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An American Nomad in Paris

“My friend, can you take a photo for us?” The Brazilian couple leaned against the marble bridge. They were about my age, and I think the picture turned out nice: the Siene flowing below them, the Louvre posing in the background. 

A few snaps later, the couple sauntered off towards Point Neuf—the pinnacle of an island in the Siene, where couples go to leave padlocks covered with their names along the fences. I know this because I wandered there myself, unaware of the point’s purpose.

I didn’t have a lock.

If I did, I wouldn’t have a pair of names to go on it.

For a moment, I thought that luck would change. As I stood on the banks of the Siene at Point Neuf, another lone traveler walked up. We were the only two people on that stretch of river, but the girl in the leather jacket kept going. She sat on a bench, lifted her phone and started mumbling something in French.

People don’t look at you here. Or at least, they don’t look at me. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or maybe it’s because I’m an obvious tourist. (Though I think most of them are, too.) Or, maybe I smell bad after being on the road for a few weeks. (Entirely possible.)

Either way, my first-time impressions of Paris are probably different from the people who come here on honeymoons, the people with locks.

Luckily, I don’t need a lock to be happy. It’s a gift that’s part of the double-edged sword of travel: see the world, stay single. Settle down, don’t see the world. That seems to be the trade-off for now, and I’m okay with it.

With the couple’s bridge in the rearview, I continued walking down the Siene. I knew from my starting point—Notre Dame—that if I kept the river to my left, I’d eventually find the entrance to the Louvre. I knew that across the way, the great clock of the Musée d’Orsay would wait for me. Other than stopping by, I didn’t have a game plan today.

I didn’t really want one.

It was enough to spend a morning walking along the river, absorbing the scene around me. Boats of tourists flew by across the water. In the courtyard of the Louvre, a murder of crows hopped between visitors, panhandlers and con-artists. (I went 1-1 on cons, by the way, falling victim to a “charity for the deaf” but successfully navigating around the well-worn “golden ring trick.“)

There are ups and downs here. The Brazilian couple, who immediately approached me speaking English, reminded me how nice it was to hear a friendly voice. The gypsies, who scammed me for a few euro pretending to be deaf, reminded me not to take things at face value.

Back at the Louvre, I spotted a girl making ridiculous attempts at taking selfies with the glass pyramid behind her. Recalling the woman who ignored me on the island, I kept walking. But then, I circled back. “Hey, do you want a real picture?” I asked. “Do you speak English?”

The girl handed me her phone, turned on the camera, smiled and said thank you. “This will go on my travel blog,” she said in perfect English. “I’m from Brazil.”

I’d like to tell you that we wandered off together, two travel bloggers with the Louvre and the Siene beside us. I’d like to tell you that we went back to the island with the locks and added another pair of names to Point Neuf, if only as a joke. But in moments, she was gone—another pretty face swimming in the sea of pretty people that is Paris.

And really, that was okay.

Written by

When my home was sold out from under me, I bought a tent and decided to live outside. Now, I'm a freelance writer for Travel Channel, INSIDER, Nat Geo, and Fodor's Travel and I'm on a never-ending quest to get out of my comfort zones and see the world.

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