Friday, July 17, 2015

The city of what?

I know that Paris is often called the city of love.  After 5 days here, I would suggest some other names for it.  I would call it the city of stairs. We climbed the Eiffel Tower today and Notre Dame yesterday.  That's almost 1,000 steps.  Not to mention that our flat is on the 5th floor (European 5th floor with ground floor being 0). Sometimes we take the stairs instead of squishing into the tiny box of an elevator. It says it can take three people but it's crowded with me and the girls.  I wouldn't try it with three adults.  But we really appreciate it with groceries.

I would also call Paris the city of lines.  It took us almost 3 hours to get into the Catacombs Wednesday morning.  On Thursday I enjoyed listening to a jazz-flute-playing street musician for at least 30 minutes while waiting in a short line for a slow public toilet.  Luckily, that cut my wait for the Notre Dame staircase down to about half an hour.  We went as early as we could manage to the Eiffel Tower today.  It was probably not even 8 am when we left, which is a miracle for us.  We got in line before they opened at 9 and had our tickets by 9:30.  Really, that wasn't that bad.  We considered buying elevator tickets to the very top after climbing our 700 steps to floor 2, but there was a line there.  We couldn't stomach another line, so we convinced the kids that two scoops of ice cream were a better option.

I would also call Paris the city with more to see than you can possibly see in 9 days.  When I look at what we've done so far of the traditional touristy things one is supposed to do in Paris, I feel like a bit of an underachiever.  And yet I come home to my 9th arrondissement flat every night with sore feet, tired legs, a bit of a sunburn, and complete physical exhaustion.

What have we done so far?  It doesn't seem like much.  We stood beneath the Arc de Triomphe but did not get to climb it.  We went to the Catacombs and enjoyed wandering among the underground piles of artistically-stacked bones.  We went up the Montparnasse Tower for it's view of Paris.  We went to the Eiffel Tower, through the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb.  We did some less-trendy Parisian activities.  We went to a small museum near our flat and an aquarium where we had hoped to see the sharks get fed.  We had the time wrong and were too late.

The Catacombs were a lot of fun on Wednesday morning. Who wouldn't like wandering through dimly-lit, dripping, underground tunnels stacked with the bones of Parisians who died long ago?  One of our Beaverton neighbors is here on his mission.  He and another Elder Smith met us in the line to enter the Catacombs.  We decided to designate them Elder Smith-of-the-East and Elder Smith-of-the-West, our neighbor, of course, being the one of the west.  To add to the fun, we ended up in line directly in front of two other tourist parties from Portland.  This made the 2 1/2 hour line time much more bearable.  The line barely seemed to move, leaving us exposed to the direct torture of the sun as it climbed toward it's peak in the sky for far longer than I liked.  It felt like a miracle when we finally reached the corner where the entrance was in sight and the trees blessed us with their shade.  When our snacks and water ran out long before we reached that shade, Kip took some Euros and went in search of a market.  He came back with water and fresh fruit and at least one of the people behind us followed his lead.  As we rounded the corner near the entrance, I spotted a crepe stand across the street.  I slipped out of line to go over, getting the first two crepes of the day - with nutella and whipped cream, of course.  I rushed the piping hot treats back to the line, where the rest of the family was just disappearing inside to buy tickets.  I thought when the security guy checked my bag that he would say no food, but he waved me and my steaming chocolate goodies inside.

Becca and Anna were both nervous about the Catacombs.  We dragged them down the winding staircase to the underground anyway, like any good parent would, right?  And soon we had them laughing at countless bad jokes, such as Elder Smith-of-the-West's offer to give 10 euros to anyone who found a funny bone.  At the end, Becca said her favorite part was the funny things we were saying.  Walking through the remains of thousands of dead people just brings out the joker in some of us.  My favorite part of the Catacombs were some of the poems.  There were some admittedly  depressing ones, and others that were kind of nice.  I especially liked the one asking "where is death?" She has barely arrived when she is already gone.

Going to the Montparnasse Tower wasn't so much something we desperately wanted to do as it was something close to the Catacombs that we could do before riding the metro home.  We paid for tickets up to floor 56 (no stairs on that part, but 3 flights later on to reach the roof) and enjoyed the view of Paris.  The only really notable part was the photograph they took of us.  They get you as you come off the elevator, feeding the tourists through a maze to a green screen where they take your picture and hand you a card. Your family photo is then digitally added to various views of Paris.  Usually, I have no interest in this kind of souvenir.  It feels like cheating, cutting and pasting myself into scenes I wasn't actually a part of.  But in this case, I loved it.  I loved it because William just happened to be wearing a green t-shirt.  Where his shirt would have been in the potos, instead there was a shirt-shaped hole showing the fake Parisian scene with William's head floating above it. I couldn't pass it up.  I still laugh just thinking of it.

