Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Springtime in Paris - Eiffel Tower

So, I have to be honest. When planning our spring trip to Paris with my in-laws, I had a little chat with my MIL about what they thought they would want to do while we were there. Since Joe and I have been to Paris several times, we wanted to make sure their first trip was everything they wanted it to be. They are in their 70's, so I just wasn't quite sure how much they would be up to doing, especially given that they were flying from San Diego to Paris and would likely be suffering from jet lag for at least the first couple of days. So, while we were in Texas over Carnival break, I asked my MIL what she thought would be on the top of their "must see" list. I knew the Eiffel Tower would be on it - you can't very well go to Paris and not see it - but I was keeping my fingers crossed that perhaps they wouldn't want to actually go to the top. Why, you might ask? Simply... the lines to go to the top of this "most visited site in the world" suck. I'm not talking "standing in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland" suck. I'm talking "standing in line for 3+ hours" suck. At least at Disneyland you can get Fast Pass tickets and arrive within a somewhat reasonable time for the two minute or so ride. The Eiffel Tower has no such thing. Regardless of what time of the day, week, and sometimes even the year, the lines are going to suck. So, needless to say I was quite relieved when she responded with "well, you can see the Eiffel Tower from anywhere in Paris, right?" Well, okay, maybe you can't see it from everywhere, so I did intend to at least get them close enough to ooh and ahh appropriately.

Next on the list - "What are your thoughts about going to the Louvre?" I have to admit, I really do like the museum and there are some fantastic works of art there that are totally worth seeing. But, it is by far not my favorite museum in Paris. Again, the ridiculous lines to get in are part of the problem, but at least there are what I would consider Paris' version of "Fast Passes" called the Paris Museum Pass. This cute little booklet will easily have you by-passing those mile long lines in a heartbeat, so that obstacle can easily be circumvented. Really, my issue is with the resulting crowds that line creates. Add to that the fact that the often criticized glass pyramid by I.M Pei that is the entrance to the museum can create an atmosphere similar to a sauna in the museum, and I just cringe thinking of having to battle those crowds. So, again, MIL did not seem to be too determined to go. It also helped that she isn't a huge fan of the Mona Lisa. Quite frankly, it's a little disappointing given the hype. There are so many other impressive paintings in that museum!

Well, it got to be our third day in Paris and the jet lag had passed. My FIL was up and raring to see the sites. After a nice breakfast we decided to hit the museums. First on the list? The Louvre. What can I say? FIL was not in on the original conversation and I had been told by the husband that you can't very well go to Paris and not go to the Louvre. Besides, who knew if this may be their only trip to Paris? "You can't very well send them back to San Diego without having seen the Mona Lisa?" Really? Where was he when I had this conversation? Well, since we hadn't purchased our museum passes yet, we headed off to the Louvre with the intent of purchasing them there. We had purchased them there last summer when we went, so surely it wouldn't be an issue this time. Wrong. The line to enter without the passes was literally the length of the west wing of the museum. Plus, I had checked our travel guide and the English tours were at 11 and 2, so we definitely would not make the 11. So, we headed off through the Toulleries to the L'Orangerie. This actually is one of my favorite museums, so I was secretly relieved that we would be able to get this little gem in. The museum's permanent exhibit is Monet's water lily paintings, which are beautifully displayed with natural, filtered light in one of the most calming atmospheres in Paris. And, the line was short and the passes very easy to purchase!

After our trip through the L'Orangerie, we headed back to the Louvre in order to make it back in time for the 2:00 tour. We quickly bypassed the long line and entered the short "pass" line and worked are way downstairs and through the heat to the ticket office. As luck would have it, (mine anyway), the tour was sold out. I am guessing they were sold out several days earlier given the look I received from the sales office, but that was beside the point. Plan B was the quick Rick Steves' tour that quickly hits the highlights of the museum - the same and only tour Joe and I have ever done of the museum. Besides, everyone knows you can spend a week in that maze of buildings and still never see everything in there! Well, we got the highlights taken care of (Mona Lisa included), just in time to head back to the apartment, change for our Seine dinner cruise, and head off toward the Eiffel Tower where we would be boarding the boat.

The dinner cruise, a 1 1/2 hour trip up and down the Seine, was lovely. I did a bit of research (a la TripAdvisor) to make sure we booked a cruise that would hopefully meet up to my in-laws approval. This is not to say they are foodies or food snobs, but they do put a lot on proper service and a refilled coffee cup - not always attainable in Paris. So, we went with Bateaux Parisiens. They provide a lovely three course meal with a choice of 3 options for each course, wine for the adults, and juice for the kids. So, the only minor hiccup with that is that my in-laws don't drink so coffee and pineapple juice had to suffice. Good news? Joe and I had that much more wine to enjoy. Good thing since I would be needing it.

After an early cruise that ended at 8:00 we headed up the stairs to see the tower. We had ventured down to see it the night before, but we weren't up to staying until it was dark enough for the light show to start (the tower twinkles on the hour with thousands of lights flashing, but apparently not until 9:00 p.m. with the time change.) Well, that night before my FIL had announced that he was raring and ready to go to the top. What? Again, another part of the conversation that he obviously hadn't been in on. And, once again, the husband had to agree - "You can't come to Paris and not go to the top of the Eiffel Tower." Really? Well, we had agreed that we would give it a shot after the cruise, but I just knew the lines would still be crazy long (we had actually gotten in line the night before but bailed when we learned that there was only one working elevator and that it was taking over 3 hours to get to the ticket office). I just figured we would walk back, see the crazy long lines again, and agree to try again the next day. No such luck. The line (still, only one working elevator) did admittedly look much shorter than the day before and I had a determined FIL. So, we got in line...right in front of a group of about 50 young Russian students and their adult chaperones. The kids were actually very well behaved given the time of night and the length of the line (most were about 8-11 years old), but I can't say the same of their adult companions. About half way through the line (about 1 1/2 hours in), the ladies in the group decided that they didn't need to abide by the line and began making their way up the line - cutting! Now, this did not go over well with the husband, especially when one of the women decided that she would just try diving under the metal barriers to catch up with her rather brazen friends that had cut in front of about 30 of us in a matter of 5 minutes without any problem from the rather ineffective security guards that were stationed at the front of the metal barriers. The husband headed her off and the rest of the English speaking tourists near us were giving him that "look". That "I would give you a high 5 if it didn't mean I would have to get out of this line to do it" look. Not that it really did much in the end. The line gets crazy at the ticket office where it seems just a mass of folks rush the sales windows and it becomes a free-for-all. The Russian ladies did make it up the elevator before us. No worries. We ascended the tower with some very lovely Irish high school boys there on a field trip. They were much more pleasant than the manner-lacking Russians!

Well, 3 1/2 hours later we had this wonderful view of the City of Lights. My feet were killing me (I had worn new flats to dinner - not what I would have chosen had I known better) and it was freezing at the top, but I have to say - the view was lovely. We basically "closed" the tower that night - we were on the last elevator going down at midnight. We quickly made our way to the train station - not an easy feat since the closest one is the Trocadero, a good mile walk from the tower. Furthermore, it took 2 trains to get back to Ile St. Louis. We managed to get the first one, but the train stations shut down by the time we tried to board the second. Needless to say, we had no idea that that particular train station shut down at 1 a.m.. The MIL and the kids and I found a cab and headed back in no time. The husband and the FIL? Well, determined walkers, and admitted cheap skates, they walked. I wasn't about to do that to the MIL, only to have her walk 6 flights of stairs up to bed. Besides, we still had Versailles to see!

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