Monday, September 14, 2015

An American Family in Europe: Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

(Previously: Day 4, the Palace of Versailles)

The Eiffel Tower was the big destination on today's schedule, but before getting there we decided to fit in a couple more museums, much to the joy of our children (yes, that's sarcasm).

We discovered that the Carnavalet Museum, dedicated to the history of Paris, was close to our apartment, and according to the Rick Steves guidebook, it was free. I thought it would be a relatively quick in-and-out. It turned out that not only was it not quick, it was not free. I guess they were charging because of a special exhibition on Napoleon. Sigh.

There was a lot in the Carnavalet, both on Napoleon and the history of Paris, especially the French Revolution period. It probably deserved more time than we gave it.

After leaving, we walked just a few blocks to see Victor Hugo's old home, now a museum. I imagined a small apartment where Hugo, as a struggling writer, wrote "Les Miserables" on a tiny table next to the dim light of a lamp.  Instead, what we saw was a spacious apartment with five large and well-appointed rooms. To be clear, this apparently was Hugo's home after he became successful.

We had had very good, mild weather until now, but today there was rain in the forecast, so we grabbed our raincoats as we headed out to our 2 p.m. Eiffel Tower tour.

There are only a small number of advance tickets made available online for the Eiffel Tower, and they sell out quickly. Most people stand in line, sometimes for hours, to go up into the tower.

I took a different tack, booking a tour called the "Eiffel Tower Romance" through Visites Spectacles.  It cost more than a regular ticket, but it meant we wouldn't have to wait in line. Also, the tour got rave reviews on TripAdvisor!

Well, I don't know what tour those reviewers were on but ours would get, maybe, two stars. First, the guide showed up 5 minutes late. Then he discovered that he had more people than he had tickets. It wasn't his fault that the tour was overbooked, but it rattled him quite a bit and he didn't seem to know what to do. I wondered if perhaps he was new on the job (I later learned had been doing this for two and a half years). Finally, he went to get more tickets, delaying us another 15 minutes.

Once the tour started, our guide told a story about being a pilot and being in love with a girl -- I guess this was the "romance" part of the tour -- but the tale was over pretty quickly and with the noise from people around us and his French accent, I couldn't really understand it. Then we went to see the engine room of the elevators, which was kind of interesting, but since our group was "too big" we had to divide into two, so that meant more waiting.

Our guide tried to give us information about the tower as we were standing in line for the elevator, but we were crowded in line with other people and it was noisy, and again I could only hear part of what he was saying.

Finally, we made it to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower about 3 p.m. Our guide took us to the roof of the Jules Verne restaurant -- another featured part of the tour -- which got a us a bit away from the crowds elsewhere, but didn't offer any kind of view you couldn't elsewhere on the platform. The oddest part of the tour was the end. We exited the restaurant viewing area as our guide escorted the other half of our group in. We figured we should wait for the next part of the tour, when one of our fellow tour members told us that the guide had said this was actually the end. So we wandered off without even saying goodbye to the guide.

Even the reason I booked tour -- to get into the tower without waiting -- proved questionable. As it was a rainy day, the lines were shorter and it's possible we would have gotten up just as fast, or even faster, without the tour. Sigh.

As if on cue, as soon as we left the tour, the clouds opened up and rain came down in chats and chiens. It was pouring. Drenched people scurried in from the viewing platform and clogged the cramped interior area.  You couldn't immediately descend because there was a line for the elevators.  Some soggy tourists sat on the floor. It looked like a refugee camp.

We were all cold and a little wet (though not nearly as wet as some), so we got cups of hot chocolate and warmed up. This helped a lot.

We took the elevator to the 1st level of the tower, which much more sedate that then 2nd, and also had cool glass floors to walk on. We relaxed, enjoyed the amazing views and waited for the Tour de France.

Completely by accident, we had scheduled our trip to Paris on the same weekend that the Tour de France finished there. And the cyclists would be coming right by the Eiffel Tower.  We had to wait more than an hour, but eventually we saw the string of multi-colored jerseys coming along the far side of the Seine, crossing a bridge directly in front of us, and turning toward the finish on the Champs Elysses. That was cool.

We headed back to our apartment. We let the kids stay in that night, while my wife and I went for a pleasant outdoor dinner (the rain had stopped).  I was pleased when I asked for tap water in French and the server understood me. My wife did the same when asking for the bill, and again was understood. They were tiny successes on a day that had not gone smoothly.

Next: Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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