After the Paris Attacks: Travel Safety from an Insider's Perspective

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After the Paris Attacks: Travel Safety from an Insider’s Perspective

Paris after the attacks

The night of the attacks on Paris, Brent and our young children ages five and seven, were walking the streets of Paris to exchange dollars into euros. We had just arrived by bus from London the night before. As darkness fell, they sat for a break to enjoy a Nutela and banana crepe unaware that, minutes away, teams of terrorists  prepared to kill diners at a similar sidewalk café.

Paris After the Attacks

Hadassah enjoys a Nutella-filled crepe in Paris.

The rest of our family was in a hotel room as two-tone sirens began blaring all over the city. Still unaware of what was going on, and unnerved by the sirens, I gathered the older children together to pray for their papa and siblings.

The day before, we had taken a bus past the same soccer stadium where France and Germany were scheduled to face each other. The night of the game, however, the French president would be swiftly ushered out during a bombing at this highly attended event. Onlookers fled onto the field. All of Paris was on alert.

Paris, to say the least, was “on the edge” the day after three teams of suicide Islamist terrorists killed 130, injuring around 300, many seriously.

Paris after the attacks

Days after the attack on Paris, the Eiffel Tower was lit in French tricolor in a show of solidarity.

For the first days in Paris after the attacks, our hotel kept the doors locked to all but already checked in guests. The phone lines were overloaded. Local cafes and shops shut down as France declared a state of emergency.

We have been staying in the Levallois area, about 15 minutes from the worst of the attack venues in la Republique. On the day after the attack, we went out to get some essential items from the convenience store two blocks away. We were in the store less than a minute when one of the employees immediately approached us.

“Do you have any luggage?” shouted the manager, pointing to an unaccompanied black carry-on. Seeing our blank expression, he hastily ushered us out with the remaining customers. Within minutes, police blockaded four streets to check the suspicious item. It was a false alarm, but the event demonstrated how vigilant both civilians and authorities felt that day.

Muslim / Non-Muslim Tensions   

In the City of Lights, Muslims and non-Muslims peacefully carry on business side-by-side. In Paris, after the attacks, the tragic events cast a pallor of suspicion on all ethnic Middle-easterners. Older, ethnically French citizens, cast slightly longer sideward glances when Arabic was spoken.

Our children will always remember the moment we saw two policeman (perhaps, subconsciously) move toward their weapons as a birka-clad woman crossed the street at a police blockade. She was a local (maybe a mother) on her way to pick up bread at the nearby patisserie.

Paris Attacks

Both police officers placed their hands o their weapons as this Muslim lady crossed the street.

One block from our hotel, four blue-bereted camouflaged soldiers with automatic weapons keep a round-the-clock guard over a synagogue. At the local laundromat, a local explained that the vigilance has been in place since January when Islamic extremists killed twelve journalists, predominantly Jews.

Paris After the Attacks

French soldiers on guard at the Louvre

After the Paris Attacks

After the attacks on Paris, French paratroopers stood guard around Notre Dame.

Tourists and Parisiens Undaunted

The French flag still flies half mast all over the nation. For three days, museums shut down and major tourism sites closed. Many tourists cancelled their trips, flew home early or stayed locked in their rooms.

Paris After the Attacks

The Inion Eleven on a bridge over the Seine a few days after the attacks on Paris.

Then, in an act of defiance to terror, Parisians continued on with life. We and other tourists ventured out of our rooms against the advice of the hotel staff. We stood united with our French host country. We loaded up our nine children and hit the streets of Paris with smiles on.

Paris After the Attacks

Baby Jeriah enjoys the Eiffel Tower, proudly and unusually dressed in tricolors after the attacks on Paris.

We visited the Eiffel Tower just three days after the attack. Parisiens, in a display of solidarity, proudly displayed the tower in the national tri-color pattern. Normally, the blue-white-red lights are reserved for other national holidays. Our children enjoyed watching the display as nightfall came to the City of Lights. Soldiers patrolled the base of the tower, keeping watch over the reduced number of visitors.

