THE TRIP TO FRANCE
September 25th, Day 2
Our day begun at 8am. I had no alarm this time and no real need to be out early, except perhaps to get as much tourist stuff as possible done. Breakfast didn't start till 8am anyway, so there is little real reason to get up earlier. Once ready we headed down to the cellar where the breakfast was served (using the stairs, not the elevator). We had a table and a basic-English speaking lady serve us. Breakfast French style is a cup of tea or coffee, an orange juice, a croissant and another with chocolate (that we had to share) and a French stick each . You would also get rock hard butter and some jam.
After breakfast we took the Metro to the Eiffel tower (alas we had to miss more of the glorious French architecture, but we would see plenty throughout the day). The trickiest part of the Metro was taking the RER-C line, because this was a single line with about 6 stations at the one point and 8 or so line endings. We didn't even know where east and west was to help us pick the correct direction. We just jumped on a train and got lucky. We got off at the stop we wanted and headed above-ground for our first look at the big tower.
The French flee the tower en masse
Instead of a tower we saw a road with a hoard of French joggers. It seems there was a marathon being run that day and we were near the start. The road was thick with joggers, the sides thick with tourists caught out by the running. The side was also thick with male joggers who were dashing off the road and lining up by the bushes, emptying out their bladders and dashing off again. It is a somewhat unusual sight to see people so blatantly urinating in public. We were to learn it isn't so unusual.
Edyta and I dashed into the race and ran along with them while trying to cross the street. We ended up further down from where we started, much like being carried along by the tide. Once on the other side we were free to examine the top of the tower towering over the buildings in the foreground. We walked through some buildings and lost sight of the tower for a bit but then saw it again over a park. Framed between two solid and tall buildings the Eiffel tower doesn't look all that big. Add to that as we got closer the tower appears rather flimsy because the girders aren't as big as we expected. However it was still tall, and eager to get to the top, we lined up at the Nord leg (north, Sud is south).
Much bigger from up close
The base of the tower was by the start of the race. Those people jumping off to have a leak were about 200 metres from the start. And the start had port-a-loo public urinals that provide privacy by having the men face their back to the public. One guy couldn't get a spot so went on the foot of the Eiffel tower. There were enclosed port-a-loos too, however Edyta informs me you had to be selective over which ones weren't just smeared with human waste. While she was hunting for a clean toilet I stood in line. Armed (and heavily armed at that) guards strolled about under the tower and above it an army helicopter kept constant vigilance. It was re-assuring to know that any act of terrorism would be met by an equally explosive burst of counter gun-fire.
We didn't pay to use this
The line moved quite quickly and in no time we were taking the elevator up to the second platform. The tower is solid to stand on so you have no concerns about the height you are at, you can't even see the ground beneath your feet. After a stroll at that level we went up the main elevators to the top. The elevator was more concerning than standing at the summit - and that was with the new elevators. The original ones were operating up to about 20 years ago. The top of the tower was impressive but you were so high up you could hardly notice how high up you were. I've been much more afraid of heights at much lower levels (such as pre-Nevis bungee jump). After the top floor we descended to the first platform and walked around reading the signs and visiting the museums and galleries (and grabbing lunch).
From the tower we walked back along the garden to the military academy. From this direction the Eiffel Tower assumes it's famous imposing height. We walked to the academy and saw that it was closed, so we walked back to the tower to get on a tour bus. During our walk we were harassed by girl guides trying to sell us something. Luckily we didn't speak the language and so the mob of little navy-blue clad girls hunted after another target. It occurred to me their sales technique was flawed - there were enough of them to literaly stop any customer in place until they paid a ransom to be allowed to pass through the throng. The first bus that appeared was empty on the ground floor so the driver was having a smoke. It seems the French like to urinate on any spot that find and smoke anywhere they can. We were going to ride the bus around all the sights and then get off to start looking closer when we came across a market in front of a big old church. It would have been too much for Edyta to miss the markets so we got off into a much busier tourist area.
A crazy nostril shot
Before we even made it to the markets we went into each tourist shop. We noted the further from church we went the slightly higher the prices went (we are only talking a street of a few hundred metres here). There were beggars in the crowd and one of them approached me saying "Do you speak English" and then showing me a printed card with some sob story about how they are poor immigrants with nothing in this country. This sounded familiar to me, except Edyta and I plan on getting jobs instead of begging. On the way back to the church and the markets the same beggar lady approached and gave me the same line. I told her she has already tried me but I don't think her English went beyond the one rehearsed line. The market itself was a disappointment, just trees and shrubs for sale. We considered going into the church but the line was long or climbing the church but that line was long and had a cost. I was keen to get to the Arc de Triumph so we boarded the next tour bus and headed out there.
Arc de Triumph, from the toilets
We made the Arc de Triumph by about 5pm. We took the underpass to reach it. There was no way I was willing to run across the roundabout to get close to it. I was willing to climb to the top of it only to discover the Arc was closed from 5:30pm that day. It seems some old war veterans wanted to use our tourist attraction for some sort of ceremony honouring all they have done. Which is what? Lose all their wars this century past? Police were trying to herd all the tourists off the attraction but there was a fence at the base of an Arc's leg so we all lined up behind that to watch whatever was about to happen. No-one was meant to be there at all so then the police had to come and shoo us all again. One the other side of the street again we couldn't see much of what was happening and so crossed to the toilets for Edyta. I went in to use the men's, which was an area behind a shoulder high screen facing the stairs leading in. Although people couldn't see what I was up to below the shoulder I could see all coming and going, and Edyta lining up at the far end for a cubicle. The French have no shame it seems.
Public urinals of France
We headed from the Arc into the premier shopping district (Champs Elysees). We wandered around a large French Disney store (they have a Disneyland just out of Paris). Then we found a pasta place where we knew the meaning of the dishes. The waiter also spoke English so it was easy getting by there. We walked back along the boulevard towards the Louvre. This was a lovely and wide street and it had ample places for men to duck behind a bush. And ample men ducking behind a bush. We came across a big square that was in front of Invalides, a big building with a gold roof and lots of statues (including some donated Egyptian monuments). This square was built to normal Parisian standards - i.e. no consideration for tourists on foot. There were bit wide roads but no lanes and long distances across them in some very heavy traffic. We had to take the long way across on the pedestrian crossings. These seemed to always be active for both cars and pedestrians anyway, despite the presence of the friendly little green man and his warning brother, the red man. On one side we passed a hotel where guys were all standing around leering at some expensive sports car, a McClaren or something. I don't know the type but it looked very costly.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at some toilets for Edyta. However the toilets were locked. Seems the French only go to toilets certain hours of the day.
The start of the sunset display
When we were going to get onto the Metro the entry station had the exit points jammed open so you could enter without validating a ticket. I knew that you didn't have to enter a valid ticket to leave the station at Parmentier so we just walked in. Edyta was worried about us not validating the ticket and thought we should've. I didn't think it would be a problem but I validated them anyway. It turns out when we were getting off at Parmentier the French Metro police were doing a ticket check. Given that the French police (not gendarmes, they seem to be a different outfit) look very imposing in their black uniforms I was glad of Edyta's warning.
For TV that night I saw some WWF wrestling in French and then watched Dune (also in French).