Before the Charlie Hebdo shootings shook the capital of France I had booked a surprise weekend away for me and The Unicorn…
A mere 2 days before our trip the horrific shooting at Charlie Hebdo hit the headlines and at first I was unsure whether we were going to be able to go to Paris at all.
As we watched the news reports and read the accounts of events on social media we were stunned.
I was scared.
News reports hinted at the possibility of more attacks, not just in Paris but across Europe, and for the next 2 days, The Unicorn and I waited to see if the powers that be would advise the public against travel to the capital.
But the EuroStar remained operational, Paris remained defiant and, after some soul searching, we decided to continue as planned — much to the concern of our family, friends and work colleagues at the time.
It was the first time either of us had travelled to Paris on the EuroStar, and despite our concerns, we both found ourselves pretty excited. We’d taken the Friday off work so we could travel down in the afternoon and be in Paris in time to get checked into our hotel and venture out to find somewhere to eat.
We’d packed a little picnic for the journey but I couldn’t resist a visit to the buffet car on the way. I grabbed us a mini bottle of champagne which they serve with the cutest EuroStar emblazoned glasses (glasses that I ‘accidently’ kept — though for the price I think they must expect as much!)
When we arrived in Paris, all was calm. There was a heavily armed police presence at the Gare du Nord, but things were running smoothly and we embarked the train and found a taxi without any issues.
The ride to the hotel was uneventful. The roads were busy but I would guess no more so than any other city at rush hour on a Friday evening. There was the sound of the occasional siren, but nothing untoward.
It took us around 20 minutes to get to our hotel, which was in the 8th arrondissement and it couldn’t have been any more quintessentially Parisian if it tried! The Unicorn loved it and the view of the city from our 3rd floor Juliet balcony was spectacular (sorry, no picture).
We dumped our bags, had a quick freshen up and headed out into the city in search of food. We strolled in the general direction of nightlife and found ourselves near Paris Saint-Lazare station. We found a cute little restaurant and enjoyed our first meal in Paris together, surrounded by locals.
The next day we’d planned a full day of sightseeing around Montmartre, but considering recent events we decided to cram in as much as we could in the morning and then head over to the Place de la République to pay our respects and take in the memorials.
Montmartre was stunning but the mood was subdued. Our first full day in Paris was a Saturday which meant the artists were out in force in the Place du Tertre, but there was a noticeable calm and reverie about the place.
On our long (and slow) walk up to the hill we began to notice etchings and graffiti on side streets and then the, now famous, Je Suis Charlie posters in shop windows and pinned to trees…
We took it all in at a relatively slow pace and stopped to warm up in one of the many cafés surrounding the Place du Tertre. After a hot drink and a pastry (when in Rome) we headed back down the hill in search of a metro station to take us to the Place de la République.
When we arrived at the square the mood was quite different to the quiet reverie we had experienced up on Montmartre. There was a noticeable thrumb about the place, not least because the square was surrounded by news crews from all over Europe, not just France.
The streets were rammed with people: local Parisians, foreigners, tourists like ourselves — all cultures, all colours brought together in a mutual mourning for the 12 lives lost at the hands of terrorist gunmen…
It was pretty emotional and we both cried for the entire hour that we spent walking around the square, but I’m so glad we went. It was an honour to be part of a collective group of people that were standing together and saying ‘we are stronger’.
To be able to be part of that one voice that stood up in the days after the shooting and said, ‘You will not beat us, you will not change how we live. We will laugh in defiance of you and continue to live freely and proudly in spite of all you do to try to destroy that’.