Saturday, January 9, 2010
Little Bit Too Much Auld...Not Enough Lang Syne
So the plan was to write one entry every month but the events of this New Years celebration need to be documented in their entirety and I believe it’ll take its own blog entry to do so. Let me preface this entry with saying that everyone in our party made it through the night’s events, and I actually ended up having (for the most part) a pretty good time. But the day and night of the 2009/2010 New Year is certainly one I’ll remember for a long long time. Alright, let’s start from the beginning…
We (Me and three other guys [Kevin, Stephen, and Matt]) decided that Paris would be the sweetest place to spend time bringing in the New Year. We would welcome the new decade by shouting and drinking champagne at the stroke of midnight at the foot of the infamous Eiffel Tower. There would be fireworks and a spectacle of lights and people from all over the world would be celebrating in unison as the new decade began. So we made our decision and set out to make it happen. Plane tickets were a bit out of our price range so we decided to look into taking a train. Surprisingly, however, we found that train tickets were even more expensive than plane tickets. We went back to look at plane tickets after hearing some more recommendations from a few friends but they were still a bit too pricy for us. We then turned to the dreaded bus. This was certainly the cheapest option but the duration of the trip was about 17 hours. We decided to bite the bullet and after failing several times to purchase tickets with our American credit cards we sealed the deal with Matt’s European credit card and were finally bound for a few days of crepes, monuments, a Mona Lisa here or there, and lots (and lots) of pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
So, on December 30th, after a bit of a scare racing on the metro to the bus station to make our 4 o’clock tee time, we made it to the bus and set sail for Paris. The bus trip started out fine, but the long 17 hours stretched to an even longer 19 and a half hours after several stops to pick people up, switch buses and take a coffee break. We eventually made it though and even the long bus ride did not deflate our high spirits in anticipation of the adventure ahead of us. We exited the bus station and got our first impression of the Paris metro system (we would become very familiar with this metro system over the course of our trip). It was definitely not what I expected. The nice clean metro that I was used to in Madrid was replaced with a Paris metro that highlighted itself with paint chipped walls and a smell that reminded me of my freshman dorm room’s bathroom. Nevertheless, we used the metro and continued on our voyage in search of our hostel but first detoured for a short break at McDonalds for “breakfast” (You see, Samuel L. Jackson left an impression on Kevin after his speech about Royals with cheese and Kevin could not pass up the opportunity to get one…so he did). After our snack, we made it to our hostel and dropped our stuff off. We couldn’t check in just quite yet because we didn’t book our first night until the night of the 1st. You see, our master plan was to stay up all night and go to any bar or café that would let us in or find some fellow American’s to hang out with till our 7 a.m. check-in time. At the time it didn’t seem like that bad of a plan; however, we would each have a different opinion concerning the situation come Friday morning.
We grabbed our cameras, some extra batteries and the little bit of cash that we had and set out to see all that Paris had to show us. We saw Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, The Louvre, The Royal Palace, Hotel de Ville, and a bunch of churches and cathedrals making sure to take dozens of pictures of each. When we entered the Louvre we made sure to see the biggies (Venus and Mona) and then did our usual “make fun of or imitate the priceless art to see who can get the funniest picture” game. After the Louvre, which was our last stop of the early afternoon we were pretty beat so we plopped ourselves down on the floor and took a short break on the museum floor in the lobby. A half an hour and several strange looks from onlookers later, we were back on our feet and ready to see us some more Paris. We decided that we would go back to the hostel to get some more clothes to fight off the approaching cold of the night. After reloading we headed off to see the Arc de Triomphe and then on to the Eiffel Tower. After the long walk down Champs-Elysees to marvel at the Arc and take some photos we made our way to our spot to welcome in 2010. On our way though a few cops that spoke pretty much no English stopped us and questioned us about the champagne bottle that was jutting out of Matt’s coat pocket covered ever so slightly by a glove. Apparently this hiding place was not good enough to fool the Paris police and after 2 or 3 minutes of us playing charades and telling them we had no idea that you couldn’t carry an unopened bottle of champagne on the street, they eventually let us go. Apparently no alcohol is permitted on this day out in public. We became a bit suspicious though after passing Frenchman after Frenchman chugging down their own bottles of bubbly in full view of every police officer in town. After a few grumbles we shrugged it off and eventually made it to the Eiffel Tower. I tell you what, there aren’t a lot of things in my life that I’ve considered surreal but this was definitely one of them. I’ve always seen it in pictures and movies but to be standing underneath it was something very different. There were people everywhere shouting and waiting for the countdown into the New Year. Every so often there would be a light show on the Tower set to some music mix. It was pretty awesome to see. There was about one cop for every two individuals out that night and they were all decked out. Every cop had on shoulder AND knee pads and had either a night stick, a gun, a shield or all of the above. They all arrived in these ginormous vans that fit at least 12 cops per van. It was a little intimidating and a lot unnecessary. French police are crazy. We would have plenty of evidence of this fact by the end of the night.
