Dream Paris holiday sees nightmare unfold

By Beth Wright
As the attacks were happening at the Charlie Hebdo building, Rue Nicolas-Appert, at 11.30am on January 7, I was walking along the Seine with my partner, hand in hand, completely oblivious.

He had surprised me with a two day trip to Paris for my 25th birthday.

We had visited the Eiffel Tower and were heading to the Lourve and Notre-Dame.

An unmarked police car came racing past followed by two police motorcycles and an ambulance around ten minutes later.

We thought nothing of this, after all Paris is a capital city and must see its fair share of crime.

The sirens kept sounding and more unmarked police vehicles kept driving past with increasing speed for at least twenty minutes.

It was at this point my partner Jason Ramsay said: “Something very bad must have happened for there to be this big of a response.”

We were due to fly home the next morning and being a nervous flier I immediately began to worry about something having happened at the airport.

As we turned into Place Jean-Paul II to see Notre-Dame we saw a news team and a photographer outside the police station on the corner of the square.

It was then that we began to realise the scale of the events that had taken place while we were sightseeing.

The mood was very subdued outside Notre-Dame and although there was still many people taking photos and queuing to go inside the attraction, the square didn’t have the usual tourist atmosphere.

It was sombre, as the whole of the city was over the next 24 hours.

We left the cathedral after only a few minutes by taxi and asked the driver if he knew what was going on.

As he answered us a large entourage of cars and police drove past and the driver explained it was the French President Francois Hollande.

We immediately relaxed and put all of the day’s activity down to his visit to the area.

But just two minutes later Jason got a text from his mother asking if we were safe as she had heard there had been an attack at a newspaper office in Paris and several people killed.

We immediately mentioned this to the driver, who had to mime shooting a gun to break the language barrier.

He translated the news for us. Jason and I were shocked. As a trainee journalist, the attack on Charlie Hebdo hit me hard.

We were greeted by a swarm of police outside Place de la Concorde, officers were directing traffic wearing armour vests.

It was only when we returned to the Eiffel Tower at 2.45pm that we learnt the full scale of the attack, my father called to tell me 12 people had been killed and the gunmen were on the loose.

This beautiful, romantic city suddenly had become a dark place home to terrorist activity, which filled me with nerves.

Jason argued it would be at its most protected and indeed there were armed people in military uniforms and armed police officers in armour vests.

With the tourist attractions still high on our list, determined to make the most of our time in Paris, that night we visited Sacre Couer, Rue du Chevalier de la Barre. The area was quiet and seemed to be comprised of more locals than tourists, we were reassured to see a police patrol in the area.

At Charles de Gaulle the next morning at 8.15am the police presence was overwhelming. Every officer was armed, patrolling in groups of at least three and there were many more airport officials than usual aiding check in.

Security seemed to take much longer than usual and our passports were checked thoroughly.

Landing at Birmingham at 10.05am (GMT) on January 8, we were informed that all flights from Paris were being transported by shuttle-bus to a separate passport control area.

The room seemed to be same one I have passed through before but we reached it through a different entrance and our flight was the only one present.

The boarder officer asked my partner if he had travelled to anywhere else prior to Paris.

Being safely home in the UK after experiencing France’s terror firsthand was a relief.

We had had a wonderful time in Paris and the horror that surrounded us was a very real experience but the emergency response was thoughtful, immediate and comforting.

It made me extremely grateful to live in such a world, where good denounces evil.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those killed, may freedom of the press live on.