Travel Fail: Posing as Protesters in Paris

Hopefully by now you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of my recent thoughts on Paris. Better still if you’ve also checked out my Weekend in Paris video. And if you know what my Travel Fails page is all about then we can officially be friends… awww, blog frienddddd…

Setting The Scene
So I’ve taken The Wife to Paris to celebrate her 30th birthday and as part of our weekend I’ve also organised a self-guided tour of several sites from the movies, life and times of the wonderful, iconic Audrey Hepburn. The tour starts out at Alma Marceau metro station with our first peak at the Tour Eiffel, we wander up Avenue Montaigne (the heart of the haute couture scene) and gasp at the endless parade of designer stores. We’ve stopped at plenty of movie scenes and learned of plenty of her personal stories by now (Audrey just loved this part of the city) and we have made our way as far as the Elysees Palace, the home of the French President. We had agreed, pre-tour, to split the walk into two parts. It was only about a 60 minute walk but this evening we had plans and didn’t have the time to waste away- yet we wanted to make the most of the weather as we were expecting rain for the next few days.

Paperwork in hand and backpack on back I pull out my phone to request an Uber. Now if you’ve been to Paris and used Uber before then you’ve probably watched the map and seen your driver circling around the streets like a shark circling its prey; such is the one way the traffic flows in the city and the sometimes impossibly packed junctions they must navigate. It was no surprise to us that this driver was doing the same. Round and round he went. A 5 minute wait became 7, became 9, became 10. The driver got close but he never seemed to get close enough, nor get there quickly enough.

We were furiously pounding the pavement outside the Elysee Palace walking back and forth, up and down, up and down, all the while waving the wad of paper I had printed with the route of our walking tour. We were the only souls in sight besides the nearby palace guards who, unbeknown to us, were watching our every move.

We must have been on our 5th frustrated march in front of the gates to the Palace when we heard sirens swiftly approaching. Not one car, not two cars but 12 vans. T-w-e-l-v-e. Vans. Armed police quickly disembarked the series of vessels and the police began shouting furiously at one another; there were obviously conflicting orders from above and some confused details somewhere along the line. The Wife and I froze in our tracks. Shit. As we stood still all we could hear was more and more sirens arriving as more and more vehicles blocked the route. My phone rings. Its the Uber Driver.

Policia! He shouted. Along with a non-stop garble of french.
Erm… English I said. 2 minutes, I can see you on the map. 2 minutes wait there. Police! He shouted again before his non-stop French outburst.

The Wife and I felt a rush of worry pass over us as the Police began blocking the roads immediately surrounding us and ushering all cars away from our location – forcing cars to do U-turns down an already non-moving and congested road. Armed Police were knocking on car doors and demanding the drivers kept moving whilst also scanning for threats inside the vehicles. I could feel the tension rising as a worried Mrs Carl grabbed my hand tightly. I mentioned in Paris: And a ‘Oui’ from Her (2/2) about the natural fear of terrorism in France…. and here we were, stuck in the middle of what looked like a very fluid and very active police situation. All we could see was guns and shouting (note: and that’s only one letter away from guns and shooting!).

As I studied the faces of the police rushing around us, I noticed more confusion in their eyes than any worry or panic. I told the Mrs that this wasn’t as bad as whatever it was we were both fearing; there was little need to worry for our own safety… or so it appeared. We watched their movements and tried to figure out the situation.

We managed to fight our way over to the Uber driver who, again, verbally diarrhoea-ed about the police and what was happening- none of which we could decipher however we understood that we were safe. We had read stories in the past about how on the night of the attacks at the Stade de France Uber drivers were helping people flee the area – thankfully this was not he case today… but boy did it feel like it would be.

The moral of the story here: don’t go hanging around outside palaces, marching up and down, walking around in circles, waving papers, wearing a backpack and shouting on the phone in frustration. Its not a good look and it will probably raise a few eyebrows from the guards eyeing you up nearby.

Truth be told, it obviously wasn’t us that caused the troubles; it turns out that there was a protest marching up the nearby Champs Elysees. We couldn’t tell you what it was about or why as it didn’t make the news, however the group seemed to be small and I’d hazard a guess that the police outnumbered them 10:1.. .which is kind of comforting, I guess.

This was originally written 18 March, before the attacks in London Westminster; an attack which affected many of my work colleagues and occurred on a day that I was, thankfully, off work. RIP to PC Keith Palmer and my thoughts go out to his family and the families of all the victims of this tragic event.


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