There were no activities planned for our group on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve. People were free to enjoy their vacation in whichever way they wanted. Some took the train to London for the day. Others went shopping. Traci had booked a running tour of Paris in which a guide leads you on a jog through the city while making stops to provide commentary on major attractions. Traci has done these types of tours in several cities around the world. This time, she needed to take an Uber to meet her guide at Place St. Michel in the Latin Quarter by 7:30 AM. Traci ended up having a personal tour since she was the guide’s only client that day. Traci thoroughly enjoyed her tour as she and her guide got in 7 miles of pounding the pavement that morning while occasionally stopping to take pictures. The lady was even kind enough to jog with Traci back to our hotel at the end of the tour. Traci got some nice pictures of Paris as well as better knowledge of the layout of the city. For the rest of the week, Traci would occasionally see a place and tell me that she remembered running by it. As for me, I am not a runner so I slept in, watched TV, and waited for Traci to return.
Traci did a 7-mile running tour of Paris.
One of the other things Traci likes to do in a new city is to visit a Nike store. I had spotted one the previous day during the Black Paris Tour as we were being driven along one of Paris’ famous shopping avenues – the Champs Élysées (pronounced Shompz-Ay-lee-zay) . Google Maps indicated it was a 40-minute walk from our hotel. Since we had no immediate plans, Traci and I set out for the long walk. As a side note about Google Maps, I use it on my iPod that has Wi-Fi capabilities. I found that I only needed the Wi-Fi to enter my destination. As we began walking and lost the Wi-Fi connection, Google Maps still displayed my location relative to the path it calculated as well as the time remaining to reach our destination. Google Maps, even without constant internet or a data plan, was a huge help for us finding our way around Paris on foot.
En route to the Nike store, we took a detour down a side street in search of food. We ended up at a small place called Popu Bistro à Pizza where we shared a cheese pizza and dessert. Since the pizzas in France seemed to be sold with a lot of toppings that did not appeal to us, Traci and I always got strange looks whenever we asked if we could get a pizza containing only cheese and tomato sauce. Nonetheless, the owner and her employees of the small shop were very kind to us – and the pizza was delicious!
We chatted with the owner (in English) after our meal. She, like other businesses in the area, was closing early that day in an effort to get out of the city before the impending sea of humanity arrives for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. With buses and metro lines affected by the strike, transportation was sure to be a headache. When Traci and I told the owner we planned to ring in the new year on the Champs Élysées, she recommended that we arrive early and take precautions against pickpockets.
We eventually made it to the Champs Élysées but I did not realize there was more than one Nike store on the avenue. Unfortunately, we chose the new one that was not scheduled to open for another few weeks. By this time, many of the stores on the Champs were closing, the police were starting to block off streets, and the sidewalks were becoming more crowded with people. I know the recommendation was to get there early if you wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the Champs Élysées but 6 PM was much earlier than we wanted to begin our wait on that cold evening. Therefore, we decided to make the 40-minute walk back to our hotel and take a chance on returning later. Our walk back to the hotel ended up taking more than an hour thanks to me thinking I knew the way back without Google Maps. The cold air had drained my iPod battery.
Champs Élysées shutting down in preparation for the New Year's Eve celebration.
We left our hotel around 8:45 PM to head back to the Champs Élysées. Traci had used OpenTable.com to make a 9:15 PM dinner reservation at Brasserie Italia which was located close to our destination. We ended up arriving 15 minutes late thanks to the thick crowds of people walking the streets and a wrong turn. The restaurant was very busy but they honored our reservation and seated us right away. The small round tables were crammed into such a small space that Traci and I would have to get out of our seats to let the couple next to us climb over our chairs any time they needed to leave their tables. It was fine though. Everyone from the waiters to the diners were in such a jovial mood. We had pleasant conversation with the couple from Mexico seated next us. The food was delicious and reasonably priced. The restaurant staff was very efficient.
