This time last weekend, I was in Paris and it was an experience I will never forget. Here is our story…..
After a night in London we got up early and caught a bus across the city, my ‘surprise birthday trip’ had begun and I still didn’t know where we were going. I’d written a few ideas in this post, but never in a million years truly thought it would be somewhere as amazing as Paris. As we approached St.Pancras International, Vee handed me the first of my birthday presents – a neatly wrapped Lonely Planet Guide Book and as I unwrapped the gorgeous world map paper, I saw a tiny little Eiffel tower on the spine of the book and squealed with joy. I knew where we were going, it was my dream trip…. to Paris!
As we headed into St.Pancras to check into the Eurostar, the Christmas lights were on and faux snow was falling in the station. I just couldn’t believe it and became overwhelmed with emotion, totally embarrassing myself (and Vee) by bursting into tears of excitement, I felt like I was in a movie and this was the romantic bit where everyone cries. It was just….. perfect.
Our journey went by in a breeze and within just a few hours we were in Paris and checking into our hotel! I eagerly gazed out of the window of the taxi at the gorgeous streets, with the tiny cafes, quaint patisseries and couldn’t wait to take it all in. Feeling a little tired after a whirlwind of a morning, with all that anticipation of the trip (and a couple of glasses of champagne) so we decided to head for dinner locally to where we were staying in the Montemartre area and that we would head into central Paris the following morning. This turns out was the best decision we have ever made.
Dinner in Montemarte was just beautiful, it was a calm atmosphere, we ate salmon, caviar and drank a bottle of wine sitting out on the street so we could watch the world go by, it was chilly but they give you a blanket for your legs and have overhead heaters . We sat right on the square and admired the local artists at work totally oblivious to what was going on just a mile or so away.
As we headed back to the hotel, my phone hit the WiFi network and started to go crazy. I was receiving messages from all of my friends and family saying ‘Are you ok?‘ ‘Are you safe?‘ and immediately knew things were not good. With hearts racing, we ran up to our hotel room and turned on the news.
At this point, only one or two of the attacks had happened and we were in absolute shock and horror. Sirens wailed outside the window and suddenly the busy streets became empty and dark – the news was spreading and people were petrified.
We sat on the bed trying to take everything in – with the news on both of our phones and both of our iPads (monitoring different sites) we watched the attacks unfold. Just when we thought it was all over, the news broke about the Bataclan and at that point there were 80 hostages inside a building and I looked out the window and just prayed for them. News breaks that there is yet another attack and I start to feel panicky as we don’t know where the next one will be – will it be us next? I look to put something across our hotel room door, (a chest of drawers, or a chair?) in total fear as I just didn’t know what to do with myself, every time I heard a noise I would jump, I can’t tell you how scared I truly felt.
I put up a message on Twitter letting everyone know I was safe and the response I got was just OVERWHELMING. I had so many messages from my friends the blogging community were just incredible, I was absolutely couldn’t believe how many messages were coming through – all offering help, support, useful phone numbers and offering to look up details to get us home. I was really, really, truly touched.
My Facebook also turned on the ‘mark yourself safe’ function as it could tell I was in the risk zone from my location. I cannot tell you how useful that button is! Immediately everyone was sent a notification and the texts kept rolling in with support messages. We stayed up late into the night and watched the shocking events unfolding, just hoping and praying they weren’t going to come to our area and that we would be safe.
Saturday (My birthday!):
I woke up with a strange, surreal feeling, not what I was expecting to feel on my big day. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the people who lost their lives and about Paris. Had I had a strange dream? Will I just wake up and this didn’t happen? I didn’t know what to think or feel… I think I just felt numb.
After we got up, the grey morning was a sombre, subdued and one, filled with confusing emotions. I was in Paris, it was the morning of my 30th birthday, and this should be amazing, I’ve waited months for the surprise and yesterday I was crying tears of joy – but I just couldn’t feel happy about it after everything that had happened, how could I? I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. Should we go home? Should we stay? Will there be further attacks? Are we safe now?
