Imagine this: You’re halfway through a self-guided tour of a monument you’ve been dying to see. Groups of tourists meander through the halls and you can hear guides giving bits of information in a few languages. You’re so caught up in the wonder of the moment that you don’t hear the bells at first. People start looking around and the bells get louder. Even the tour guides are glancing around a bit but they calmly continue to give their speeches.
Suddenly, men and women in security vests enter the room and begin ushering everyone out. People’s faces change from curiosity to fear. No details are being given, people are simply being told, “T’inquiètes pas,” which means don’t worry. Everyone begins to file out the doors into the courtyard. From here, there’s nowhere to go. The security men and women stand near the doors speaking to the tour guides. the other side is a steep couple hundred-foot drop. In the courtyard, everyone is talking quietly. Some teenagers stand around laughing with their friends or family and taking selfies while their parents whisper nervously to each other.
A lifetime seems to pass before any information is given. People are being let back into the building and the tour guides resume their activities. It isn’t until you’re passing through the doors yourself that you get a chance to ask the security personnel what had happened.
It was just a drill.
Now keep in mind, I knew what I was getting myself into, I traveled to France at the height of tourist season. It was only a few days after the national holiday and people still milled around the country. National security alerts were almost as high as they go. If anything, it made the whole experience even more terrifying. There are not many options that go through your head when alarms are going off and people are being ushered out of a crowded area.
I guess now is a good time to mention, if I haven’t already, that I deal with a lot of anxiety. This was my first solo trip outside of the US, which put me a little on edge already. Add on top of that being surrounded by people, then suddenly evacuated. I’m actually very proud of how calm I remained, at least on the outside, when this was all going down.
These kinds of drills are normal, and to my knowledge, always unannounced in order to keep the situation as realistic as possible. The exercises are vital and I’m glad that they perform them, however, being caught in one was slightly petrifying though the staff maintained order and efficiency and I’m very thankful for that!
All in all, the whole thing made for an interesting memory and an experience I’ll never forget.