Paris Christmas Market

Christmas Security and Festivity

Like other major European cities, Paris has her own Christmas markets. The market along the well-known Champs-Elysee had been scheduled to open on the 14th. Hearing that the market was further delayed in the interest of security, we came a couple days later. Paratroopers walked in groups of four, brandishing automatic weapons and red berets proudly marking their parachutist rank. They walked beside us, vigilant but willing to offer us directions and brief but friendly banter.

The markets are filled with gingerbread men, hot apple cider and cocoa for the children. Brent and I enjoyed a German sausage roll on hot bread, smothered with grilled onions, green and yellow peppers. The children had huge waffles topped with fresh cream and Nutella. The white lights sparkled, and childhood dreams came true.

The Musee de Louvre

The Louvre at Night

The Museums and Notre Dame   

Security is also visibly increased at major tourist areas like the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay and Notre Dame. Red-beret soldiers are visible at all these areas. At each museum, we went through metal detectors, guards briefly checked our bags and luggage.

Our children saw the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and the Seated Egyptian Scribe from 3000 years before Christ. I have a post about our lovely day of learning at the Louvre coming soon.

We visited the Notre Dame and even stood in the ever-present line to enter. Kind and sensible security agents pulled us and  our crew of children (which represented about 98% of the under 18 crowd that day) and whisked us past the frisking routine.  Inside, their heads were all drawn upward and jaws dropped in wordless wonder. We happened to come at the start of a beautiful mass, which was sung 90% in French, the rest in Latin. I will not soon forget the otherworldly sound of the organ and soprano soloist reverberating off eight centuries-old marble.

Tensions Reconsidered: A Mothers’ Eye View

We have had some beautiful family days in the City of Lights. Paris is very much drawing together.

Tonight, French national news cameras ran as our children shouted, “Vive la France!”

Shortly afterwards, off the camera, we started on our way home. Our euros were getting low, but we wanted to make happy memories for our children. We stopped by a Kurdistani-owned restaurant. The Muslim owner served us a huge portion of grilled chicken, hot bread and salad. At the end of the meal, he flatly refused to accept any payment.

Baby Jeriah Inion just made friends with the most adorable little Pakistani girl. The children played, crawled and giggled. We mama´s (both of us in long dresses and veils on our heads) shared twinkling smiles and proud laughter as our bright children played.

Finally, I asked, “Are you Muslim?”

She cast her eyes downward and answered, “Yes and I am so sorry for the violence that has been done because it is not at all a part of what I believe or have practiced.”

Then she asked, “And you? Are you an American Christian?”

I answered, “Yes, and I am so sorry for the violence and hate you have seen in the name of Christianity. It is not at all a part of what I believe or practice.”

As we left, I offered my hand; she shook it with both of hers.

Safe for Families in Paris?

Like most people watching the events of the last two weeks, we have felt the shock and sadness that resident and tourist alike have felt. French authorities continue their heightened security measures in high visibility areas.  Aside from these measures, Parisiens are resolute to keep fear from encroaching on the joie de vivre. Like the scheduled barges plying the Seine, life (with persistence) flows along business-as-usual.

Autumn leaves litter the streets. Our children laugh and tossed them skyward in the sunset shadows of Notre Dame. Cool turns to cold as shopkeepers adorn their displays with Christmas lights. These are the scenes we have tried to capture. While teaching our children to be aware and careful, we have given our children a very limited dose of the sadness and violence.

Instead, we have filled their minds with the wonder and awe at the treasures that have graced this city for centuries. DaVinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Monet and Manet are becoming familiar names. Our little ones’ tongues are becoming more bold with French pleasantries; merci and bonjour roll a little more easily off their tongues. Foie gras (duck liver) and escargot (snails, mercifully drenched in garlic and butter) have made their way to their tongues–and down with a smile.

The lights are on. Come for a taste of Paris.

Want to see more? Click this link to see the short video our family enjoying Paris.

