On Tuesday we roughly planned to see the catacombs in the morning, go to the train station to make about eight train reservations, and then go out to the Eiffel Tower in the evening. It would be a nice, full day taking us from 60 ft below to 376 feet above Paris.
We hopped on the metro to go to the catacombs, got out of the station, and proceeded to do loop around a small park, trying to make sense of street signs, and not seeing anything pointing to catacombs. Finally a little old lady comes up to us with a smile and said something in French to which I (Steve) could only respond “Les Catacombs?” She spoke no English and I speak about 10 phrases of French, which the little old lady pretty much exhausted during a “conversation” as she guided us to the entrance to the catacombs. We had missed it because the entrance is just a couple of green doors with minimal signage. We also came to understand what this word “ferme” was that the lady said a few times. “Catacombs – Ferme” – closed – for three days for some renovation. C’est la vie. We’ll come back to the catacombs later.
We headed up to Gare du Nord, one of the main train stations in Paris, where there was supposed to be a Eurail aid office that we could use to make our train reservations. Now to me, an “office” is a room, usually with a marked entryway (e.g. a door) and signage to indicate who or what is located there. After wandering to one end of the station, we asked a lady at the information desk where the Eurail office was and she just pointed and said “straight and left.” I guess technically, she was right, but “straight and left” meant going all the way to the other end of the station, past one ticket counter after another, until Jenny finally spotted a queue with a piece of paper referring to Eurail passes. We finally got some help making some of our reservations. We couldn’t do everything we wanted, but that’s a story for another post.
In the evening we took the metro back out to the Eiffel tower. We can understand why Parisians wanted to tear the thing down at one point – because it’s basically a big, brown, cast iron bridge into the sky. There’s a lot of construction going on in the center to install a glass observation area on the first level, so a lot of the space looked like a construction zone. The north tower has the massive lines for the elevators up. Psssh. Who wants to wait in line for two hours and take an elevator up? We got in line at the south tower for the stairs and were making our way up to the first level in about 15 minutes.
There are a bunch of signs with history of the tower breaking up the climb to the first level, so it goes quickly. Of course there’s a small bar serving drinks and a full restaurant on this level. For now, we went to the steps and started climbing toward the second level. After 674 steps, we arrived and did a lap around for some great views of the city.
From the second level you can take an elevator (not stairs) up to the top, but the waits were around 45 minutes and you have to pay more… so we headed back down to level one. Sucking up the big city stadium prices for drinks, we sat and enjoyed a beer while looking over the city. We stayed until after 9pm before heading back down.
We found a spot on the grass to sit and wait until dark when they put on a light show. This is where the city earns it’s reputation for romance. All around are couples having small picnics, drinking wine, giggling in languages you can’t understand. If you pause long enough, you can’t help but be taken in by it. It would be perfect if not for the army of guys going around selling beer, wine, champagne. They were EVERYWHERE.
After several of these guys came by, I finally responded saying “How much?” The guy said 25 euro for a bottle of red wine, which is ridiculous because wine is about the only thing you can buy cheaply in Paris. I shook my head and told him that was way too much, not because I was negotiating, but because I literally only had 10 euros on me. So he says 20. I say I only have 10 (I didn’t really care if we bought wine or not). He says 15. I tell him that I’m not trying to negotiate, that really, I only have 10 euros. “12 euro, best offer.” You’re not understanding me my friend, I only have 10. “Ok, 10 euros.”
A little wine did seem appropriate to the experience. So we sat and drank, listened to the people, and watched as the tower lit up in a darkening sky.