Adventures in Paris: Longing for fireworks

The French National Holiday occurs each year on the 14th of July. It’s their equivalent of our 4th of July in the U.S., commemorating the fall of the Bastille Prison at the start of the French Revolution of 1789 and a celebration of French unity that took place a year later on the same date. While Americans generally call it “Bastille Day,” the French refer to it simply as “la Fête Nationale” (The National Holiday) or “le 14 juillet” (the 14th of July).

Lincoln - Buttes Chaumont

Our birthday boy at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Our second son, Lincoln, was born on le 14 juillet, which was like a present to me, a Francophile, and as we prepared for our French adventure, we reminded the boys that this year on Lincoln’s birthday, there would be fireworks on a truly grand scale. All the boys were thrilled as they anticipated a huge show, with fireworks emanating from up and down the Eiffel Tower. Awesome, right?

As we got closer to the day, we started investigating our viewing options. Turns out that 900,000 people were also investigating theirs, with most of them planning to descend upon the area immediately surrounding the Eiffel Tower, specifically Le Champs de Mars (huge park at the base of the Tower) and the Trocadero (immediately across the Seine). Some Paris friends of ours mentioned they’d be heading down there at 3pm to claim their spot of grass. Note that the fireworks wouldn’t start until 11pm. YIKES, that’s a long time to hang out around the Eiffel Tower with almost a million other people! And of course getting home after the fireworks would be a doozy, as most of those people crammed into subway cars. It really didn’t sound best for our young family.

We considered trying to find a spot on Montmartre, near the Sacré Coeur, which is a bit closer to our house (walkable, if needed), but still, it seemed likely to be jam-packed, and we weren’t even sure we’d have a great view.

The one other option we’d read and heard about in multiple places (at least 3—maybe 4) was a park in northeast Paris with a couple of tall, grassy hills—Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. We’d wanted to check out this park, anyway, so it seemed like a great option. We figured if folks were writing about it, it would likely be crowded, but still better than our other options, so we headed over at 6pm to stake our piece of turf in view of the Eiffel Tower. We found the perfect spot, and there were only a few people there when we arrived. GREAT.

Eiffel view from Buttes-Chaumont

Our fireworks waiting spot. The Eiffel Tower is the tallest protrusion between the trees in the middle (and it looked closer in real life). And yes, that guy on the left was there pretty much the whole time…

We spent the next five hours exploring the park, with Emily or I staying on the blanket while the other headed off with one or more kids to wade in a little stream, check out the ducks in the pond, enjoy the playground, or cross a couple of bridges that led to the butte topped with a monument in the style of a Greek or Roman temple. It really was a beautiful park, even if we were there for quite a long time.

As it approached 11pm, our brood started getting excited and antsy. We’d made friends with the young couple on the next blanket over from us—Benoit and Élodie—and they offered to watch our things as we went on a quick last tour of the park before the show. Turned out the rest of the park was deserted. Seemed a bit strange and eerie. As we got back towards our hilltop, the boys got a bit noisy (playing tag, hiding behind trees, etc.), and as we returned to our blanket, the park guards showed up (they’d heard our boys), alerting the group of spectators (still quite small—there were maybe 20 of us, total) that the park was closed, and we would have to leave. It was 10:50.

There were lots of quasi-respectful mini-protests, explaining that it’s the 14th of July—that we’d been there for five hours waiting, that the fireworks show was about to start—but the guards were not interested. They were ready to go home, and the park had been closed for an hour. They were pretty gruff, and definitely not ready to offer any sympathy for this American family and the four boys anxiously awaiting the “birthday” fireworks.

So we frustratedly packed up and followed them to the park exit, our new friends Benoit and Élodie helping us with the little ones and the stroller back down the hill. They kindly said we could go with them to one other spot nearby where they knew the Eiffel Tower was visible, and we gladly accepted. We noticed on the way out of the park that the guards had locked the other gates and were locking our exit behind us. If we thought getting kicked out of the park just before 11pm fireworks was bad, I can only imagine how bad it would have been to find out at 11:35pm that we were locked inside the park with our family and a handful of others. Yeah, seriously rough.

final fireworks view

Where we ended up–yes, there are some fireworks going on in the distance

In the end, the fireworks-viewing street location was far less than ideal. There were hundreds of people squeezed together on one little stretch of sidewalk, cars and trucks passing by (honking all the while), and our kids really weren’t up for an awkward viewing standing on a railing, sitting on shoulders, squished by lots of other people in the middle of the city at 11pm. We were able to see some of the fireworks. The big boys were a bit disappointed, but they were pretty good sports and were happy to take what they could get, considering our park fiasco. Getting home wasn’t too bad from there—and certainly FAR better than trying to get home from central Paris—so we walked in the door just a few minutes before midnight.

Today’s activities included a late start and lots of grumpy/sensitive feelings. But we still managed to get out and see the gardens of the Palais Royal. And eat some ice cream. Hardly a wasted day, right?!

Lessons learned? Well…we had figured it would be a great celebration in a picturesque place on Lincoln’s birthday. It was definitely memorable, and the park was great. And Lincoln felt loved as we sang to him and ate Madeleines. AND we made some friends!  But if there’s a next time in Paris on the 14th of July, we’ll have to find another option.

Am I going to write to those writers who talked about the Park des Buttes-Chaumonts as being a great place for fireworks? You’d better believe it—the park closes at 10.

2 replies
  1. Carol
    Carol says:

    So sorry your special day wasn’t as festive as you had hoped. But still, it was an adventure. And, you’re learning to check on the time that parks close. It all is good in the end.


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  1. […] in the day, we consciously chose to keep our boys on a later schedule while in Paris.  It made our fireworks-watching more feasible, eating dinner in restaurants more of a possibility (many restaurants don’t start […]

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