All throughout the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower rises in the distance like a steel beacon, drawing excited looks from wherever you are. With it’s size, it seems tantalizingly close everywhere but really, it’s quite a distance to the West of many city sights. Most travel guides recommend saving it for the last day of your visit, to cap it off and to be able to see the sights from up high and recognize where you’ve been, especially the kids who will squeal with excitement and recognition at the Parisian landmarks they’ve trod on in days past.
Taking the Metro to the Plaza Trocadero in the morning is the best way to start out, really. Exiting the station, you walk westward with the Architecture museum to your left, blocking the view. Suddenly, you turn the corner and there she is in all her metallic glory, rising up overhead into the blue sky. At 9 am, few people are at the plaza and we had peaceful moments to enjoy the sight and take some uncrowded pictures. It is truly stunning up close. As with so many famous sights, many of which are burned into our memories even if we’ve never seen them in person, I tend to feel a bit jaded initially about the visit. It feels as if it would be something familiar and dull. But as always happens, once I’m actually there I’m struck by their intricate beauty.
Going through security, the brusque North African guards in the small trailer searched through my bag, extricating the metal forks I’d brought anticipating a picnic after our visit. The held them up, and with wide eyes shook them at me, barking “Forbidden! Forbidden!” Over and over as if I was slow before unceremoniously tossing them into the destruction bin. Sigh. I later sent an extra 10 euro to my Air BnB host for the offending and now demolished cutlery.
Walking underneath the tower and looking up, you see the dizzying skeletal angles come into a beautiful symmetry. We didn’t have tickets yet as prebook tickets sell out months in advance. The lines were already moderately long for the elevators, but please – why take the elevators when there’s a perfectly good set of stairs? There’s 700 of them and for 5 Euro for adults and 3 for kids, that comes to 2.3 cents per step! You will not find a better deal in all of Paris. We hopped over to the South ticket stand for the stairs and walked on up, with no lines to wait in at all. Our quads hardened by the walks of the last week sailed up the steps, while we listened to the pathetic wailings other American tourists shuffling up behind us. The stairs afford you a very cool view of the tower from the inside one of the legs where you can see all of the crisscross scaffolding that holds it up. What a marvel this must have been in 1889 when such engineering was unheard of, and it was a wondrous innovation. Seeing it now is wonderous for almost the opposite reason – buildings nowadays are created with an advanced technology, and the beauty of the Tower seems almost quaint by comparison. The girl was enraptured, having had her life dream of visiting the Eiffel Tower realized, and ran up the entire way, outpacing us.
We went straight up to the second floor first, and walked around the perimeter before buying three tickets there for the top floor. Eric, falling victim to his acrophobia, began to edge his way towards the center of the second floor almost immediately, as far away from the railing as possible. He begged off the summit and walked back to the safer first floor where we would meet him afterwards.
A long glass elevator ride to the top and voila, Paris is laid out before you in dizzying distance. When our eyes had drunk in the views and the wind had whipped our hair into a frenzy, we headed back down to the second floor. From there, you have to take the stairs again to the first floor to visit the multiple exhibitions – the elevators do not stop on the way down. The first floor is often skipped by many visitors, which is a shame as the first floor has a fun gift shop as well as a very cool free activity book for the kids. We spent almost another hour on the first floor as the kids searched out the answers to the clues in the exhibits, and we actually learned a lot in the process! Did you know that the Eiffel Tower has 2.5 million rivets? Or that it has changed colors a few times during its life, going from bright red to yellow to rust red and then finally to it’s current brown color, needing a fresh coat every seven years? Or that it was only supposed to be up for 20 years and Gustave Eiffel had to fight not to get it torn down? We learned about the hydraulics that operate the lifts, and saw pictures from the opening day of the tower as well, and mockups of how it appeared for the three world’s fairs that had featured it. There are also glass balconies on the first floor that project into the center of the tower, where you can walk onto. As they’re not completely clear it ruins the effect a bit, but was still cool.
Afterwards, we went to find a picnic to take to the Champs des Mars and fulfill the original objective of our quest to Paris. First we tried the Gourmandes d’Eiffel, alas it was closed on Mondays! Walking up to the next street we happened on another bakery with prepared sandwiches, quiches, and pastries and hopped back over to the open lawn to enjoy in the glorious 70 degree sunshine. I’d downloaded the free Eiffel Tower audioguide and we spent some minutes listening to a few of the selections.
While we were there, a group of likely Roma people began walking around, coming up to groups and asking if they spoke English. In general, when anyone does this to me in a foreign country I shake my head and ignore, and we did the same here. In Paris it’s quite the scam where the groups walk around with some petition on a board, often to support some vague “Deaf-Mute” cause. Then they guilt you into giving them some money. You pull out your wallet and they use distraction and sleight of hand to pilfer cash and cards! We held our bags tightly until they all passed by, not wishing to get pickpocketed again.
After naptime and the requisite trick picture taking of the tower, it was time to head back home to the flat. First, though, we stopped in at Petit Bateau as the girl had her heart set on getting a striped dress while in Paris, and it seemed to be the best place. She twirled in the dressing rooms and indeed ended up with a striped dress. Or two.
The boy began to needle his younger sister as older brothers sometimes do, and as we began to tell him to be kinder, she said, “It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me anyway. Nothing could ruin my mood today!” Basking as she was in the glow of the visit to the Eiffel Tower.
Eric and I left the kids in the flat to do a little shopping ourselves and perhaps a happy hour beverage. I was hoping to pick up a few pieces of cool French clothing, however every shop we went into it seemed that the latest styles for women were voluminous fabric sacks that billowed around the body. This seemed to be popular in Japan as well, and when Japanese women wear them on the street, they seem impossibly chic. Unfortunately, for someone like me whose silhouette most closely resembles a rectangle, they hang shapelessly and make me resemble a pool of gloopy mud. Not really my most flattering look. We did, however, find an amazing shirt for the boy at Cotton Doux, printed with rainbow t-rex skeletons the one we got for the boy. Eric really wanted to get one as well, however as is perpetually the case, shirts that fit his torso have sleeves that end halfway between his elbow and his wrist. As 3/4 length sleeves haven’t come into vogue for men as of yet, this looks rather ridiculous and not the high French style he was hoping to emulate.
We were beat. I checked the health app on my phone and realized that it had been a long day indeed. We packed up our bags for the early flight the next day and headed off to bed. Paris, we love you.