It is often in the biggest cities that the weirdest and most unique travel experiences can be found. For me this has certainly been the case, especially when alcohol is involved. From questionable bars in La Paz, to the drinking Olympics in Budapest, there are always interesting and wild nights to be found should that be your interest. Recently however, I experienced one of the most random night travel experiences of all, was it an art gallery or a rave.
I had a three days off from work in November 2021, and like any sane person would, decided that the best way for me to use that time was to take a trip to a European city for a couple of days. My choices were limited, first of all by Covid travel restrictions and secondly by budget. So, in the end there was only one option that ticked all of the boxes: Paris.
I had been to Paris a couple of times before, but only ever for the day. This would be my first ever stay overnight. Something that I was excited for. Despite the fact I was only there for 2 nights, I really wanted to sample some of the famous Parisian nightlife.
So, with that in mind, upon my arrival, I headed straight to my hostel, Jo & Joe in Gentilly, to seek some fellow travellers for my adventures. Shamefully, I have to admit that my French is rudimentary at best. So, when I arrived at the hostel bar and heard that the majority of the conversation was in French, I was quite disheartened. I was about to give up in my search when I heard some English in the distance.
Plucking up all of my confidence as I always do when approaching strangers in a hostel bar, I asked if it would be ok to sit with them. Luckily for me, they said yes. (Saying that, everywhere that I have been, I am yet to hear a no!) The group turned out to be a mixture of visiting Dutch students, and two Parisian locals. The rest of the night was spent in the hostel bar discussing plans for our Parisian adventures, which was interspersed with some very questionable dancing.
As the night was drawing to a close, plans were made to meet up again the following evening and visit what I was told would be an art gallery that also had a bar. After a day of exploring the city of Paris alone, by the time the evening rolled around, I headed to the meeting spot. What I had not quite realised the previous evening, was that the meeting spot was at the very end of the metro line, the station Mairie de Saint-Ouen to be precise.
The trip there was an adventure in itself. I had left the bustling streets of central Paris behind, to be met with towering apartment blocks as far as the eye could see. After what seemed like hundreds of messages back and forth, I was able to find the rest of the group and we set off for the ‘art gallery’.
I had been expecting a grand old building for this art gallery, but it quite quickly became apparent that was not going to be the case as we headed for a massive greenhouse in the Grand Parc des Docks de Saint-Ouen.
Upon arrival, it was clear that this was no ordinary art gallery. Instead, it was a huge greenhouse containing sporadically spaced pieces of contemporary art. They varied greatly from paintings to sculptures, but my personal favourite was a piece entitled balloon destroyer. This was a 3 minutes 20 seconds long video of one man popping balloons in a variety of different ways. Some of the methods he used cannot be described by words, but they all involved sharp metal objects being attached somewhere on his person, before being used in a range of ridiculous ways to pop one or many balloons. The whole time I stood there questioning how exactly this was art, but I was truly transfixed by the entire video. I even watched some bits multiple times to ensure that my eyes weren’t tricking me.
However, this was just the start, and my evening was about to take a turn for the weird. I had thought it rather unusual that an art gallery would have an onsite bar, but the reason behind this soon became clear. As I wandered around the greenhouse gallery, seemingly out of nowhere and unannounced, a DJ appeared and began to play techno music throughout the entire venue.
What had just been a relatively calm art gallery, suddenly became something more reminiscent of a rave. People quickly moved away from the art and the bar to create a makeshift dance floor surrounding the DJ. On top of that, the other people who were in attendance at this event were probably the edgiest people that I have ever seen. All were young, stylish Parisians clearly into their art and music. Something that made me stick out like a sore thumb.
Just as I was starting to get used to the new rave like setting of the art gallery, another spanner was thrown into the mix. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the DJ stopped the music and everyone else began to congregate in a corner of the greenhouse. Despite asking the Parisians that I was with what was going on, I was perplexed again as to what was about to happen.
What did happen next, I could have never guessed no matter how long I had been trying. Out of a back office, appeared a man wearing an all-white, Lil Nas X style outfit, followed by four male dancers. They preceded to perform a range of songs and dances around the whole art gallery moving from artwork to artwork after each song.
At this point, I was thoroughly confused. What was this place that I had found myself on a Thursday night in Paris? It had started as a visit to an art gallery and now I was watching a live concert, after a period of something resembling a rave.
As the live performance finished after about 30 minutes, it seemed as though the event was drawing to a close. The DJ did not make a reappearance and the edgy Parisians in attendance began to congregate around the bar and the outdoor smoking area. We had only been at the event for about 2.5 hours, but within that time it had been a real experience. I had set out with the expectation of visiting a Parisian art gallery and ended up with so much more than I could have hoped for.
I had come out with one of the most random experiences of all my travels. It was the sort of event that I would never have gone to had I been choosing, yet one I am pleased that I experienced. This is really one of the biggest takeaways when it comes to travel. Not only do you meet some of the most interesting people, you also end up doing things that you never would have otherwise.