What do you do when there’s a terrorist attack in your holiday destination, 12 hours before you get on a plane? Do you accept the airline’s offer of cancellation, abandon your holiday and stay at home? Is that letting the terrorists win? Do you decide that, logically, it’s going to be safer now with heightened security than it was the previous week, and go anyway? What do you do?
Mr. WB & I booked tickets in December 2014 to see U2 in Paris on 15 November 2015. After long months of waiting to get my leave approved at work, we finally booked flights and apartment, and began to look forward to our trip.
We had a sports programme on the radio Fri 13 as we were eating dinner, when the broadcaster said ‘There’s something happening in Paris’. We spent the next few hours, alternating between radio and TV news reports, as things went from bad to worse. Mr. WB had his case already packed, my clothes were spread out on the spare room bed. Friends started texting, asking if we were OK.
We decided to go to Paris, that we would prefer to still go and visit a beautiful city and not give in to the threats of a small number of people bent on destruction.
You’d think that would have been quite enough drama for the start of any holiday, but things didn’t really proceed according to plan.
We made our way to our airbnb apartment, visited the supermarket for lunch and breakfast supplies, and enjoyed a lovely dinner in the restaurant on the ground floor of our building. We heard from a friend in Ireland that U2 had cancelled their concert, which was disappointing but hardly surprising.
Things started to go awry when we returned upstairs. We had been communicating with our host the previous two days about some plumbing works, which were all finished the day before our arrival, or so she thought.
Let’s just say that instead of going down the drain, everything was coming up the plughole of the bath. Not what you want to find out at 10.30 at night (or any other time either!). There followed several phone calls to our host, who was in Normandy, in a mixture of French and English, while we went to the Ibis Hotel across the road to find a room for the night. God bless Ibis and their free computers in the lobby, as neither myself nor Mr. WB have smartphones.
The following morning, I sat down to find somewhere new to stay, slowed down by both writing in French and the French keyboard layout.
Sometimes, the universe send little messages to tell you you’re in the right place. We’d already spotted a van with Shane’s name graffiti-ed on the side. We’d heard Nat King Cole’s ‘L.O.V.E.’ at least twice- the last song we listened to our wedding night, and hadn’t heard played anywhere since.
Having e-mailed several people, we successfully secured a new, bigger apartment with a mezzanine bed. We packed up our belongings, and groceries, leaving milk and eggs behind us in the fridge.On reaching our new apartment, we found it was a few minutes’ stroll from the restaurant recommended by our chef friend.
The following morning at breakfast, I turned on my mobile, not something I frequently do on holidays. There were missed calls from Host No. 2, who subsequently phoned. A family of her acquaintance had been affected by the terrorist attacks and needed a place to stay. Host No. 2 was in Brussels, in front of a computer, and offered to check flights back to Ireland for us. Maybe the universe was telling us we shouldn’t be in Paris after all.
Forty minutes of indecision: should we stay or should we go? If we were going to go, we needed to pack up and leave for the airport in the next 30 minutes.
We decided to stay. Leaving eggs and milk behind us (again!), we headed off to a scheduled meeting with Host No. 1 to collect our refund. She couldn’t have been nicer, offered us tea, and let us use her laptop to try and find yet another apartment.
After several e-mails, my phone rang. So focused had I been on e-mailing, that I hadn’t even realised C was Australian and I could speak English to him. We found our guardian angel. C had an apartment, and what an apartment it was- opposite the corner of the Louvre on rue de Rivoli, and yes, we could definitely have it for 3 nights (I may have asked him 3 times just to be sure).
If French people/Parisians have a reputation for being rude, we certainly didn’t encounter it on our holiday. Perhaps they were just grateful that visitors still wished to share their city, despite the threats and terrorists. Host No. 1 minded our bags for the day, the man at the metro minded our keys when someone (not looking at you Mr. WB) accidentally left them on the counter, waiters were all friendly, and the security man at Notre Dame simply looked amused on encountering Francis in my rucksack.
Paris is such a beautiful city, and our wanderings definitely gave us an opportunity to get to know it better. The Eiffel Tower being closed didn’t bother us- we’d enjoyed a stroll along the riverbank to get there, and who could complain when our walk home led us through the Louvre each evening? We followed in the steps of Amelie in Montmartre, and took in the views from Sacre-Couer and Notre Dame.
A memorable holiday indeed- with my own personal souvenir: a ruptured eardrum on the flight home!