The City of Light in Four Days, Part Three

Day 3 Paris: We finally Reach the Sommet!

**Becauseitzthere is typically a hiking and outdoor adventure blog. But from time to time we will feature other sorts of travel and leisure on these pages. In other words…fu fu travel. And it don’t get no more fu than Paris.**

For Day 3 of our stay in Paris we had clear weather and favorable conditions. We decided to make one last at attempt at the summit.

Not, not THAT summit.

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Did we summit Our Buddy, Mont Blanc? Nope. That’s a self-service summit.

THIS summit.

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The Eiffel Tower Rises above the mean streets of Paris.

We had made an aborted attempt at the Eiffel Tower on the first day of our stay in Paris, but had arrived late; huge crowds and long lines had insured that we would not reach the observation deck before it was fully dark.

Today we arrived earlier, hoping the head start would allow us to get a leg up on the nearly seven million visitors per year that make the trip by elevator all the way to the top (or ‘sommet’, as they say in France.)

Our instincts proved right. We arrived early enough so that even the hordes of vendors selling LED studded Eiffel Towers on blankets were just getting set up, carefully dusting off their wares.

We slipped ahead of the crowds and took our places in line. The line was a fraction of what it had been the day before, but still daunting, the wait being over an hour.

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Something appears to have caught this pigeons attention.
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We arrived early, but the large tour group you see stalking Sylvia did manage to somehow get ahead of us. Beware the tour groups.
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The Tower is meant to immortalize ” …the century of Industry and Science in which we are living,” in the words of its designer, Gustav Eiffel
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The Eiffel Tower is the only monument — and maybe the only thing we have even visited — that looks best when view from underneath.

If you don’t mind stairs, you can self-service the first leg of the trip by climbing to the first observation deck for substantially less than the cost of the elevator ride. However, from there you still need to take a second elevator to the tippy-top. Having already scaled a half dozen major alpine passes and the towers of the Norte Dame Cathedral on this trip, Sylvia and I decided we’d had our fill of walking and would take the lift the whole way.

Large, poorly coordinated, fly by night tour groups continued to plague us everywhere we went. We had seen a few of these groups in Chamonix, but nothing prepared as for the tourist chaos they created in Paris. These groups swarm around the major tourist attractions, following a leader usually carrying a stick with a flag or some odd object on it as a way of identification.

The problem with these groups is, they jam into the same space as the regular paid customers, which exponentially increases the wait times in lines (the groups are seldom less than twenty people, often double that.) There appears to be no special accommodation made for them; they just pile in line like everybody else. The only positive thing that can be said about them is that since only one person is buying the tickets for everybody, they do clear through the lines rapidly.

Sylvia and I saw tourist groups hailing from just about every nation on Earth, The Good Ole’ USA being no exception. But by far the largest contingent was from one nation. In the interest of international brotherhood we will not name this country; but suffice it to say that if you locate North Korea on a map, and then look south of that, you will find it.

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One ticket for the Sommet!

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At any rate we soon cleared the line and entered the first elevator. These are very large elevator cars, actually two-storied, with cabins the size of city buses. There is another bag check to get in, and plenty more pushing, shoving, and wanton line cutting. But eventually, we were in.

Sylvia visited Paris in the late 1990’s at approximately the same time of year and reported almost no lines at on that trip, certainly nothing that compares to what we saw. It is another reminder of the explosive growth of the tourist industry, and how small the world has suddenly become.

On the first observation deck (which is mostly enclosed) we milled around with the throngs for a while, before boarding the second elevator for the top. Do you want to guess if there was a line for this elevator? If you guessed ‘yes’  you are DEAD ON, my friend.

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When it opened in 1889, the tower was heavily criticized, almost to the point of being reviled. But one cannot possibly imagine Paris without it.

The tower elevators are propelled by big, impressive looking eighteenth century style spinning wheel pulleys. These are very cool.

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There is an undeniable clockwork elegance about the tower…a modernity so aged that it has acquired the aura of antiquity.

Finally on the observation platform, we stepped out to see a stunning panorama…
…of the backs of scores of people jamming the rails looking at the stunning panorama. We had to walk around for a bit and then jockey for a spot, but eventually we did secure one.

The sun was setting so the most desirable views were eastward, away from the sun. Nobody much likes staring (or photographing) into the sun.

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Looking East; the arc of the Seine cuts through the middle of the photo.
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The large complex of buildings on the far side of the river between the second and third bridges is the Louvre.

