When airbnb and Trip4Real, which focuses on travellers getting off the beaten path with locals leading the way, invited me on a Live Like a Local trip to Paris, not three weeks after the recent terror attacks on November 13th 2015, there was no question in my mind I would go.
David didn’t want me to. He was worried. He would be worried until I set foot back in St Pancras and was on my journey back home. Mum thought it wasn’t the greatest idea, but after explaining to them I’m not heading into deepest, darkest Syria they both accepted my resoluteness. Tolerated it.
And as I sit here in a quaint Parisian cafe in a local neighbourhood writing this post (which has been scheduled for later, by the time you read this I’ll be back home) surrounded by locals and students all plugged into laptops and chatting over lattes and macarons, I saw a city defiant.
A Parisian weekend is full of young trendy creatives with roll-up cigarettes in hand, sipping cheap spirits in front of local neighbourhood bars, and families strolling down narrow streets full of boutiques and galleries, with rosy-cheeked little ones in padded coats and fluffy hats in tow. If you stood in the middle of Paris like I did, you would see a city full of people living their lives, as they do in London, New York, and every other city in the world.
Paris is beginning to heal. And even though it’s a city scarred, it’s not a city scared.
When London was targeted by cowardly terrorists bent on chaos back in 2005, a decade ago if you can believe it, in the weeks and months afterwards our wounded city began to heal. And with relative calm over the past ten years, save the London Riots of 2011, travellers don’t think twice about heading over and using the tube, taking in tourist sights, and using our buses to get around. We wanted them to still visit and show their support.
Every morning I, and many others, travel on the underground at peak time, surrounded by a crush of people all getting to work. I don’t worry about my daily commute, even though it’s been targeted by terrorists before. And perhaps will be again.
And so with Paris.
The FCO, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, have issued guidelines on how and where to travel to. They aren’t asking people not to travel to France, but to be vigilant and allow extra time for security checks.
Our Eurostar train outbound was empty. So empty I commandeered an entire row to myself and had a lovely snooze after my 5am wake up. On the return, again there was ample space with a few travellers heading back to London. Most rows were empty, though, and this saddened me.
The only way we, as travellers, can help Paris heal – because we can help it heal – is to follow the footsteps of the tourists who showed solidarity in the wake of London’s own terror attacks. We travel to the city, we speak to the people who live within, we take precautions, of course, but we experience the new sights and sounds and tastes that create memories we’ll never forget.
Asking the locals about the events, we all felt a little shy in saying the words ‘terror attack’. It was almost like we, as Brits, held that same stiff upper lip in not acknowledging the recent unpleasantness. We knew it happened, we wanted to talk about it, but we didn’t want to say the words.
So when I, by chance, asked Tiffany, a local girl I met in a dive bar who lost three friends that night, about ‘the events of the past weeks’, she grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to say the words. Say ‘terror attacks’ and ask outright about the Parisian attacks. Because if we skirt around the issues and leave Parisians alone to deal with their grief and shock, we abandon them and those they lost.
So if you’re thinking about cancelling a trip to Paris, or you’ve got it in your mind not to head over, I’d implore you to think again. Share empathy with a grieving city, and show solidarity in the face of fear. If we allow terror attacks to shape our lives, we allow terrorists to shape the world.
What was it like in Paris during the weekend of the attacks
Lyndsay, who blogs at Fizzy Peaches, was celebrating her thirtieth birthday with a surprise trip to Paris, the night of the attacks. After spending a day out and about, she returned to her hotel to frantic messages from family and friends. After turning on the news, she realised what was happening just steps from where she would be sleeping that night.
“For me,” she says, “travelling to Paris was a trip of a lifetime. I had been looking forward to visiting for years and finally my day had come as a surprise trip for my 30th birthday.”
“The morning after the attacks, all of our friends and family were telling us we had to leave and come home immediately, and we agonised over this, mainly as we were in a state of shock, however decided to carry on. We had come this far and were determined to make it the best we possibly could, despite the shocking and terrifying circumstances.”
“We visited the Bataclan and laid flowers at the memorial site, but we didn’t speak to anyone. It was a site of mourning, with families standing in silence, holding each other and crying. I don’t think we needed to speak to know how they were feeling.
Asking Lyndsay on whether travellers should change their plans or still visit the city, she was resolute. “I think they should still go – even after the sheer horror terrorists tried to create that night, nothing will ever be able to take away the true beauty of Paris and speaking to the locals the Parisian peoples’ resolve has actually been strengthened more than ever.”
“In fact for our trip, all the major tourist sites were closed but it actually meant we could take some time to enjoy the smaller details like the magnificent architecture and quaint backstreet patisseries, which normally would have been missed.”
“We are already planning to go back in the next couple of months as we loved it so much and to finally experience the Moulin Rouge (which was cancelled on the night).”
Read Lyndsay’s experience on her blog, here.