Five minutes into our walk in the drizzling rain just outside the Rodin Museum, the sky suddenly became clear and the sun came out. What I like most about the streets in Paris — the trees lining the side of the road. It makes walking that much more easier in the shade.
“What? You want us to walk from Les Invalides to the Champ de Mars?”, exclaimed the wife. I think the walking has taken a toll on everyone, and this is just the first day. But Paris is too good not to explore on our own two feet. So with grit and determination (sort of), we plodded along the Parisian streets. Inching closer and closer to our next target — Tour Eiffel.
What? You want us to walk from Les Invalides to the Champ de Mars?
Unfortunately, just as we were arriving from the École Militaire side of the Champ de Mars, the clouds converged and it started to rain. We saw a group of cyclists, probably from one of the bike tours urging their group along in the rain. We were heading towards the covered pavilion, as were the other tourists and French locals. This time the rain was a bit heavier than the usual drizzle and it lasted for 15 minutes. As like magic, the clouds parted and the sun came out.
Within minutes, the Champ de Mars was filled with people again. Impressive. Those with dogs were playing fetch, the tourists (us) went snap happy, the teenagers lazed on the grass, some were having their picnics, it was a joy to behold.
“How in the world did they do that?”, I quipped. “Do what?”, the wife looked puzzled. “This.”, as I pointed to the ‘squarish’ trees lining the Champ de Mars. If anyone knows, please reply in the comments below. It is a mystery! Soon we found ourselves underneath the huge iron structure built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World Fair. This is the most-visited paid monument in the world and soon we will be adding ourselves to the ever increasing statistic.
The queue was super long for the ride up to the top, since 2 of the lifts were not in use. We decided to do it the hard way, climb up the stairs. Yes, you read it correctly, but only to the first level, which cost us €5 per person. In keeping with the general theme of the day, the security checks made the lines long. Luckily, I was able to sneak my slider in as a ‘tripod’. It is quite surprising that if you have a pocket knife, you’re supposed to discard it in the bin provided but when I am carrying a 24-inch steel slider, it is okay to pass.
“How many steps again?”, the wife was basically panting as we made our way up. I think we were only half way through the 300-plus steps required to reach the first level. The second level is also reachable via foot, and it is also another 300-plus steps. You would have to be in good physical condition to be able to do the climb. I must admit that I thought I was fit enough but the tower pointed out to me that I was still lacking.
How many steps again? “300 plus!”, came the answer.
Luckily for us, after Paris had the Tour Montparnasse built, the city decreed that no tall buildings should be constructed in the city center. This rule gave us an unobstructed 360-degree view of the city of Paris. And if your geographical and architectural knowledge of Parisian buildings are as good as mine, you would be able to point out a lot of the famous landmarks, dotted around Paris.
We spent 45 minutes at the first level, witnessing a first hand demonstration taking place below us, accompanied by the gendarmerie. There is a gift shop and washroom at the first level, so don’t worry about any emergencies. It was already 6pm in the evening when we finally reached ground level. We were actually meeting up with the rest of the family over at the Trocadéro, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit early so we sat down and enjoyed the fountains at the Jardins du Trocadéro.
Tip: Although I thought it was a well-known fact, but as I was setting up my tripod, I had about 5-6 tourists coming up to me to enquire about the reason why I was waiting in front of the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadéro end with my tripod. The answer is clear, the Eiffel Tower will light up for 10-15 minutes at the hour, for every hour when it is dark.
Always ask the locals, “When does it get dark?”
So there we were, standing in the blistering cold (it was cold because of the strong wind), with my parents, my sister and her husband. Waiting and waiting for the light show to come on. In the end, the lights came out at 9pm sharp. A note to myself, for the next visit, I have to ask the locals, “When does it get dark?”
We ended up having dinner at Le Malakoff. I was quite surprised that the kitchen was still in service at 930pm! We exchanged stories and experiences for the day whilst enjoying the nice ambience at the restaurant. The dishes were served to us promptly and the waiters made sure we had our orders right. Best part of all, they speak and understand English. Would definitely recommend this restaurant if you find yourself in this area at night. It is also quite near to the Trocadéro Métro station.
Eiffel Tower Verdict
Whilst it is the ‘must-do’ item on everyone’s wishlist, I would suggest that you have plenty of time to spare for this excursion. The views are breathtaking even on the first level itself so I am quite certain it will be better as you travel further up. Probably you could save some time by booking in advance with the restaurant at the top, I think it is a 1-star Michelin restaurant, so be prepared. Unfortunately you won’t be able to enjoy the light show if you are on the tower itself.
As for the light show, it is better that you orientate yourself to the hours that it gets dark in Paris. Be prepared to have a tripod at hand, and make sure you know how to operate your camera, you need to get the settings right to capture the lights. Even for pictures of a ‘partially lit’ Eiffel Tower, you need to have a steady hand.
Paris Day 1 Verdict
Itinerary wise, today was a disaster. Not only did we missed going into some of the museums, especially at the Les Invalides area, we did not even have a proper lunch. Dinner was also super late than usual. Coupled with our jet lag, Paris is 6 hours behind Malaysian time. So at 6pm in the evening, our bodies were already at 12 midnight.
Weather was also not on our side but it was not that huge a factor because we spent most of our day inside the museums. We came prepared for the rain, although it would have been better if we had umbrellas, but that would take up some space in our backpacks.
Paris in general is quite clean except in the Métro, where we could smell piss and we saw a couple of homeless people sleeping on the floor. The town planning is good, mixing plenty of greenery with wide streets at certain areas. However, the French drivers are really reckless unless you happened to stand on the zebra crossing.
Fellow Asians, especially the Chinese from mainland China really let us down. They come in groups, barge into the queue pretending not to understand a single word of English or French, talk loudly and bragging (since we could understand Mandarin) about how much they spent at the various stores, in short, a total disgrace to their country.
Reminder: Spare batteries
My wife wanted to have a last say, “Spare batteries.” Yes, which is quite surprising as both of us are holding separate cameras, we were already hovering on the warning battery levels even before the light show came on. Needless to say, that limited the photos of Paris at night. Or even for photos of our dinner, as most bloggers like to add into their posts.