PARIS, DEC. 31 -- The line snaked across the Place de Parvis facing Notre Dame, as an end-of-year crowd waited patiently for a chance to enter Paris' famous cathedral.
Among a small cross-section of visitors: A student from Duke University, a couple from New Jersey, and a retiree from Pennsylvania. Across the river at a crowded cafe, another middle-aged American squeezed into a table.
"I can't believe I'm in Paris," she exclaimed to her companion. It's a sentiment all too common this holiday season, as thousands of foreign and French visitors pile into the City of Light for the country's second millennium bash. "The number of tourists in Paris has never been as high as this year," Bernard Bled, president of Mission Paris 2000, told Le Parisien newspaper this week.
Sunday night promises to draw in yet more visitors. According to Paris police estimates, between 500,000 and 800,000 holiday revelers are expected to pack the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde alone, where a music-and-light show will welcome in the New Year.
Across the Seine, the Eiffel Tower is wrapped in a blanket of blinking blue lights. And the trendy Beaubourg area will host a street festival, starring a thousand drummers from around Europe.
From spectacular champagne dinners, to Cuban salsa and American jazz in the city's funky Marais district, to an all-night family party at Disneyland Paris, the French are ending their year with panache.
"We're full of course," said the man answering the phone at Paris' three-star Alain Ducasse restaurant, whose 3,500-franc ($500) New Year's menu includes duck's liver, cauliflower and caviar, and two types of desert.
But overall, France's 2001 celebrations are expected to be more modest -- and possibly less controversial -- than the country's extravagant year-long millennium party. Altogether, the French government poured millions of dollars into music festivals, restoration projects, parades and lights shows to welcome in the year 2000.
The millennium bill included 150 million-franc ($71 million) restoration bill for Paris' grand boulevards, the city's river area and touristy Chatelet. It also included 40 million francs ($5.7 million) for a June bash featuring French singer Johnny Hallyday.
The city of Paris dropped another five million francs ($710,000) to host a May classical music concert, featuring internationally acclaimed conductor Seiji Osawa. The millennium menu -- including a 600-mile July 14th picnic across 337 towns -- earned mixed reviews in France, with some criticizing the extravagance. But Andre Le Francois, a carpenter from the Cote D'Azure, said he enjoyed the festivities. "It was a nice spectacle," he said. "Unfortunately, I was too stressed to enjoy it." Among the year-2000 flops touted by the French press: An elaborate fresco project that never went beyond its costly initial study; a "children's village" demolished by a November 1999 storm; and an around-the-world model tour that never traveled past the drawing board. In some cases -- notably the light-strewn ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde, France's private sector footed the bill. But government officials acknowledged in many cases they found a dearth of business sponsors.
"With a few exceptions, we didn't find strong support from businesses," acknowledged Bled, of Mission Paris 2000. "No doubt, they didn't realize the possible windfalls." Nonetheless, the millennium brought a 6 percent boost in tourism revenues over the previous year, according to initial government estimates. Hotel occupation also witnessed a 4.5 percent increase over 1999, according to the October figures.
Meanwhile, on the streets of Paris Sunday, many French prepared to usher in the "real millennium" with more modest celebrations. Shoppers packed outdoor Sunday markets, snapping up fresh fish, baguettes and roasted farm-raised chickens.
At a seafood market in northern Paris, Maia Malliarakis, 25, selected two dozen fresh oysters.
"I'm going to have a love reunion with my boyfriend," Malliarkis said, when asked about her evening plans.
But for taxi driver Hamid Liani, New Year's Eve would be a working one. "I thought this New Years weekend would be very, very good business," said Liani as he started his evening shift. "But it's only been good business."
Nonetheless, Liani expressed no regrets about ushering in the new year on the job.
"For me, its a year like any other," he said, as his taxi glided down darkening city streets. "The only difference is I'll wake up to 2001, instead of 2000."