Yes, I was in Paris for Bastille Day. It was just as incredible as I thought it would be and included a military parade, glittery Eiffel tower, the best fireworks show, and a Firemen’s Ball (more on that later).
Coming from the land of body paint, trips down the shore, BBQs, and sales corresponding to national holidays, I wasn’t sure what to expect for Bastille Day. Would people be running around with the tricolor flag tied around their neck, shouting “vive la france”? Would there be reenactments of tearing down the Bastille (which would be a little hard, since it’s ahem, torn down)?
Turns out, none of the above.
We started the celebrations off on Saturday night with the Firemen’s Balls. This sounds fancy, but it is basically a huge party that the firehouse in every arrondissement throws. At least, the firehouse in the Marais district was like that. The place was flooded with people in the hallway, huge bar room, and courtyard outside with a live band. There was lots of champagne and fun to be had.
Sunday morning came very quickly and we left for Champs-Élysées to watch the Bastille Day parade. The famous street is in the northwest of the city and we are in the south, so it took a few trains to get there. When we got there the sidewalks were already flooded with people so I had almost no visibility (being 5’2″ can have its advantages, but not when watching parades). It was a military parade, so soldiers from all different areas of the army marched past while classical music played from speakers. Tanks, huge guns and all, rolled by after, which this American had a little bit of culture shock with as it came off a little authoritarian and military state-esque.
After the parade we went to a bakery and I got the most wonderful chocolate croissant and cappuccino. We then explored Champs-Élysées a little bit and ventured to the Eiffel Tower for a little.
We returned later that evening, armed with the essentials for a marathon Parisian picnic by the Eiffel Tower–two types of cheese, jam, bread, crackers, and champagne. We arrived around 6pm and found a good break in the trees so we could see both the beautiful tour de Eiffel, as the locals call it, and the river Seine, where the fireworks would go off.
It was a bit crowded when we first arrived, and we spent hours hanging out, getting crepes, and reading for class. Around 9 or 10 it started getting more crowded, and around 11pm it had evolved into a fully-fledged mob scene. Europeans don’t have the same sense of personal space that Americans have (which is really neither a good or bad thing, but just a thing) so people were pressed up against our blanket spot which we so carefully staked out. At the Jersey shore, this would have earned the encroachers many a nasty look.
The fireworks show was amazing and while the Eiffel tower’s lights were turned off for the beginning of the show, it sparkled, turned red, white, blue, and green (not sure why green), and had other awesome light features during the fireworks that it normally doesn’t have.
Due to the mob scene, we couldn’t get on the closest Metro stop because it easily would have taken an hour and our normal RER stop was closed. We walked to the next station but that too was closed, but a nice attendant directed us to another Metro stop. We got on that train but when we got to our connecting train it was 1 a.m. and the trains were shut down. We then had to call a taxi, but the operator said that none were available because it was Bastille Day (why, thank you for informing us of that). We made our way two blocks to the nearest taxi stand, where we found one that fit our group of six and finally got home, exhausted but with an unforgettable day and a half of Bastille Day celebrations.