Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Go to Paris and ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower


The Eiffel Tower is symbol of romance and beauty to most who picture it, perched proudly in the middle of Paris' urban sprawl. Sunset proposals, glorified by Hollywood pictures, are always made better by being presented at the tippy-top of the Eiffel Tower.

In reality, getting up to the top of the tower is a bit of a process, and once you are there, it isn't really all that romantic. Granted, I visited on a day when the wind threatened to push everyone right off the edge, so that kind of took away any romanticism that may have been present. Also, I was with approximately 20 junior high students, and that also tends to dampen any whimsical architectural romance for a person! Ha ha!

What I did find at the top of the Eiffel Tower were A LOT of handy tips and notes for future visitors making plans to ride to the top. The Eiffel Tower visit was part of the itinerary on my Europe Trip with my junior high students in April of 2010, so some of these tips may only apply to people who are hoping to visit as part of a large group.

A great shot of the Eiffel Tower from below

Before even setting foot in France, my students and I learned a lot about the architecture of Paris, such as the Garnier Opera house with its rumored underground lake and phantom, the opulence of the Palace of Versailles, and of course, the story of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889, and was designed by a gentleman named (oh, you'll never guess his name!) Gustave Eiffel. Gustave had won a competition for the World Fair, held in Paris that year, for a new design that would honor the centennial celebration for the French Revolution.

A surprising fact for my students was that many people detested the tower when it was first built, calling it ugly and an eyesore. The now-famous and very cool riveting was considered hideous and a sign of shoddy workmanship. A petition was signed demanding the tower be torn down, and many famous French historical figures had their names on this petition (including Charles Garnier, who designed the aforementioned Opera House). However, the tower stayed standing. When the lease on the Eiffel Tower's land was up, once again, the city of Paris considered taking the structure down. This time, technology was on the tower's side, and the only reason it was left standing was because it had a handy telegraph signal on the tippy top. Today, of course, it is a symbol not just of Paris, but of all of France, and attracts thousands of tourists.

Checking out the rivets on the Eiffel Tower

My group bought tickets to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower while we were still in Canada, a few months before our trip was even scheduled to depart. We did a school / group rate, which was nice. Even so, the cost to the top level of the tower isn't cheap. There are two rates: to ride to the top, or to ride to the observatory platform on level 2. Level two has gift and coffee shops, while the top level is merely an observation platform, albeit one with an amazing view.

The day we were to go to the top, we discovered every group has reserved times. We had to wait about an hour before we could go up on the elevator, but that suited the students just fine, as Paris' notorious "Bling Bling Boys" were on site to sell us cheap Eiffel Tower trinkets. I taught some of the kids how to barter, and we wound up with handfuls of Eiffel Tower statues and key chains. It was amusing, as well, to watch the "Bling Bling Boys" on the move. You see, most of them are in Paris illegally from the Middle East or Africa, and when the Parisian police do a walk-through of the area below the tower, the "Bling Bling Boys" run like the wind to hide (who knows where). They begin to slowly trickle back in about ten minutes later. We saw this happen twice in the hour that we were waiting for our elevator.

Standing with my students under the Eiffel Tower

Now, here is where my personal experience with the Eiffel Tower took a turn for the worst, and I'm not saying this experience will happen to everyone who visits. We just caught some bad luck.

The ride up to the second level was fine. We went up in two groups, and met at the second level to explore the gift and coffee shops. However, we soon noticed the weather was taking a turn for the worse, and that the line-up to get to the top level was increasingly growing in size. So we got into line - for over an hour. My group might have been fine waiting during this time, except suddenly the sky opened up with gale force winds and pinpoint rain drops that drove mercilessly into our skin. We hadn't dressed for such weather, and stood miserably in a large huddle trying to stay warm.

Our only moment of relief was when one of our male students, who has flaming red hair (which he normally hates) was accosted by a group of giggly, infatuated British teenaged girls, who thought he looked like some soccer star with red hair. They were taking photographs with him and running their fingers through his locks, much to his delight. This made us forget about the wind and rain temporarily!

Getting blown away atop the Eiffel Tower

When we finally reached the top level, we all agreed the wait had (mostly) been worth it. The weather relented, luckily for us, and we were able to enjoy the view of the Seine winding through the blue-roofed cityscape. The students were happily pointing out Les Invalides, with its glistening gold dome, and other structures we had studied. One student even phoned her mother from atop the Eiffel Tower - now how many people can say they did that?

We stayed up top for about 40 minutes, taking photographs and enjoying our prize, and then it was time to go. The crush to get back down the elevator was nearly as bad as the line-up to get up, and I'm somewhat ashamed to say I had to get violent with some pushy people in the line-up to ensure all of my students made it safely into the elevator and we didn't lose anyone! My apologies to anyone I shoved that day!

Beautiful shot of the Eiffel Tower at night

So, my tips for the Eiffel Tower are:

1. Book tickets in advance. Determine how high you want to go (second level or top level). This influences your wait time.
2. Check the weather and be prepared with your clothing that day. I wouldn't recommend going up if the weather is going to be wet and windy: it's not fun.
3. Go in a small group. If you are with a large group, stagger your visit times (have some shop with the "Bling Bling Boys" while others go to the top, then switch). There's a lovely carousel to play on across the street from the tower, if you are looking to kill some time.
4. Be prepared to wait in line going up AND going down.
5. Don't let anything sour the prize of finally getting to the top and enjoying the view. We still managed to have fun and let our experience turn into a good memory.

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