Stereotypes, Statues, and the Seine
Cities / Towns Visited: 2
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 34,463
Steps Taken Around the World: 252,824
Let me start by saying that stereotyping is an inherently ignorant and stupid pastime to partake in, because, like the english language, most of the examples you hold up to the rule, do not obey it. For example, it is commonly said that it rains all the time in England, but no one ever mentions France. Let it be known that we spent a week in London, and aside from about half an hour of light snow on the first day it did not rain once. In steps Paris, beautiful and sunny on the first day, only to wake up today to dark clouds and rain, with the forecast informing us it would not be letting up all week. Stereotype 1: disproved.
After donning our raincoats, grabbing the umbrella, and venturing out into the dismal weather we eventuality made it to our first stop, as promised, the Eiffel Tower. Now, never underestimate the lax nature and unwillingness to brave rain of your average tourist. There’s something to be said for arriving promptly at 9, albeit a little damp, as the line in to security had seemingly gone from 200 people yesterday afternoon, to about 20 today. After passing though the gates we found ourselves, not surprisingly, encountering absolutely no line for tickets to the stairs, because one: stairs seem to be our thing now, two: we’re too stingy to pay the extra for the lift or pay to go to the top, because it’s quite pricey, so we settled for walking to the second level (the hub just before the narrow spire begins), and three: because we have some sense of personal space and I’ve seen sardine cans less full than those lifts. I will grant you the combination of rain and biting wind made for a chilly ascent, but once the blood got pumping it was kind of refreshing. Eventually we made it up to the summit (well our summit, not the actual summit) and we were greeted by more sweeping views of the city, and a general sense of achievement. After snapping some pictures and baring as much eye wateringly cold wind as we could, we made our descent to carry on the days adventures. So what did I take away from the Eiffel Tower and its stairs, except for the obvious experience and spectacular views? The reiteration that the majority of people are, true to form, inherently lazy. Stereotype 2: at this point I’m saying confirmed.
Next must-see location for the day: the Arc de Triomphe. After weaving our way through the tangle of streets we finally emerged to what is admittedly one of the most beautiful and terror inducing roundabouts I’ve ever encountered. A multi-laned, multi-entrance, circle of death, with flawlessly choreographed automobile swerving, all to the symphony of car horns and police sirens. Yet, in the midst of this organised chaos stoically sits the Arc de Triomphe. Now for glaringly evident reasons, there is an underpass to actually reach it, because adding humans not protected by the armour of a vehicle to the roundabout would just be asking for disaster. It was going to cost us what is essentially AU$40+ to go up and see it from underneath and climb to the top, and after already seeing Paris from a height (and the Arc de Triomphe not actually being that tall), we decided to save our pennies for more enticing thrills. In summary the arc is a stunning small monument, to an average sized man, with a massive ego. So what stereotype are we busting here? I am hoping by now most people are aware, but Napoleon was not short, he was an average height for his age, demographic, and historical time.
We continued bravely through the rain, determined that the best way to stay dry was, in fact, to hop on a boat. We had wanted to do a river cruise of the Seine at some point and today seemed like a good bet, in terms of less crowding, and hence more chance of actually seeing things. When we arrived to buy tickets, because the water was so high, we discovered we wouldn’t be able to go up past Notre Dame, but we gathered this wasn’t the end of the world as we would be visiting it later in the week. Furthermore, for obvious reasons, the top deck of the boat would be closed, again this was no big deal as we weren’t keen on sitting on wet seats in the rain. Inside, in the warmth, while we drifted past the sights, seemed like a cruisy way to spend an hour or so, on a day with so much walking. As expected there wasn’t a heap of people on the boat, the majority being an Asian tour group, along with a few families and couples, so almost every group had window seats. We were treated to some spectacular views of the city’s beautiful bridges, as well as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and my personal favourite, the other half of the world’s most ridiculous friendship pendant, France’s somewhat smaller version of the statue of liberty. As the boat rounded the statue to head back, and the low clouds creating a beautiful mist, the moment was picture perfect, which would explain everyone stepping over each other to get out onto the deck to snap their instagram worthy photo. The majority of people like to assert that Asian tourists are the most pushy and rude when it comes to taking photos, and although they were just as eager to get out to the deck, it was in fact two Spanish speaking women who decided to stand in the doorway taking selfies while knowledgeably blocking every single other person’s exit, that caused the biggest annoyance. Stereotype 3: busted, from what I can tell most tourists, regardless of nationality, will push you out of the way, step in front of your camera, or, i imagine, sacrifice their first born, to get their perfect snap, and those with selfie sticks doubly so. Please note that I do have to actively repress the urge to beat people over the head with them, as they wave them round with absolutely no regard for other people. Despite all of this I’ll continue to be patient, courteous, and kind; plus, you know, I’m taller than most of them, so I’ll just take my picture over their heads.
By this point it was getting well past noon, and after a bit of a wild goose chase, and much retracing of yesterday’s steps, we managed to find the boulangerie from the day before and bought some more baguettes and a few sweet treats (you know, because well done us for finding the place and not killing each other in the process). At this point the rain was easing a little, and we decided to tick one last destination off the list; the Jardin de Luxembourg. By the time we walked there the rain had, very kindly, paused for long enough for us to sit beside a gorgeous fountain and enjoy our food, before we sauntered down the picturesque paths and towards the Luxembourg Palace, which stands at the heart of the gardens. Now Luxembourg may be a small country (and I’m sure it’s historically relevant to have a castle named as such in Paris, albeit a little strange), but the palace’s size does not match its namesake; its huge, and with its green blanket spread around it, it’s quite a sight.
At the end of a long day of walking and being wet and cold, we came home to the leftovers of last night’s meal (which was even better the second day, as almost all stews are) and as I reflected on the day, I must say, although Paris has disappointed us with its weather and lack of user friendly road layouts, it’s sights more than make up for its flaws. I know it may not be glamorous to be rugged up in a raincoat, beanie, scarf, and gloves, and wrangling an umbrella, and in a city know for its fashion forward residents you can be left feeling a little under-dressed, but I beseech you, do not forgo travelling, do not delay adventure, do not dismiss your desire to explore because of bad weather. You might find, like us, that you are rewarded with shorter queues, more personal space, and, at times, better views, at the expense of a little inconvenience. In the end, let’s be honest, a little rain has never killed anybody.