Paris : Conquering the Eiffel Tower(?).

Paris Travel Blog

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There’s some confusion at the ticket office. Nothing to do with my at-best patchy French skills I swear! Besides I have Jules on hand to help out. It seems momentarily, crushingly that the earliest available train seat to Paris (unless I wish to fork out approx 100 Euros) is not until much later that evening. Dismay. A whole day in Paris wiped from the vague, and fragile map of my first week’s itinerary… however, the usual trick of going back in to the ticket office and asking someone else yields the desired result of a ticket on a train leaving in “YIKES!” 4 minutes for 70 odd Euros which Julia assures me is “a good price”.

So there it is.

A quick dash to platform 2, and another tearful goodbye, this time for real, to my aunty and cousins who jog along the platform a little way as I wave and pull away towards the glittering capital.

…and 3 hours later that’s where I find myself. My first moment of complete disorientation sets in at Paris Montparnasse station as I realise this is truly my first time on my own entirely in a foreign speaking city where I haven’t really a clue how things work, where to go and what to ask. Luckily my patchy French is seeing me good so far, and I’m able to find my way to the metro system and buy a very handy 2 day ‘Visit Paris’ transport pass for 14 Euros that will cover all modes of transport for my time in Paris.

I quickly hurtle up Metro Line 7 to the 19th Arrandisement (are they called?), north-east Paris (as you look at the travel maps anyhow) and check in to St.

Christopher’s Inn hostel. It’s only as I type this now that I realise of course St.Christopher being the patron saint of travellers so despite its relative expense. in hindsight, in a way I am happy that this was my first port of call in journey where I will need the supporting hands of many such saints along the way, be they people or places.

I chuck my bag in a locker without even checking my room and dash back out to the Metro. Half of this astonishingly beautiful day is gone already and I have a date; a reunion; a grudge match to settle with the famous, the fabulous and awe-inspiring Eiffel Tower!

Just a minutes walk out of the Ecole Militaire Metro station as I stumble excitedly over a dusty car park, there she is “BANG!” printed boldly upon the perfect blue summer skyline in the distance at the far end of the Champ de Mars (the long green swathe of grass and garden that runs from the entrance of the large Military riding school building to the marble-pedestal feet of Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece).

The walk towards the Tower really takes my breath away. I have been to Paris twice before. Both times as a youth on accompanied school trips, and whilst on both occasions we visited the Tower it has been a long time, 15 years at least since I was last here, and her impact is not dimmed an ounce.

A Tale : I am here to admire the Eiffel Tower but also to settle a score, for when I was here in my youth I suffered from both mild asthma and an unfortunate fear of heights and the tower inflicted both upon me!. I am lucky to have grown out of both. Heights of course by their nature still trouble that part of my human psyche that knows full well it is NOT designed to be far from solid ground having spent countless millennia evolving to descend from the great heights and trees and suchlike to leave those well and truly for the birds “thank you very much!”… (depending on your point of view on these matters of course.

View back towards the 'Riding School' from Premiere Etage of Eiffel Tower.
) At the time though the combination undid me and the mere fear of the ascent that lay ahead of me on this solid-riveted behemoth of skeletal iron girders was enough to induce an asthma attack on about the 4th step of the very first flight of stairs. This caused me to be grounded whilst my classmates carried on ahead and poor Miss Simmonds, my English teacher had to stay put and look after me. I returned a year later, a little bolder and (just about) crawled to the premiere etage (first floor).

Today I will not - I hope - be defeated AGAIN and intend to reach the very summit of The Tower! This mission has to wait a fair old while though. Yes people, if you are going to do The Tower set aside A LOT OF TIME as queuing is the name of the game.