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Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion, parents of nine (including four children adopted with special needs), 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year and the National Geographic Travelers People's Choice Travelers of the Year. They love to laugh, to read and to explore as a family. The secret to their marital bliss is an early morning cup of freshly brewed coffee before the children awake.

17 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    Great story, glad you and your kids are safe. Great to hear an on the ground account of the situation in Paris.

  2. Carrie says:

    What a beautiful post.

  3. Jen says:

    I saw the title of our post and got a chill. What a terrifying experience, but in the end an uplifting story about how Paris refuses to become “terrified.” Your conclusion is perfect – The lights are on!

  4. Lesley says:

    Wow! I’m glad to read that you are safe. This must have been your biggest nightmare. And in the shop the next day must have been one of the most terrifying situations. I’m glad you don’t see this as a reason to stop traveling or visiting Paris.

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Thank you. Those first few days were a bit unnerving but we never felt truly unsafe. Travel is definitely opening the door for our children to embrace others and to be embraced by those of different faiths and culture.

  5. Meg Jerrard says:

    I’m so glad to hear that you are all safe – such a tragic event, though it’s very heartening to see that France soldiered on with life. Because we can’t let extremist activities dictate what we do, otherwise we let them win. I’m sorry to hear that suspicions were cast over Muslim middle easterns in the aftermath of the attacks – sadly it’s a very human thing, that kind of behavior.

    I feel genuinely sorry for the unnecessary hatred which is cast towards those of the Islamic faith, because these attacks are nothing to do with the true faith of Islam, and stereotyping a whole religious order because of a few lunatics who yield false religions is wrong. I loved your response re Christianity.

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Thanks Meg. It is heartbreaking to watch people rise to hate due to fear-based stereotypes. Travel opens the door to show our children that all people are beautiful and need to be valued. We are enjoying watching Paris march forward with smiles.

  6. Toccara says:

    What an amazing re-cap of your time in Paris both during and after the attacks. What a scary time we are living in, but I commend you and your husband for teaching your children to embrace others irregardless of religion or belief, by visiting a Muslim-owned restaurant following the attacks. I’m glad to hear that you and your family are safe!

  7. Dariece says:

    Thank you for sharing your on the ground info and feelings of the horrible attacks. The racism towards Muslims that has since ensued is disgusting, and I thank you for this:

    Finally, I asked, “Are you Muslim?”

    She cast her eyes downward and answered, “Yes and I am so sorry for the violence that has been done because it is not at all a part of what I believe or have practiced.”

    Then she asked, “And you? Are you an American Christian?”

    I answered, “Yes, and I am so sorry for the violence and hate you have seen in the name of Christianity. It is not at all a part of what I believe or practice.”

    This made me tear up! I love how you brought your family to a Kurdistani restaurant and had that wonderful exchange with the owners :) There needs to be more love in the world. I’m glad that you were able to still enjoy your time in Paris, and have a wonderful connection like this one.

    Cheers.

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Thank you!! We find love everywhere we go in the world. Our family is very glad for the opportunity to be here in Paris at this incredible moment in history.

  8. Carol Colborn says:

    First of all, glad that you are alls safe. Second, it is so nice to hear of a first-hand experience that shows how Paris is undaunted and life goes on with courage. What a historical moment to remember for all of you.

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Thank you on both accounts. This has definitely been a slice of history that our family will always remember. Paris is indeed beautiful and marching forward.

  9. That is sad “Our children will always remember the moment we saw two policeman (perhaps, subconsciously) move toward their weapons as a birka-clad woman crossed the street at a police blockade” but as you have shown, the Parisians and all of we supporters, are stoic in the face of adversity.

  10. Such a great post! I can only imagine what it was like for you guys. I’m glad to see that you’re safe! Thanks for such a beautiful and inspiring post!

  11. Jenna says:

    So glad to hear you are all safe. Such a tragic event for everyone, especially the locals and tourists there at the time. Glad to hear that everyone is carrying on with life and not letting this stop them–can’t let the terrorist win and moving on is the best way to do that. Our thoughts are with everyone–thanks for sharing your experience!

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