We planned our summer vacation to take our family to Turkey. Ten days before we were due to fly to Istanbul, we were shocked to hear about the airport terrorist bombing that left over 50 dead and 200 wounded. The images that started playing over and over on the news haunted us; that could have been our family torn apart in that airport arrival hall.
We reached a fairly quick decision to cancel our Istanbul trip. The airline, while willing to waive the penalty fee, told me they would charge us significant additional fees if we flew to a different destination. Luckily our connection was through Paris, so we decided to just stop there (although that still required an hour on the phone convincing the airline to not let their computers cancel our return flights after we don't take the Paris to Istanbul leg).
My spouse Tami and I were disappointed we couldn't show our grandchildren this fabulous Muslim country. During our 2014 visit, we were captivated by the magic and mystery of places like the Hagia Sophia and the desert castle where we watched a performance of the whirling dervishes. We emailed Adnan, the guide we came to love during our first visit to Turkey. He said he understood why we were cancelling, but told us he had lost 95% of his tourism business as a result of all the unrest. We had met his daughter and felt close to him and his family. It was a hard decision.
We landed in Paris on July 9th and spent our first day walking through different districts. We spent the evening in the Left Bank- dinner at a great family owned Italian restaurant followed by walking through the streets and seeing all the frantic fanatic French football fans cheering for their country in the Euro Cup final. France ended up losing in overtime to Portugal. However, as we talked to people the next day, we discovered that the overall sentiment was one of relief. The country hosted a major world sporting event with thousands of fans and there were no major security incidents. The worst story heard was from the opening week where a street fight broke out between some Russian and British hooligans/fans.
Our guide William explained his happiness over the EuroCup, despite the final results. He said France needed a bounce back for the economy and the country's morale. His tour guide business was down around 40% after the area had suffered three major terrorist attacks in the last 18 months (Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, the nearby airport in Belgium). He was particularly traumatized by the Bataclan incident, as the concert hall and restaurant attacks were in the Paris neighborhood where he lives with his wife and daughters.
Now, during this more hopeful time, we could feel William's resilience. We spent two fun and educational days in Paris sightseeing with him. We found a new way to explore that huge art museum that is the Louvre (35,000 exhibits, 8 miles of confusing hallways). We played a treasure hunt game called THAT Lou (short for Treasure Hunt at The Louvre). We divided into two teams (each team had one grandma, one 40 year old, and one teenage boy). We had two hours to track down various obscure works of art and photograph a team member in front of it. Let's just say that the team that won had a whole lot more fun on this adventure than the other team....
A few days later, we flew from Paris to Nice, then drove two hours to a villa in the south of France, near the village of Ramatuelle. With views of the Mediterranean Sea against the warm tones of the village buildings, I am certain this is one of the most fantastic places I have ever been. Like scenes from the film Enchanted April, this truly is the place to "let your mind slip sideways." Far away from petty drama, responsibilities and politics - this was a place you could read a novel, spend time with your family, play games and ignore email. But unfortunately, world events don't stop.
After two days near Ramatuelle, I woke the morning of July 15th and noticed my phone flooded with texts and emails. "Are you OK?" "Where are you?" "So sad to hear about Nice." I even had a message from the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Program advising me of the attack and to stay away from crowds. I thought -"What happened!?" I turned on the television to see reports of a terrorist attack on Promenade des Anglais during a Bastille Day celebration. A man had driven a big white truck over a mile down a crowded street. Hundreds were wounded and over 80 were dead, many of them children.
Our family woke up with various responses to this news - from tears, to anger, to quiet resignation. Noticing how different people react to tragedy is an insightful part of family living. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but different personalities process shock in different ways. After sitting for a few minutes trying to absorb this news, I realized we needed to take action. After assuring friends and family by text, email, and Facebook that we were safe, I checked the address of the hotel we were planning to stay the next night - the Promenade des Anglais, right where the events in Nice had taken place.
I called the hotel in Nice to cancel our rooms. The clerk was very gracious, and while she told me I needed to contact Expedia in order to cancel, she said there would be no penalty. I thanked her and told her I hoped that her family was safe. She said they were, but then started to cry. In that moment, I imagined what it must be like to carry on with normal business on the morning after such a huge terror attack on your street.
We had planned to spend this day hanging out near the beach anyway - which was a good thing. None of us wanted to go around any crowds. We hiked the gorgeous rocky ocean side trail and spent time at the pool where our grandsons perfected their contortion pool jumps. That evening we drove to a very small village, walked around and had pizza at a small restaurant. It was all strangely "normal." As we went to bed that night, we turned on the news to learn of the attempted military coup in Turkey, with images of ordinary citizens swarming military tanks and reports of death tolls exceeding 100 people. Considering our original trip plans, we were shocked. Our hearts ached for our friend in Turkey. Despite the beauty of France and the warmth of its people, we were now seriously starting to count the hours until we could go home.
The next day - we checked out and we had the afternoon to walk around St. Tropez - passing time before we could check into our hotel. Now the Nice attack became more real for us. We were now in an area that was a mix of boat harbor, boardwalk, boutique shops, restaurants and bars. This was too much like the tourist street where the attack had occurred 36 hours ago. But you try to carry on with your usual activities - Tami and our daughter checked out lots of interesting shops, I got our grandsons to sit down with me and listen to some of my long and admittedly painful jokes, and our son-in-law walked the streets and checked work emails. Ordinary stuff, ordinary vacation day. Still - everyone's nerves were on edge.
Every time a big white delivery truck drove down one of the narrow streets I noticed that I stopped breathing. The same thing happened to me when a police van and then an ambulance come screaming by us with sirens blaring- do they always drive that fast with such loud sirens, or has something unusually bad happened? Before being able to obsess too much about what might have just happened, back to real life as the boys got into a fight over a You Tube video. The fight passed, I stopped wondering about the sirens, and we all had a nice lunch on the waterfront.
We woke up the next morning to messages from Delta that our flight out of Nice was delayed. Oh boy - what now? Is the airport closing or something? (Fortunately, it was just an ordinary delay - flight was late arriving.). When we dropped off the rental car and entered the airport arrival hall, we noticed several heavily armed soldiers walking up and down in the front lobby. The State Department alert I had gotten said that the Nice airport was on "maximum security" - I guess these soldiers were part of it. On one hand, you're glad to see them. On the other hand, you're horrified that they have to be there. It took 15 or 20 minutes to get our luggage checked in and to pass through the first security line. I was happy to get out of the arrival hall area since that's where recent airport attacks seemed to have taken place. That's not a thought I've had on any of my prior airport check in experiences. We gladly found a row of chairs in the very back of a wing, right by our gate, and amused ourselves with card games, Netflix and computer games for two hours until it was time to board.
Will we travel again next summer? Of course. Maybe not to Europe - perhaps it will be time to explore a country in Central or South America. We will see what develops. But we intend to be a strong voice for the importance of knowing other cultures, trying to understand others' perspectives, and helping the economies of the places we visit through our well-spent tourist dollars. It's really up to us to have the strength, courage, and curiosity to forge friendships and gain an appreciation for people living all around the world. It's up to us to stand with the everyday people grieving and worrying in these countries, for they are not very much different than us.
We can't let terror win. We can't let isolationism win.