The Tower is open from 9.00am til midnight (final ascent 23.45) and I gather from quizzing the helpful crowd attendants that unless you get there before 10.00am there are monumental queues to endure all day, all year round. Still, queuing (apparently) is what us Brits do best so I have no qualms with this! Besides it’s a beautiful day, I’m far too excited for the adrenalin to cool and what with the combination of glancing around, and upwards at the firm but delicate lacework of iron patterning that spirals into the heavens and the great people watching potential I am happy to be here although it is WELL over an hour, maybe an hour and a half before I finally have a ticket in my hand to start my ascent. I am amused en route to the front of the queue by a small Irish boy who keeps trying to convince his parents that ‘escaliers’ are pronounced “es-calculators” and a British couple that spend a whole hour arguing about each other’s alleged acts of selfishness during their holiday whilst the kids cringe and try to hide.
A view down upon the River Seine.

“Well. Here goes nothing Steve” I nervously tell myself as, all alone (the queue’s been stopped again behind me) I take my first quivering steps on to the rusty-brown painted steps of the Pilier Sud (South Pillar). It’s a fair old climb (not for the unfit, or unwary climber) and I must confess that whether it’s the weight of my past experiences bearing down on my physiology via the force of memory, or the fact that I am just plain sh*ting myself once more upon the Eiffel Tower I find this climb to le premiere etage extremely difficult and nerve-wrenching! A complete regression to my childhood self threatens to overwhelm me, especially in the moments when I am foolish enough to look up ahead at what’s to come. A vertiginous veritable spider’s web of iron girders, steps, rivets and fencing ascending like an MC Escher nightmare seemingly unendingly into the skies.

Fellow Tower ascenders look down.
For me, on The Tower, the old maxim “just DON’T look down!” fails to work, and is in fact inverted. Looking up is likely to kindle dizzy panic, but if I keep my eyes down, focussed on the path already traversed I don’t find it so bad. As you approach the butt of the first staging platform the metal and shadows close in upon me, and I am slightly relieved at this reduction in my peripheral vision… a field of vision that’s taunted my mind aaaall the way up thus far with innumerable irrational possibilities of tripping, stumbling and falling through the infinite gaps that are visible between the criss-cross metal struts of The Tower’s ‘skirt’. Even holes no bigger that a 10 cent coin taunt me with warnings that I “be careful not to slip right through!”.

But I get there. Safe and sound. My heart pounding, breathing a little laboured and sweat avalanching off my head down to my toes. But there none the less. I can relax briefly and stroll around the large viewing platform that makes up the first level of The Tower. People sit in reclining chairs outside expensive cafes and restaurants that are placed here for your convenience etc…

Not a long break though before I decide to get whilst the going’s good and crack on up to le deuxieme etage. Strangely I find this one a little easier to handle (although not much!) and as long as my hand never strays far from the iron stair-rail I make this stretch of the ascent without the loss of too much more dignity. The indication on the stairwell is that one has clambered approx 700 steps by the time you pull up on to the second floor of The Tower….

One of the pillar legs seen from on high.
“Phew! I’m knackered!” Again a stroll around. A glance at Paris as it sprawls in every direction into the distance, it’s further frontiers swallowed by what can only be a Big City pollution haze that is visible all around the city on this bright, sunny day.

It costs 4 Euros to climb to the second floor, and then if you wish another 4.20 Euros (and another 30 minute queue) will get you squeezed into one of the four tiny lifts that float up and down the ‘neck’ of The Tower to the summit and back all day long. This I am very keen to do, and find this the most relaxing part of the ascent actually. The view is astonishing as flashes of Paris below get further and further away, glimpsed between the iron girders as you fly gently upwards. It’s crowded at the top as you might imagine but the views are extremely rewarding, and in my case a little dizzying! There is a small room or ‘apartment’ at the top where a mannequin scene of a meeting between Gustave Eiffel and Thomas Edison is recreated, this being the ‘room with the view’ that Monsieur Eiffel would entertain guests and dignitaries in after The Tower’s completion.

After all that waiting and excitement of course what has come up can only now go down, so I queue once more for the lift back to the second floor and very easily skip my way down the 700 steps without a care or fear in my mind all the way back down to solid, comforting tarmac’d terra firma! “Mission accomplished!”.

