Army Spouse Recounts Traveling in Paris at Time of Terrorist Attacks

Rescue workers and medics work by victims in a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Rescue workers and medics work by victims in a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

An Army spouse who was traveling in Paris at the time of last week's terrorist attacks says she relied on the instincts honed a military family member to respond to the news and seek safety.

"Since I'm an Army wife, we put our emergency actions in place," said Elysia Nicolas, whose husband is currently based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. "We were glad we were safe -- we just adapted our plan."

Nicolas was visiting Paris with a friend to attend a series of concerts in the city over the weekend in celebration of her birthday today. They were dining at the famous Café de Flore when they received a news alert on their phones about an incident at the concert hall several miles away -- but no other news. Assuming they were safe, they continued their meal.

It wasn't until their waiter asked if they had a way to get home and informed them that there were no cabs that Nicolas said they knew something more serious was taking place.

And when she and her friend arrived to the normally crowded metro station to find it nearly empty, she put into action her emergency plan. They withdrew cash from an ATM, bought water, returned to their hotel room, turned on BBC news -- the only news channel in English they could access -- and used social media to keep in touch with their friends and family back home, marking themselves as "safe" using Facebook's check-in tool.

Nicolas said her soldier husband wasn't overly worried about her safety once she was able to communicate with him.

"As soon as he realized where we were, we were pretty much in constant contact via text," she said.

After staying in their room about 12 hours, Nicolas and her friend ventured out for food, eventually walking about two miles to see the Eifel tower without its normal lights.

"We didn't want to go near where the bombings were but we wanted to do something," she said.

Although Nicolas had planned to stay into the week, she and her friend changed their tickets to return to the states Sunday, arriving home 78 hours after leaving. On the drive to the airport, their erratic cab driver was pulled over by a posse of French police on motorcycles and questioned -- a sign of the heightened security in the country.

"She was just a normal, speeding cab driver," Nicolas said. "It was pretty scary."

The airport, she said, was full of tourists returning home early and, despite the TV news being in French, everyone congregated around watching and listening.

"You could tell what was happening -- we didn't need to understand the language," she said.

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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