Celebrating French National Day - July 14
Why the French Celebrate Bastille Day
Bastille Day is roughly the equivalent of Independence Day in the United States. But like Americans who rarely call it anything but "the 4th of July," the French normally refer to their Fête Nationale as "le quatorze Juillet" or the 14th of July.
This big holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. Originally built in the 14th Century as a fortress, the Bastille had served as a prison of different sorts beginning in the early 15th Century. By the reign of Louis XVI, the large fortress-prison held political prisoners. However, the little known or completely ignored truth was that there were actually only seven prisoners on the day of the storming, one prisoner being the infamous Marquis de Sade. The prisoners had apartment-like chambers with fireplaces, furniture, and even servants and cooks.
The storming of the Bastille was bloody and chaotic - just like the rest of the revolution that followed. However, that day symbolizes the fall of the old regime and the birth of the Rights of Man and the long bloody roller coaster ride to the stable democratic republic that France is today.
Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower
Celebrate like the Parisians - Parades and Sales!
I was just a kid the last time I'd been in France during this grand holiday. I'd managed to plan one of my summer trips to miss 4th of July here in the States and 14th of July there. So for this trip, I purposely planned to be in Paris for the special day.
One of the highlights of the holiday is a military parade down the Champs Elysee. It's the oldest and longest in Europe. We did not make it, being late sleepers. But while sipping our coffee on the terrace of our apartment, we did see the jets circling back for their return flight up the boulevard. That was exciting!
July is also Sale Month! The government allows sales only twice a year and July is one of the times. Each week, the "Soldes" get better. So we did as the French do and went to one of the busy shopping districts near the center of Paris and shopped - and bargains we found!
As we climbed out of the metro, we noticed the streets were blocked off to cars and as we stood there, the remnants of the military parade passed by us! Although it was not as grand as the parade down the Champs Elysee, it was still amazing to see the different armed forces represented as well as the people who keep Paris safe - the police and fire departments.
Fireworks, Music, and Parties - Oh My!
Although the whole day is full of celebrations, the parties happen in the evening until early the next morning. There are events and parties everywhere, but the biggest event is the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Actually, they are shot off from across the river, but most people gather on the Champs de Mars - the long "field" between l'Hotel National des Invalides (the huge military museum and former veterans' hospital) and the Eiffel Tower.
Many people plan a whole day of it. They pack music, pick-nicks, blankets and spend the day on the champs (field), gathering with friends and family. The earlier you get there, the better the view of the fireworks in the evening.
That was a bit much for us so we left the apartment around 10:30 pm and crammed onto the metro. When I say crammed, I mean that by the time we got off the metro, we were intimate friends with all the jovial Parisians and tourists standing near us!
The metro stations nearest to the festivities were closed for security reasons. So we got off at the end of the line. There was no need for a map to get to the celebrations as everyone was headed where we were. We just allowed ourselves to be carried along with this happy crowd.
I feared there would be no room and no view. However, we got a fabulous spot, surrounded by friendly people
The theme in 2012 was disco and YES that's a giant disco ball. They played some American and French disco hits - really brought back memories. Lots of people danced and it was great fun to embarrass our 12 year old!
The fireworks lasted a long time, but as always, not long enough.
Bastille Day - After the Fireworks
As you can imagine, it was a very large mob that left the fireworks all at the same time. How appropriate for celebrating the storming of the Bastille! Since all the metro stops close by were closed, it was quite a walk to the nearest open stops. And when we got to one, there was a line a boulevard long.
So we did like most people and walked and walked and walked. We crossed the Seine three times and finally caught a train near the Latin Quarter (quite far away!) Along the way, there were private parties on terraces and jovial people dancing in the streets. People sold water and souvenirs from tables set up along the most common walking routes.
By the time we reached our apartment, two hours had gone by and we were pooped. No problems sleeping that night - or I should say, morning.
It had been a great day!!!
So I recommend that you include the 14th Juillet on your trip to Paris. It's something that you will never forget. But don't forget your walking shoes!
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