We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Paris at the heart of the celebration but not in the crowds, so we booked a cruise on the river. Actually, the real center of the Paris New Year’s Eve party is on Champs Elysées, where the Arc de Triomphe displays the annual light show. But after two experiences with the crowds there, Lynn wanted nothing to do with Paris’s most famous boulevard.
Bateau Parisiens offers an overpriced dinner cruise but a reasonable regular cruise that includes a split of Champagne for each passenger and an expansive view of the Eiffel Tower at midnight.
After another tasty osso buco dinner at home, we left for the train station early at 8 p.m. to make sure we could get to the Eiffel Tower and the boat dock in time for the cruise. To our surprise, the RER train station and the train itself were all but empty. And the ride was free–metro authorities open up all the trains on New Year’s Eve to move vehicular traffic off the streets.
Once we arrived at our stop, however, the crowds built rapidly at the Eiffel Tower. Street vendors were everywhere, hawking bottles and glasses of wine, lighted plastic Eiffels, hot mulled wine, the hated selfie sticks, glowing self-launched helicopters, roasted nuts and huge bowls of steaming grilled onions and sausage. Altogether, the scene created a sensory overload of people, languages, smells and a generally festive atmosphere, despite the ever-present threat of terrorism. Police were out in force on the bridges, along the river quays and under the Eiffel Tower itself, which was closed except for the high-end restaurants.
The crowd was somewhat down-scale, mostly young adults and families, many with toddlers in strollers. What was rally lacking was a place to purchase an adult beverage other than wine on the street. The nearest bistro to the Eiffel Tower area is across the Seine and all the way around the back of the Trocadero, which is a walk of many blocks. The boat company could make a fortune setting up a temporary bar for passengers waiting to board.
After passing through the security line twice, Lynn did not want to leave the ramp again, so we wound up being almost the first passengers on the boat, just behind a couple from Huntsville, AL. He was oh-so-friendly and chatty about their various New Year’s Eve adventures that we silently but firmly made sure to go in the opposite direction when we boarded.
Bateau Parisien presented each of us a small bag containing an ice cold split of Champagne, a plastic flute (mine was cracked, so we had to share), a small bag of madeleines, a noisemaker and a party hat. The Champagne was quite nice; the total of a full bottle lasted exactly the length of the trip.
If you have ever taken the boat trip on the Seine, you appreciate how beautiful Paris is from the water. It was especially so this evening, as the Eiffel Tower was awash in lights that changed to a dazzling, dancing LED display every 15 minutes or so.
At the stroke of midnight, all the cruise boats gathered at the base of the tower to ring in the New Year. Most of the passengers climbed to the top, but we could see just fine from the warmth of the inside. Imagine some 15-20 boats hovering for five to ten minutes using only their thrusters waiting for the light show to begin on the Eiffel Tower. I was more fascinated by the skill of the skippers to keep us all from crashing together.
As soon as it was over, the boat docked, we disembarked, walked back to the train station, once again empty, and took the RER C, once again mostly empty, back to our Latin Quarter, which was–you guessed it–mostly if not completely empty.
We really wanted a bit of a nightcap to finish off the New Year’s celebration, but virtually every bistro was shut down for the evening. However, now that we have lived in our neighborhood for better than two weeks, we knew exactly where the bar doesn’t close–The Bombardier, a British pub across from the Pantheon.
And The Bombardier was indeed festive and noisy, with American oldies music playing in the background, student-aged partiers drinking heavily and two American oldies who just wanted a glass of wine and a Scotch to end a most celebratory evening. We drank up and walked the eerily quiet streets home to our four flights of stairs. Luckily, we had had the foresight to set up the bed before we left, so all we had to do was fall in. We don’t stay up until 2 a.m. very often.