La Vie Parisienne – Partie Deux

We awoke on our second day in Paris, showered from the night before and ready this time for the barrage of construction noise outside our window. We strolled through our adopted neighborhood, marveling at every perfect little detail, and stopped for breakfast at a little cafe on the way to Notre Dame. Croissants and espresso at a corner sidewalk cafe? Day two was off to a strong start.

We walked the increasingly-familiar path to Notre Dame Cathedral, ready to climb the towers and take in the city views from above. Nothing like climbing 387 steps to warm up for a day of walking around Paris!

We joined the line for the towers, which starts along one side of the cathedral, but couldn’t stay too long. The previously cool breeze turned cold and vicious as it whistled between the cathedral and the tourist shops across the street. We sought shelter inside Notre Dame, happy for the opportunity to spend a little more time in such a beautiful place.

Since we had an hour or so to kill, we decided this was a good time to do a little shopping. Not wanting to go too far, we walked to Le BHV Marais, a department store across the street from the Hôtel de Ville, in search of jackets that would keep us warm and looking chic.

It didn’t take too long for me to find a nice tan trench coat, though Dan had a little more trouble finding something to his tastes. Why are all the jackets bedazzled, tassled, or otherwise glammed up!? We eventually left with two jackets that we loved, for under 100 Euros apiece. I was thrilled with this development, thinking that of all the possible souvenirs, a quality jacket might be the best! Of course, by the time we finished shopping, the sun was out and we didn’t need jackets at all. Go figure.

Not pictured: the goodies from Caudalie, Nuxe and Bioderma that I picked up from a pharmacy around the corner.

We stashed the jackets at the apartment, bought some cheap sandwiches and Cokes from a sidewalk vendor, and returned to the line outside Notre Dame…where it was still freezing! Augh! Dan suggested we just come back the following day, but I was insistent that we do it now. We’d wasted enough time…though I don’t know that it’s really possible to waste time in a city as beautiful as this one!

The line for the towers wasn’t too terrible. We waited maybe half an hour, and then we were on our way, trying to keep pace as we climbed the first of three sets of stairs. There is a small gift shop on the first level, where everyone took a breather and bought their tickets, if needed. Bonus: the climb helped to warm us up quite a bit! Then we continued up the narrow spiral staircase, the woman in front of me apologizing profusely for her frequent stops. I told her if it wasn’t her stopping so often, it would be me! That climb is no joke.

We emerged on the second level, which connects the two towers and offers a gorgeous view of the city.

Monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and Saint-Sulpice were clearly visible, not to mention the Seine river and the square below. We also got to go inside one of the towers and look at two of the bells, something I was especially happy about since this section had been closed on my previous trip to Paris.

I hoped Dan would love this spot as much as I do, and I was not disappointed. The smile on Dan’s face says it all.

The last staircase led to the very top of the South tower, where the wind blew more insistently and the views got even prettier. I could have stayed up there for a long time, but we were ushered out after a few minutes to make room for the next group.

Then it was back down the South tower, all 387 stairs in one go. My calves were trembling by the time we made it to the bottom, but I didn’t mind. I was elated, my wobbly legs a reminder of all we’d just experienced. To read more about our experience climbing the tower, and to see more photos of that dazzling view, make sure to read my post dedicated to all things Notre Dame de Paris!

Next stop: the Palais Garnier, or as I knew it, the Opera House.

Summer 2014. Thank you Dad for taking group shots wherever we went!

When I visited Paris with my family in 2014, this is the area we stayed in. The Opera House was right down the street, and while we spent some time admiring the exterior architecture, the snooty woman working the ticket booth turned us right off and we left without going inside.

The Palais Garnier, opened in January 1875, served as the primary inspiration for the Opera Populaire in The Phantom of the Opera. That’s why we wanted to see it, anyway. And let me tell you, this building is a knockout. As soon as we passed beyond the ticketers, I was kicking myself for not coming sooner.

Opulent is the word that comes to mind when describing the incredibly lush and extravagant interiors of the Palais Garnier.

It’s impossible to see this staircase and not sing, “Masquerade!”

Grand marble staircases, intricately carved ceilings, massive statues, golden details, and the light of dozens of chandeliers to illuminate it all. In every room, Dan and I were referencing the play, singing lines here and pointing out similarities there.

Nope, it’s not Versailles…

And speaking of similarities, this room might look oddly familiar to anyone who knows Versailles. It looks so similar to the famed Hall of Mirrors, minus the sea of tour groups and selfie sticks (we’ll get there soon enough). I could not believe, at first, that we had the entire hall to ourselves.

Barely anyone else in sight!

Other stops on our self-guided tour included smoking rooms, intermission galleries, a exhibition of opera-related art, a library full of old sheet music and more, and of course, the theater itself, with its massive Chagall ceiling frame and stunning bronze crystal chandelier.

The gallery included portraits of the Opera’s most beloved dancers, composers, and more.

Damn it. I was going to be quick and just sum up the best features of the Palais Garnier before moving on, but I just can’t won’t do it. It is so stunning, relatively uncrowded, and has a story that can’t be beat. You can read more about our visit to the Palais Garnier in this post, if you’d like. And in the meantime, just look at this chandelier!