The views here, especially in the soft light of early evening, are impressive. Because Paris is almost entirely a low-profile city, with few buildings bigger than six or seven stories, just about every major attraction of note can be seen from here. There was Norte Dame de Paris, which we had visited just the day before; and beyond that the Arc de Triomphe stood in the Champs Elysees like a gigantic traffic cop; and there was Louvre, which we planned to visit tomorrow.

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Looking down the Champ du Mars to the L’Ecole Militaire.

We also saw many places we simply would not have time for this trip…the Ecole Militaire, the Hotel des Invalides, Park Champ du Mars, The Museum D’Orsay and many more. We could even see all the way to Versailles.

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The lofty view of Paris bathed in the creamy twilight was great, but somehow I had liked the less Olympian views from the top of the Notre Dame towers far better. These had seemed more human in scale. I think that’s what makes Paris so different than many other great cities; imperfect though it may be, it is still of a human scale, and thus has a stronger human presence.

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The tower throws a long shadow…in this case over the Hotel des Invalides

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A word about the tower itself. Brian is best described as a realist (Sylvia would use the word ‘cynic’ when she is not using other compound words to describe him.) He expects to be disappointed in most things he sees, especially most man-made things. Another way of saying it is simply that he loves mountains and the beauty of nature, and the attempts of his fellow humans to equal or outdo the work of nature he usually finds wanting.

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Looking West. Way back in those distant hills is Versailles.

With all the above said, Brian was very impressed with the Eiffel Tower, proclaiming it One of the Coolest Man-Made Things he has ever seen. It is far more impressive up close than almost any photograph of it would lead you to believe; a surprisingly simple and yet elegant structure, built in an age where machines were noisy things bolted together from wrought iron, running on bellyfuls of steam and belching black clouds of soot…and yet, for all that, the promise of science to heal the ills of the world was still sparkling and great. The tower as an artifact literally has its head in the future and its roots in the past, looking one way without disdaining the Earth from which it came.

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When it opened it was the tallest building in the world; still to this day it is the tallest not only in Paris but all of France.

It just looks like something a boy or girl would build with an erector set. Unlike any other tall building we have seen, you can stand right underneath, look up, and see almost the entirety of it. The intriguing patterns of the design draw you right in. We have never seen anything else on this scale that manages to do this.

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The Elon Musk of his day, Gustav Eiffel designed the great monuments of TWO significant nations and saw them built in his own lifetime.
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Brian pronounces the Eiffel Tower the coolest building evuh!

Compared this to the Space Needle in Seattle. I should take that back…There is no comparison. The Eiffel Tower is a masterwork of the age of steel. The Space Needle, born of the age of the art deco horrors, is the gigantic hood ornament on God’s Cadillac.

(Editors Note: Sylvia forced the editor to strike the passage “Piece of Junk” from my description of the Space  Needle, and he has done so in the interest of national brotherhood and friendliness. End Note.)

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The Space Needle was one of the bigger letdowns of our west coast trips. Sorry to keep beating up on you, Seattle.

Anyway, enough bashing Seattle. Back to Paris. After jostling about at the ‘sommet’ for a while we finally pulled ourselves from the views and decided it was time to make the long pilgrimage down to the ground. And it is a long process. The lines to go down were about as long as those to go up, and there were more line cutters to deal with. Every square foot of the observation decks was occupied by a mass of writhing humanity, all of it bent of taking a selfie.

When we arrived back on solid ground at sunset, the lines at the gate were still hundreds long. Many of these people would not get up the observation deck until well after 10 pm.

We knew from our dry run of a couple evenings back what to expect next. We steeled ourselves to run a gauntlet of street vendors outside the exits…directly opposite each exit door a man, usually a young, muscle-bound man of military age, had positioned himself with a trove of blinking Eiffel tower models which will then be waved in the face of tourists in the hope that even one out of fifty will buy. And from what we saw, at least that many did buy. (Hey they all have wallets, right? Unless the pick pockets go ‘em.)

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Brian beats a hasty retreat from the street vendors of Paris.

Once again, just the act of seeing one of Paris’ major tourist venues up close had utterly tired us to the bone. What else could one do but retreat to a café for beer, wine and food? Fortunately, there are a few thousand cafes in Paris.

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Note sure what this means…
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…I for one have SERIOUS ambitions.

We enjoyed the view from the Eiffel tower…though the crowds detracted from it quite a bit, too. But the most memorable things I will take away is just standing underneath it and…just gazing up.

We had more looking to do though. One more day remained to us, and this one would involve looking at something that in Boston we would called “Priceless Aaaaaaaht!” Priceless meaning, it ain’t cheap.

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Next UP: Brian experiences Culchaaah Shaaaawk.

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