I didn’t really want to touch the subject of the Paris attacks and the ensuing international panic at the time, hence it has taken me a long time to revisit my trip first trip to France – from November 2014. At the time, the presses reaction seemed typical, repetitious and all too remnant of the post 9/11 events over a decade ago. Murders took place and the immediate gut reaction by world powers was to cause more death. In the two months since, the topic of social media water-debate has well moved on from weather or not England should help in bombing Isis in the Middle East. More topics, tragedies and famous deaths have taken precedence. At the time I felt I wasn’t schooled enough in political history to know whether increasing bombing in Syria and the surrounding areas was the right thing to do. So I withheld opinion, even if my gut reaction was and is that peace should be achieved by means other than violence. I’m probably an idealist however.
But this is a travel blog – so lets move on from politics and discuss my first experiences with the most famous French city. My brother Callum and I had arrived in Paris in the morning of the 13th of November wide eyed and full of enthusiasm for checking out the Parisian sites. My first impressions were positive – the Eiffel tower loomed impressively in the distance and my first taste of French food while on French soil lived up to expectations. I bungled ordering a Baguette, being told off by a shop assistant for lifting up the packaging to see what fillings were inside. I couldn’t yet read any of the labels or understand that the lady was yelling at me – but my brother soon twigged and told me to stop fondling the baguettes. The next mission involved viewing the Eiffel Tower, which was every bit as impressive as the hype had led me to believe. We wandered around the area beside the tower for a while and marveled at the impressive architecture the Parisians have amassed over various political and cultural phase. Darkness hit, the tower was lit up, and then it was back to the hotel. A quiet first day, as me and my brother who was my traveling companion had planned to see more of the city, including the Louvre the next day.
That night my brother and I went off to explore the Latin Quarter, the famous area of winding streets, restaurants and markets that would have once housed much of Paris’ artist community. My brother returned to the hotel early, while I kept exploring solo. I had no idea of what was taking place elsewhere in Paris on Friday the 13th of November as I strolled through the Latin Quarter, searching for music venues and enjoying the vibrant feel of the cities nightlife. The vibe there was electric – I had managed to stumble upon a local jazz group playing a cover of Sloop John B. A couple started swing dancing in response to the street jazz band. It seemed a serendipitous occurrence, to have seen something that embodied the stereotypical view of a cultured France. After a bit more walking through the streets, I made my way to an underground Medieval-era bar, Caveau des Oubliettes. A blues band was performing, of not exceptional skill, but the environment was unique.
It was only on my way home that I received worried text messages from both my parents saying that there had been a terrorist attack somewhere in Paris and asking if I was alright. I didn’t think a great deal of this at first, as we hear so much about violence taking place internationally on a daily basis, we become a bit desensitized to such warnings. I took the underground to meet Callum back at the hotel and observed the faces of the locals, wondering if what was taking place elsewhere was serious. There weren’t many people in the underground, but those there did look a bit concerned. One lady held her partners hand, staring sorrowfully into his eyes. The streets around the hotel were largely empty and once I got back to the hotel, Callum clued me up as to what was going on. The seriousness now dawned on me. I vaguely had a look at a news report stating an Eagles Of Death Metal concert had been shot at, but I didn’t want to think about that. I could have been at concert, given difference circumstances. So we decided to get some sleep, and re-evaluate the situation the next day.
We had promised our parents we wouldn’t take any risks the next day, but just after waking we decided to try and visit the Louvre as per our previous plans. My brother was rightfully a bit cautious about traveling through the city – there was police and military presence everywhere including on the tube, and therefore I didn’t feel particularly unsafe. We made our way to the Louvre and there were no queues and barely any crowds of people. It was looking like it might be an easy day to gain entrance due to the lack of crowds. We soon were made aware of the national day of morning – putting an end to our plans to visit any major Parisian activities. Never the less we still managed exploring the city, viewing the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Cœur at the highest point of Paris, and visiting a few free art galleries. We finished our day with a very reasonably priced three course meal back in my favourite area, the Latin Quarter, so all-in-all it was an as-per-normal day of tourist activities. Just with a much heightened police presence.
The next day was my last day in France, so still no visit to the Lourve this time around. That will have to wait. Even though what happened in Paris was huge international consequence, from by point of view as a naive tourist, the city and it’s people showed no sign of giving into any fear. They were all going about their daily lives, and nothing ever felt unsafe. Which is perhaps more than can be said for the daily life of anyone still living in Damascus. I hate to overlook the losses within Paris – it’s horrible and tragic whenever large scale deaths occur within any community – but what happened in Paris was only an isolated incident. The happening in Syria and other such places is occurring daily. I’ve not a great deal of deep conclusions to draw from my time being in Paris during a large international incident – all I can say, is that from the point of view of an irresponsible and perhaps insensitive traveler such as myself – it was still a good place to visit. I can’t wait to go back.