By the time Traci and I left the restaurant, the streets in the area were closed to vehicle traffic. We followed the crowds until we got as close as we could to the Champs Élysées. We ended up on a street adjacent to the Champs Élysées where we had a good view of the Arch of Triumph. The Arch of Triumph is located in the middle of a traffic circle and the roads, including the Champs Élysées, emanate from it like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Therefore, the street we were on afforded us a nice view of the Arch.
It was approaching 11 PM by the time we reached our observation spot. I was hoping that maybe there would be a band performing or some other form of music but I heard no such thing from where we were. Maybe there was music on the Champs? We watched the cool animated projections on the Arch of Triumph while we waited for midnight. Every now and then a firework (maybe a practice shot) would explode over the Arch causing everyone to cheer. We met the people around us. Most were not from France. We met a mother and daughter from Georgia. We met "Adam from the UK". He kept everyone entertained with his one-liners and pleasant conversation.
More people were filling the streets. This made things uncomfortably cramped. To make matters worse, there were people still trying to squeeze through the crowd which was pretty much impenetrable at this point. Whenever this happened, we could feel the crush of the bodies against us. Traci finally had enough. Some unfortunate lady attempted to squeeze in front of Traci and ended up catching Traci's wrath! Traci told her she could not pass through because there was no more room. I don't think the woman spoke English but she got the message. Everyone around us thanked Traci for speaking up. Things got a little awkward because the lady could no longer go forward and she could not go back the way she came. Therefore, she ended up standing next to Traci for the rest of the time we were there. I think the lady was drunk because she fell asleep on the back of Adam from the UK's shoulder even though she did not know him.
waiting for midnight
colorful projects on the Arch of Triumph
Things were not getting any better. There was a group of men not far from us who decided to launch their own fireworks from the crowd. These were not small fireworks. This was a dangerous situation because sometimes the projectiles failed to launch. Instead, they exploded in the crowd. It is miracle that no one got injured. I could see the police standing on top of their armored vehicles scanning the crowd presumably trying to see who was launching the fireworks but I guess the crowd was too thick for them to go after anyone. Midnight could not come soon enough.
Finally, the countdown was projected on the Arch of Triumph. The cheers were getting louder with every decrement until finally a gigantic "2020" was displayed on Arch causing the crowd of 400,000 to erupt in cheers. People hugged and kissed and wished everyone a "Happy New Year" ("Bonne Année"). The fireworks (the official ones) exploded in the air over the Arch in a fabulous multi-color display. The finale was among the best I have ever seen. The rapid-fire fireworks really lit up the sky while the booms seemed to vibrate my chest.
With the fireworks over, Traci and I joined the mass exodus of people leaving the Champs Élysées and its surrounding streets. It felt a lot colder now that we no longer had the body heat of the strangers crammed against us. Nonetheless, the streets were still very much crowded. We walked by many drunk people as we navigated the thick crowds. Cars on the streets honked their horns - some out of jubilation and other out of frustration. I pitied anyone who had decided to drive a vehicle. The intersections were clogged.
It took Traci and me over an hour to walk back to our hotel. I put on my pajamas around 1:30 AM and turned on the television. I wanted to see the coverage of New Year's celebrations on French television. I was hoping to see music performances and commentary like we see on U.S. television but I saw no such thing. The only thing I could find was replays of the crowd on the Champs Élysées and projections on the Arch of Triumph on the BFM news channel.
Traci checked her phone and saw a message from Kelli. She said she and some of the others from our group were at the Royal Cambronne down the street having a great time. She said we should stop by. Traci and I put our street clothes back on and walked over to the Royal Cambronne. The place was lively. There was a DJ there who played a variety of genres (R&B, Hip Hop, Latin, Caribbean, etc...). Our friends were requesting line dance songs (The Wobble, Cha Cha Slide, etc...) and instructing the rest of the people how to do them. One of our friends is a Zumba instructor. She occasionally led the party goers with Zumba dance moves. It was so much fun. Passersby were coming into the Royal Cambronne to join the party. The owner decided to allow his restaurant to stay open an extra hour.