The Chagall overlay is relatively new, and actually covers the original artwork by Jules Eugene Lenepveu. A miniature replica of the original is on display in the gallery.

We originally planned on getting lunch in the Opera area, before hopping on the metro and visiting l’Arc de Triomphe. I don’t know why exactly, but the exhaustion just set in and we decided to skip it all in favor of going home to nap and rest up, and go out later in the evening. Maybe we just missed our luxurious afternoon naps in Chaumont!

We spent the afternoon doing exactly that. Sleeping, clearing my memory card, and deciding what we might do later.

We set out later in the evening, in search of a Yelp-approved sandwich place just around the corner. It closed before we could find it, which led to us walking around the Marais in a hangry, snippy kind of state. (For those who do not know, “hangry” is an apt word for angry black cloud that settles overhead from being hungry for too long.) We finally settled on pizza from Pink Flamingo. I indicated that we wanted to eat outside, but when our food arrived in takeout boxes, I realized we had probably been charged the takeaway rate. Resigned to wait a little longer before chowing down, we took the pizza back up to our apartment and had a quick but tasty dinner before hitting the streets once more.

We descended into the Metro, feeling like we’d mastered the web of tunnels already, and made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We watched the city drift by as our final train made its way to Paris’s most famous landmark.

It was already pretty chilly when we left home, but as we walked from the station to the Tower itself, it started pouring! We took cover on a front stoop, crowding against each other when one more couple and a small family decided to join us. And then it literally started to hail. I couldn’t believe it! Maybe this is common in Paris, but it sure was an odd sight to this Florida local.

Not that I was fussed about it. Safe and dry on our stoop, I loved watching the rain and hail falling on the dark wet streets. The water reflected the lights of the city, doubling its beauty and making for a different but no less lovely view of Paris.

As a bonus, the rain drove away the hawkers and scammers lined up on the roads leading toward the Eiffel Tower! By the time the rain slowed and we made a break for it, the sidewalks were entirely clear of any unwelcome attempts to get our money.

Also empty was the line for the Eiffel Tower itself! We bought our tickets to the top of the tower, laughing at the absurd situation we were in. Not thirty seconds after we got our tickets, a massive crack of lightning split the sky. So what did we do? We went up inside the giant metal lightning rod!

If I have to die, I’d like it to be doing something cool…like lingering on the Eiffel Tower! My childhood memories of the Eiffel Tower were very vague. I remember thinking it wasn’t that high off the ground (wrong) and really wanting a Tower-shaped glass perfume bottle from the gift shop. And that’s about it! It’s fair to say that this felt like my first time ever going up the Eiffel Tower, and as the elevator climbed to the first floor, we couldn’t resist videotaping the ride, family vacation style. (Thanks for the video, Dan!)

We spent a few minutes on the first floor, then hopped onto the second elevator, which took us all the way to the top. We didn’t have long to spend here, since we’d arrived an hour before the Tower was set to close for the evening. That was more than enough time.

Taking photos despite the rain, wind, HAIL, bright interior lighting, people, etc. was a major challenge for me. I’m not happy with the way these photos turned out, but seeing the city laid out for miles is something I won’t soon forget.

We lingered inside while waiting for the rain to subside, taking in the views and reading the informational plaques littered around the walls. The rain never stopped entirely, but it did let up enough for us to step out onto the practically-deserted exposed outer platform.

It’s odd to think about it now; how high we were and how no one could even see our tiny figures from the ground. From our vantage point, we could see what seemed like the whole of Paris, the walk-around platform allowing us to peer out in any direction. My pictures aren’t the best, but I hope they convey the enormity of all there was to see.

Due to the late hour and the stormy weather, the top platform was almost completely deserted. We nearly had the whole place to ourselves!
The ultimate “take me back” photo. Signs around the platform indicate the four directional points. This one is facing East.
Blurry or not, you can’t deny that it’s a beautiful sight.

The most memorable part of our trip to the top was the sudden strobe-like effect of flashing lights all around us. That last photo of Dan really showcases our delight when we realized that the disco effect was from the Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour, visible for miles to those out enjoying a night in the city. And here we were, nestled at the very top, to see the lights sparkle in an entirely different way.

Another thing that Dan in particular found interesting was seeing how the spotlight at the top works. You know, the one that shines around and around, like the light on top of a lighthouse. It doesn’t actually move in a full circle, but is made up of two spotlights, one clicking on as the other finishes its path. Just looking at the photos now fills me with happiness.

I went up the Eiffel Tower more or less to check it off our list; to say yes, we did go to the top. I wasn’t expecting more than a great view and maybe some fun souvenirs, but what we got instead was infinitely better. We share such wonderful memories of the Eiffel Tower now, and will probably return in the future to see it all by day!

We were practically giddy by the time we made it home, a mixture of exhaustion and joy. Paris, impossibly, was even better than I’d expected.

Coming up: Versailles and a ridiculously romantic Seine River dinner cruise! Ahhh!

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