A Real Life Account of Terror on the Champs-Elysees
Paris: My Weekend of Fun and Fear
Jetting off to Paris for your 21st birthday is a dream come true, shopping on the Champs-Élysées, drinking champagne on the Seine and taking in the views from the Eiffel Tower. This is how I imagined my trip to ‘La Ville-Lumière’ would present. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the reality of my first night in the French Capital…
On Thursday 20th April 2017, the most iconic boulevard in Paris, Champs-Élysées was the latest victim in a series of attacks on the French Nation. Unfortunately, yours truly was stuck in the middle of the chaos that unfolded. Enjoying a well-deserved drink with my boyfriend in a local bar after walking what felt like the length and breadth of the city! We were oblivious to what was about to take place less than 500m away.
Alarm bells rang as we saw people running frantically away from the area. This was quickly followed by masked officers of the Gendarmerie (French Military), armed with huge assault rifles. An officer entered the bar and put the place on lockdown. Doors and windows were locked; music, television and all lights were turned off in the building. No one was allowed in or out. In the darkness we were escorted through the rear of the bar and into a small courtyard. Herded like sheep, stuck shoulder to shoulder, we waited patiently for news.
As we stood penned in, tensions grew high as people of all nationalities called family and loved ones. We didn’t know the depths of what had happened yet and the rumours were flooding in. After an hour or so the news filtered through that the suspect had been killed and we were allowed into the bar, still locked in darkness, to watch the reports on the news. We all sat in absolute silence, eyes glued to the TV. Although I couldn’t understand a word the French reporter said, I couldn’t stop watching! This was a very bizarre feeling… So many times I have watched the similar events from the comfort of my home and now I was here and involved!
The bar staff and locals who resided with us were so calm and comforting. Bar workers made food platters and provided drinks and residents in the apartment building above us invited people into their homes. As we were so close to the scene, police and army officers were using the bar as a base for toilet stops etc., this actually made me feel really safe as there were officers around us most of the time.
We were on lockdown for around two and half hours in total. When the doors were finally opened everyone rushed towards the fresh air. After being searched by the police and also the army, we were free to head home to our hotel. This was the point I felt the most uncomfortable…
After being locked in tight, I was out in the open and felt very exposed. People were sprinting down streets and there were news crews everywhere. My feet couldn’t move fast enough!
The next morning was a total juxtaposition, the sun was shining and people were out shopping and lunching on the same spot that was evacuated just 12 hours prior. Everyone continued their days as normal and tourists were out in flock as though nothing had happened. The usually high Paris security was beefed up all over the city, even retail shops had guards at the doors and performed searches of luggage and people (I even got searched going to McDonalds!)
I think that we have all been slightly ‘numbed’ of such incidents infecting our daily lives. With the regular occurrence, news apps and live feeds at our finger tips, the images we see detach us from the true trauma and reality of it all. I for one definitely had a shock, to experience the fear that the people of France have become all too familiar with.
However, my experience of being caught up in a terror attack definitely wouldn’t put me off visiting Paris again in the future. In fact, the attitude of the Parisian people and quick action of the French military would encourage me to return as they made me feel very safe and at ease.
A recent report by: The Washington Post stated that even though the November 2015 attacks in Paris killed 130 people, “roughly three times that number of French citizens died on that same day from cancer.” It really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
The French government have extended the national state of emergency until 15 July 2017. They have also created an App to help visitors keep up-to-date with National and Local Security issues and warnings and publicly offer visible alerts on what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Available to download on IOS and Android called SAIP (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations).
All in all, I had an amazing weekend exploring the beautiful city of Paris, being a typical tourist, Champagne and macarons galore! Would you travel to Paris right now? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us by leaving a comment below, we would love to hear from you!
Megan – Travel Consultant at Jigsaw Travel.