Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 13 - Paris in a Nutshell

This morning I woke up to the sound of my children bowling in the next room. It's kind of amazing that they can make so much noise without a single thing in their room other than a bunk bed and each other. They were rolling around, banging the walls, hitting various things including each other, moving the bed's ladder, etc. At 6:30 in the morning. In Switzerland, where the sun never seemed to shine, there were these great room darkening shades under the curtains. In Paris, where the sun never seems to stop shining, the curtains all have gaps and we're woken by the brightness at 6:30.

Even though we were up so early, it still took a long time to get everyone ready for the day, and then the long hike to the train station and then two trains to get to the Eiffel Tower. That was our goal this morning - do the Tower and then after meet the Fat Tire Bike Tour at the base of the south pillar for a tour of Paris. It worked out fine, except for the 'do the tower' part. We didn't get there in enough time, so we went right to the bike tour. The line for the tower seemed really long, and if there's one thing I hate, it's waiting in long lines. And being in crowds of people close enough to touch me. The tower had both.

So we went right to the bike tour, and it was a mix of hard work, interesting facts, and terrifying traffic, with a sprinkling of nice buildings to look at. It was like paris in a nutshell. So far I haven't been awestruck by the beauty of any specific building here - they are all pretty, and all of them kind of have the same look. Don't get me wrong - it's a nice look they all have, but nothing over the top gorgeous like the Duomo in Milan was. The theme of the big buildings here is domination - the buildings (the Louvre, Les Invalides, the Army building, etc) are massive, and it's their size that is most impressive. The Louvre is possibly one of the biggest buildings I've ever seen, not tall, but long, as if you smashed ten Smithsonian museums together.

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way - what I didn't like about the bike tour.

1-I'm not a confident bike rider. I didn't like it so much when I was a teenager and my family took biking-centered vacations, and other than the stationary bike at the gym, I haven't done much biking since. The great thing about the gym bikes is that they don't tip over - the one I was riding today had this tendency to wobble around and threaten to fall if I went too slow, and that was scary. (I recognize that it wasn't the bikes fault.)

2-We were riding through some of the most dangerous streets I've seen - massive 6 lanes roads with no lines down the middle to mark the lanes, tiny little alleys that only fit one car, but they are two way streets, huge traffic circles that I wouldn't even drive in, let alone take a bike. I could possibly have handled it if it wasn't for the fact that Brad and Noah had their own bikes and were in this traffic too, just one swerve away from being as flat as a crepe. It was so stressful that it was hard to enjoy what we were riding past - I could barely look away from the road and the bike right in front of me to see the sights.

Here's what I did like about the tour.

1-Tim wins the Uncle of the Year award for making sure that he stuck with Noah during the dangerous parts (the tour guide called them Advanced Traffic Maneuvers), keeping Noah on the inside of the curb while he was on the traffic side. And no one told him too, either, he just remembered that it's what our dad did when Tim was a kid, so that's what he did for Noah. I loved that so much, that I had to award him the prestigious Uncle of the Year award. It's a big deal, too, because that puts Dan, Drew, and Jeff out of the running until January, and that's a long time. I've given Tim Uncle of the Day or Uncle of the Week awards in the past, when he stayed with us last summer, but this takes the cake. I was thinking about coming up with a prize to go with the UOTY award, but I'll wait until he reads this blog and demands his reward to come up with something.

2-There were parts of the ride that were on bike paths under a canopy of trees, and that was scenic and pleasant. If the whole thing had been like that, I could have decided to pick up bike riding as a hobby. It was lovely.

3-Lots of great information, which I love. Every so often the tour guide would stop at a famous monument and tell us the story behind it. This was my favorite part, I think. It was a mini history lesson and it just whetted my appetite to learn more. I learned about the various Louis (Louis the 14th got it all, Louis the 15 lived it all, Louis the 16 lost it all, including his head) and Napoleon Bonaparte. It seems like most of the buildings can be contributed to either the Louis's or Napoleon, which could explain why the buildings all kind of look the same. I loved learning all of this stuff, I kind of had no idea how much I didn't know. It was great.

4-Zack had a blast riding in a seat on the back of Ryan's bike. He laughed and sang and just had the most terrific time. He sang the "This Is Fun" song, which goes like this:

This is fun! This is fun!
This is fun! This is fun! etc.

It can be sung to whatever tune you choose to make up.

The tour dropped us off, weak and wobbly-kneed at the bike shop a few minutes' walk from the Eiffel Tower. We agreed to make a second attempt on the Tower but got split up on the way, which resulted in my parents waiting at the Tower itself, me sitting on a rock waiting for them to pass by (we left first), and Ryan walking the full length of the Champs de Mars several times while taking Zack to the bathroom. He was having "digestive issues" which is a very polite way of saying, well, I think you know what I'm saying. By the time we gathered together, any sightseeing desire had been wrung out of us, leaving us a quivering pile of flesh. We sat for a while, attempting to regain some energy. My dad and Tim decided to head to the Champs-Elysees. Noah could only talk about how hungry he was. Brad was desperate to just get doing something, anything, and Zack was finally feeling better and wanted to play at the playground. I just wanted everyone to have fun, and it seemed like no one was having any fun at all.

When we finally got up the strength to keep moving, we walked past the Tower on the way to the Metro station, but made a quick about-face when we realized that, hey! The lines weren't so bad after all! My mom kept Darcey and the rest of us got in line, which was about 30-40 minutes long. 30-40 minutes of the kids behind us trying to sneak past us, or banging into our legs, or climbing under barricades while the grandma half-heartedly scolded them in French. You know the kind of scolding I mean, it's the same in every language. It's when you're saying the scolding words but with absolutely no intention of following up on them, which the kids know and therefore don't listen, so you're really only saying it so that the other adults around you will hear that you wish your children would obey you, but they're so rotten that what can you do?

Before long we were on the elevator, climbing up to the second floor observation deck. The view is just as good from there as from the top, but at half the cost, half the crowd, and half the wait in line. And what a view! The bummer about such a famous monument is that you've pretty much seen it before you get there, and the view is exactly what I've seen on postcards and in movies and such. But it's still great to see it in person, trying to pick out famous monuments from the air and orient yourself to the city. Every building is white - it's a sea of white buildings. I don't know why. Is it a law? There's the one blight on the skyline, which is the Montparnasse Tower, a big, black, boring skyscraper with absolutely no interesting features to speak of. After that, they banned skyscrapers from downtown, which happened one building too late. Man, is it ugly. But the rest of the view is just great and I'm glad we did it.

The kids favorite parts of the Eiffel Tower:
Taking the elevator up
Walking 720 stairs down
Buying Eiffel Tower lollipops
Eating dinner
Getting Eiffel Tower trinkets

We found my mom at the bottom of the Tower who had spent her time pushing Darcey in the stroller and feeding Darcey her first crepe. It took about an hour and a half to get home and by the time we got there I wanted to take my feet off and get some new ones. I knew there'd be a lot of walking in Paris, but even the walking that isn't doesn't get us from one amazing attraction to another is immense. Fifteen minutes to our mobile home from the train station at the end of a long day is the nail in the coffin. 'Exhaustion' is the word of the day. But it's a good exhaustion. I'm ready to do it again tomorrow.

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