It was just one night in Paris. One night to stay totally awake the entire night. It ought to be an easy thing to do in a city that presumably never sleeps as New York City. Bryce and I had a long layover from Turkey home on Air France- 15 hours. Although some orange leather reclining lounges in a dark area at the airport looked tempting to wile away the hours, not for 15 of them. Plus, I had always wanted to see Paris and couldn’t ever talk anyone into going with me. Fifteen hours was better than none.
Bryce’s GF was envious. Paris is the city of romance. She wanted to be there. Instead, Bryce was with his mother. It was up in the air how the night would go, however.
First off, we had to get rid of our luggage. Our day pack full of I pads, camera, books, snacks etc was heavy enough, let alone a heavy backpack. Left luggage closed at 9. We got in Paris at 9:30. Fortunately, they checked our bags all the way through.
Next hurdle, the train into the city. It stopped running at 11pm. We had to clear customs and find the train before 11. Done.
Lucky for me, I sat next to a sweet Parisian girl, Louise, who took us under her wing and babysat us through the process of finding the platform, buying our ticket, getting off at the right stop, and planning our night.
I bought a small travel guide to Paris at the airport with a pull-out map and circled highlights along our night’s walking route. We’d surface at the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, walk down the Seine hitting highlights. Get to the Eiffel Tower by 1 am to see the last light show, circle back past the Louve to the train station. Bryce and I figured that we would refuel at little open air cafes and pump up with caffeine in order to stay alert. No problem. We were psyched.
When we climbed out of the underground train station and immediately saw the magnificent lit up Notre Dame Cathedral, it was breathtaking. All along the Seine were lights and people were out in droves, laughing, talking, drinking. Boats, lit up like wedding cakes, powered up and down the river. People looked strange. They wore weird make-up, strange hats and outfits. OK, this is Paris. I really didn’t know what to expect.
We marveled at the sight, looking up into the sky at the massive cathedral and looked at one another and said, “I can hardly believe we are here. Paris. From the canyons of Turkey’s Cappadocia to here in just a few hours.” It was a bit of a culture shock.
We couldn’t get over the level of energy in the squares and the amount of people. Surely we would have no time staying awake all night long. Then it hit us. It was Halloween! Halloween night in Paris. How fortuitous! No wonder they looked strange. And they will be up all night too.
We bypassed the sights and headed straight to the Eiffel Tower. Sat under its massive structure and marveled at the light show, eating black olives out of a Zip Loc and Turkish string cheese, getting powerfully thirsty. We couldn’t find water, or coffee or anything of sustenance. It was after 1 am. Drunk young people were finding taxis back to their apartments. Bryce and I were running out of steam. We needed a coffee.
The night started out warm enough that a fleece and a raincoat was enough to keep warm. We sat on benches and rested. I pulled up my hood, thrust my hands into my pockets. I got colder. We got sleepier and more physically drained. “What time is it?” 3 am. “Let’s walk a little ways, then take another break. We walked up to the Arc de Triomphe, down Av des Champs-Eylsees to the fountains at Place de la Concorde.
We saw homeless people wrapped in plastic in corners of magnificent buildings. We sat on stoops if there were no benches, resting. I took my son’s arm for support, laid my head on his shoulder when we sat. No coffee anywhere. No cafes anywhere. It was like downtown Washington, DC after hours. Pretty, lit up buildings, traffic going by, but no signs of life on the streets. Occasionally a drunk Parisian Halloweener would come up to us as we rested and ask for something- a cigarette, a light, money, who knows what. They couldn’t speak English. I had to pee. There wasn’t a public toilet in the 8 miles that we walked. Long wet lines were everywhere on the sidewalks where the young partiers had to relieve themselves after drinking all night. We stepped in between them.
How are we going to stay awake for the next few hours? The train began running at 5 am. We had a few more hours to get through. We sat and timed ourselves, stretching out the hours, trying to reach the train station by 5.
Around 4 am we couldn’t find the cathedral and our spot to go underground. Where could it have gone? It is so huge. I looked up in the sky and saw a dark hulking shape. There it is. All its lights had been turned off. Same for the Eiffel Tower after 1 am. Show’s over in Paris at 1 am, even on Halloween. Who would have guessed.
My hips and legs were aching and feeling stiff from walking on a concrete surface and sitting. We grew so sleepy we had to take turns resting our eyes on the benches when we took breaks.
At 4:30, we went underground and sat on the bench in the breezy passage and waited, totally alone in Paris, for that first train to run and take us back to the airport. Eight miles on our feet, not a single cup of coffee. What a night it had been. Totally worth it.
It was only one night. One night to stay awake all night long. I may never get back to Paris again but it was a much better choice than sleeping away the last 15 hours. Bryce and I made a memory. One last memory with my son on his graduation trip to Turkey and that to me is most important.