The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. One of the most famous structures in the world and an art Mecca. I had only two goals for three days in Paris with kids. I had to be realistic with their stamina and patience levels. If we visited any other sites, well, that’s a bonus. We had a few days before they’d be in school, so I packed a small trolley for the three of us and our adventure began.
As I’ve mentioned before, navigating is not my strong suit. The other day I spent an hour driving around our small town trying to find the swimming pool. My kids melted in the sun while I drove in circles. In my defense, no one mentioned that you have to park, walk across a bridge, and walk down a narrow lane. Anyway, the idea of navigating through three train stations (in both Germany and France), the French metro system, and streets of Paris was a bit intimidating. But the boys wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and I wanted to see the art, so off we went.
Our adventure started with a mishap of course. After a hot day traveling, walking, and waiting, our lodging fell through. That’s a whole other story. I fought on the phone for an hour with the reservation manager, and then we gave up. Irritated and hungry, we backtracked to get an early dinner down the street while I figured things out. Everywhere we walked people pushed trinkets in my face to sell, asked for money, or squeezed up against me in the crowded streets. I was hangry, worried and acting a human barrier between two fighting imps.
We found a small street cafe that both kids agreed on (they served hamburgers and rice biryani!) and we slumped into our seats. Slowly the place cleared out and we were the only ones left. Thankfully, the cafe had wifi. I found a hotel room across the city and booked it while we waited for the food. The food was delicious and the manager’s cheeriness was contagious. We gathered that he did everything for the cafe- taking orders, cooking, serving and cleaning. He was from Afghanistan and spoke five languages and was learning German as a sixth. I reached far back in my brain to dig out my high school French and we conversed in a mixture of French, English and German. By the time we left his cafe, “dessert” candies in hand, we were all in a better mood and ready to tackle Paris. I doubt he realized how much he saved our day just by sharing a smile and a sucking candy.
On our second day, we filled the morning at the Louvre and a few other tourist attractions. That deserves its own story, so more on that in the next post. We refreshed ourselves with naps, baguettes, and some French cartoons at the hotel. And then we set off to see the Eiffel Tower by night.
We joined in the mass migration from the metro station to the tower. The closer we came to the huge metal structure, the more imposing it got. The tower loomed over us and we gawked at the complexity of the construction. The large elevators had counterweights running on enormous pulleys. The main structure was built with intricate patterns of triangles which, being the strongest shape, allowed the engineers to build the tower to a height of 300 meters (985 feet). It was amazing how delicate and graceful seven thousand tons of iron could look.
We made it through the lines and headed directly to the top. Our timing was perfect. We gazed out at the spread of Paris. Two thousand years of history lay before us and I imagined what it must have been like in 1889 when Gustave Eiffel stood at the top for the first time.
The tumultuous Franco-Prussian war was finally over. Parisians had survived terrible war casualties and tens of thousands of executions. They had survived all the famine brought on by the Prussian siege of Paris (they ate their circus elephants!). French impressionism and post-impressionism was transforming the art scene with works by Cezanne, Renoir, and Monet. Masterpieces in art, literature, theater and music were celebrated. The Belle Époque had begun, spreading optimism and innovation. Imagine what it must have been like to then rise to the top of the tallest structure in the world and look out over the city of Paris rebuilding itself!
The sun started setting over the city and the crowd settled into a collective quiet to appreciate the view.
And then… Then the whole tower lit up in a golden glow. My boys’ faces lit up to match.
We descended to the second floor so we could look up as the Eiffel Tower glowed and began to twinkle. The crowd cheered. For five minutes everyone was mesmerized by the sparkling monument.
We left behind our own difficulties and stood now in wonder. It was the perfect end to our evening and a sight we won’t soon forget.