It has been called the City of Light, la Ville des Lumières since the 18th century. It is also known to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. The combination of the two can lift your spirits up just being in it’s warm grasp.
The first time that I visited Paris, I was 17 years old and it was the last day of a school tour of various cities in Spain and France. I had just completed my third year of french and I was ready to test out my skills, no matter how much they lacked in comparison to the native speakers.
We arrived at Gare du Nord, Paris’ northern train station, at 7 a.m.; fresh as one can be after sleeping on an overnight train, we gathered our belongings and marched out into the bustling Paris morning.
As tired as I was, I was floored by the city. It’s unique and well known apartment buildings peering back at me. It’s dozens of patisserie’s releasing fresh scents of chocolate and warm bread into the already hot summer day.
I could not believe that I was there, in that city, experiencing all that I could.
That night we went to the Eiffel Tower, a structure that at first, the Parisians hated but now is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. As my friends and I quickly ran ahead of the group to see it, pasting curious onlookers, we couldn’t help but laugh in excitement.
There it was, peaking over the top of the green trees, it’s metal frame glistening in the late summer sun. Crowds of people gathered at it’s base, waiting to either climb to the top or ride the elevator.
At that moment, after the first glimpse of something I had always dreamed of seeing, I knew that I would be changed forever. It is a feeling that has only happened to me once, but it was an incredible one.
Last week, I returned to the City of Light to celebrate my 22nd birthday. Those five years in between my two visits went by in a flash: I finished high school and moved away to college, I gained and lost friends, family members. I learned to love and accept myself and in return, I have a boyfriend who loves and accepts me as well.
I was a changed woman to say the least. Something that did not change was the feeling that I got from the city, from it’s people and it’s beauty. It is something that brought me to tears the first time I went and again this past weekend.
As I have changed, so has the world. Paris is still one of the most beautiful and world renowned cities but this beauty comes at a price. On November 13, 2015, Paris was shook by a terrible and deadly terrorist attack. The world mourned as this city that has always held so much promise was taken aback by this awful act of violence.
Of course, there has been other places in our world that have been attacked or are still being attacked; I am not saying that Paris is above the rest or that is a unique exception.
What I noticed when I went back to this city was the increase of a military presence; of a feeling of unease as large crowds gathered around popular tourist destinations. I am not, by any means, disappointed that I went back to Paris, it was just a new sense that I had not experience when I went to the city in the summer of 2012.
In 2012, one could walk freely under the Eiffel Tower and see straight across to the park that is on the opposite side. Now, if you want to go under the tower, you must cross through metal fences and go through a security screening.
When I saw this, I mourned not only for this beautiful city but for our world. For those countries that have to face attacks day in and day out; whose citizens are refused refuge. All of this came to me at once and I just had to remember that the security measures are in place because they want to make sure nothing happens again.
We did not end up going up to the top of Eiffel Tower, like I did in 2012, rather we went on a dinner boat cruise on the River Seine. We had an incredible time and it is something that I will always remember.
As I left Paris on Monday, two days after my birthday, I teared up again. I couldn’t bare to leave this city behind once again. What if something happens here again?
I guess that this is a thought that many Parisians have or that many others across the world have but we can only try to continue on. Build and rebuild again, almost mimicking the way a person has to rebuild themselves throughout their lifetime; constantly growing and learning.