France

Paris Sunset NYE

I’ve never enjoyed New Year’s Eve. It’s always over-hyped and the result is the same; a hangover, a slight feeling of regret, and the realisation that the holiday season is well and truly over. After being told that I was going to be spending New Year’s Eve in Paris, I felt a little more upbeat; at least I’d be spending it somewhere different.

There are many, many different ways to spend New Year in Paris I’m sure; city tours, fine dining, or rooftop parties.This isn’t a ’10 things to do’ or ‘how to spend New Years Eve’ guide but an account of how I spent one day in the city on one of the busiest days of the year and how exciting, or not at times, Paris can really be. This is how ‘winging it’ can be both great and disastrous in one day…

Having spent the previous day being dragged around Disneyland by my sister, (which I actually really enjoyed) I couldn’t wait to get out and see the city. We only had the one day to look around so, knowing that it would get a lot busier as the day went on, we decided to try and make the most of it. We didn’t really have a plan other than heading to a couple of the sites before settling at the Eiffel Tower around midnight.

We set off walking with the idea of finding somewhere to eat. Now, given that we were in one of the culinary capitals of the world, we thought it’d be a crime not to find a genuine Parisian restaurant. Sure, if you’re only in Paris for a day or two and don’t really have the time or the money, there are more than enough other places to eat including your regular fast food outlets. I must say though that if your only meal whilst in Paris is going to be a McDonalds or a KFC then you’ve really just cheated yourself and you should hang your head in shame…really. Anyway we found a little place on one of the quiet roads just off the west side of the Seine; we realised it was a ‘local’ restaurant as soon as we were greeted and were quickly charmed; the meal itself was made more memorable due to our poor attempts at French and a waiter who spoke very little English. We managed to finally order and, after a few comical exchanges, paid the quite reasonable bill (€81) before pushing on to the Arc de Triomphe.

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As I mentioned earlier, we’d planned to walk into the city but after actually realising where we were (we’d been walking for a while thinking we were in a completely different area), it worked out to be over an hours walk. This would normally be fine but given that we were pressed for time we decided to catch the metro and within 20 minutes we’d arrived at the Arc de Triomphe (Charles de Gaulle Etoile station). Be warned: if you’re heading to the Charles de Gaulle Etoile from the south west of the Seine you have to catch the metro north west to La Dafense, switch lines, then head back South East across the river; we only found this out because a very helpful waitress showed us the way from the restaurant we ate at. The Metro, after being told which stop was the right one, was easy enough to navigate and was surprisingly quiet for the most part, until we headed back across the river, and you could see that everyone was heading towards the city.

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You could feel the sense of occasion as soon as you left the station; people already dressed for their evening partying, shopping bags filled with the unmistakeable shapes of bottles and young couples with their eyes lost in eachother’s, oblivious to what’s going on around them; after all it was only around 7 hours until midnight and the city was slowly getting ready. The Arc de Triomphe was far more impressive than I’d imagined; it’s also a key photo op if you can actually get a picture without anyone else in it! After standing around planning our next move, we decided to brave the Champs Elysees and head down towards the Grand Palais.

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Unfortunately the only way I could find a place to take a photo of the Champs Elysees without anyone in it was by standing in the middle of the road…

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Although it was New Years Eve I couldn’t believe just how busy it was; I’m told that the Champs Elysees is always this crowded, and you can understand why as I actually found the avenue more impressive than the Arch; it is literally 1 mile of shops, people, traffic, and stunning buildings. I think the Avenue was made even more enticing by the fact that the pavements were lined with the Christmas markets; you could spend an entire day on this avenue; shopping, eating, drinking and just watching the world go by. Due to the amount of people crowding the streets it took us the best part of an hour to reach the Grand Palais before heading to the Seine and by this point the sun had started to set so before going any further we stopped (again) and planned where we were going to go. The simplest of plans was to follow the river east until we reached the Cathedral Notre-Dame before heading back towards the Eiffel tower.

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If you want to see a great part of Paris just follow the River Seine towards the Cathedral; along the way you can catch some terrific views across the river. Following the north side of the river, you’ll find that there’s a lull in activity for about 2 miles; of course you’ll bump into many joggers, walkers and cyclists but there is very little to see and do until you reach the Louvre. However, if you look onto the river there are countless boats; I can only imagine that a lot of them are tour boats but I’m also quite sure that some were restaurants or party boats (or I at least like to think so).

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After swinging by the Louvre, which to everyone’s annoyance had just closed, we decided that it was time to get a move on and get to the Cathedrale as soon as we could. It took us possibly another 20 minutes to walk to the Cathedrale by which time it had gone quite dark and very cold.

