flambée) a try. Resembling a flatbread pizza, the traditional flavor I tried was covered with cream cheese, cheese, bacon, and onions. I was pleasantly surprised. The region of Alsace is known for its wine, which I enjoyed with my flammenkuchen.
One of the most scenic parts of our trip was a visit to the Barrage Vaubanor “Vauban Dam.” Also known as the “Great Lock,” the dam was built between 1686 and 1700. Today, a crosswalk is available for pedestrians to get across the River Ill. The crosswalk is incredible, providing panoramic views of the city. If you’re lucky, maybe you could snatch a kayak ride on the river and under the bridge.
Overall, I hope to visit Strasbourg again. There were many museums to visit, more food to try, and more churches to admire.
Fun Fact: When visiting any country playing in the World Cup, take note. Restaurants will be full, and the fans may be crazy. After France won the game, drivers of almost every car honked their horns for some time (seemed like forever), fans sounded blowhorns and I’m sure, partied into the night. Basically, the World Cup is no small deal!
Extra tip: When visiting Strasbourg, do not forget to pack your walking shoes. It is a walking city where many places can be reached in a short walk.
One thing I made sure to do while in Paris was eat escargot.I waited until my last morning to finally give it a try. I took a chance on my escargot at the restaurant adjacent to our hotel, but I saw them listed on many menus throughout the city. I quickly ordered the snails, then decided it might be wise to try and get an idea for how they might taste. They taste basically like whatever they’re seasoned with, in my case pesto, and have the consistency of oysters or mussels.
It’s been a week since my husband and I left for Paris, France. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to finally get to the one place I had been dying to go to. Paris is one of those places you dream of: big, looming Eiffel Tower, bright in nighttime lights; incredible architecture of days no longer being; an air of sophistication; endless fashion trends being displayed on the sidewalks as if they’re runways. I mean, honestly, who wouldn’t want to go?
This may sound trivial, but the stress of my Parisian adventure begun when I had to decide what to wear. I had to look posh, you know? The weather was looking quite dismal for our trip, so that threw out any cute dresses, skirts, or summer clothes I had in mind. Booking of the hotel and deciding on what type of transportation we would use to get to Paris was next (check below for some tips!). Honestly, if I had planned the trip better, it would have been better. There is nothing worse than a poorly-planned trip.
Now, here are 10 things I learned during my first trip to Paris.
Clear your mind of any expectations. It’s better to be overwhelmed than underwhelmed.
Mostly importantly, it might not be what you thought it would be. The Paris described above is not what I saw when I arrived. The city was not as busy as it usually is (according to my husband, who was there during Christmas-time), which I feel may have deterred from the idea I had about the bustling city of Paris. The city was dirty, and frankly, uncomfortable. I felt a wave of paranoia overtake me the moment I stepped onto the Metro. The combination of the strange language and the assortment of people threw me for a loop. This is coming from a girl who is completely comfortable wandering New York City. The feeling was, and still is, indescribable but wavered quickly as I began to take in the sights above ground. Overall, my preconceived notions failed me, but all was not lost.
Transportation: driving to Paris sucks, but so can taking a train. Story goes driving in Paris is THE WORST: round-about after round-about, people walking in front of cars, bikes zipping in-between, and a serious lack of parking. In short, driving in Paris is probably a stupid idea. The metro system is incredible (even if slightly unnerving). It is easy to understand and will take you to any part of the city. PS: you also have legs, use them! As far as taking a train to actually get to France (we took a Deutsche Bahn train), always make sure to check the train before you leave for the station and make sure it is on schedule and actually running. We rushed to the station to make our train, only to find out that is was cancelled (after translating the cancellation sign from German, of course). Overall, a 2-hour, non-stop train ride from Germany to Paris took us 6 long, agonizing hours… PLEASE, learn from me!
Book everything as early as possible. I mean, everything. If you are planning to fly to France, booking a super early ticket may not be wise. There is about a 6-week pre-flight sweet spot to book plane tickets, but I’ll save that for a later post. Booking a hotel room, tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Catacombs, or any other place your heart desires visiting in Paris. Not only will booking in advance save you money, since some rates may be lower farther from the date of travel, but time, as well. If you’re like me, you’ll want to have as much time as possible to see things you’ve only dreamed of seeing. You won’t want to be standing in line, potentially for hours when you could have gotten a ticket online, and you’ll have a spot reserved for a chance to see what you’d like. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way when tickets were sold out to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. BUT, that does give me an excuse to visit again!
Will you be staying in a hotel? Make sure the “Do Not Disturb” sign is presented and not “Please Clean My Room,” or you’ll have housekeepers coming into your room while you’re sleeping! Now, that was just me being careless, but still a good tip.
Regarding Parisian hotels: the rooms are tiny. I’ve stayed in plenty of hotel rooms to create a concept of what a hotel room will be like. Of course there are pictures displaying the room online and such, but sometimes, you just need to see it to believe it. I was surprised with how small our sleeping area was, but the bathroom was quite large in comparison. If you like bigger sleeping areas, definitely choose a double room.
Everything is so expensive! No exaggeration. Be prepared to spend, spend, spend! And by the way, water isn’t free! Just beware that prices in Paris are simply higher than most places. A basic meal for two, alcohol-free and only entrées, could run you close to $50. A small beer could cost you $6, and it won’t be an artisan IPA, but an ordinary wheat beer. We left small tips at each restaurant, which is not customary but appreciated by the servers. Honestly, the tip is the cheapest part of the meal. What’s one thing you might get a deal on? 12 Eiffel Tower keychains for €5 (about $5.82)! Such a $teal!
Cash is a necessity. Whether you’re buying goods on the street, such as souvenirs, or paying for a meal in a restaurant, cash is the way to go. Cash is the preferred form of payment throughout Europe. Trust me, the locals will thank you. Neither you nor they want to be waiting around when their credit card machine doesn’t work since the connection hardly connects..go figure!
Taking in the sights and taking tourist-y pictures are a must. While I found Paris not to be everything I dreamed of, it was magical nonetheless. There are hidden treasures and beauties all around. The first night, we stumbled upon the overpass to the bridge where Princess Diana of Wales was fatally wounded. I never expected to be there, but I was glad I was able to experience a piece of history. Give yourself a chance to admire the architecture of the old buildings, many older than America itself. Take a walk through the alleys and see how some window awnings match the flowers planted below them (one of my favorite sights). Take pictures of everything and anything you want. Try escargot (which is delicious, by the way!), crêpes, and/or frog legs. Indulge in French wine. Go to the Louvre and pretend to hold it. Do the same with the Eiffel Tower. You may look or feel goofy, but trust me, you’re not the only one! Those experiences will be what you have with you for the rest of your life, and maybe a tiny Eiffel Tower or two.
Enjoy yourself. If you can’t enjoy yourself, then what was the trip for? Of course, all trips have stress intertwined with fun, but do your best not to let it affect the outcome of your trip. I was so bummed out with the initial train situation followed by seeing that our room was slightly larger than a closet, but I did my best (with the help of my husband) to not let the negative feelings become the memories of my trip. Paris was a beautiful city, despite the uglies. Being with the one I love, in the City of Love, wandering through old streets made the stress worth it for me.
Fun Fact about Paris, France: It’s not only known as the City of Love, but the City of Lights. This is due to the incredible amount of lights throughout the city, as well as its position as the intellectual center during the Age of Enlightenment.
Paris is your oyster (or snail!), so relish in it! Please comment if you’ve been to Paris, have any tips to add or would like any questions answered with my next trip to the City of Love & Lights.