So after two hours of waiting, talking to Australians and hippies, doing a little bit of dancing to keep warm, and making fun of the other Americans on the other side of the bridge that were trying to hide their abundance of alcoholic beverages by making a fort composed of Christmas trees from nearby holiday decorations, we got our spectacle! The clock struck midnight and we popped our champagne and shouted out in celebration. The tower lit up beautifully and people set off their own fireworks all over the place. I had anticipated there being some big fireworks around the tower but they didn’t make an appearance. It was still a sight to see and was one danged good time.
After the festivities had completed we set off towards our hostel. Not because we could get in but because there were some cafes and bars around that area that we thought we might be able to sneak into. We decided to take the metro after somehow figuring out that it was free all day on the 1st. This seemed to be everyone else’s idea as well and the metro tunnel showed it. It was stuffed with people but it was slowly moving along so we thought we’d wait it out. We didn’t really have anywhere we had to be. All of a sudden two guys behind Stephen started shouting at each other. Two guys turned into four guys and shouting turned into pushing. Pushing quickly transitioned into punching in the face and at that point people were starting to get nervous and tense. Many of the people tried to get out of these guys way and let them beat the crap out of each other. While I’m peaking over heads to see what happened I start to smell this very strong pungent smell. I had thought at the time that I thought the phrase “What is that smell?” to myself, but apparently I had said it out loud because to answer my question Kevin replied “Yeah…that’s definitely tear gas”. He was right. Almost as soon as he said that my eyes start to feel like someone took a handful of chlorine and shoved it into each eye ball. Through tear filled eyes I squint and look around me and again…something surreal that I have never seen before; the crowd of people in the metro starts to scream bloody murder and push and run as fast as they can to get outside. It was horrifying. I have never seen anything like it. My instinct was to get as close to the wall as possible. All I could think about were the stories I’d heard of people getting trampled at concerts or riots. I decided I had three priorities in this situation: 1. Don’t get trampled, 2. Find all of your friends. It would be awful to get separated at a time and in a place like this, and 3. Get the heck outta dodge. So I did all three. I had to wait a bit for Kevin and Matt to catch up. I panicked a little cause I didn’t see Steve but he was outside waiting for us when we got there. Steve-o got the worst of it since he was the closest to the fight. He was rubbing his eyes like crazy and telling us exactly what he thought of how the police handled the situation.
Let’s analyze it shall we: There were 3 maybe 4 guys fighting in the metro. It was jam packed with people NOT involved in the situation at all including quite a few children. So instead of the cops actually coming down and getting their shoulder pads dirty they decide to chuck a bunch of tear gas into a metro tunnel mortifying some kids, sending a few people into shock (which actually happened) and maybe getting some people trampled along the way. Well done Paris police force. Well done. Now perhaps the police were only thinking about stopping the situation before it escalated but there had to have been a better way to handle it. Goodness.
We waited a while for the tear gas to wear off a little and we again started trudging our way towards the hostel. Eventually we made it and found a café that was open that we thought we might hang out at for a while. Apparently in Paris they have bouncers at bars and at small coffee shops. A big guy with folded arms stepped in front of us as we entered and said something in French. I of course responded with “I don’t speak French”. He looked down at me and said in English “You don’t speak French?” and then shrugged his shoulders like the conversation had now been completed. I gave him another look and then decided I was too tired to try to continue the amazing conversation we were having. So we left and tried another place. We found another bar that was open. This guy seemed to be a bit nicer but he said his place was closing in an hour so there would be no point. We saw another café across the street with another big guy with arms crossed standing by the door. Out of the corner of my eye I catch what looks like another brawl. Some guy starts beating this girl in the face until another guy comes to the rescue. The two guys then start to go at it for a while till the first decides it’s not worth it and leaves. In an attempt to get away from the crazies on the street and get somewhere warm, we decided (surprisingly) that our best bet was to head back to the only warm place that we were sure was open and would definitely let us in…the metro.
After encountering some more crazies in the metro (including one that took his shirt off, started pounding the doors of the metro car from the inside, and then upon exiting threw a fire extinguisher at the window of the car we were still in) we FINALLY found an empty metro car to chill out in. This was our place of solitude. It wasn’t the Marriott but it was quiet, warm and ours. We tried our best to take a nap and rode around in the same metro car for about two hours.
Exhausted, frustrated, cold and defeated we headed to “check-in” to our hostel at 7:00 a.m. and finally sleep in something that looked like a bed. Upon reaching the hostel, however, they informed us that each room closed between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and even though it was only 7:00 we couldn’t actually get into our room until the rooms opened back up at 4:00. So it was back to the metro or walk around in the cold for oh nine more hours. The guys and I decided that due to Kevin’s foot (Kevin’s foot randomly started giving him severe pain earlier in the night. He had been limping for several hours clearly in quite a bit of pain.) and our frustration with the night’s events and the entire city of Paris, we would head over to the bus station and see if we could skip out on our next two days and catch the earliest bus ride home.
And so we did. We checked out of our hostel, conked out on the bus station floor for a while and then took another 19 hour long bus ride home taking with us a few post cards and a lot of memories both good and bad. I wouldn’t deter anyone from going to Paris for New Years…just make sure you have a good game plan…oh and avoid the metro if at all possible.