Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adventures in Paris, Day 2: Finding Things

Yesterday was a Parisian whirlwind - and I don't just mean the part when we were hundreds of feet in the air - but luckily we were able to take enough photos to reasonably document it for posterity.  Bon appetit!

We woke up in our snug hotel room and attired ourselves in Frenchish garb: Husband wore nice shoes and a tan jacket with his jeans and collared shirt, while I buried all evidence of my neck beneath a scarf and slipped on my dark green TOMS shoes (quick plug for TOMS, in case you haven't heard of them - they're cute, culturally neutral, and comfortable, not to mention philanthropic - I recommend them!).  We squeezed into the World's Smallest Elevator and were on our way in a Parisian minute:

We decided to visit the Eiffel Tower, because you really can't go to Paris and NOT visit it.  The Eiffel Tower is like that one relative that you have to visit and get a photo with at the family reunion, or your parents will want to know why you're ignoring it when it sends you birthday checks and Christmas sweaters.  Also, though, touristy or not, the Eiffel Tower is pretty darn amazing.

Compounding the fantastic nature of the day was this ad in the metro for a certain American film:

Yes, the tag line for “Shark Night 3D” in France is simply, “BIKINI BURGER PARTY!” 

I really don’t know what to add to that.  What was I saying?  Right, Eiffel Tower.

We hopped off the Metro and scurried up the stairs, and there it was, beckoning us closer.  

We had to run a gauntlet of street vendors to get there, but apparently we had done a great job of camouflaging our touristic roots!  We were barely harassed to buy key-chains at all!  I guess next to bedazzled Keds and Texas Pride tee shirts, we blended in reasonably well.

Can I just say it again?  The Eiffel Tower is freaking amazing.  I know it is a tourist icon, and it might seem a little overdone, but it’s a rite of passage.  Don’t listen to any too-cool-for-school hipsters who might tell you the only things worth doing in Paris are smoking, sipping espresso in that cafĂ© where Hemingway ate that one time, and staring pensively into the Seine river.  No one is too cool for the Eiffel Tower.  If you go to Paris, don’t miss it!  Anyway…

After a quick wait in line, Husband and I began the climb.  Here we are at the bottom of the stairs:

We climbed the stairs - hundreds and hundreds of stairs - to the second level, a little less than halfway up.  What a view!

We could have taken the elevator to the very top, but I was already queasy about our current altitude with the gusty, chilly winds that were causing the structure to move EVER SO SLIGHTLY.  We did learn a lot about the tower's history and construction, though, from the displays around the perimeters of the the first two decks.  For instance, a spiral staircase like this was used by Gustave Eiffel every day to climb to his office at the TOP of the tower:

The man apparently had both nerves and calves of steel.  Husband also learned that the iron rivets were put into place while heated, so that the nuts and bolts contracted around each other as they cooled and made the structure more solid.  The more you know, right?

Anyway, I was coping with my aversion to the height by observing a pigeon, along with a little blonde French girl who found him equally fascinating.  

This pigeon was a stalwart veteran of the tower, missing half of his toes (two one one foot, one on the other)! I could have watched him for hours... but then Husband asked gently, "do you need quite that many pictures of the pigeon?" and I tore myself away.

We left the tower in high spirits, feeling as though we could place a big check mark at the top of our Paris list. We snagged one more picture from the Champs de Mars side, the "money shot" if you will:

On our walk away from the Eiffel Tower, we passed a sobering sight.

This torch (not the sobering part) was a gift of appreciation for the Statue of Liberty.  What's sobering about this spot is what happened right underneath it.  It's the tunnel where Princess Diana was fatally injured in 1997.  This tunnel's overpass, 14 years later, is still covered with notes, photos, and even flowers commemorating and mourning Princess Diana, the People's Princess.  We paused for a bit of reflection and remembrance at this unexpected discovery.

Our next unexpected discovery would turn out to be less sad in nature.  By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and we hadn't had lunch.  We set off wandering for food, wishing we had done so about an hour earlier, because all of the cute cafes and bakeries had begun closing up, as Paris made the transition toward dinnertime around us.  We just kept walking, wandering, wondering why the cafes we passed seemed to be getting more and MORE expensive... then we saw a big road up ahead and figured it would have a place or two to eat.

Um, yes.

We had just HAPPENED to wander onto the Champs Elysees, one of the most famous avenues in the world.  How does that even happen?

So we got lunch at a sandwich place and meandered:

We didn't buy anything other than food, but I window-shopped a bit (while Husband window-looked dolefully at me).  We agreed that if our bank account is still in the black by next weekend, we'll come back before we leave and I'll splurge on a handbag or something -- that way, I also won't have to worry about lugging even more stuff to England and back.

After this fortuitous side excursion, we got back on the metro to visit the next stop on Husband's list - the Bibliotheque Nationale (national library of France).

Alas, our timing was not ideal.

What are the odds?  The unceremonious closing of the library JUST HAPPENED to be for 12 days, and we had come the last day before re-opening.  I promised Husband that we'd come back if possible, and this seemed to make him feel better.  A patented Parisian windblown hair photo shoot also helped, I think.

By the time we returned to our hotel, it was about dinnertime, so we re-visited the cafe where we'd eaten lunch on the first day.  We sat upstairs this time, to have a view out the window while we ate:

and ordered exactly the same meal.  Croque-monsieur for me, and croque-madame for Husband (I added a delicious glass of Chinon wine, too!).  Scrumptious end to an adventuresome day in Paris!

Bonne nuit, tout le monde (good night, everyone)!  I'm seriously going to get caught up on the trip blogging in the next day or two.

Paris, je t'aime!

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