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...but after pondering what to do all week, I came to one conclusion--if I could be anywhere in the world for this New Year, it would be Paris. I'd tried to solidify a plan to go with Chris from work, but after having some doubts as to whether he was 100% dedicated to the plan, I decided to put on my brave face and go it alone.
December 31, 2001 - Paris: The weather was cold, and I hurt as I stood outside the Kaiserslautern train station awaiting my noon train. I found a pair of thick wool socks in the trunk of my Mercedes, and tossed them in my padlocked backpack as a precaution--a very smart move. The train to Paris was smooth, but there was a draft that made my feet cold. Once I hit the border the roads became straight and the mountains disappeared. It’s rather boring to watch village upon village float by but I had camera in hand for most of the trip, watching for a good photo. It made me seasick.
There was no dramatic entry into Paris--nothing of interest visible from the train. I arrived at the huge, (unheated) Paris Est station and noticed it was only 5pm, so I drifted around gift shops and absorbed the atmosphere. I had time to kill. The Paris subway ran through the train station but I’d never used a subway solo in my life. I was sure I'd figure it out. I loitered for an hour trying to see if the solution would come to me--it didn’t. I bought a sub sandwich and then, the second smartest thing I did--I bought a black hat. It was so narrow, as if it were designed for a Conehead. I tore a few stitches and made it fit.
I was frustrated, tired, cold, still hungry, didn’t know the language, was confused by the currency, had no maps of the city and knew I had to stay awake and walk around for over 15 hours. There was no lodging available in Paris.
The station was buzzing with busy French rushing about, and they didn’t like me getting in their way. Most of the public restrooms were pay-toilets, so I held back on drinking to avoid that need. I found a help station and got a subway map but was still too embarrassed to ask how to use it (the names on the map were in French). I wandered around the street by the station and considered taking a bus or taxi but didn’t know how to buy a bus or subway ticket. I even considered just staying in the station--I was, after all, already in Paris--wasn’t that my goal?
After two hours of this I prayed a little and found a very cooperative person at the help station who showed me how to get to the Champs Elysees and also told me that the subways were free for the New Year celebration. Bathrooms--still not free. I could go anywhere I wanted for free, as long as it wasn't a bathroom. On the subway map the Paris Est station was listed as Gare de l’Est--now how was I supposed to know that? I followed directions and once past the first two stops on the subway it was as if a switch clicked in my head and I instantly understood the subway! I was so excited…I was empowered! I was worldly! I even changed my mind about the Champs Elysees. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower first, just in case the lift was still open, and then go to the Champs Elysees later to ring in 2002. I made it to the Eiffel Tower with one mistake.
I jumped off the subway and when I looked up I saw the reflection of the Eiffel Tower on a building, but couldn’t find the tower. That was strange. I walked five minutes before I could see the source of the reflection--the Eiffel Tower!
And hovering over it were the Moon and Jupiter looking down on me. The tower was completely lit up and I just walked over to it. It was so beautiful and massive--this was another one of those unforgettable moments that only comes once every few years and I'd had three of them in 2001 (the other two were reaching the Mt. Evans summit and singing Silent Night in Dörrenbach the week before). The bases of three of the legs were restaurants, but I didn't go there, unable to shake the idea that I would be eating from someone's foot.
Paris reminded me of Tokyo, with sidewalk vendors of hot foods and a variety of nationalities, and I'd used the subway in Tokyo quite often. However Paris wasn’t as clean, with more litter and garbage. People smoked cigarettes in the train stations (clearly marked no smoking areas), dropped cigarettes inside the station and walked away. I was kicking butt all night.