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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 48.8567, 2.35099
Paris! After years of waiting to visit France because I wanted to be able to speak fluent French, I finally decided to change my thinking and just come, since my French wasn't improving in any case. At the last minute I signed up for Grand Circle Cruise Line's "The Seine: Paris to Normandy," leaving in only twelve days. Because of the time of year, plus people's fears of being in Europe, the trip was offered at a huge discount, including free round trip airfare, so I told work I'd miss a few days in March, and packed. Last night my flight left Boston just before 5PM, and after less than six hours (of little sleep, a couple fine movies, plus a few glasses of red wine), our 757 arrived in Paris. It was still dark, not yet 6AM. I am in Paris!
I met several other travelers during the van ride from Charles de Gaulle airport to our boat, the Bizet, docked on the Left Bank of the River Seine. But--as I have frequently found--everyone wanted to sleep after arriving; no one wanted to join me in an adventurous walk from our boat to the Eiffel Tower--which could even be seen from our boat, only a mile or two or so away. Granted, no one had slept well on the plane, and it was very chilly; a soaking rain was howling down (and sideways too), and the ferocious wind was turning umbrellas inside-out. Lovely weather for a walk. But I am in Paris! It was impossible not to go out. How can anyone choose to sleep? I got a map, and directions, layered up under my raincoat, and set out to begin my explorations of Paris, and to find the Iron Lady, the icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower.
We are all lucky it still stands. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the World's Fair, the tallest structure in the world until 1930. Made of steel, it was supposed to be deconstructed after twenty years, but luckily, using its antenna for radiotelegraphy was important for both World Wars I and II, so it was not torn down. So, bombarded by the unforgiving wind and gales of rain, I walked along the Seine, looking at people, buildings, cars and trucks and boats, and watching the Eiffel Tower grow larger the further I went. Up close the tower is so beautiful, much more so than in photographs. Its filigree structure looks fragile, but it is made of steel, so tall, so grand! Such a lovely icon.
Since the wind was unusually strong it was recommended not to go to the top, so I paid 11 Euros to ride the steep incline to the second level. There was not a very long line on this wet and blustery day; our cage quickly ascended to 115 meters. The top of the Eiffel Tower measures 324 meters; we were not even halfway up, but it was hard to stay long looking out at the city's vistas, what with the soaking rain and hurricane-force wind. (It probably wasn't that strong, but it felt like I could be blown over the railings even on the second level. No one else ventured close to the edge either.) Looking out over Paris reminded me of climbing up to the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica and looking out over Rome, but this view is much higher, more grand (I think now), even though veiled by thick clouds.
I didn't stay up there long, nor did anybody else; the incline down was packed with wet people eager to return to mother Earth. The walk back to the Bizet was easier as the rain had almost stopped, but the wind near the river remained brutal. The crew and new friends all wanted to know if I had made it all the way; I was happy to tell them I had. It had been a fine morning's adventure. After stripping off my raincoat and wet clothing and hanging everything up to dry in the small bathroom onboard, there was still a little time before lunch to admire the view outside the big picture window in my cabin: the high grey Seine is galloping by, magnified by unexpected weeks of rain. Maybe now we'll be lucky and the skies will clear while we are here, in beautiful, exciting Paris.
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