As I type this, I am alone in my quaint little hotel room in Hotel Le Regent in Paris, hearing my own typing in the keyboard, my own asthmatic breath, and absolutely nothing else. I bask in my solitude, appreciating the silence that accompanies it. I could blast on my iTunes or Spotify playlist, turn on the TV and watch French news, or open the window to eavesdrop on my Parisian neighbors and hear how they argue, but I choose not to. Sometimes all you need is a little peace and quiet. The sunlight peeking in through the curtain is tempting me to go outdoors, but my feet are tired from all the walking, and my stomach is punishing me for all the crêpes, duck fat and exotic sea snails I’ve been stuffing it with the past few days. So I will sit here instead and write.
It’s been six weeks since I packed my suitcase and left for Europe. Alone. There is something about being a young twenty-something woman with wanderlust that evokes raised eyebrows and condescending comments, especially when people find out that the said woman is traveling on her own. There are many reasons of course, but most of them expressing concern. From the viewpoint of the Schengen Visa officer, she made it a point to say out loud that ooh la la, I was single (translation: was I going to snag a French husband and stay in Paris forever?). From my acquaintances, they ask what would become of my very fresh romantic relationship (translation: can I resist the temptation of a wooing European man with an accent?). My family and close friends know better, thank goodness, but still they couldn’t help but mention anecdotes of pickpockets and coquettish men and other travel horror stories inspired by the movie Taken.
And yet there are those who express admiration for my courage, especially strangers who would kindly take my photo when they see me struggling to take a selfie with my trusty digital camera (unfortunately, my monopod broke just when I got to Paris, the part of my trip where I am completely and utterly alone). This surge of bravery, I must admit, was the underlying force that brought me where I am today, in this comfortable hotel room and not in a Philippine embassy in a foreign country somewhere, or worse, behind bars ala Bridget Jones. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I’m horrible at counting coins; and yet it was my intuition and guts that helped me survive a series of day-to-day challenges.
However, I do get scared a lot of times, especially when I only have a few minutes to run from one terminal to another on a connecting flight, or while staying in a crowded train. Yesterday afternoon, my fight-or-flight response was really put to test. I was on my way to Sacré-Cœur basilica, and while I did see in my research that there are many con artists and scammers in the Montmarte area, I did not expect a whole mob of perverts who verbally harassed me upon arriving the Château Rouge station. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a man “bumped” into me from behind just when the pedestrian stoplight turned green and he ran away, laughing at his pathetic little conquest. I dashed to the nearest store, heart thumping and resisting the urge to vomit or cry. Apparently, doing a lot of yoga and writing for two weeks prior to my six days in Paris gave me an inner strength I didn’t know I possessed. After a few deep breaths, similar to how we do it in meditation, I managed to pull myself together and look at my Ulmon Paris app to look for an alternate route. I decided to ignore the advice I got from the Metro Information guy who told me I had to get off at another station to get to Sacré-Cœur. No way was I going to go back to that mob again!
While walking, still feeling faint and shaky, I comforted myself with thoughts of going home to my family and my boyfriend in two days. And like an answered prayer, my misfortune turned into a blessing – the neighborhood route I took was apparently a shortcut to the peaceful “backyard” of the basilica, totally avoiding the tourist areas! It was still quite a hike, but not the kind where you would have to take a funicular. So not only did I get to save a Metro t+ ticket, I was able to have an unperturbed journey towards the church.
While walking further uphill I heard a woman with a lovely singing voice, and for a moment my heart jumped at the thought that Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine might be there, but alas, it was just one of those super talented buskers who grace the streets of Paris. I enjoyed the music nonetheless, and I thought it was a great coincidence that a festival was going on, making the place seem more vibrant. It wasn’t such an unlucky day after all.
The view, of course, made all the trouble worth it. Let the pictures speak for themselves:
Later on in the evening, I saw on my Facebook newsfeed that one of our instructors from the Cambridge Writers Workshop, Jessica Reidy, experienced a similar incident in Montmartre. Apparently we were there at about the same time, we just didn’t see each other. This is how she spoke of her experience:
This gives the “fight” version of my “flight” response, and I can only hope I had the same physical prowess as she has, given that I wasn’t equipped with skull-crushing skills and army boots. I love how Jessica gave that bastard what he deserved.
Traveling alone as a woman is definitely not an easy feat, but the challenges shouldn’t stop you from the dream trip that you deserve. While it is inevitable to face misfortune from time to time, what really matters is how you handle the situation. The trick is in learning how to calm down and think with a clear mind. We may also take our instincts and gut feel for granted, but it’s exactly what will help us make good decisions. Put your “woman’s intuition” to good use, as it’s a rare gift to human beings with an xx chromosome.
And besides, traveling alone has its rewards. Despite the lonely nights, you get to do anything you want, when and how you want it. For instance, the itinerary I made for myself said that I should have been out three hours ago looking at impressionist paintings at Musée d’Orsay. But I fancied a little blogging session, and maybe a little snack consisting of Kinder Bueno Schoko-Bons and a pack of Lay’s once I’ve posted this – just because I can.
So to my dear Fancy Delight readers, go ahead and plan that dream trip, whether it be with family, friends, a significant other, or simply yourself — the world is calling out to you 😉