When they arrived in Paris last Thursday morning, Philly attorney Angela Giampolo was excited to show her girlfriend, psychotherapist Kristina Furia, around the City of Light: It was Giampolo’s 12th visit to the French capital, and Furia’s first.
But, a day later, their vacation was upended by the worst terrorist attack to hit France in decades.
On Friday night, 129 people were killed in six coordinated shootings and bombings throughout Paris. ISIS has since claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The couple, who are both PGN columnists, was dining at a restaurant in the Seventh Arrondisement when the attacks began. They were about 1.5 miles from The Bataclan concert hall, where the majority of the devastation took place; 89 people were killed there.
The couple said they began to hear a buzz throughout the restaurant that “something” had happened. At first, the diners, whom they noted are accustomed to frequent bomb threats in the city, didn’t seem concerned.
The women were speaking with the owner of the restaurant when their phones began buzzing with news alerts about the attacks and, soon after, Facebook messages from family and friends asking about their safety. The atmosphere at the restaurant quickly became frantic, they said, and word spread that people were urged to return to their hotels and homes.
“The owner was very sweet as everyone in the restaurant started to learn about the attacks,” Giampolo said. “She put us in an Uber with a bottle of wine and huge hugs and kisses.”
After navigating through heavy traffic, they arrived at Hotel Napoleon, a small, family-owned hotel near the Arc de Triumph where they were staying.
They had to be let in the front doors, which were locked behind them. The couple spent the rest of the night watching the news in the lobby. “A lot of people had headphones in and were streaming the news while others were taking phone calls informing people that they were safe,” they said about the atmosphere in the hotel. “The lobby suddenly became a high-end bunker; even though theoretically everyone could have gone up to their rooms, I think we all just craved a bit of community and maybe even safety in numbers in that first night. There was a lot of fear and a really somber tone.”
Giampolo and Furia spent time connecting with loved ones back home through social media. They both took advantage of Facebook’s activation of its safety-check-in feature, which allowed them to notify everyone on each of their respective friends lists that they were safe.
Giampolo noted that the emergence of social media distinguished the immediate aftermath of these attacks from the days after 9/11.
At that time, Giampolo was a student at La Salle University and went to 30th Street Station with her French professor, who was searching for her son, who was scheduled to be arriving on a train from Washington, D.C.
“She handed me a photo from her purse and I walked around for hours asking other frantic people if they had seen this person. In New York City, for days after 9/11, we saw footage of people sobbing in front of the wall of photos looking for their loved ones … days and hours of not sleeping, crying and wondering what happened to the person you parted ways with at breakfast just an hour earlier,” she said. “For us, within minutes, hundreds of people from all over the world knew we were safe because of Facebook’s safety feature, which I hope to never use again.”
On Saturday, the couple began rearranging their plans.
They had scheduled the trip so Giampolo could meet with several clients and around the Airbnb Open, an international summit for the home-sharing community. But the Nov. 14 Airbnb activities were cancelled due to the attacks.
Furia noted that the event hosts even called all 6,000 scheduled attendees to ensure all were safe.
“Everyone, Parisian and tourists alike, were being discouraged from going out, as it wasn’t clear yet whether there were going to be more attacks,” she said. “On both Saturday and Sunday all tourist attractions such as museums, etc., were closed.”
On Sunday night, Giampolo and Furia attended a vigil and memorial service for the victims of the attacks at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The church quickly hit its maximum capacity of 1,000 guests, so they stood outside, along with thousands of others, in silence during the vigil.
“I think both of us wanted to be a part of the city’s grieving,” Furia said.
After a citywide moment of silence Monday, tourist attractions reopened. Many private businesses, Furia noted, remained closed through most of the week as part of an observed mourning time.
The couple flew home Tuesday evening.
While the tragedy largely prevented them from the standard Parisian sightseeing experience, Giampolo noted the experience gave them a truer sense of the city than they would have received otherwise.
“While we left without Kristina having truly experienced all that Paris has to offer, she actually experienced more authentic aspects of Paris than most people who visit because we’ve spent days talking to our hotel staff, bartenders, Uber drivers and even some of the 1,500 extra police on the streets,” Giampolo said.
For Giampolo, Paris has been a second home, one she even considered moving to before opening Giampolo Law Group.
Being able to share in the city’s mourning, and the sense of community that surrounded Paris during their visit, was inspiring, she said.
“I’ll never know how my life would have been different had I moved here, but what I do know is that Paris is that much more special to me now and I’ll return to Paris, time and time again.”