I’ve been at The Tower a good few hours now, so now cross the Seine over Le Pont d’Lena bridge and stroll in the tree-dappled sunlight along the riverside promenade in the direction of such Paris ‘moments’ as the Grand Palais, Le Musee du Louvre and further along (today in the distance) Notre Dame cathedral. I cross the Concorde ‘freeway’ in one piece with cars and motorbikes zipping death-defyingly in every direction with seemingly no pattern, rhyme or reason and stroll through the serene summer scene of Le Jardin de Tuileries, a wide pedestrian park walkway with large intermittent pools of water containing playful water fountains that people pull up to in little green chairs at the water’s edge.

Eiffel Tower adorned with the stars of the European flag to announce France's currently holding the 6 month rotating EU Presidency.
They sit, relax, chat with friends or read a book as the sun begins to redden and go down slowly, slowly behind the now distant spike of the Eiffel Tower illuminating the few tiny wisps of late evening cloud and brush-strokes of jet-stream that have intruded on an otherwise blemishless sky. All very soothing.

As you proceed along Le Jardin de Tuileries you eventually come upon the looming magnificence of the Louvre palace and museum. Through a marble arch where a newly married couple are having a romantic sunset photo shoot the famous glass pyramid that marks the entrance to the Louvre appears. I discover that The Louvre (which I’ve never been to before) is open late today, but it is 20.15 already and I would still only have an hour to take in a probable life-time’s worth of culture so I defer this pleasure until tomorrow.

Fountain in the middle of la Concorde.

I continue to stroll along the Seine with the various bridges passing me by and the boats slipping along towards the finale of the sunset over the Seine. On the wooden, pedestrian-only bridge ‘Le Pont des Arts’ all walks of Parisian society are getting everything they can from this glorious day. It’s clearly a grand tradition for large groups of friends, families and work colleagues to bring mouth-watering, impromptu picnics up onto the bridge to share moments of freewheeling, comfortable and natural communal laughter, friendship and love in a way that I fear is often beyond the British these days (if they ever had such moments). Fine wines are being drunk slowly from plastic cups in one hand, and crystal glasses from the next with long baguettes, cheeses and hams adding their aroma to this perfect, happy scene.

The sun setting down into the Seine.
A tiny stab of loneliness flutters down and settles briefly on my mind, caused by the realisation that of all these groups of happy people of all generations there’s not a group I can sit down with and partake of their bread, cheese and wine. In a year or two on The Road I may well be emboldened to do just that without invitation and nothing more than a smile to add to their victuals, but for now I want to get on a super sonic, Mach-70 jet plane home, grab my friends by a collective collar and drag ‘em back all the way to sink a Seine-side drink just in time to see the softening scarlet sun slip finally into the river.

emmllerg says:
Enjoy the places Paris has to offer you
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
vodkaphix says:
Your knowledge of the English language and writing skills, warrants contemplating becoming an Author, No/Yes?
Magnificent blog...I am going to enjoy reading the remainder :)
Posted on: May 11, 2009
Stevie_Wes says:
Cheers Becs! I've tackled a fair few vertical moments on my journey since, but nothing quite has that tinge of childhood memory that gives me the extra sweats on Gustave's beautiful masterpiece :)
Posted on: Mar 02, 2009
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View back towards the Riding Scho…
View back towards the 'Riding Sch…
A view down upon the River Seine.
A view down upon the River Seine.
Fellow Tower ascenders look down.
Fellow Tower ascenders look down.
One of the pillar legs seen from o…
One of the pillar legs seen from …
Eiffel Tower adorned with the star…
Eiffel Tower adorned with the sta…
Fountain in the middle of la Conco…
Fountain in the middle of la Conc…
The sun setting down into the Sein…
The sun setting down into the Sei…
Sunset friends in Paris.
Sunset friends in Paris.
One of several queues for the towe…
One of several queues for the tow…
A bridge over the Seine.
A bridge over the Seine.
The masses gather in all their fri…
The masses gather in all their fr…
Paris
photo by: Sweetski