This was actually my last day on my ten week trip, and my last stop was Paris! I’d gone pretty much the whole ten weeks without feeling scared for my own safety (apart from that one time in Berlin), until this happened on my visit to the Sacré-Coeur.
This excerpt from my journal was written about an hour later when I was back at my lovely hostel.
12/09/2015 – Paris
“So I decide to see the Sacré-Coeur after all and the rain finally lets up. I got the metro but it wasn’t really far from my hostel so I walked back (this is something I have found a lot, people will say you can’t walk somewhere because it’s too far and generally exaggerate the distance. Then I find it’s a fifteen minute walk. Moral of this story is that people have different ideas of what is ‘far’ so maybe google it.) It is stunning and is a great free viewpoint of the city.
Unfortunately the standout for me was not so great. I guess if this is the worst that has happened to me after ten weeks mainly on my own then it’s not too bad, but it still shook me up all the same. The first thing that struck me was, contrary to a sign saying that no one is allowed to sell things within the gates, was that there were loads of people selling things!
This isn’t unusual in parts of Europe and I try to say ‘no thanks’ if they ask me because I think it’s rude to ignore someone who is talking directly to you. After dodging a few of these people I saw a group of about ten guys up ahead, and my intuition told me that they weren’t nice (I sound so innocent here! Maybe I was still in shock), so I prepared myself for a few catcalls (this is so sad that sometimes this is what female solo travellers have to ‘prepare’ themselves for).
What I got instead was one of the guys coming up to me quite forcefully offering me a bracelet, I said ‘no thanks’ and tried to sidestep him and carry on climbing the steps. He wasn’t letting this go though, and instead he got in my way and attempted to put this bracelet or whatever it was around my wrist. He expertly cornered me and grabbed my wrist, hard enough for it to hurt. I think what scared me the most was how his huge hand just swallowed up my wrist…(I’m normally pretty confident but I think this was the point where I realised that I wasn’t unbreakable)
What followed probably only lasted a few seconds but it felt longer, nothing else around me seemed to matter. I grabbed one hand to my bag, scared this was a new mugging technique I’d not been warned about (albeit a very obvious and forceful one!) and went into flight or fight mode. I said in a thankfully strong, steady voice, still fuelled with passion though (yeah I think I was still ‘fuelled’ with some of this passion when writing this!) ‘get off me please’ and struggling with him trying to get out of his vice like grip.
In the end I think him not wanting a scene meant I could pull away (when I told this story to people afterwards they found it hilarious that I added ‘please’, it must have been that damn British politeness coming out! Although looking back now I think it came out as kind of a snarl more than anything).
Despite only lasting a few seconds this whole experience freaked me out – because what if it hadn’t been broad daylight, in front of loads of tourists, with the police not too far away? (just after this encounter I’d seen the police, ironically) . He was a big guy.
To make matters even worse literally less than ten steps later another guy tries to tell me something, I say ‘no thanks’ again, he follows me which puts me on the defensive. He asks where i’m from and all the while I don’t stop walking, then he calls out, ‘you have a sweet booty’.
My main feelings were embarrassment and fury! So I turned round and glared at him (anyone who knows me knows I have a pretty good face for glaring at people, sometimes I even scare myself with it).
He just repeated it….”
I was very unprepared for this experience because I hadn’t done my research, but afterwards when I told people this story they relayed similar stories to me about the Sacré-Coeur. It’s such a shame because it’s a beautiful place to visit. I would just advise that you keep your distance (as much as you can) from the people selling things here. Most people I’ve encountered selling items on the streets in Europe are friendly and harmless, for some reason here it was different.