Feeling hungry and drained, we decided to walk just locally, to get some fresh air and breakfast then have another think about what to do. It turns out, coffee, fresh pan au chocolat’s and orange juice really do help clear the mind. I had decided I wasn’t going to give in… I wanted to stay in Paris. Call me stubborn, but I felt like us going home was letting the terrorists ‘win’ and I was determined to stay and give Paris the weekend we had hoped, planned and dreamed of and to make the absolute best we could of a bad situation.
My dream was to see the Eiffel Tower and I was determined I was going to do it – so with the metro system completely closed, walking was our only option. It took us nearly 2 hours (we did get a little bit lost) but finally we made it past the Arc De Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower.
The bittersweet moment, I made it to the Eiffel Tower but wished things could be different.
It was just so strange to see it so empty, the queue lines and booking offices closed. There were a few people around and lots of armed police officers. It was a strange atmosphere, it was almost like Christmas Day, but without the joy and happiness, just empty, cold and grey. People were looking at each other, as if we should say something, but there were no words. We all knew we were thinking the same thing.
With my mission to see the Eiffel Tower accomplished, we headed back to the hotel.
At this point, the foreign office were still advising us to stay indoors, so we had another agonising decision to make – Vee had more surprises up her sleeve, she had booked the most amazing experience ever at the Moulin Rouge with a 5 course meal, champagne and she had even packed me a sparkly dress and bought me a gorgeous Swarovski necklace to wear, and the show was that evening. We asked the reception at the hotel if it would be still going on, but unfortunately it had been cancelled. My heart sank but I knew it was the right thing to happen and the safest option.
I desperately wanted to be sad about the Moulin Rouge being cancelled, and deep down inside I admit that I was a little sad – but ultimately feeling lucky to be safe and alive is so much more important. We promised each other will come back and see the Moulin Rouge one day and agreed to stay safe in our hotel room that evening.
Instead we had a long, hot bath….. oh and we watched the Moulin Rouge….the movie, on the iPad.
Sunday felt like a new day. The shock was beginning to settle, and without any further attacks the people of Paris started to resume life and the streets were becoming a little more lively. Determined to see Paris, we decided to go on a sightseeing walk and take in all of the major sites. Everything was closed, but just seeing Paris with its amazing history and architecture was fascinating.
A unique picture of the Louvre – there probably won’t be a time again where there is literally no one (but a couple of armed police guards) in shot
Television Cameras gather outside Notre Dame
The sun is shining and despite everything, Paris was just beautiful
After a leisurely stroll around the city, we headed to the famous Angelina Tearoom to try their world renowned Hot Chocolate and delicate French pastries and cakes. Angelina was absolutely stunning (so amazing that I’ll be writing a whole separate post on this with lots of delicious pictures soon!). It was the perfect place to go as it took our minds from everything and was the first time I had actually relaxed since we heard of the terrible events. It felt like a very special place to go for my birthday and was just beautiful.
Whilst we were in the Angelina tea room, we decided that we should to go and visit the sites of the attacks and pay my respects to those who hadn’t been so fortunate. We looked on the map, it was a long walk but I felt it was important we make the journey.
We walked to the site of the Bataclan attacks. It had been fenced off at this point but this was one of the many memorial sites that have been created nearby.
We laid our French flag down as a mark of respect and took some time out to think about those who lost their lives on this tragic night of the terror attacks in Paris.
After a rollercoaster of a weekend, it was our final day in Paris. It had been truly bittersweet, with moments of joy, happiness and laughter, mixed in with utter sadness, confusion and terror. We handed our tickets back at the Moulin Rouge and left for the Eurostar. I couldn’t help but shed one lonely tear for the evening my 30th birthday could have been – but I know, deep down inside that actually we were lucky, we are so, so very lucky. We will get the chance to see the Moulin Rouge and the Eiffel Tower again and the truth of the matter is that there are now 132 people who won’t ever be that fortunate.
Dear Moulin Rouge – We will be back one day, I promise.
This post is dedicated to all of those who lost their lives on 13/11/2015 – That night will never be forgotten.