Friday, August 10, 2007

Paris in Seven Hours!

Notre Dame. It almost looks like a cartoon with the sky behind it like that.
The final adventure of my travels this summer was that my flight out of Damascus was delayed leaving, so I missed my connecting flight in Paris. As a result, I got an overnight in Paris, gratis. I took a train into Paris from Charles De Gaulle Airport and then walked from Notre Dame, through some of downtown, along the Seine (past the Pont Neuf Bridge) to the Louvre. Continuing through the Tuileries Garden toward Place de la Concorde, I stopped to ride a three story swing. I'm saving the six story ferris wheel for next time! It just seemed like it would be more fun with a companion. Then I proceeded to the Pont Alexandre III Bridge where I looked at Les Invalides in the distance, and fell under the charm of a sea nymph sculpture. I enjoyed the amazing mosaic work on the front of the Grand Palais before going up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triumph and from there to the Eiffel Tower.

I didn't know what half of what I saw actually was until I looked it up later. I'm sure I've left a lot of places out of this post, like a famous Metro station, and other palaces that I could see in the distance as I walked past. I didn't stop moving except for the swing and a snack at the Eiffel Tower. Ironically, French fries were all the vendor had left when I got there. No crepes, no waffles, no macaroons. Finally, I got on a train back to my hotel. 

Charming "little" Sea Nymph (probably twice the size of an adult).

The whole time I walked through Paris, I just kept taking pictures and hoping I had enough daylight left to get to the Eiffel Tower before dark (I had discovered in Syria, that my flash didn't work!). I took 148 pictures in Paris.  Luckily, it was July first - very near midsummer - so I had as much daylight as possible. I actually got to the Eiffel Tower just as the sun was going down. I have shots of the Eiffel Tower that look like daylight, more that are in twilight, and more attempted in full dark; all taken within a twenty-five minute span.

I fully expected my feet to be bloody stumps when I got back to my hotel: without my checked luggage, I wasn't equipped with walking shoes. But, I was fine. According to maps, I probably only walked about eight or nine kilometers plus a little more added for meandering, and walking around things to get a better angle with my camera, or just see better. Your eyes physically can't take Arc de Triumph in all at once from close up! I also didn't have a purse or a coat, so I kept my purchases to what fit in my hoodie pockets. I froze half to death when the hotel shuttle took 45 minutes to arrive at the unheated train station. 

I think I did the walk in exactly the right order.  Kudos to the French for having street signs that matched the free map on the bus tour brochure I used to navigate. It was a much better experience overall than getting lost in Vienna 9 years before without a single road sign matching my map! Of course that could have been because I wasn't in the area covered by the map. But that's another story.  

The Louvre: Can yo see the Ferris Wheel in the distance?

Although Notre Dame was impressive, the Louvre was more so. You really can't imagine how large the Louvre is until you've been there. You could spend a week just walking through it, I'm sure. In the back courtyard of the Louvre, I paused to listen to an opera singer who was busking. That mezzo-soprano was better than anyone I've ever heard. I recommend entering the Louvre from the back courtyard on your first visit. Everyone has seen the front. You get a much better sense of scale when you walk through the rear courtyard before emerging behind the glass pyramid. It's a special perspective that you shouldn't miss.

Swing in the Tuileries Garden. Okay, maybe three stories was an exaggeration.

Once I got to the Tuileries Gardens, across the street from the Louvre, I could actually see the Arc de Triumph in the distance, looking Mammoth from two kilometers away! Once I got to the Arc, it didn't seem quite so huge, until I saw these itsy bitsy things on the top and thought at first there were some statuettes on top of it. No: they were full sized people who looked like ants from the ground. It really is colossal! I didn't spend the 23 Euros to go up, since I didn't have time to stop. The Eiffel Tower was still a ten minute walk away.

Arc de Triumph. Those itsy bitsy dots at the top are people!

After so much grandeur - no wonder the French can be arrogant about the beauty of Paris - I didn't expect the Eiffel Tower to be very impressive. I arrived there just as the sun was setting. From across the river, it looked just as you'd expect from postcards. But once you get to it and walk underneath it... I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful, industrial, and large all at once. The rolls royce merlin propeller at Chatsworth, runs it a close second in the industrial beauty category. But, this is HUGE!!! The open ironwork makes it look delicate and beautiful while the form and size give it amazing presence. It's funny; but it didn't occur to me to feel small, it only made me wonder at how beautiful industry could be if only it tried. The Eiffel Tower may be a hundred years old; but it still feels like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. For me, it was like the first time I saw the USS Enterprise on big screen!  I half expected to be taken up into the "mother ship!" 

Eiffel Tower, duh!

C'est trop bon! Now, I completely understand why people come back from Paris with all sorts of little Eiffel Tower souvenirs. I wanted to get all sorts of things, but managed to keep it down to the basic two key chains and a magnet. Someday: bookends or a lamp or... It's hard not to want something; to hold onto that moment of experience: a trigger for a grand memory.  The experience of the Eiffel Tower alone is up there with Zion National Park, on the must see short list.

I left the hotel at almost 4 PM and headed back to it about 11:30 PM; so it was more than 7 hours; but I don't think the train counts as it was decidedly ordinary unless you've never taken a bus or train through suburban Europe.

If you have a layover in a foreign, or even domestic location, don't hesitate to grab all the experience you can in the short time you have. You won't regret the adventure. 


I've had quite the vacation already. It will be years before I do anything half so impressive, I'm sure. I think I actually might be ready to do some studying and ordinary living by September.

Bon Vacances!