To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.
Freya Stark (1893-1993)
The other day I remarked to someone that I had recently travelled to France alone. This was not the first time that someone (female) responded with astonishment that I could do this, that I had the guts to do this. A woman travelling alone? Yes! I sensed their fear had to do with one or many of the following:
- eating alone
Travelling Alone In France: Pros and Cons
I have travelled alone in France approximately eight or nine times and there are pros and cons just like there are pros and cons travelling with someone. The obvious reasons for “going-it-alone” are obvious:
- you get to do what YOU want to do all the time
- you can eat when you want and where you want
- you can change your mind on a whim and only you are affected
- the bathroom is all yours
I will share a few short experiences that were highlights for me.
1. Dinner Conversation
While eating dinner at Brasserie Bofinger in Paris I wrote about the meal in my journal. With each course I had an engaging conversation with the waiter. Half way through the meal two women from California who were sitting at the table beside me, asked me if I was a restaurant critic because they saw me taking notes and speaking to the waiter. I had a chuckle and explained what I was doing. We had a wonderful conversation about the iconic restaurant we were in, the sites in Paris, and other traveller’s tips.
In Lyon, I was searching for a restaurant and met a couple from Scotland who were doing the same thing. We hooked up, found a restaurant and had dinner together. What a spontaneous way to have a great dinner conversation.
Moral of the story: you are never really alone even though you are travelling by yourself. If you choose to seek out people it can be as easy as talking to the person at the table beside you or people standing at the front of a restaurant scanning the menu. Your entire meal becomes more memorable and enjoyable.
2. Drinking Wine
Many years ago I was visiting a number of wineries in Provence—the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region to be specific. I dropped into one winery for a “degustation” (wine tasting) and was escorted to the back area where I met up with the owner. He opened a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine and we talked about the wine, the region, and the business. He was an old Frenchman, the type you would imagine seeing in the movies, a bit gruff but charming.
After a few glasses, he said I had to try another wine. This time a Gigondas, so he opened that bottle and I had another glass, followed by more conversation and finally I said I needed to go. I said I would buy a couple of bottles of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and all of a sudden he said he was giving me a bottle of the Gigondas as a gift. How sweet. See, the French are friendly! Moral if the story: when travelling solo, get to know the locals. The ARE interesting!
3. Join A Class, Take A Course
Some of my favourite “alone” experiences had me attending French language classes. One of the best was at Ecole des Trois Ponts in Riorges which is west of Lyon. I have been twice: one week just for French classes (and total immersion morning, noon, and night), and another time fir language classes in the morning and cooking classes (in French) in the afternoon.
I will likely go back again. We were in small classes(ie. 4 students, 1 teacher) and practising our French at mealtime really brought the group (about 15) together. You can’t help but bond when you are all struggling at times with improving one’s French. There was a lot of laughter and definite improvement in our facility to use the language.
Morale of the story
You are never too old to learn and taking a class or course can “kill two birds with one stone” as they say—meet people who have similar interests and learn at the same time!