I have finally made it to the City of Love and it has certainly lived up to expectations (but not necessarily reputation, but more on that later). After over week of layering up due to the cold weather, Paris turned on a beautiful sunny day with the temperature reaching 27 degrees celcius. Needless to say, a change in wardrobe is in order tomorrow.
I started the day at the Eiffel Tower. I had not prebooked any tickets and I can now see why that is so highly recommended. The line to ride the elevator was estimated at taking 2-3 hours to clear so I opted to climb the stairs (15 minute wait). In total there are about 700 stairs and I am sure my calves will remind me tomorrow of each one.
I also elected to take the elevator from the 2nd floor to the very top and it was certainly worth the extra cost. At that height, you are treated with an entirely different perspective on Paris that you can't see from the 2nd floor.
The entire trip from arrival at the site to returning to earth was just under two hours and I decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe whilst looking for a spot for lunch along the way. I ended up a little off the tourist track and dined at Cafe Valentin (where I seemed to be the only non-french patron). I was able to utilise some of my basic French and I ordered a Tartare Classique with frites maison and salad. The portion was huge and I was only able to eat 1/2 the beef, all of the salad and about 1/4 of the fries.
The beef was very well flavoured and fresh, the fries were tasty but soft and the salad was a little under-dressed but still enjoyable.
After lunch (and still enroute) to the Arc de Triomphe, I found a very nice looking Patisserie and was able to use my favourite french phrase: "je voudrais une eclair au chocola s'il vous plait" . The eclair was lovely but no better than those available back home which was a little disappointing.
Upon arriving at the Arc de Triomphe and doing to usual dance of trying to take a photo of myself and/or trying to find someone to take a photo for me (who doesn't look like they will steal my camera), I met another tourist, Keith who was travelling solo. After taking photos of eachother we started to talk and decided to tour the Arc de Triomphe together.
The views from the Arc are spectacular. It sits in the centre of the Champs Elysees and the views down each avenue were very picturesque. Although the viewing platform is significantly lower than that of the Eiffel Tower, the alternate prespective on Paris is well worth the admission fee. I was a little disappointed, however, at the lack of information available at the site to explain the significance of the site (if you do not know your history, you will be flying solo here).
After our tour, Keith and I decided to keep sightseeing together but we first both had some admin to attend to: buying our onward train tickets so we headed to Gare du Lyon to book our respective onward journeys. After a brief panic thinking I had lost my train ticket, it resurfaced and all was well.
We then walked to the Pantheon, sightseeing and talking along the way. We initally weren't sure about whether we should tour the inside but were both very pleased that we had as the building and artworks are stunning and the crypt below is where many notable french historical figures have been interred (e.g. Marie Curie).
After the Pantheon, it was time for Keith and I to go our separate ways. It was really nice spending the day with someone and sharing a common interest. It certainly makes the day more enjoyable and I look forward to hearing of his travels (he is visiting many of the key places on my itineray prior to when I arrive).
Today was a reminder that I really should have paid more attention in French class at school rather than discussing the XFiles with Kate in the back corner (the last time I studied French was 1996).
I managed to pull together some sentences but it is incredibly broken and quite poor. Due to my poor language skills, I couldn't help but feel a little rude. I have arrived in a foreign country, and am staying with my french speaking relatives (who are all now speaking english for my benefit) and can barely scrape together enough french to buy some sunblock (p.s. I got really burnt today). As a result, everyone else has to speak english to bridge the gap. Given the number of countries I plan to visit this trip, I know that even if my french was up to scratch, I'd be having the same feeling next week in Spain. However, I couldn't help but feel somewhat discurteous because I couldn't communicate effectively.
Which brings me to my point above about Paris not meeting its reputation. I did not see a single instance of the famous Parisian rudeness - quite the contrary. Everyone I spoke to (including many on the street when I would ask for directions) were polite, friendly and happily suggested assisting me in English when I struggled to find the right French word.
All in all, it was a wonderful day and I am certain that I could fall in love with Paris.