When travelling to some of the spots on your list of must sees, it is not always guaranteed that the timing for your perfect visit is in the cards.
When Sean and I headed off in 1986 to backpack around Europe we didn't really have a clue what was going on in Europe at the time. We wanted to either see as much as possible of the continent or stay until our money ran out, which ever came first. Turns out that there was more going on than we ever could have imagined.
One of my teenage dreams was to see Paris. All I really knew of the city was what I saw in the glossy magazines or the movies, and after all I was going with my boyfriend so really the romance of Paris was mine for the taking. French politics were not part of my daily reading so basically, Paris was a tower, an arch and a language I had to take in school since grade 8. So really what could go wrong..........?
We bought the recommended Transalpino train ticket that would wind us around western Europe for very little money, then once in Europe and wanting to head to Paris we were informed that since we left Canada we would require a Visa in our passport. Oh ok! How the hell do you get one of those ? Apparently you spent a few days lining up at the French Embassy in Brussels and paid a rush fee of $75 (3 days of our budget). At that point, all I could envision was a World War 2 check point Charlie to show our Papers. These new security measures were in place because of all the "bombings". What the hell was being bombed and who was doing the bombing? I forgot to ask all these questions because not a single security guard asked to see our new very expensive Visa and passports once while leaving Brussels.
We found a hotel to stay in that was last used during the War, not sure which one. The courtyard was occupied with men that nattered on in a language I had no clue of, but I was pretty sure they were planning the next bombing. But how the hell were they going to plan a bombing when the deafening sound of the police cars went all night and day
We set off in the grey morning to hang out in the Latin quarter. Our book, "Lets Go Europe 1986" said this is where young people gather, and as we were young people, we headed off to gather. As we rode the metro into the city more young people got on at each stop. By the time we had reached our stop in the Latin Quarter we were being crushed with young people. But as luck would have it all of these 400,000 young people got off at the same stop. Oh goody, now we can all shuffle for a hour to get out of the bowels of the earth.
Oh crap! Once above ground there was people as far as the eye could see. These were not happy young people, they were carrying banners and not smiling. I thought french young people spent their time kissing and drinking strong coffee. Because that is what I wanted to do. But instead our hand holding was now hand gripping.
Sean and I ducked into a side street to catch our breath. Ok, what the hell is this all about?! We asked each other. Now Sean had years of French, some even from University. Mine was from Prince Rupert and I sort of knew how to tell someone my name and if pressed could count to 10. None of this was needed at the present time.
"What do those banners say?" I inquired, expecting him to know.
"I haven't a clue", he said. How can you not know! So we did what any young Canadian couple would do. We hid in the back streets and spent some time just watching. What the hell was making these people so angry and how did they all know to come here? "Let's go Europe" sure didn't mention any of this!! The group was getting angry and we didn't know why. They didn't seem to be asking each other the time or what their names were. So we were lost in translation
We made our way down the narrow streets, not sure where we were going. We rounded the corner to find several police officers with really big guns. We didn't have guns like this in Prince Rupert and we sure as hell didn't have them in Victoria. At this point a new route was needed.
"Lets head to the river" I said, "I bet we can walk along the pathway." Well we found the river, the path was on the other side and blocking the bridge was a blast from someone else's past armored tank. At this point I really thought some one would yell "cut" and the movie people would come out and re organize. Yeah, no this was the real thing it was getting dark and we really just wanted to get back to our hotel. But the men planning more bombs might be there.
Then gun fire, holy shit, I didn't know what to do, so we just crouched down and stayed there. Duck and Cover without the cover. We finally made our way out of the area back to our hotel.
By morning we, rather I, decided that Paris was not for me and I wanted to get out of this war zone. But first we would grab a newspaper to read on the train. It turns out that the students were protesting a fee increase to go to post secondary. The fee was $69 and the government wanted to double it or treble it. We could not believe it, a meal at Burger King on the Champs-Élysées was about $50! All of that with guns and everything for $69!!
We were starting to realize how different our worlds really were. In a very short time we had our eyes opened. The other issue the students had was the rating system that was being proposed. Each post secondary would be rated from best to worse. Yup, change was not welcome here!
Our ticket took us to our next stop, a very foggy city called Dijon and I was good with a town that was all about mustard.
Our next opportunity to LOVE Paris would come 12 years later with a 5 year old
These are a few of the things going on the year we first went to France (5 bombings and 1 shooting, 17 dead, 271 injured). The joys of limited media. We were not watching any of this nightly unfolding in front of our eye and being told by the media to be scared and stay away. It really was a the most exciting trip of our lives. It would be the inspiration for a life time of adventure traveling