I had promised Becca that if she learned to ride a bike, we would ride bikes in Paris.  Thursday was the day.  We did a bike tour.  And I realized that although Becca does great biking around the streets of our Beaverton neighborhood, that is very different from biking the streets of the capital of France in tourist season.  Maybe this is another time we could have prepared a little better.  We spent almost 4 hours biking around Paris and learned a lot about it's history and rode past several of the famous sites.  I was relieved that no one was run over, of my children or by my children.

It was HOT on Thursday.  The high was around 95. By the time we finished our bike ride, we were melting.  Knowing the apartment would be just as hot gave us the courage to go back to Ile de la Cité.  I dragged the family to Notre Dame and realized just how different it is to tour Europe with adults in a touring orchestra from traveling it with kids.  We sat in the cool dimness of the interior of Notre Dame and I reviewed the Rick Steves guide, fascinated by the beauty surrounding me.  The kids were bored stiff.  Kip was bored, too, but on orchestra tours, that just meant that he would slip outside, find a cafe and sit and wait for me.  We would both often end up sitting for hours with friends at cafes on our European orchestra tours, drinking something cold and talking.  This doesn't happen with kids.  If we try to sit and relax in a cafe, after about 10 minutes, the kids are trying to kill each other.  If I drag them into a church, they ask millions of questions and get frustrated that I don't know the answers.  Then, they get bored and start fighting.  I went through the interior of Notre Dame much more quickly than I had intended.  Then, we headed for the line to the stairs.

All those steps (255 of them) calmed the kids down a little.  They didn't fight too much at the top.  The sun kindly even went behind a cloud when we were on the very top.  Then, back on the ground it rained.  I got to sing my "I love Paris in the rain" song while we ate ice cream beside the cathedral.

On the advice of our bike tour guide, we went to the Eiffel Tower early. Not having prepurchased tickets, we opted to simple climb the stairs.  Becca's book 'the kids guide to Paris' suggests that it is 704 steps from the ground to the second floor.  We did them all, but my legs were burning. We were lucky with perfect stair-climbing weather. It was overcast and so cold this morning that I purchased a hot chocolate when the kids got their ice cream pn the second floor.  I developed a new theory, too.  When we ordered ice cream after getting out of Notre Dame, we got little tiny bowls with just enough ice cream.  When I ordered on the Eiffel Tower, the tiny bowls were the same but the amount of ice cream was dramatically increased.  My only guess was that on the Tower, I ordered completely in French.  Maybe that got you more ice cream?

Down from the tower we went to the Army Museum.  William and Becca did something amazing there, suddenly discovering a common interest and enjoying each others' company.  They were enamored with the weapons of the middle ages.  The suits of armor, swords, sheilds, and spears were fascinating to them both.  They both even enjoyed a movie about training for World War I.  Kip and Anna went off without us to another part of the museum and when we met for our picnic told us we had to see the room of relief maps.  Of course, it was on the 4th floor.  We had to take 5 flights of stairs.  And this was after the 700 steps of the Eiffel Tower.  I'm starting to hate stairs.  Although, they make justifying one more patisserie just a little bit easier.  I will return to Oregon with stronger legs and a bigger belly than I had on departure.

People here may be in love, but for me, so far Paris is the city of stairs.  And people.  And waiting and waiting to see someplace beautiful. Or to use a restroom, which is definitely not beautiful.  But so far it has been a lot of fun.


Janean said...

It sounds like you have managed to pack a lot in to your time in Paris. I can't imagine 95 degrees!! I've only been there in spring. Also, I don't recall there being lines like you describe. Probably since Jeremy and I tend to go in the less fashionable months. But then, it's been a long time since I tried to do all those touristy things. Last time we were there we didn't even go in Notre Dame but just gazed at the feral cats lounging around behind the cathedral.

Anyway, your kids are going to have such amazing memories of this time and awesome photos to show their friends. (Especially William's floating head at the Eiffel Tower.)

Janean said...

Way to go, Becca, learning to ride a bike and then riding in Paris!! You have one up on me there. I've never ridden a bike in Paris.