Thursday, July 5, 2012

Getting an Eiffel – Paris

“More coffee, please,” I told our Parisian waitress. We had been gone from the United States for about 2.5 months and were beginning to miss some things that are quintessentially American, so when the Lonely Planet guidebook informed us that a restaurant called Breakfast in America offered free coffee refills I just had to jump at the opportunity. Plus, we knew we needed a good breakfast, as this day was going to be a whirlwind of one of the world’s great cities. A croissant and a cappuccino wasn’t going to cut it. I got a Western Omelet.

The day before we had gotten off the underground at Galienni, which is the last stop on the Paris metro. We were greeted by a massive thunder and lightning storm and joined all the locals gathering under the freeway overpass outside the metro station. A quick glance around revealed a three story mall, so we donned our raincoats and made a beeline to the mall to wait out the storm and fork over 50 cents to use the facilities.
The storm soon ended and we went about searching for our €61 a night hotel. “Mister Bed” was the cheapest hotel we had found, but was the most expensive place we had stayed so far.
We were far off the Paris map in our guidebook and the directions we had copied off the website were little help. Fortunately, an older man heard us talking and started a conversation. An American accent can be a hindrance at times, but Frenchmen of the WWII generation still have a soft spot for the Stars and Stripes.
The rain started up again so we ducked into a post office to mail some USB drives of pictures back to the USA. In more stereotypical Parisian fashion, the woman at the post office was quite rude, although Leslie found a nice woman who spoke a little English and gave us more directions to the hotel. The older gentleman ended up being right, but it’s always good to confirm these sorts of things.
After checking in, collecting a map, finding our character-less room, stowing the gear, using an RV-ish toilet and squishing an earwig we went into Paris for the evening.
First stop, Notre Dame, which also so happens to be by the Latin Quarter, where we knew students hung out. In general, if there’s students, there’s cheap grub.
Notre Dame itself was impressive. Statues of saints covered the outside and we saw a line to get inside. We also saw a line at the tourist information booth and ads for the Hop on Hop Off tour. For the first time in our 2.5 month journey, we decided to get the ticket for the tourist bus the next day. It was €54 for a day, but if there’s one place to do it, this is it.
We headed south, into the Latin Quarter and found €3 crepes on the side of the street. I know many people have had crepes in the USA, but these are different. To start, the crepe maker is an inch thick, round piece of rock about the size of a pizza. I don’t know the right word, but it’s like a grill with no holes in it. It will make one crepe at a time. Batter is poured into the middle of the crepe maker and a squeegee is used to spread the batter into a thin film over the entire thing. A minute or so later the crepe is flipped with a straight spatula about a foot long and an inch and a half wide. You can get sweet crepes, but I prefer the savory. Half of the crepe was covered with ham and cheese and set to melt. Once it was melted, the crepe was folded in half, then half again so it was about 1/4 of a circle. It was then wrapped in a piece of paper, grabbed with napkins and handed to the customer.
Awesome, but more of a snack than a meal for two people who had skipped lunch.
We walked through the student quarter but never did find cheap food, although there was plenty of students.
The low-light had to be when I tried to balance on a chain that was strung between two concrete pillars as a barrier. I almost fell and hurt myself. A two-year old child ran over and tried to do the same. His mother was three feet behind, caught him before he fell off the chain and yelled “bad example” at me.
We got ourselves some more street food and headed back to the hotel to watch Portugal knock the Czech Republic out of the Euro Cup.
The next day saw us make a beeline for Breakfast in America, where Bryan realized we were about to take pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, which are likely to be ones we look at for a long time. I was wearing my “Bowling League Team Spirit” shirt I got in Barcelona for €6, but I wasn’t sure it was the one I wanted in the Eiffel Tower pics.
Breakfast in America was walking distance from Notre Dame, so we went back to the Cathedral and took advantage of the free admission. Stain glass windows and paintings abounded throughout Gothic gem. It was interesting, but we had a bus to catch!
A few minutes later and we were on top of an open-top red bus heading on the tourist route of Paris. With your ticket you got a pair of very uncomfortable head phones and could select one of 8 languages. It was okay, but the balance between the music and the voice was off, so you’d have to turn it up to hear the music, then your ears would be blasted by the narrator.
Our first stop was the Opera Theater, where we were hoping there was a restroom. Right off the bus there was an attraction called “A Paris Story” where we hoped to use the restroom. An older man working there asked where we were from.
“Seattle,” I replied.
“Air Bus is better than Boeing,” he said. He then went into a diatribe about his movie. I think it was a theater-in-the-round, which are movie screens organized so you can get a 360 degree view. He was more interesting in bragging about his theater and telling us we don’t have one than making sure we understood what it was. I decided not to tell him that I’ve seen theater-in-the-rounds before. Don’t tease the animals and all that. He did not let us use the bathroom. We did not buy a ticket.
The Opera House itself was fun and clearly a cultural center. It made me wonder what it would have been like when opera was a cultural event for the masses as opposed to a treat for the wealthy. The Opera House was surrounded by shops. We went to Lafayette Galleries, which is the “world’s leading department store”. It was too expensive to get me a shirt, but Leslie did get spritzed with some perfume. I got a €9 shirt down the street at H&M to replace one that had been ruined in the Sahara. I had purchased a blue scarf to keep the sun off and it had leaked blue onto my shirt after I dunked it in a river, but that’s a different story.
Back on the bus, we roared down Ave. General de Gaulle towards the Arc do Triomphe, which is a huge Roman Arch commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his victories. He died in exile before it was completed.
Back on the bus we headed towards the final site we really wanted to see.
The Eiffel Tower (or “Tour Eiffel”) was built for the 1889 World’s Fair. It makes me think the Space Needle should have been cooler.
