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Tampa Bay resident shares tips for traveling solo through Europe at 82

Author standing in front of Palais Garnier in Paris

If you are a single woman wanting to travel, but don’t have a travel buddy and are concerned about making the trip alone, read on. I will share with you some of my single traveling experiences, including my recent trip to Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and The Netherlands at age 82. 

As a young woman I moved to New York City alone and upon retirement I moved to Ajijic, Mexico by myself. Those moves were easy to decide upon and to make because, while they did involve  making the trip alone and establishing a place to live for myself, they were basically getting from one place to another and didn’t involve making complicated train or plane reservations, carrying my own luggage, and asking random strangers for help. I have found single vacation travel considerably more daunting. 


When I settled down into my retirement, except for trips with my sister, my longest and best traveling partner, I kind of thought my major traveling days were behind me. Wrong. 

What I hadn’t counted on was that, as in many other areas of my aging life, my son would have an opinion about this and was eager to share that with me. This evidenced itself on Christmas Eve, 2011 when he presented me with a red envelope containing a plane ticket to Paris and a receipt for an apartment rental for one month. There really was no discussion: I was going to Paris in April, 2012, and imagine, April in Paris was the only open item on my bucket list. I was 72 and I was going to Paris for a month alone. 

Since then, I have gone five times to Malaga, Spain where Brian (that son I mentioned) has a place. Each time, except for one when my sister went with me, I have gone by myself and each time has been more wonderful and more fulfilling than the time before. 


Last summer, I told Brian that maybe this trip would be my last and I  wanted to make it special. I asked if he would help me plan to find hotels near train stations of the cities I wanted to visit. Of course, he said yes. (He most always does say yes to me. I must have done something right raising that kid.)

I started listing and researching the cities I wanted to see and telling friends about my plans. I was surprised at the number of suggestions I got from those friends about where to visit and what to see.  

When Brian suggested I start my trip in Braga, Portugal, I contacted a friend now living in Portugal with all my questions. To my surprise, I discovered that she lives only about 15 minutes away. She volunteered to meet up with me and show me around. 

During this planning stage, as I was sharing my thoughts, a friend asked if we could meet up in Europe and travel a parallel route. We could collaborate on the trip but maintain our independence to the degree that suited each of us. That very good suggestion turned into a wonderful reality.  

We began to meet on a regular basis for lunch or dinner to talk about hotels, trains, and the sights we wanted to see. We agreed to join up in Barcelona on December 21 and travel by the same trains to Paris,  Brussels and Amsterdam. 

On the day before Thanksgiving, 2022, I left for Portugal on a United Airlines Business Class flight. I have found that the added comforts provided in Business Class on overseas flights more than anything else allow me to skip the time it takes to recover from jet lag when I arrive in Europe. In this case I enjoyed the special attention I received on boarding and a fully reclining bed for sleeping. I did, however, not enjoy the venison served at dinner. Others obviously did. 

A full meal served on a business class flight on United Airlines which included a salad, bread and wine.
A wonderful meal served on my business class return flight on United

During my five days in Braga, I watched a very efficient construction crew turn a concrete park across the street from my apartment into a Santa wonderland. That started me on the road to becoming enamored of the town and its wonderfully quaint atmosphere. Braga is older than Rome and I am told that in 2026 will celebrate its two  thousandth birthday. There are gardens, a castle and lots of  churches to enjoy on walks. I saw no graffiti, no trash on the streets and witnessed no manner of ugliness while I was there.  

With my resident friend and her husband, I visited the the most wonderful city of Guimaraes, a few kilometers from Braga. We walked the streets of that beautiful city, had a delicious and inexpensive meal  and drove high up on a hill to a church where we looked out over clouds to the city below. Without my friends there, I would likely have missed that wonderful treat. 

