Paris skies were gray and lowering when we arrived on Day One… but speeding toward the city proper, patches of blue opened and our driver informed us that we had brought the sun. “It rained terrible last week,” he added as a car from a right side road cut us off. “But they have the right of way,” he explained to our astonished inquiries. “The cars from the right always do.” After lunch we took a very long and tedious metro ride to the great Eiffel tower.
This edifice, constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair 1889, is one of the most-visited paid monument in the world and stands 1,050 ft tall, about the same height as an 81-story building. From this grand height we could look out over all of Paris and beyond, a glorious view. The Eiffel has now become an icon, but in its day it was not always popular. In fact, Guy de Maupassant and Dumas hated the idea and opposed the building of the tower and opposed it with vehemence. After it was built, de Maupassant spent most of his time IN the tower, eating, writing, meeting friends. This, he was wont to say, was the only place where he didn’t have to see the tower!
It is no longer possible to climb to the top of the tower, but the second level is accessible. When we saw that there was a long queue waiting for elevators down to ground level, we decided to hoof it… and found what a long way we had to go. Afterward, (with trembling legs) we returned by way of train to our hotel, stopping to refresh ourselves at a tiny place with a giant hole in the wall for the kitchen. Here the owner-cum-cook- and- bottle- washer presented us with delicious crepes a la Paris. Voila!
On our second full day in Paris we took the train to Versailles. Half asleep in our seats, we were jolted awake by an accordion playing a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchind In.” The musician played several more numbers, passed the hat, then disappeared to play in another part of the train.
Now wide awake we stood in a long line to enter the fabled grounds of the Sun King. Lavish is not the word to describe these grounds. Guarded by machine-gun toting soldiers, Versailles is opulence crossed with extravagance and laced with excess. But it is beautiful… room after room of art, of gold and gilt, of pomp and panoply. I was taken by the enormous fireplace framed with gold grapes and vines and by the Hall of Mirrors. Not hard at all to imagine this long room filled with courtiers in wigs and jewels, each vying with the other to be more fashionable, more beautiful under the hundreds of flickering candles and framed by mirrors and gold!
Danced through life never heeding
What came tomorrow.
The grounds of Versailles stretch miles upon miles, but we didn’t get much farther than gardens filled with the most glorious flowers. I identified cosmos, delphinium, poppies, dahlias and roses… all in perfect bloom. Beyond the formal gardens were fountains and—more important—food. French bread cradling ham and cheese and most excellent French (definitely) fries!
By the time we left Versailles, storm clouds were gathering, but we wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe, and so we embarked on another train ride. Unfortunately, we miscalculated our timing and though we hurried when we reached our stop, only half of our party made it through the door! While we were waiting for these laggards to catch up to us, the heavens opened and it poured. But did we give in? Never! Before us rose the Arc under which each conquering army rode or drove since the time of Napoleon (Some of these armies had to ride out again in defeat, too). We climbed the stairs to the top of the edifice which, like the spirals of a chambered Nautilus, wove round and round narrow stairs that left me gasping for breath. Coming down the Eiffel was easy compared to this climb!
Some of us elected to stay on, but we old folk had had it. We found our metro by dint of asking several people for directions—policemen, people on the street, students—all of them unfailingly helpful. The myth of unfriendly Parisiens was dispelled once and for all by a kind lady on the Metro who told us where we needed to change lines and actually guided us to the spot. In fact, the only sour apple we came across was the guardian of the womens’ bathroom in the Eiffel—and since she was nasty to everyone without exception, I think we can delete her as an example of French hospitality.
Tomorrow… the Louvre!