Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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The Tower and the Seine
Drawing of a trike
Can I just say that I love Paris. There, I've said it, right out front. Several people have told me they don't like the place - they tell me its smelly and dirty, and cold and wet. I didn't find it smelly or dirty, although I took the warning about the weather and took a serious rain coat. Said people also told me the queues were a pain in the butt, trying to get into places. Here's the trick folks, you don't need to see some of these places from the inside! Notre Dame is plenty interesting from the outside!

And Paris is one of the few cities which is genuinely pretty, at least the centre is. The apartment blocks are pretty, the public buildings are pretty, the gardens and the river are pretty. Damn it, the whole place is just nice to look at. The shops are pretty, even the stuff in the shops is pretty, in so far as a pile of yummy cheese can be pretty...

There's one skyscraper which got built in the centre of town, and it annoyed everyone so much that all future buildings above a certain height were banned. Said skyscraper is actually pretty ugly as these things go, and has since been found to be full of asbestos...

So, I arrived in Paris, found my hotel (which deserves a whole entry on its own) and with my trusty map, I went looking for the Eiffel Tower. Damn it, if I was going to only be in Paris for five days, I'd better get on with seeing the place from above, and seeing that one iconic thingy that they put in the snow domes and on the postcards.

I'm always prepared to be a bit disappointed by historic and famous sites, since I've usually seen literally thousands of pictures of them. You never can tell what something is really like when it's been well over-documented. So I decided to approach the tower from the end of the park it is in - near the Eccolie du Miltarie (the military College - my apologise for my terrible French spelling). Which handily has it's own metro station. I hopped out into light Paris rain, and went looking for the tower.

It was there alright. Folks, the Eiffel Tower is big. I mean, really big. Far bigger than I had imagined it to be. It really does tower over Paris and would tower over most cities, even one with plenty of skyscrapers. It must be roughly as tall as the Rialto in Melbourne, but I'd have to check.

So I approached it from on end of the long park it is in, and it just got bigger and bigger. Later when I was looking through my photos, I discovered I'd taken eighty three pictures of it in total, including almost a time lapse as I approached it, stopping frequently to take a picture.

Did I mention that it's big? Like a bridge turned up on one end. The arches that support it must be thirty or forty metres at their peaks - planes have been flown underneath it! Being underneath it reminded me of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it's painted a similar color and is riveted in a similar way.

It is possible to take the stairs all the way to the top. Sensible tourists take the elevator! I queued up with some confused looking Ukrainians, and got my ticket.

The elevator is cool. It's two levels, and actually takes a curved path up the leg. There's one platform there, then one has to transfer to the elevator which takes you all the way to the top. The view from the first level is actually pretty good. It was slightly rainy and slightly cold when I was there, so the crowds were not as thick as they might have been. I wandered to the four sides of the place and took loads of photos.

Heading up to a high place is actually a good way to get a sense of the layout of the city, I recommend it as the first thing to do when visiting a town. And weirdly most of the places I went to had a place like that, except London. Well, there's the London Eye, but I thought that a bit naff and didn't go on it.

Having refuelled with a waffle, I took the lift to the top of the thing. Paris is mighty pretty from above as well. The top of the tower is considerably smaller than the lower levels - and considerably colder. It's also on two levels, an inside part with lots of lovely explanatory maps and diagrams. And some rain spattered windows. There's also an outside part, which is wrapped in a nice tight safety mesh. Where one can buy champagne by the glass to toast one's trip to the top!

Amusing historical note: when the tower was new, Eiffel had a small apartment built at the top, where he would entertain guests.

I popped into one of the souvenir stores on the lower levels. As usual, most of the souvenirs were very naff - bad postcards, ceramic Eiffel towers, mugs and the rest of that shit. But two of them did grab my eye - a brass rivet, just like the ones used in the tower, and Eiffel Tower brand condoms! So I got me one of each!

Where the lift drops you off a the bottom, there's a couple of the supports of the tower behind a glass wall. This reminded me yet more of a bridge, with the metal leg of the thing pressing at an angle into the concrete support.

I wandered around the bass of the thing some more, through the small park around it. There's a great deal of security in the area - heavily armed soldiers were patrolling in groups of three through the whole area. The French are found of their landmarks, no doubt, and keen to protect them.

After that, I was suffering sensory overload (already) so I wandered down to the edge of the Seine, looking for a hot chocolate perhaps. I blundered across a tour boat about ten minutes before it was due to sail again. So I coughed up more Euros, and hopped on a tour along the river. No-one could accuse me of not hitting the ground running!

The boat apparently had English language commentary on channel two of the little telephone like devices attached to each seat (so the tour guide lady on the boat explained in at least four languages!) but I couldn't get it to work. Not that it matter, Paris is great from the river as well.

We cruised down the river from where the Eiffel Tower, pasted on the right of the two little islands in the Seine, and then turned around and headed back up the other side of them. We pasted lots of big important buildings like the Louvre and the Museum d'Orsey, but some of what I liked best was the collection of barge-like houseboats on the river. Some of them looked quite luxurious, and at least two I saw had cars parked on the back! No idea how they got them off the boat...

The river obviously gets quite high sometimes, because the banks were built up quite high. There's a little walkway around both the Ille de la Cite and Ille Saint-Louis (the two islands) with trees and seats, but behind it it quite a high wall - I assume that now and then the those areas are under water.

I finally got one of the commentary things working, only to discover that the commentary was terrible! The dude reading it had a really bad affected English accent, and was absurdly enthused by how amazingly romantic Paris was, and enjoined us all to join him in listening to some awful crooner sing some song about how great and passionate Paris is. I went back to just looking out the window!

The boat docked again, and I decided it was time for an early dinner. There was a cafe attached to the boat dock, so I figured it would do nicely. I picked out some nice bits and pieces including a rather tasty looking piece of lasagne. And damn, it was all amazingly delicious. I'd heard the food was good in Paris, but this was just a random little cafe in a tour boat dock, floating in a river! With food I'd got from a bay Marie! And this was the most delicate and melt-in-your mouth lasange I'd ever had. I wanted to go find the chef and shake his hand, use words like "bonza" and "fantastic!".

I'd decided I'd seen enough Paris for one afternoon, so walked across the river looking for a train station which was marked on the map. And I blundered into another palace, a minor one I believe, called the Palias de Chailot. No idea who it was built for or to what ends, but it's quite big and has two curved wings facing the river. With some kind of militaristic fountain out the front. There's a platform between the two wings which gives a great view of... You guessed it! The Eiffel Tower! So I took a bunch more photos, and finally headed back to my hotel.

A quick note about the Paris metro. It's not unlike the other underground systems I'd encountered in New York and London, if not somewhat better. The names were in a different language, but very easy to remember, the maps were laid out very clearly, the lines given numbers and specific colours, and I pretty much figured it out in about five minutes - once I figured out which way the little ticket I'd bought in London went into the automated gates.


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