One of the reasons I didn’t go to France a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago… was because I wanted to go with the right person. I thought I had to be with my ultimate partner, at the perfect point of our ultimate romance. I needed this person to fulfill my romantic dream, and frankly, I needed them to help fund the trip. I thought I couldn’t do it without them. I also didn’t want to be like Carrie in Sex and the City Season Six, Part two: eating pastries alone next to a dog with droopy jowls. I was afraid solo France meant sad France. In the end, I went alone but was with people more than not. And the people I was with came to me in the most unexpected ways, bringing the most unexpected kinds of romance. When I started planning my solo trip to France I reached out to friends in Europe in hopes that they would want to meet in Paris. A friend in Belgium, another in Germany, a Parisian girl I’d met on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica…they may have been longshots, but ones worth pursuing. And frankly, sometimes I can focus so much on the stuff of travel—the decadent food and dreamy places—that I forget it’s the people that truly enrich a trip. I visited that friend in Belgium and, amazingly, my German friend said she would come stay with me in Paris for the weekend.
She knocked on the door of my Airbnb while I was talking to my boyfriend on WhatsApp. “It’s your roommate!” she called from the other side of the blue door. In a rush of excitement I hung up on my boyfriend and ushered her in. That giggly, girly rush set the tone for our three days together.
Although we’d met on a trip in November, because I’d been travelling alone and she was with her then boyfriend, we hadn’t had that giggly, girly time when we met. This was our time. Our days were the friendship version of “Before Sunset.” The first day we started at the famous steps of Rue Foyatier up to Sacré-Cœur, then walked through the boutiques and cafes of Montmartre down to the Jardin des Champs-Élysées where I took her to a puppet show. We walked on the Champs-Élysées just long enough to see the arc and ambled through the Tuileries Garden ending up at the Louvre. We laughed at women posing in front of Moulin Rouge in Pigalle. I told her about my boyfriend in Square Marcel Pagnol. We watched wedding photos being taken under Alexander III Bridge. We crisscrossed bridge after bridge telling our stories and unfolding our friendship. We had a rude waiter at a bistro in the 8th arrondissement and even went into a Starbucks (!) for coffee and a bathroom. But I didn’t care. To feel our friendship evolve as we walked through the city was a kind of romance I could never have expected. All that time I’d associated Paris with romance, thinking it needed to be a man, not knowing it could be a friend. You can’t talk about heartbreaks with a man. Or sweat and laugh about chafing—you can, but you might not want to.
The second day I ate the butteriest chocolate chip croissant thing before we crossed to the other side of the Seine and soaked ourselves in Impressionism at the Musée d'Orsay. Then we headed to our ultimate Paris bucket list item, the Eiffel Tower. And even though our time there wasn’t what I’d pictured (We were hungry, settling for a less-than-picnic-perfect pastry while watching a group of street vendors argue over who owed who five Euros) it was just right. We took selfies on the dry grass laughing over each photo. And because we’d finally done all the “big things,” afterward we found a bar along the Seine and shared a bottle of Chardonnay. The bottle emptied and the giggling went on. “Katie, my English is getting better…” and “This is why he left me!” she joked, melodramatically pouring another glass. For me it was the most romantic way to sit on the Seine. After all, what is romance but the feeling of excitement, mystery, and magic? It was magical. And I was happy. Our last day together there was a bittersweet quality to the hours we walked past Notre Dame and through Luxembourg Gardens. We crossed the Seine for the last time together. La bohème should have been playing.
After my friend left I had Paris to myself—only I never felt alone. I seemed to meet people everywhere: an older man from Florida while sitting in a café on the Left Bank who shared his cheese plate and bought me a rack of lamb and rum baba the next night. A group of friendly Midwesterners lounging on the grass at Monet’s Giverny while waiting for the bus to take us back to the city. And my Parisian friend I’d met in Costa Rica who took me to the cutest bistro in Montmartre where we ate tartines, coq au vin, and the richest chocolate mousse. I told her about my days in Provence and Paris, how much I savored the luxury and soaked in the city. “J’adore!” she exclaimed over and over again. After dinner she walked me past the Amelie café, the wall of “I love yous” in different languages, and showed me a good breakfast spot for my last full day in Paris. She was right, it was a good spot. So “J’adore!” to that place, dear friend. J’adore to my Belgian, German, and French friends for being there with recommendations and flexibility. For picking me up and showing up. For reminiscing on our time in Asia and Costa Rica. For sharing some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and some of the best food and drink I’ve ever had. J’adore to laughter. J’adore to the amour of budding friendship. J’adore to a journey so romantic even I couldn’t have dreamed it up.