You can get a great view of the Tower from a quarter mile away at the Cite de L’Architecture, so we grabbed a crepe and walked up the hill. We ordered this crepe with an egg as well as meat and cheese. The egg was smushed and spread across the crepe before the fillings were added, but the whites still weren’t all the way cooked before served to us. Unfortunately, Leslie couldn’t finish hers when she got to the bottom that was all egg-y. Fortunately, I could.
We got some pics from the Cite de L’Architecture. A group of South Koreans were performing tae-kwon-do and getting pics with the Tower in the background.
There’s usually two elevators taking people to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Today, there was only one, so what is normally an hour wait was going to be three or four.
We met a couple Russians about our age and discovered that there was a much shorter line for the stairs. They stepped aside, but we decided to use the toilet before heading up.
It was the most ridiculous toilet we’ve ever seen. It was a portable, but about three times the size of every other portable. This one was fancy though. It was electric!
First, the user pushed a button to open the door. The door slowly slid open. Then, the user stood there as the door slowly closed itself again, at which point the person could do their business.
When they were done, the door slowly slid open and the person stepped out.
Next came the rinse cycle. The door closed itself and the toilet washed itself. Finally, the door slid open and the next person could go.
As you can imagine, this took a LOOONG time. In fact, it took so long that I had time to measure it. It was 1 minute and 40 seconds from the time one person decided they were done until the next person could go. Assuming each person takes a minute than a 15 person line would take almost 30 minutes!
Worst. Invention. Ever.
Finally, after a fifteen minute line or so, we were on our way up the Eiffel Tower. We were quite convinced it was going to be a long journey, so we tried not to go to fast. Every couple stairs there was some information about the Tower.
In 1909, the “metal asparagus” was almost torn down as it was ugly. It was saved thanks to a radio antenna on the top.
Gustav Eiffel had won a competition. The losing designs were displayed on the third floor.
Works of Gustav Eiffel are around the globe, including the Statue of Liberty in New York.
We took a ton of pictures along the way and the way the light and shadow reflected throughout the inside of the tower was quite interesting, which seemed to make the whole thing go faster. Soon, we made it to the first floor, which had a pathway around the outside and a restaurant that was WAY out of our budget.
As we went up there were fewer and fewer stairs before the staircase cut back on itself and the tidbits of information were gone after the first floor, but the views were spectacular. There weren’t many exhibits, but there was a replica of a guy working on the tower hanging off one of the beams. He shocked the bejeezus out of Leslie.
The second floor is about 40% of the way up the tower, but the public isn’t allowed to walk to the top so we ended up in another line to buy an elevator ticket. We went through the turnstile and were greeted by a “Beware of Pickpockets” sign. We were crowded in with people from all over the world trying to get to the top of the Parisian icon. A young Arabic couple in front of us was wrestling with a stroller, trying to get it through the winding metal bars that controlled the line.
Eventually, we made it through to the final elevator and headed up to the top of the tower.
The top of the Eiffel Tower has two floors. The first was circular, had dirty windows and icons showing how far it was to the world’s great cities.
One last flight of stairs and we had reached the top of the Eiffel Tower, only to be greeted by a drunken Englishman.
“Where’s the Eiffel Tower?” he asked me really loudly, putting his hand on my shoulder. “I see France, but where’s the Eiffel Tower? Is it over there?” he asked pointing to the north. “Or over there?” he asked pointing south.
“It is!” I said, putting my arm around his shoulders and pointing at the bars that keep people from jumping off. “It’s right there! And over there! The Eiffel Tower is everywhere!” That seemed to molify him as he went back to his friends to keep working on the case of cheap beer they had hauled to the top.
The view was spectacular and we found a nice, non-drunken person to take a picture of us. The wind was also quite spectacular and Leslie got to play Marilyn Monroe as the wind whipped at her sundress.
Needless to say, we’d gotten our exercise for the day, so headed back to the bus just so we had somewhere to sit. A half hour later or so we went by the Louvre and got some pics. There was a nice little walking bridge across the Siene, so we hopped off to walk across.
It was a wooden bridge that looked like it had bits of gold decorating it from a distance, but as we got closer we discovered they were locks with peoples name on them to show their love. Groups of people hung out on the bridge eating, drinking or just hanging out. We ducked through a few of them to get a shot of the locks.
“Want some wine?” asked a voice.
Soon enough, we’d met Alexandru, a Romanian who had been living in France for the last six years and was about to get his citizenship. His cousin was in town so he was showing him Paris. We spent the next two hours or so sharing wine and cheese on the bridge and learning about France. At the end we realized he’s a software developer and he told me to look him up when I want to work in Paris. He also pointed out to us where the Montmartre district is, which is where Leslie’s favorite movie, “Amelie” was filmed.
Soon, we were off to Monmartre to find the place Amelie worked.
We never did, but we found a bunch of nice cafes. One was even playing Germany v. Greece. For the second time in my life I got to order Steak Tartare, which is uncooked steak, cut into bits, spiced and served. It was pretty good, but a bit heavy on the capers for me.
To end the day, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower to get some shots at night. The entire thing is lit up with blinking lights at midnight. It was a surprisingly relaxing end to a hectic day.
Then we heard that the last metro was in twenty minutes. A mad-dash back under the Tower and a run to the subway station saw us onto the first of our three train journey. We poured over the map to find the quickest way to connect the subway lines and after two more transfers we could relax, knowing that we were going to make it back to the hotel. It was late, and we knew we were going to have to wake up early, but it had been a great day. The next day was going to be a long day of sitting on the train, but we were assuming that it would be rather easy.
You know what they say about assumptions.
Next stop, Rome?

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