With it being New Year’s Eve you naturally want to have a drink or two to celebrate, and Paris is as good a place as any. Though there are some overly expensive places dotted about there are of course many cheaper, more affordable places to grab a glass of wine or a beer. My only bit of advice would be to avoid the Champs Elysees and it’s surrounding areas and head more toward the inner city, unless you can afford it and aren’t pressed for time.

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Now, it’s quite a common myth that Diabetics shouldn’t really drink much alcohol; this isn’t true. We can drink as much as we want; we just have to be careful. Beer, to a certain extent, is easier to handle than wine as it contains more carbohydrates and so keeps blood sugar levels up, whereas drinking wine can cause an unexpected spike in levels before a sudden drop and before you know it you’re hypo. There’s no worse feeling than being hypo and tipsy. One thing I did to keep in control was eat a small meal without injecting any insulin; this made my blood sugar levels gradually rise (quite high) before reaching a plateau and slowly falling again (though it did take all night). In hindsight I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re travelling alone and it’s only something I would do when with people who know I’m diabetic. In fact, scratch that, it’s a pretty stupid thing to do and is hugely irresponsible to say the least. Lesson learnt.
Anyway…

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By this point we were in no real rush to be anywhere; it was around 7pm and by our reckoning it’d take no more than 20 minutes to walk to the tower, so we sat at a nearby bar to relax with a drink. What could be better than sitting with a glass or two of wine in a city like Paris on New Year’s Eve? It doesn’t really get much better than that does it? OK, maybe it could be a little warmer; we were all wearing jackets, scarfs and gloves after all.

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There’s something strangely reassuring about watching the world go by on one of the most anticipated nights of the year, everyone is in the same boat aren’t they? After a few glasses of wine we decided to start heading back towards the tower via a couple of bars, and this is where it got interesting; we realised we were lost…

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This wasn’t a bad thing though, far from it. This, as it turns out, is where you see the real Paris. Long, narrow streets crammed with small shops, cafe’s, bars and street food. Forget about the wide pathways, the up-market restaurants and the wine bars of the Champs Elysees; this is where the real Parisians find themselves at New Year. This is the place where you can buy a hot dog and a pint for €7, the place where your typical Parisian is not a wannabee style icon but a bob-hat wearing, beer chugging night owl looking for a good time. This is the place to be leading up to midnight.

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You can’t come to a city just to see the sites; at the end of the day you can see them online and read about them in blogs 😉 What you need to experience is the real city and the places the people of the city hang out; there were no tweed wearing, wine sipping socialites in this area that’s for sure. I loved it.

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By the way if anyone recognises where I took these pictures it would be genuinely interesting to find out where we actually were?!
After stopping off at another bar or two we knew time was getting on we had better head closer to the tower. This is when we got lost… again, only this time it was no fun. We were in a very quiet part of the city; there was hardly a soul about, there weren’t many streetlights, and it was getting very, very cold. We could see the tower from a distance most of the time and even when we couldn’t see the tower itself we could always spot the revolving light at it’s peak, yet we didn’t seem to be getting any closer.

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How could we be lost? After walking for half an hour we crossed the gardens at the Invalides and, after working out where we were, found it a lot easier to find the tower from there. We had another drink in a slightly more expensive bar close to the tower before finally heading to the tower for the night. As we got nearer the sound of people cheering and laughing was immense; you’d be forgiven for thinking there was some sort of entertainment taking place but there wasn’t; it was just the sound of a large amount of genuinely excited, if a little drunk, happy people.

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After hanging around the giant snow globe underneath the tower we moved to an area with a better view. We’d been told that you couldn’t bring any alcohol onto the grounds but we did, plus there were dozens of people selling cheap bottles of champagne for less than €4; it didn’t taste great but after a few glasses who cares? After the final build up to the stroke of midnight, that was it; cheering started, champagne was drank, people embraced each other and the start of a new year finally arrived.

So, after spending a day in Paris, I learnt that going with the flow and winging it can be both really enjoyable and really frustrating. We could easily have spent New Year in a warm, comfortable 4 star restaurant with a great view, but then we wouldn’t have been able to see the real Paris, we wouldn’t have been able to nearly freeze to death whilst lost, and we definitely wouldn’t have been able to say that we really enjoyed it.
I think one of the problems with New Year’s Eve, and not just in Paris, is that there’s an overwhelming sense of missing out. No matter what it is that you’re doing; whether you’re partying with friends, having a few drinks with family or having a quiet one at home; there’s always the feeling that someone else is having a far better time than you are. I didn’t feel that in Paris.

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Is there anywhere else as special as being beneath the Eiffel Tower on New Years? OK, maybe the Arc de Triomphe had more fireworks on the night, and I’ve heard that New York isn’t bad, and Sydney is supposed to be half decent…

…how about Edinburgh?