Celebrating the new year at the Royal Cambronne
Traci and I walked back to the hotel around 3 AM. Not totally adjusted to Paris time, I still was not sleepy so I watched TV until I eventually fell to sleep.
Most of us slept in New Year's Day. I am a breakfast guy. It does not matter if I wake up after noon, I still want my first meal to be breakfast food. I got up too late for the hotel breakfast; therefore, I walked down the street in search of something to eat. Most of the stores and restaurants were closed for the holiday. I eventually found a small mom & pop convenience store that always had the most delicious-looking fruit outside. I did not buy any fruit. I got a package of ready-to-eat waffles and a soda. Traci really took her time getting started that day. She opted for getting a calzone from the pizza and sandwich shop next door to our hotel. I don’t think that place ever closed.
On the itinerary for the day was a private tour with With Love from Paris Tours. We would be doing their Paris Christmas Illuminations + Ferris Wheel Ride & Holiday Market Tour. Our group was picked up from our hotel by a shuttle. We thoroughly enjoyed this excursion. A major factor in our satisfaction was our guide Milan. His love for the city and people really shined through. He liked taking selfies with our group. He gave great commentary of the major monuments of the city as we were driven through. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Invalides, were just a few of the places he told us about. We made a stop to walk the cobbled-stoned streets of the Latin Quarter where Milan showed us the famous chocolate and pastry shop called Un Dimanche à Paris. The restaurant is built around the remains of a 13th century tower.
We made another stop at a Christmas Market near the Louvre. It was here that we had a meal. There were many booths selling interesting food and beverage options. There was the booth selling chocolate-covered marshmallows ranging from dark chocolate to white chocolate. Some were liqueur-filled. Traci tasted hot wine (vin chaud) for the first time and instantly became a fan. I bought a ham & cheese sandwich. I know this does not sound very exciting but the interesting thing about it was that the vendor had large wheels of cheese under a heat lamp so that they could scrape the gooey cheese onto my sandwich. Our group dined together under a beer house tent and then took a ride on the Ferris wheel which allowed us to take in great views of the city.
The heat lamps melt the cheese for sandwiches.
my very cheesy ham & cheese sandwich
Traci enjoying the scenic ride on the Ferris wheel
One of my favorite stops was at the Galeries Lafayette shopping center to see the window displays. The stores compete with each other to see who can have the most imaginative window display based on the given theme. This time, the theme was ‘bees’. The stores had colorful elaborate displays that include animatronics. There were about a blocks-worth of these window displays to explore.
Our last stop before returning to the hotel was Trocadero Square where there is a great view of the Eiffel Tower. We had visited there earlier that week as part of the Black Paris Tour but this time we were there at night. Milan told us he had a special treat. He took out bottles of champagne and poured a glass for each of us (non-alcoholic sparkling cider for me). We toasted Kelli and then sang Happy Birthday (Stevie Wonder version) in front of a sparkling Eiffel Tower. Even at night, Trocadero is a busy place. Like other tourists, we were taking pictures and selfies. The vendors were still approaching us trying to sell their souvenirs.
There always seemed to be some sort of drama when we visited Trocadero. This time, as we were getting into position to take a group photo with our guide Milan, one of our group members spotted a man picking up the bag of champagne Milan brought for our celebration. She yelled across the square, “Hey! Hey! Put that down!”
The startled man, who I believe was a souvenir vendor, put the bag down and went to join the other vendors who were laughing at him. And then, still chuckling over the whole ordeal, he came and shook my hand for some reason. In the end, all was good. Our group had a good laugh about it as we were being driven back to the hotel.
We had such a great time on this tour. Milan was a fantastic guide. Before he left us, he presented Kelli with a box of chocolates for her birthday and then impressed us with his memory as he demonstrated he had memorized the names of all 15 of us. continue...