When Paris was so tragically attacked last month, many people questioned whether we were still planning to travel to France, and specifically Paris.
While our travel plans were never in danger of changing, we were curious to understand what had changed in France after the Paris attacks.
Personally, I was hoping for nothing – but that seemed unlikely in the circumstances.
And naturally, things had changed.
Reminders of the attack itself and the grief that followed were evident in subtle ways. There were more French flags flying than we’d seen before, and they were regularly displayed in apartment and shop windows. And numerous pharmacies had adopted digital signage with messages of support for those impacted.
But the most obvious change was the increased security. You noticed that the minute you walked off the plane (and we landed in Frankfurt!).
Security was heightened everywhere we travelled. In Strasbourg, all cars were being stopped before they could drive into the old city. And in some instances, the bags and luggage of travellers on foot were also being checked, particularly on the nights when the Christmas markets were at their busiest.
We thankfully avoided having to open our cases on the street but we certainly didn’t miss out on having our bags checked many, many times. It was the first time any of us could remember having our bags checked by security guards on the way into a store. Not once were our bags checked as we left…
It was also the first time we’d seen such a heavy presence of armed forces. This was true in both Strasbourg and Paris. Patrols were both consistent and regular. And the police presence was definitely greater than we’d ever seen.
From our son’s perspective, all of this visible security and checking added to an atmosphere of fear, particularly in Paris. It’s been a number of years since he’s travelled to France and he definitely felt a change since his last visit.
I was a little surprised when he articulated his thoughts about the atmosphere because I’d not been picking up a fearful vibe. I’d felt defiance rather than fear.
I had been worried that the cafe terraces would be empty. Or that the Paris Métro would be eerily quiet. Or that we would even miss seeing fellow travellers, backpacks on and maps in hand, lost on every second corner.
But none of those things were true. Near to where we were staying in Saint-Germain the restaurants and cafes were packed with locals (you can tell they’re locals because of their dogs) despite the chilly weather.
The Métro was as busy as ever.
And the tourists had returned. According to the lovely concierge at our hotel, visitors to Paris had dropped off immediately after the attacks but he confirmed that travellers were returning and that the hotels were filling again after a spate of cancellations.
Furthermore, no one seemed to be particularly concerned about gathering in large groups. Or if they were it certainly didn’t show at any of the Christmas markets we visited, which were packed with visitors each and every day (but especially on the weekends).
Despite what had happened in France, it was so life affirming to see people just enjoying their time, taking in the sights, sounds and smells with their loved ones – albeit with more security.
France and the people who love her may have been shaken by the events of November 13, perhaps there is still a touch of fear and undoubtedly the grieving process continues but I was so heartened to see that so many of the things I love about France have continued to hold strong and true.
It’s nice to know that some things can’t be changed, even in the face of terror.
Until next time – au revoir.