After a tough year of restrictions and event cancelations, the Bastille Day events would recommence this year throughout France. I planned to take Bastille Day off instead of the Fourth of July this year at work. We then made plans to travel to Paris and experience the celebrated events on July 14. Even though many events would go on, it would not be like a typical year.
This week, President Macron announced his plan to continue to increase vaccination numbers in the country. At least 9 million vaccine doses were available and going unfilled. Macron announced that it would be mandatory for healthcare workers to receive the vaccine but stopped short of saying it would be compulsory for all citizens and residents. However, he did announce a new initiative that would impact everyone, including those who wanted to attend the Bastille Day events.
Macron has been pushing an app, TousAntiCovid, for residents to download. On this app, you can see information on where the virus is circulating and the number of cases in different regions. You can also add your documents directly on the app, like a COVID vaccination record or a negative PCR test, to produce a “health pass.” Those who received the vaccine in France received a QR code they could scan to add their documents directly to the app. Since I received the vaccine when I was in the United States, I asked my French doctor to help produce a QR code. He said it was illegal but still did it, so no complaints from me!
Now, the health pass will be more critical than ever. Even though Macron said vaccinations are not mandatory for its residents, a health pass will be required if someone wants to go into a restaurant, bar, take a train, or attend an event. He made it clear that getting the vaccine is the only way for France to get back to normal. Macron also said that he would not put additional restrictions on those vaccinated in the event of a fourth wave at the end of July. I will hold him to this! Within twenty-four hours of Macron’s speech, over two million residents signed up for the vaccine.
With this speech, Macron also said a health pass and masks would be required to attend the Bastille Day events in Paris. Someone would not be able to attend if they had not received their second dose of the vaccine or if they were in the window when their second dose would be effective. We were in the clear since we received our vaccine in March and set off for Paris on Tuesday night after work.
The weather was unseasonably cool in Paris for July, and we didn’t expect temperatures to get above 70 degrees the entire day. We woke up early on Bastille Day to get a good spot at the parade. The parade officially started around 11:00 am, but we had read that people arrive hours in advance. Rain was in the forecast, so we packed our rain jackets, umbrellas, and rain pants in a bag, just in case. It doesn’t hurt to be too prepared!
We left our hotel before 8:00 am to take advantage of the metro stations before they closed for the parade. Jordan’s boss told him to find a place closer to the Arc de Triomphe along the parade route on Champs-Élysées, and we took the metro as close to the Arc de Triomphe that we could. We still were a mile from where we needed to go and used scooters to get the rest of the way.
The streets in the area were closed off to cars and full of people walking quickly to the parade. We arrived at a checkpoint and stood in line for about twenty minutes before getting to the front. Police turned away many people before us because they didn’t have a health pass. When it was our turn, we showed my health pass (and for Jordan, his vaccination card) as well as our ID. Even though Jordan and I both received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the police were confused that Jordan only had received one shot. After talking to them for a minute, they let both of us in.
Next, we went through security. One person checked our bags while another person waved their metal detector over us. After that checkpoint, someone rechecked my bag a second time. We walked towards Champs-Élysées to find a spot and saw two rows of barriers between us and the street. Before finding a place, we grabbed coffee and breakfast at a local French restaurant, McDonald’s, before getting a spot in one of the sections. We went through another security checkpoint to get into the section and found one of the last available seats along the barrier.
We pulled our lightweight camping chairs to relax and eat breakfast with a couple of hours to kill before the parade. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have listened to the advice to be close to the Arc de Triomphe. With the double barriers, we couldn’t even see it through the trees! Over the next two hours, the section began to fill up, and we were shoulder to shoulder with others.
The parade began just before 11:00 am with the infamous flyover of the blue, white, and red colors over the Arc de Triomphe. A little warning would have been helpful, as we weren’t quick enough to see it. But we were ready after that!
More planes and helicopters flew by in different groupings. I read somewhere that 73 planes in total participated in the parade. Next, hundreds of men and women on horses (with some riders playing trumpets) trotted along the parade route. Behind this group was President Macron, who was in an open-air jeep. Seeing Macron out in the open was very interesting to experience as an American, as our presidents are always behind layers of bulletproof glass.
The parade continued with various tanks from their army, vehicles used in the air and space division, and ended with the Paris fire department trucks. It was fantastic to see the equipment used by the different groups, but the parade was moving at a snail’s pace and was a little boring.
After the parade, we had the rest of the day to spend wandering the streets of Paris before going to Champ de Mars. We planned to watch the fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower, which started at 11:00 pm. Knowing we would have a long day ahead of us, we returned to the hotel for a quick nap. Afterward, we slowly wandered through the streets of Paris that afternoon with no plan or places to see. Our general direction was towards the Eiffel Tower, where we had an early dinner reservation nearby.
As we were crossing the Seine river, we saw multiple helicopters taking off one after another from a nearby open area. They were on display after being used in the parade that morning for everyone to see. We also saw semi-trucks with tanks used in the morning’s parade hoisted on the back. We could have skipped the parade and still caught the deconstructed version later in the day.
After aimlessly strolling through Paris for a few hours, we met up with a friend for dinner before entering Champ de Mars. The first entrance we tried to go to was already closed. The security staff directed us to try another entry point. We walked a little further and found a line of people wrapped around the block. After seeing the line, Jordan was already planning “plan b” for us to watch the fireworks along the river instead. I convinced him to wait in line to see how fast it would go; I wasn’t giving up that easily!
Ten minutes later, we were through security and in the Champ de Mars. The area was already packed with people. The ground was a patchwork of people’s blankets side by side, and people were standing wherever there was space. We heard that many people went straight here from the parade earlier that day. Our idea was to walk as far up as we could for the best view, hoping we could squeeze in somewhere. There weren’t many options, but we did find an open spot in the middle of the walkway that we claimed.
We listened to opera singers perform for the next hour. The lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkled periodically, abandoning its usual top-of-the-hour performance. As the clock was approaching 11:00 pm, the crowd became more excited as each minute passed. We expected the fireworks to start promptly at the hour, but the organizers had other ideas.
Suddenly, the lights illuminating the Eiffel Tower turned off, and all that remained was the tiny LED lights twinkling. Then, the tower illuminated France’s colors: blue, white, and red as their national anthem began. As most of the crowd joined in song, I could feel the pride and patriotism they had for their country. It was a similar feeling to when Americans belt “I’m proud to be an American!” from Lee Greenwood’s song. The past year was challenging in France, and there was optimism in the air. As the anthem died down, the colors of the Eiffel Tower changed. It was time for the fireworks!
The fireworks show felt like a Disney event. Music, lights, and fireworks were all seamlessly synchronized together. The songs varied from Queen, Daft Punk, The Weekend, and unfamiliar (to us) French artists. When Queen’s song “I Want to Break Free” started, the entire crowd belted out the words along with it. The fireworks show lasted about thirty minutes, illuminating the Eiffel Tower from behind. It felt surreal as the Eiffel Tower disappeared from the smoke filling the sky from the fireworks.
At one point in the evening, Jordan looked at me and said, “sometimes, we just have to remember where we are.” He was right. How amazing was it to be able to hop on a two-hour train to experience Bastille Day in Paris? If the health pass can provide us these experiences, we are all for it.