My favourite country’s national day falls on my birthday. It was almost destined to be, so when I put “Watch Bastille Day Parade on Champs Elysees in Paris” on my bucket list, I knew I’d get down to doing it someday. Little did I know someday would come this soon, when Charles threw in a surprise detour to Paris on my birthday this past summer. I was so excited, and he looked at me quizzically rolling his eyes at how much I over-rate everything Parisian. But was he in for a surprise.
What is Bastille Day?
La Fete Nationale, is celebrated as a symbol of Fete de la Federation, a feast that (at the time) celebrated the end of the French Revolution. This is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe held on the 14th of July each year on the Champs Elysees. This is also the anniversary of the first day of the storming of Bastille.
We woke up super early in the morning, and plotted our route out. We had to take the metro to as close to the Champs Elysees as we could, as we’d heard that the metro stations from Concorde all the way to Charles de Gaul Etoile are shut on Bastille Day. However, we managed to get off at Franklin Roosevelt, so it was just a couple of steps to the action. Everyone seemed to be headed there, and we found the barricaded sidewalks filled with people for atleast 3 rows. The cops frisked us before we entered the barricade, disposing off caps on water bottles and deodorant cans.
Standing there, I could feel the goosebumps. I remembered the last time I was on Champs Elysees was the weekend before Christmas, and I’d returned to the hotel, just glad to have gotten off the crowded streets. But this time, we were packed liked sardines. I looked up and down the street, and there were people for as far as the eye could see either way. There was a palpable excitement in the air, a constant buzz of people waiting, waiting waiting. There were locals, people from nearby cities and tourists of all ages. People setting up their cameras on tripods, parents hoisting kids on their shoulders, heads and backs, everyone just trying to get a good spot from where to watch the action. We found a spot right opposite the fabulous Fouquets restaurant and the building above it seemed like a beautiful upscale residence, with Parisian aristocrats in their pearls and Sunday best, standing at their windows, nursing glasses of wine and flutes of champagne as they waited for the parade to begin. Balconies, windows, rooftops, there were people everywhere, even security snipers.
While we were taking in the festive atmosphere, security personnel walked around handing out flyers of the programme. According to the programme and the camera vans as well as the now restless troops on the street, the parade was about to begin. First the Marines’ Main Military Concert Band performed, followed by a wondrous opening flypast of some amazing aircrafts, giving me a glimpse of the beautiful french tricolour drawn in smoke in the beautiful summer sky. Then, the dismounted troops’ parade of perfectly uniformed people marching in perfect sync, after which the mounted troops’ brought in on hundreds of well groomed horses and then on motorized vehicles that fought to drown out the deafening cheers from the crowds. It was magnificent!
Since this was the only day we were spending in Paris, I wondered if I’d get to do any shopping. As soon as the parade finished, I turned around to look at the line of shops on Champs Elysees. We strolled down the free side of the sidewalk closer to the store entrances, and wonder of wonders, all my favourite shops were open! H&M had the best second floor view of the parade from their large windows and Sephora had special offers for my birthday! I was in absolute heaven.
In the evening we went to Montmartre where it was a veritable party! There were people all around, picnicking with food and wine, hawkers selling beer, helicopters, keychains and other trinkets, children running, street acts performing, celebrities hiding in the crowds, it was beautiful. I know everyone was gearing up to watch the fireworks and that this ambience would be playing itself out at Champ de Mars before the Eiffel Tower as well, but we had sleep and then a flight to catch, so we called it a night. But what a fitting end to a day ticked off my bucket list it was!