When I booked my trip to Paris over Christmas, it was July 2019. Anyone living in London will tell you the best time to book Christmas holidays is around then, unless you’re prepared to pay with your firstborn child. I got a super sweet deal, and I was daydreaming of fresh croissants, saturated sunsets and quaint wine bars for the next six months. As with most things in life though my trip didn’t quite go as expected, as I arrived smack bang in the middle of the Paris strikes.
At first, I was still naively optimistic that my holiday was going to go to plan. However, after being misinformed about which trains, and then buses were and weren’t running, finding out Ubers were about 3x the fare and then hiring a street bike and peddling uphill for 40 minutes to the Catacombs of Paris in a pleated metallic skirt, I realised this would not be the case. I didn’t make my time slot for the Catacombs by the way – which didn’t matter, because they’d closed half an hour beforehand due to the strikes regardless.
What had the makings to be a disaster holiday actually turned out to be one of my favourites though. I’m usually someone who researches where they’re travelling to death before visiting, and makes a plan in my mind of exactly the places I want to visit, with a vague timeline. Having literally every single thing I’d planned, booked and paid for in Paris fall through gave me a totally different experience to one I’d ever had before.
Fortunately, I’d booked a hostel as I knew I’d be travelling alone, so it was super easy to make friends. I was staying at St Christopher’s Gare du Nord, which is practically on the footstep of the Gare du Nord train station, ideal for those coming in via the Eurostar. The hostel itself isn’t amazing, although it’s clean and comfortable, however the social aspect is. Every night they organise free, fun activities in the hostel to encourage travellers to meet and chat. In doing this, you get to meet people from all walks of life and share tips and experiences about the place you’re visiting. I ended up in a group with two Australians (of course, we’re everywhere), an American, a Canadian and a Scot living in Germany, and together we hired bikes and rode all around Paris. They took me to places I didn’t have on my touristy-list, like a bar inside a washing machine, a garden built on an old railway line and the characterful Le Marais, where we spent an entire afternoon wandering through characterful vintage stores and galleries.
Having all my trusted forms of transport taken away from me forced me to walk or ride everywhere, which upon reflection, is definitely the best way to see Paris. Every street looks like a watercolour painting, it’s almost like the light shines softer in Paris. The signature, elegant French architecture of the buildings might have something to do with that as well, and how every building seems to be the perfect size and height to match the one next to it.
I found the easiest way to navigate the cobblestone streets of Paris by bike was to try and stick by the Seine for as long as possible. The roads seem to have very little rules for cyclists, but by the river there are plenty of designated bike lanes for everyone to ride by happily on. It also goes without saying that a bike ride by the Seine is never unpleasant, no matter the time of day.
My Christmas trip to Paris taught me that sometimes waiting to see where a holiday takes you is the best way to explore a new place. Next time you’re travelling, solo or otherwise, hire a bike and take a ride around a new place. You’ll see things you never would have seen otherwise from inside a car or train.