In 2006-2007, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was, hands down, one of the best years of my life. We had a five-week break over Christmas, during which most of us who were staying for the full year (many students only went for one semester and went home right before Christmas after classes ended) ran rampant all over Europe.
At some point in early December, a group of us were talking about travel plans and somehow about eight of us (give or take) wound up deciding to meet up in Paris for New Year’s. We found each other under the Eiffel Tower on the 29th or 30th (somewhat miraculously, I thought). We bought cheap champagne (like 2 or 3 euros a bottle) and stored it at one hostel in preparation for the 31st.
We ate at a Mediterranean restaurant in the Latin Quarter on New Year’s Eve that served family-style meals of lamb and chicken with couscous and veggies and all sorts of delicious stuff. Then we went back to the hostel (not the one where I was staying) and started popping the champagne (letting corks shoot out into the street below as we yelled “MERRY NEW YEAR!”). The hostel was near the Pantheon and we brought our champagne out there where a small crowd had gathered. From the plaza in front of the Pantheon, you can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance and we all waited and cheered when it lit up to signify the new year.
Eventually, the champagne long gone, we started splitting up and making our way back to our various hostels.
Now, I booked my hostel somewhat last-minute and was severely limited by both my budget and room availability. I found a hostel in Paris where I could stay for two or three nights that was cheap and booked it before I faced the prospect of sleeping in the Metro or something. The hostel itself was pretty nice, as hostels go — no fancy amenities, clean and fairly modern in its decorations, nice and helpful desk staff. The first couple nights I was, I think, in a 6-bed room. The last night — New Year’s Eve — I’d have to switch to a separate bunkhouse out back with 10 bunk beds or something ridiculous.
The thing about this hostel is that it was in the 18th arrondissement in northern Paris. Steps away from Montmartre, which, when I booked, I thought would be awesome because I wanted to check out the artist’s quarter.
It’s also steps away from Moulin Rouge, which is a tacky tourist attraction, but it’s also still a club for…let’s call them “ladies of the night.” It’s surrounded by seedier, less famous strip clubs and I definitely almost bumped into a prostitute on the corner as I was walking to meet my friends at the Eiffel Tower.
Basically — it was SKETCH. Not a good place for a girl to be alone at two in the morning. Luckily, the front door of the hostel was across the street from the Metro stop, so I made my friends get off the train with me and watch to make sure I got inside the hostel safely.
I ran from the train, out the station, and across the street to the front door, which was locked because it was so late. As I rang the bell and banged on the door, a guy came up and kinda draped himself on me, babbling what I’m sure were indecent comments in French. I shoved him off, saying “non, non!” until they finally opened the door.
“Is he your friend?” the guy asked.
“No!” I burst inside and slammed the door behind me. The guy asked if I was okay and then said “Happy New Year! Everyone is out celebrating in the courtyard.” He did the European air-kiss and I stumbled out back. There was indeed a crowd out there — Germans, Spaniards, probably an Aussie or two, sharing wine and vodka and generally being drunk backpackers. Eventually people started filing into rooms, and I claimed a bed in the bunkhouse.
That was when things started to get bad. Between the Spanish girls who WOULD NOT SHUT UP and the loudest snorer I’ve ever heard in my life, I think I slept for maybe an hour or two. Then I had to check out of the hostel by eight and get my stuff in their storage locker because my train to Salzburg wasn’t leaving until evening.
Needless to say, I was a little grumpy as I stumbled, exhausted and slightly hungover, onto the street on January 1st, 2007. I had plans to meet my friends outside the catacombs around lunchtime and nothing to do until then.
Now, remember when iPhones came out? Not until summer 2007. So none of us had smartphones. And I hadn’t bothered to get a French SIM card for my Danish cell phone, so I had no way of reaching anyone.
I found a random cafe and got a croissant and some orange juice, which helped a little.
Then…I started walking. I found my way towards the Pompidou Center, the Jardin de Luxembourg, basically a random, wandering stroll through the streets of Paris (which, in my opinion, is what Paris is made for). After two gray, drizzly days, New Year’s had dawned bright and sunny. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. At one point, probably somewhere along the Seine, I stopped, looked up at the sky, and then turned in a full circle, taking everything in.
It’s New Year’s Day, it’s gorgeous out, and I’m in Paris. Things could be a lot worse.