8 Hour Picnic on Bastille Day

Our goal for the day was to hit the major events on Bastille Day: Grande Parade, fireworks by the Eiffel Tower, and a Firemen’s Ball. Did we make it to all the events? No.

Kimberly and I left the dorm around 8:30 and caught the metro to the Champs- Élysées. From all the talk about the horrible crowds on Bastille Day, I expected to be packed in the metro like sardines. But, we were actually able to get a seat. As we emerged from the metro station, everyone was given French flags made of glossy paper and a plastic stick. It felt strange holding the French flag and waving it around. It’s not the red, white, and blue I know and love. Nonetheless, we were immersing ourselves in the culture, experiencing something we may never get to do again.

When I saw the crowds lined up three people deep against the barriers along the Champs- Élysées, I knew we got there too late. Standing on my tippy toes didn’t even help. People brought ladders with them. This was obviously some serious business that we didn’t prepare for.

The parade didn’t start for another 2 hours so we decided to grab some breakfast at an overpriced café. For €9,50 I got 2 pieces of bread with butter, 1.5 croissants (Kimberly and I split 1), hot chocolate, and orange juice. So. Many. Carbs.

As were we sitting at the café, a long ling of nice cars with blacked out windows drove by. On the hood of each car a small flag blew in the wind, some that I had never seen before. Somewhere, high above the crowd on a fancy balcony, was a group of very important people discussing politics I would never understand. They will probably have a great view of the parade.

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Our view of the military parade.

Security was in full force. Because of the recent terrorist attacks, France is on red alert so the security and police presence was unusually high. Everywhere I looked, I could see at least 8 men in uniform. Some wore camouflage and held huge guns across the front of their bodies while others were in their full dress uniform, weighed down by medals on their chest.

To kill some time, we walked into Ladurée to look at the pretty macaroons and pastries. Then, we heard a loud noise and ran outside. Off in the distance we saw the remnants of the red, white, and blue smoke trails from the fly over. That’s the main thing we wanted to see and we missed it. I wasn’t too disappointed because the firework show at the Eiffel Tower was the main thing I wanted to see.

I wasn’t incredibly impressed by the parade, but I also didn’t have a good view. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it better if I saw what was going on. It’s no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that’s for sure.

Our original plan was to find a spot at Trocédero Garden, which is across the Seine River facing the Eiffel Tower. We walked over to scope it out around noon. As soon as we walked in we noticed people packing up their picnics and leaving. We heard a loud whistle and saw a line of policemen walking towards us. Each time they blew their whistle, the line would take a few steps forward. They slowly herded us out of the park and onto the street. Then we tried to walk across the bridge and they block us there too. Well, there went that plan.

Champ de Mars, the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, around 4 o' clock.
Champ de Mars, the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, around 4 o’ clock.

Out of curiosity, we checked out the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. We heard that people started camping out in their spot at 10 am so we were afraid it was going to be really crowded. But, when we got there the lawn had plenty of space. This would be valuable real estate later in the evening. We spontaneously decided that we were going to picnic until the fireworks, which were about 8 hours away. Our only problem was the lack of picnic materials.

Mission Find Blanket was a go. Thanks to Google, we found the closest Monoprix (France’s version of a supermarket) and there were blankets on sale! Everything was falling into place.

We had a blanket, sandwiches, chips, cookies, and wine. It was the recipe for a perfect picnic. We rushed back to the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower and claimed a spot. It was around 3:30 when our marathon picnic adventure began.

Our next hurdle was trying to find a cork screw to open the wine. With thousands of people picnicking on the lawn, we found one in a matter of seconds. We were hesitant at first, but the people around us were so friendly.

Time passed as quickly as our bottle of wine. After one bottle between Kimberly and I, we were loosening up. We started talking to the people around us. There was a group of Americans from Boston (maybe Chicago… I can’t remember) who were also studying abroad. Behind us a group of French girls were playing a card game where they stuck a card to their forehead. Across the lawn I saw someone juggling. A few blankets back was a group of shirtless French guys playing some kind of drinking game with cups and a ball (it wasn’t beer pong). It was exhilarating.

After a couple hours, I made a second trip to Monoprix while Kimberly held down the fort. I was gone for about 15 min and by the time I got back to our blanket, the crowd had grown 2 times bigger. In fact, I almost couldn’t find Kimberly and our blanket. We were thankful that we got there so early.

The blankets started to merge together, making one ginormous picnic. That’s what it felt like too. A big picnic with 90,000 of our closest friends. We talked with other groups and shared corkscrews. I felt like I was a part of something special. Three more girls from our group joined us around 8 o’clock. They brought more food and snacks, thank goodness.

When the firework show started, our view was perfect. The beginning of the show was accompanied by a beautiful classical song. Everyone was silent, standing in awe. For the next 30 minutes I stared up at the Eiffel Tower, mouth gaped opened.

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Fireworks explode behind the Eiffel Tower.

The entire day lead up to that moment. It could have easily been a disappointment. I finally understand the magic of Paris.

I don’t want to talk about getting home after the firework show. It would ruin the mood. Let’s just say we didn’t make it to the really cool Firemen’s Ball.


4 thoughts on “8 Hour Picnic on Bastille Day

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