When my time in Braga was over, I took a short and inexpensive bus trip to Porto Airport, not the expensive taxi ride I had taken from the airport. From there I flew to Malaga on a less than perfect low fare RyanAir flight. It required that I walk on the tarmac from the airport to the airplane and carry my suitcase and personal bag up 23 steps to the airplane (and down again in Malaga). That I would never recommend to anyone over 50, and was possibly the only disagreeable experience of my entire trip. 

That minor inconvenience was soon forgotten when I arrived in Malaga again and opened the door to the apartment. I was so glad to know I would be spending the next three weeks there in the cozy apartment I loved and in the welcoming city I so enjoyed. The old part of Malaga that I am most acquainted with is easy to navigate and meant for walking.

On December 21, I left Malaga on the first of the four train trips I was so looking forward to taking on this journey. I was even able to negotiate the purchase of the ticket at Maria Zambrano Train Station in Malaga with my basic Spanish. I was proud of myself.  

Except for the short stop and change of trains in Madrid, it was easier than I had expected to travel to Barcelona. I made the trip with only one simple request for help at Madrid Station. I asked for directions to the security station I had to visit before my connection to the Barcelona train. Here let me just say how easy it is to find adults and young people who are willing to help solitary senior female travelers. They volunteer to help with stowing and retrieving luggage and with reading signs in unfamiliar languages. 

Arriving at the Hotel Colon directly across from the Cathedral of Barcelona put me immediately at rest after my train ride. It struck me as a perfect headquarters from which to see the sites of Barcelona.  

Outside the window of my room, between the hotel and the  Cathedral, there was a Christmas market adding music and gaiety to the holiday atmosphere. I was able to appreciate the celebration and enjoy the smell of Christmas pine trees simply by opening my glass doors. And, surprisingly, the weather allowed  for them to be open to some degree all during the daytime and even enough at night to enjoy the fresh air and pine tree scent. 

Jenny and I asked for recommendations from the hotel concierge for evening meals. We ate our first evening meal in Barcelona at Barmono and when we had finished, we knew we would be back for one more meal before we left the city. A light dinner consisting of an Oliver Salad (a really delicious Russian version of our potato salad), a generous cheese plate with crackers and bread, and a delightful glass of red wine was both delicious and  inexpensive. It cost me only $13.56. 

The next day the hotel secured tickets for us to La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral. I had missed a visit there during my only previous trip to Barcelona because of poor planning on my part. The cathedral was spectacular to see and had both Jenny and me in awe.  

So did Casa Batlló, a building originally designed by one of Gaudi’s professors in 1877 and entrusted by new owners to Gaudi in the early 1900’s to update. It is unbelievably amusing to view the balconies from the wide sidewalk out front with the many other appreciative viewers. 

We also got tickets to visit Gaudi’s Parc Guell. It was a bit of a  disappointment, appearing ill tended and uninviting. We stayed there only a short time. 

After five wonderful days in Barcelona and five lovely nights in Hotel Colon, we left for Paris. Not via the fast train as we had planned and that had been a main focus of our entire trip, but by last minute arrangements on Air France. This was due to a  threatened railway workers strike. But in this case it was easy to replace the disappointment of the journey with the excitement of the destination. How could you not be happy about getting to Paris? 

Only once have I ever had anyone tell me they didn’t enjoy Paris. I wanted to question the reason for such a statement, but I didn’t. The two previous times I have visited Paris I felt exhilarated. I couldn’t wait to be back there. 

The Brighton Hotel on Rue de Rivoli was a small, welcoming  choice for our Paris stay. And there was yet another Christmas  Market directly across the street that I could see when I opened  the door onto my Juliette balcony. But that wasn’t the best surprise when I searched the horizon. I soon discovered that by looking a little to my right I had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower. In the darkness the first evening it’s lights were shining through a wintry mist. Oh yeah, I love Paris in any season. 

Our highlights in Paris began with a visit to Le Meurice Hotel bar for Kir Royale drinks served in black champagne flutes, together with small dishes of olives and warmed cashews and almonds by  attractive young men in tuxedos. Well worth the extravagant $33.21 each drink cost.  

