It was a once in a lifetime experience, a crazy but fun night! Last night at 10:30pm, I took the Metro to Old Montreal where 40,000 people gathered for a public New Years Eve soiree. The streets were very crowded, but you could feel the excitement and the celebration all around you - it was infectious. A band (a local band?) played songs, including a couple covers of top 40 radio hits, as everyone counted down to midnight. The memory of watching Montrealers galloping to the band's cover of "Gangnam Style" will forever entertain me.
At midnight, fireworks lit up the sky...at almost the same time that a heavy (yet very pretty) snowfall came out of nowhere. It was amazing timing. People were kissing and hugging their nearby loved ones, and everyone enjoyed photographing and watching the fireworks.
Once the fireworks ended, a mass exodus of party goers headed toward the Metro. I made my way through the crowd and successfully made it onto my first train. Once I reached the Berri-Uqam station, which is a major transfer point, I got confused as to which direction I needed to head for train number 2. I finally figured out where I was heading and made it onto the second train.
The train doors did not close right away, and after a few minutes, I realized that we were waiting quite a long time. More and more people from other train lines kept running down the stairs and packing into our train. At first it was a little bit funny to see tipsy partners cheering as they approached the train and packing in. But people kept packing in, and packing in until there was not even one inch of space between you and the next five people around you.
The minutes kept passing, but the train did not budge...and one more person and then another one person kept squeezing in. I began to feel very humid and claustrophobic. (While Montreal is very cold outdoors, it is the opposite situation indoors - they crank up the heat to 80 or 90 degrees, which is even more sweltering when you are dressed in multiple warm layers for protection from the outside weather).
After 10 or more minutes of still not moving, I really debated whether I ought to disembark and try a different train. Then, I saw 5 or 10 more people running down the stairs to try to get on our train. At that point, I couldn't do it anymore. "Pardon! Pardon!", I begged of the people squished next to me, and then I wiggled my way back onto the platform, at which point I promptly ripped off my heavy coat, hat and gloves. I rolled up my long sleeved thermal top, and I could feel the sweat pour down my back. After a couple of minutes, my heart rate normalized...and the train finally closed its doors and headed westward to the next stop without me. Figures.
I didn't worry because I figured I would just catch the next train. After all, it was a lot less crowded now. There were approximately 10 other people waiting on the platform as well. All of a sudden, a couple of train guards walked down the platform towards us. One of them started to say something to me in French, but I couldn't understand, so I asked if he could say it in English. The guard proceeded to tell me that the train station was now closed for the evening and that the last train had just left.
My heart sank. I still had half the way to go back to my hotel. I exited the train station and tried to assess my situation as I walked. Technically, I was "down the street" from my hotel...but I was all the way on the east side in the lively (slightly sketchy) Latin Quarter and needed to get all the way back to the western edge of downtown to get back to my hotel. Obviously, 1:00 in the morning is not the time to figure out if/which bus might take you where you need to go (especially when you don't speak the language of the city very well). Also, it was unrealistic to plan on catching a taxi on New Years Eve with so many people partying across town.
Luckily, I quickly found Rue St Catherine (my shopping street), albeit, the eastern half of the street, but at least I knew I was going the correct direction. So I walked and walked in the snow through countless traffic lights passed the night clubs where 20 something's were living it up both in the club and, um, singing and shouting their tipsy New Years joy for all to hear.
I made a pit stop at McDonalds where another rowdy group of teens/young adults were loudly joking around while waiting for their food. It took a while, but I finally grabbed my#2 combo meal to go, and then I continued my journey. Luckily, there were some other people walking around as well, including cops monitoring the scene. It took over an hour, but I finally made it back to my hotel room at 2:20 am. I felt absolutely exhausted, but at the same time, I still felt happy and upbeat about my New Years Eve in Montreal. Hey, I'm glad I was able to quickly figure out where I was and get myself home safely. I still feel like the awesome New Years Eve public gathering was worth the long walk home, but again, it might be a once in a lifetime experience. I have a whole year to think about what plans I will make next year for New Years Eve.
For now, bonne annee, and cheers to awesome adventures to come in 2013!