Paris, Je T’aime Encore

As a keen traveller with persistently itchy feet, I try to avoid visiting the same place twice. Afterall, we’re only on this Earth once and I intend to see as much of it as possible.
That said, there is something about Paris that draws me back year after year.
My fascination began whilst on a school exchange. The Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triomphe, Galeries de LaFayette; my sixteen year old eyes marvelled at the grandeur and glamour of it all. I decided there and then I would marry a Frenchman (ok so that hope devolved into a cheeky kiss at an alcohol-fuelled soirée, but as of yet I have received no proposals).

These same clichéd romantic notions urged me to spend my university year abroad in the city of lights, and although the experience was in many ways as wonderful as I’d expected, my views became more realistic, in a way more pessimistic, and I suppose therefore, a little more French. Parisians hate the Eiffel Tower, so before you come over all “zut alors!” whilst you stand at its sturdy iron roots, if you want to actually fit in, try the aloof, ‘who cares’ approach and walk away, tut-tut-ing, preferably with cigarette in hand.

So as I stepped off the train onto the platform at Gare du Nord this August, an overwhelming cocktail of feelings raced through my bloodstream. It was odd. Here I was, walking along the same old streets I used to pound day after day as I trudged to work, taking the same metro lines I used to take, breathing in the same crisp city air tinged with the smell of baking bread. Nostalgia, memories and a longing for times past all blended with the excitement of being here once again. But the comforting familiarity was undermined by a sneaking sense that I no longer belonged here. Something had shifted. Little did I know that my perception of Paris was soon to change more drastically than ever…

 We headed to Rock en Seine, an urban music festival held at the Domaine National de St. Cloud just outside the périphérique (27-29th Aug). The festival began in 2003 and has gone from strength to strength, welcoming the likes of Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers, Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine. Despite its success, Rock en Seine retains the individuality and atmosphere of a small event, which I personally prefer to the ultra-commercialised, profit-focused tendancies of many British festivals.

Attending a festival like this is remarkable in that everyone appears to have forgotten the outside world. As far as this crowd was concerned, the rumble of the metro and the grey skyscraper skyline were a distant memory – these Parisians had shed their austere demeanours and let their hair down! The event also appeared to be pushing eco-friendly behaviour, supplying reusable cups for a 1€ deposit, and the rather less exciting cardboard long-drop toilets… still, extra brownie points.

As for the music, The Temper Trap were epic, Fat Freddy’s Drop transported me back to Wellington, NZ, and I spent most of Arcade Fire’s set dancing like a lunatic with two of my best friends. Not bad for a days…festivalling.

We decided to leave 20 minutes early to catch the metro before it was rammed with our drunken, muddy, excitable peers, but I soon wished we’d stayed for Roxy Music’s encore. Two stops into our journey, a commotion broke out at the end of our carriage as we pulled into a station. The doors opened, and a rush of people ran out, leaving us a little confused at their panic. Next thing we knew, we were on the floor…

It’s difficult to explain what goes through your mind when you’re thrown into a high risk situation such as this one. At the other end of our carriage, a man was brandishing a handgun. Amidst the screams and frantic negotiations with the man, my friends and I kept our heads down, with no idea what to do next. Eventually, after a few tense minutes that seemed like hours, he fled, flinging his weapon beneath the carriage. We were safe, but severely shaken.

Being the travel-nut that I am, I am well aware that these kind of incidents can happen anywhere, any time. I often use the argument that I am just as likely to get mugged, attacked or worse here in the UK as I am anywhere abroad and I stand by that point. Luckily no one was hurt on that day.

I haven’t been put off travelling one bit, but for one fleeting moment, my trust in Paris wavered. As always with travelling, with time, the bad memories fade and the good are amplified. And my faith in Paris clearly hasn’t disappeared as I have recently bought my Eurostar tickets to spend New Year’s there. I’ll keep you posted on the next (hopefully less dramatic) adventure!

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