Glasses of Kir Royale at the bar served with a small plate of olives
Having Kir Royale at the bar of Le Meurice
View of ornate Palais Garnier's theater seating and balconies
Palais Garnier

One day in Paris was better than the last. On Christmas Day we sat in box seats in the Palais Garnier, taking in its magnificent ambience and listening to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Sharing that experience with a wonderfully appreciative audience in such a beautiful building, I had to pinch myself. 

Our Brighton wasn’t a five star hotel like Le Meurice, but with the views from my window, together with the double decker box of mixed candies left on my bed and the towel warmer heating towels for after my tub bubble bath, I was more than satisfied. 

On our walk to check the progress of Notre Dame repairs we came across a flower market filled to overflowing with greenery and flowering plants. I imagined the beauty I could add to my Paris apartment if I were lucky enough to have one.  

Street vendor selling plants, flowers and other ornaments

Jenny and I walked the streets of Paris and enjoyed its wines and great food for six days and nights before moving on to Brussels via train.  

Tourists walking around the streets with historic architecture behind them

Our rooms in The Dominican Hotel in Brussels were lovely, except in each case the windows opened onto a very close brick building, allowing for little daylight to enter our rooms. If our days there hadn’t been rainy and gray to boot, that might not have been so noticeable. Despite the rain and grayness, and the lack of daylight coming through our windows, the enjoyment of our stay at The Dominican was not diminished. The hotel was conveniently located for walking and had a lovely bar with  friendly attendants. We did once again enjoy Kir Royale drinks there, along with some very good snacks and pleasant down time.  

For the first time ever, I was exposed to the experience of the Green Policy at the hotel. If we went a day without requiring the  services of a maid, we received a chit for a free drink in the bar. Certainly when I weighed having a Kir Royale against having my bed made, the Kir Royale won. And I felt smart for taking the trade.  

At the Royal Gallery of St. Hubert, a lovely arcade filled with chocolate and waffle shops, a lace shop and other specialty shops, I was introduced to mulled wine about the time I was picking out my next Christmas tree. I love it: 82 and still multi-tasking!

Chocolate Christmas tree
A chocolate Christmas tree

From the windows of our train to Amsterdam from Brussels we saw many new windmills and, pleasantly, three old windmills in some very beautiful open green spaces.  

View of Amsterdam architecture from the boat tour
Taking in Amsterdam on a boat tour

As we neared Amsterdam, we were preparing to leave the train and, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of two friendly college  aged girls, Jenny and I would have gotten off the train three  towns too soon. I am not sure what troubles they helped us to  avert.  

The Barbizon Palace, is in walking distance of the train station, in  the midst of everything, and a lovely place to wind up our tour. From there it was only a short tram ride to the Vincent van Gogh Museum and a few steps to where we took a boat tour, both delightful treats.  

The boat tour provided us with some lovely sights, and more than a few of crooked houses on the canals. 

From Jenny’s room she had a perfect view of the canal out in front of the hotel. In the evening, that sight was a wonderland of activity accented by lights reflecting in the water. On one of our last evenings in Amsterdam, we had wine and grocery store cheese and fruit sitting at the windows just enjoying that great view.

My room, on the other hand, provided me with a view of a busy side street which I found interesting at all times of the day and  night. Only in the wee hours of the morning did activity slow to a halt.  

Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles and frites, frites, frites. I didn’t ride a bicycle, but I did eat frites. Three times I enjoyed Amsterdam’s superior version of the French Fry, and not once did I get the indigestion I suffer when I order my semi-annual French Fries here at McDonalds.  

Frites alone would’t be enough to get me to move to Amsterdam, but oh my, the excitement I feel just being on the streets there would, in a heartbeat. 

For me the next best thing to moving to Amsterdam would be to return on another visit. I hope to, but only after I have seen some other places on my list, like maybe Istanbul.


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