In 2008, when I was 21, I came up with the idea of booking an Interrail ticket and touring Europe for a month. I decided travel to Paris, Madrid, Granada, Barcelona, Venice, Rome, Athens, Istanbul and Vienna. And I felt the strong urge to do this tour alone.
Day 3 – Paris (France)
My last day in Paris came with gorgeous blue skies and amazing August weather. Perfect to visit some of the spots that were still on my list across Montmartre and the northern shores of the Seine. But for better or worse, that day came with a bit of a damper.
Trigger Warning: Street Harassment.
Please proceed with caution or skip ahead to the next section.
While making my way through the neighborhood towards the Moulin Rouge theater, I stopped on the side walk to consult my paper map and find the best route to my destination. I was distracted by checking my location when a man appeared closely next to me. He seemed a little run-down and made indications that he wanted to help me find my way. Not being lost, I declined the offer and returned my attention to the map. Instead of accepting this, he moved in even closer and tapped my map with his finger. In that same instant, his other hand pushed forward and fully grabbed one of my breasts. I was mortified, slapped his hand away and started yelling at him in French: “Mais ça va pas, quoi? Fiche le camp!” (What’s wrong with you? Get out of here!) and a couple of other things. I don’t know what he was expecting but apparently not me furiously screaming at him for the whole street to hear in broad daylight. He looked terrified and made a quick exit before he could get in actual trouble.
I was left shaken. To be honest, even though every female encounters some form of sexual harassment in her lifetime, this was the most blatant that I had ever witnessed. Looking back, I am happy that my timid 21-year old self was confident enough to resort to outward anger and a public calling out of injustice. But after the situation had passed, some part of me went into questioning mode. Was I to blame, even partially? Did I put myself in a bad situation? Had my parents been right to be concerned that I went on this trip by myself?
It took me a couple of blocks to shake that feeling and decide to not let it ruin my day. It was such a brief encounter. And I was in a public place during the daytime and I had done nothing to encourage any form of street harassment. The other thing I had to internalize, was that this had nothing to do with me going on this trip. Something like this could have happened anywhere in the world. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I would have to leave it at that, not be afraid of my on shadow and enjoy the rest of my travel.
Regardless, like many other females, I kept this encounter to myself for years. Even though my intellectual side knew that I was not to blame for this, my socialized side was ashamed and afraid that people might judge me or question my assessment of the situation. It took some time and me hearing of other women’s experiences (online and in person) to properly accept this event and my innocence in it.
Luckily, I was able to enjoy the remainder of my day. Montmartre turned out to have beautiful areas to explore, with Sacré-Coeur Basilica being a clear highlight. My intuition lead me all the way down to the Seine river with stop-overs at the Musée du Louvre and the Place des Vosges. And I simply loved wandering the different corners of the quartiers that I got to explore.
As you might expect, Paris is massive and I did not get to see everything that I meant to. Before leaving, I told myself that I would return to check those things off my bucket list. For better or worse, I did not manage to do that (yet). With Paris being so close to everything while you live in Europe, it seems so easy to put it off for another time. And without realizing, 12 years fly by and it is still on my bucket list. I hope to go back eventually to explore more of the French capital and finally visit the inside of the Louvre and Notre-Dame de Paris. Hopefully the latter will reopen to the public by that time. Fingers crossed!
How about you?
Did you manage to check off everything you wanted to see and do from your Paris bucket list?
Cover picture was taken of the Musée du Louvre in Paris (France) in Aug 2008
Missing the beginning of this story?
Around Europe in 30 days #1: Forming a plan