Friday, July 31, 2009

Paris Day 3: Eiffel Tower - Thursday

We caught the 8 am bus and express train again. It's most efficient to catch the express train after the early bus because there's minimal delay between the two and the express train skips the many stops on the way to Paris. However, I think it's wearing us out. We took the 14:30 train back today after seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. Maybe we are just falling back to our old sleepy ways after 6 weeks of generally more active lifestyles. I've found I can stretch for a while, but the bungy cord of energy always retracts.

Maybe, you realize the awe best when you try to take a picture of something several hundred yards away and you can't fit it in. Or when you are underneath it and can't see its entire width, nor all of the people lined up to see it. There are a lot of impressive stats, like how many hundreds of tons of steel were used, how many rivets were used, how many people work there now (620), how high it is (300 meters), etc. But the views of the city were what really impressed me. I hadn't realized how expansive it is. I saw the skyscrapers off in the distance (kind of like DC, where the tall buildings aren't downtown but in Arlington, Va and other spots). I saw the city of Paris instead a collection of winding blocks and dozens of almost randomly placed metro stops.

The lines were much better at 9 am Thursday than yesterday afternoon. The line for the elevator was about 30 minutes long, and Lara's worn out feet moved her into that line. My sometimes aversion to crowds, my growing predilection toward unnecessary physical exertion%, my very often need to read factoids, and my constant desire to save €3.50 moved me to the stairs line. I walked right up to the ticket line and through to the stairs. By the time I got to the second level, I had climbed the equivalent of 43 stories (if I am remembering right). But the factoid posters along the way gave me natural pauses. I also resisted my strong habit of taking steps two at a time. The weather has been extremely nice, so that made the stairs much more comfortable. A shopkeeper told us Paris was in the continental temperate weather zone, while Spain was in the sub-Saharan zone (see Seville blogs although the coast was much more livable). The only problem was knowing how much progress you were making. You are surrounded by similar looking steel the whole time. Am I 10 minutes or 20 or more away?
The first level was huge, with a couple of restaurants and theaters with information on the Tower. The name tower had made me think of a bell tower, where you can view all four sides by turning your body 360 degrees. That is not possible here. You take a long walk around the level with gorgeous views on all sides. It should be called the Eiffel Complex or Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff^ to denote its size. It's kind of like my initial uninformed imagination of the Grand Canyon as a ditch, just more so, until against my better judgment, we went to see it on Spring Break in college.

Back to Logistics:To complete the awe, there are free bathrooms before you pay and on the first and second levels. There are bathroom attendants, bored out of their minds, but they don't stare you down for tips or make you buy something (by contrast at the Army museum, there was a bathroom external to the entrance but you still must show a ticket unlike the tower). There are paper towels, which are nice on a Summer day when you don't want to blow hot air on yourself.
Anything magnificent here (and in a lot of places) must be surrounded by tourists, vendors, and beggars and pickpockets (and often in France impressive soldiers with machine guns, fingers not on but very close to the trigger). The Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff (ERBTaS~) was no exception. Almost immediately upon entering the area, we were aggressively pursued by a guy selling miniatures of the ERBTaS. From €1 up, you could have a memory forever. I was happy to have a €1 keychain, but Lara traded it for a bigger €10 desktop version after she haggled him down to €3.

The key chain guys move around quickly, often in packs and refuse to take no for an answer. They are so desperate to move this merchandise that it seems like they are in a movie in which they are being forced by a terrorist to carry around plutonium baubles that will detonate unless they disperse them by unloading them on tourists+. From the first level, I watched five of them run away when they saw a cop.

Also out in force are women in shawls who come approach you and ask if you speak English and then produce a note testifying that they are refugees. Given there are more French people here, it would make sense to have the note in French. Maybe the French are less charitable or less gullible. After the fourth women with the same plea, you start to get a little jaded and suspicious. A nein, dunke usually suffices.

We then headed to the Arc de Triumph and Champ Ulysses, a street with trendy shops. We were tired, so we decided to head home.
A quirk in the afternoon bus schedule gave us an opportunity to visit a new village. Aincourt has 4 stops and is the terminal stop of the 9511 bus that runs through our town. Our town has 2 stops, so a 4 stopper worthy of an express bus must be grand, right? We saw a lot of fields and then more fields and then a few cows. The last stop was a hospitality center, we gathered from our translation book. When we got there, we found a hospital center with nothing else around. Oops, maybe the hospital cafeteria has some good snacks? Fortunately, the next bus was a couple of minutes late, so we could catch it back to our village because L thought the hospital cafeteria wasn't going to be gourmet. The quirky schedule still meant we made it home faster than if we had taken the later direct bus.

Aincourt, I had such high hopes for you. You broke my heart. I am similarly stricken over Lavacourt, the village across the Seine from us. Less than a kilometer away on the map, it's a five hour walk because it's on a peninsula with few bridges. I can see the reflection of the street lights off the river, but I shan't ever swing off them as I belt out "Singing in the Rain." Maybe Creedance singing "Have you ever seen the Rain" fits me better. Gotta go and hook up the iPod with CCR to the portable stereo here.


Footnotes:% As a kid, my family took 6 mile walks for fun-volksmarches.^ Copyright 1967, Global Danpark Corporation, Durham, NC. All rights reserved.~ Acronym ERBTaS Copyright 1953, Global Danpark-Liberia and Global Danpark-Rhodesia . Most rights reserved (the important ones).+ Movie treatment Copyright 2009, 20th Century Danpark.

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