Tuesday, September 15, 2009

of Tours and Towers

I think this has been my biggest walking day yet.

My hostel, it seems, is made of paper. The walls are super thin, and you can hear absolutely everything that’s going on for at least several rooms and floors. Given that it’s a hostel, on a busy street, I didn’t sleep to well. Also one of the guys in my room was a chronic snorer. So I woke up having had very little sleep, and determined to buy a set of earplugs.

After enjoying the free breakfast and a couple of cups of tea and coffee, I started the day planning to go to the Louvre, but soon found out that it was closed on Tuesdays. I’m just grateful I discovered this at breakfast instead of at the museum! So I went with Plan B – see what pops up. So I took the metro to the infamous Latin Quarter, with plans to check out Notre Dame and take it from there. On the train, I had a glance at some of the pamphlets I had picked up at the hostel that morning, and noticed that a free walking tour of Paris left at 11am from around Notre Dame – encouraged by this, I decided that I look at the cathedral and take a few photos (with the aim of returning for a proper tour once I knew where to meet the tour group) and make my way to the meeting point for the tour.

It still surprises me how lost I can get in a city, even when I have a perfectly good map. Aware of my tendency, I took to carrying three different maps with me, and still it took me 90 minutes to find this place. I only made it with minutes to spare before the tour departed, but I made it.

The tour guide was an Australian lass (living in Paris) called Chris, who appeared to know a lot about the city. We started at Font Saint Michel (a fountain featuring Saint Michel/Saint Michael casting Lucifer into hell), and made our way across town.

In the space of four hours we covered the Louvre, the Obelisk, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and the Arch de Triomphe. We didn’t necessarily visit all of these places (i.e. the Eiffel Tower and the Arch), but we could see them from where we got the tour, so it was fairly useful.

I have seen these free tours offered everywhere I’ve been in Europe so far – it’s with a group called New Europe. But it wasn’t until I got to Paris that I decided I would take one. They’re free, as you don’t have to pay for being walked around the city. After the tour is over you are welcome to tip them, usually on the basis of what you think the tour was worth. I gave her six euros, but I would like to have given her more. It was certainly better value than some of the other tours I have been on, and four hours of time wandering the streets with somebody stopping you from getting lost is certainly a useful way to spend a day!

I had a bit of an eclectic bunch on my tour; a couple of Aussies, some kiwis (from Auckland though, so basically Aussies), an Indian, and European (other). For the most part they were okay to tour with – it’s pretty easy to deal with strangers but after four hours of walking together it seemed almost a pity to leave the group completely behind afterwards, as I felt we had bonded. I felt the urge to pee more strongly than the urge to bond however, and so I abandoned my new lifelong pals to take advantage of the facilities at the nearest free museum.

Feeling much better, I decided that today would be a good day to punish myself a little, and headed towards the Eiffel Tower, with the intention to climb it.

This I did.

It’s around 13e to take the elevator up to the 2nd stage, and then to the top, or 4e50 to climb the stairs to the 2nd stage and another 5e to take the elevator up. I had discovered a while ago that counting the stairs doesn’t help when climbing high buildings, as you just end up getting frustrated. Much to my dismay I noticed that the ever helpful French had labeled every tenth stair up the tower, and so I very quickly tried to distract myself by looking out at the view. I used to have a rather horrid fear of heights. That fear still exists, but is limited to the more practical fears; I won’t climb a stupidly high ladder without proper support, and I don’t think I’d jump out of an airplane. Looking out at Paris below me though, I had to check myself to make sure I could still do it. It wasn’t long until I got to the 2nd stage however, and then from there I just had to take the elevator to the top. The view from the top was awesome.

This is the view from the bottom:

After the Tower, I felt that great rush with comes from having done something a little scary (I know, shut up), but also very cool. So I headed to the Arch de Triumph to climb another monument. On my way, I stopped at McDonald’s for a little Pulp Fiction moment:

After getting only briefly lost, I found my way to Avenue Victor Hugo, which I knew led to the Arch. I knew I was approaching it when I heard the sound of horns and angry drivers. It’s a magnificent building, and is a monument to all the great French victories up until WWI. As I approached, I noticed some kind of military service happening, and noticed a NZ Army Officer amongst the rabble; I quickly picked him out as the person I have to meet with when I’m next in London. Crazy.

Entry to the Arch costs 9e, but I had made it this far and decided that I had to go a little further (having had only a banana and a couple of squares of chocolate for lunch), paid the fee and entered the Arch. I got up there well before sunset, and decided that it would be a good idea to stick around and watch the sun set over Paris. This is about when my battery started to die in my camera (I really need to get a spare!), but I think I managed to get a couple of good shots in while trying to make the most of the available battery life:

After my excursion to the great monument (I stayed around two hours), I strolled up the Champs Elysees, and treated myself to a new jacket from one of the stores there. I justified it as a) I was cold, b) it’s my birthday coming up, c) it was on special, and d) I could just put it on my visa and forget about it.

I then found a metro stop and made my way back to my hostel, only getting lost a little bit. I need a better map.


  1. "...a couple of Aussies, some kiwis (from Auckland though, so basically Aussies)..."
    --> :-D

    Salut, cheri!! Walking all day on bananas and cheese? Don't want to sound all mothery n all but... "You need to EAT, BOY! Il faut manger!".

    I concur w/ Donald... the photos are fantastic! How did you get them not to come out as chaotic streets of light? Maybe I need a new camera.

    And.. uh.. let's see your new jacket!!

  2. **"streets of light"... oh my gosh my typo-ish-ness has gone of control. that should read.. "streaks"..

  3. HAHAHA. That was funny what you said about the Aucklanders practically being Aussies.. oh steven lol

  4. Yay! You went up l'Arc at night! told you it was spectacular! Tash x