While I should look back and evaluate the past year, I have, instead, decided to look back on New Year’s Eves past. Should the need arise to consider the ups and downs of 2014, I will do that in another post.
New Year’s Eve is not one of my favourite holidays. I’ve a had a few good ones and a whole bunch of mediocre ones. Of the good, there is one that is more memorable (and I say that despite the amount of alcohol consumed).
On somewhat of a whim, I had flown from Osaka to Paris to spend Christmas with a friend in an unremarkable one star hotel room in the Latin Quarter. We drank beer, made long distance phone calls, and got caught up on the last six months.
My friend, Chris, had been traveling solo throughout Europe, meeting family, touring landmarks, getting clued in on trains and the hostel system. I had been teaching English in a small, somewhat rural, city south of Osaka, mastering chopsticks, pantomiming everything from English verbs to laundry detergent. I had gone through three roommates (one alcoholic, one pursuing a lost love, and one who really should never have left his pampered existence to venture to small town where the number of foreigners could be counted on one hand) and found myself living a dream.
The Paris part of the trip included hopping train barriers, going to Jim Morrison’s and Edith Piaf’s graves, seeing the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo (and appreciating them in a way no photograph could ever translate), trudging up the Eiffel Tower to save some Francs, and catching a nasty flu that made a challenge out of the trip.
Having taken the hydrofoil across the channel, we found ourselves in London on New Year’s Eve. Strangely unadventurous, and uniformed due to poor reading of London Time Out, we went to the bar we found the night before. I couldn’t tell you the name of the bar, except that it was on Bolsover street and the people who ran the bar had recently moved from Cardiff. If that sounds clear to you, then it is probably not at all unclear how two Canadians found themselves in the thick of the action.
We didn’t stick out at all, and other than taking our orders, nobody talked to us. Honestly, we were only going to stay there for a few drinks and then go back to our hotel room and drink the champagne (perhaps it was sparkling wine–that is one of the many mysteries that I will never know the answer to–though if you keep reading, it won’t be the biggest one). We really didn’t have any solid plans, but that turned out to be mostly a good thing.
When you travel, weird coincidences just seem to happen. Earlier in the day, my friend Chris ran into one of his University friends while walking in front of Harrods Department store. They had spoken of meeting up in Europe, but in those pre-cell phone days, had no way of making that a reality. Fate had other ideas.
Unlikely to make friends, it was a coincidence that broke the ice and had us drunk with a bar full of Cardiffians (? Cardiffites?–maybe some reader could educate me). Amongst the group of people, we spotted one gentleman wearing a Toronto Blue Jay’s cap. Thinking he was from Toronto, we said hello. As it turns out, his Grandmother had sent him the cap and he chose to wear it that night. Surprisingly, that is all it took for us to make friends with him, and the bar full of people who had taken the train from Cardiff to be at this “relocated” bar.
As the night progressed and we sampled some of England’s finest lagers and then ales (they could have been England’s worst for all I know–after a little while they stopped asking us to pay), arm wrestled with a iron worker whose forearms were huge, got to meet everyone, learned the intricacies of the FA Cup, danced in the streets… and I think I even got a New Year’s kiss from the Australian waitress.
If that was not memorable enough, it was what happened after that sealed the deal.
The next morning I woke up, sledgehammer of hangover busting my skull, to a room without my friend. I tried to remember if anything had happened to him, but was unable to recall anything after the dancing in the streets. While I was in the loo (we were in London after all), one of the few hotel guests I knew, said my friend was sleeping in their room.
The puzzling story goes like this. We got separated. My friend arrived at our hotel (which made the one star hotel in Paris look quite good) he asked for his key. The night porter (or early morning porter) said that I had arrived and taken the key. Chris went to our room and pounded on the door to no avail. The neighbours, perhaps awoken by the clamour and desiring him to quiet down, let him sleep in their room.
So, either he had the wrong room or I was so completely blasted that I didn’t wake when he knocked, or perhaps I had spent a rather long time in the washroom and missed him, or maybe he had told the porter the wrong room number and the key had been waiting for me when I arrived later. To this day, neither one of us is sure. As for the champagne, we forgot that in our booth at the bar. The good thing is that we can laugh about it now.