Umbrellas pop open and coat collars are turned up as a light rain begins to fall across the city, and a shroud of fog covers the top of the Eiffel Tower. Despite the bleak, early morning weather, at least one traveler keeps her spirits up. Deana Mignon, a community member along on this trip, starts singing as we wait in line underneath the mammoth monument.
“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun. . .” Deana seems completely unperturbed by the misty skies or wait in line. She chats with Margaret Burns, her friend and travel companion, about the Eiffel Tower and the plans for the day. When I started talking to Deana, she smiled and explained her singing.
“I’ve been a lot of places, and it’s no good to get upset about bad weather,” she said. “It happens everywhere!”
Deana and Margaret have both been to a variety of locations including Oberammergau, a municipality in Bavaria, Germany which is known for its production of a Passion Play. Both women travel often with their church and plan to keep doing so to many more places. And Deana’s song later came true: before noon the skies had cleared and the fog lifted. Even with the fog though, the Eiffel Tower proved its prestige as a remarkable place from which to view the city below.
Elevators chug up roller-coaster like tracks to the first level where one of the most engaging features is the glass floor where people can look directly down to the ground below. Even from just a third of the way to the top, fog or no fog, the view reveals clearly the medieval architecture which is so prominent throughout the city. All around are slightly dingy white buildings with elegant details, such as carved faces and wrought iron balconies spilling over with potted plants, all topped with teetering little brick chimneys. And no building seems to be quite alike; the architecture here has been built by many hands and reached many periods of time. From the Gallo-Roman use of arches and vaults through styles such as the rich Neoclassicism seen on the Arc de Triomphe.
At the Eiffel Tower, we heard about how Parisians originally despised this structure and considered it a black ugly scar across the face of their beautiful city of arts. And now, the once hated tower boasts over 7 million visitors a year from all over the world. I found it quite amusing to think about this from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Looking down, the medieval parts of the city and the modern piece have all become meshed together is a juxtaposition of interlocking ideas and time periods. It is the most intriguing combination of old and new; a city which is known for both its historical grandeur as well as its ever changing fashions, arts, and ideas. What is loathed today may be loved tomorrow, and the Eiffel Tower is a monument to that statement.
Our group saw two other major features of Paris today as well: Les Invalides and the Arc de Triomphe. Les Invalides is a complex containing military museums, structures, and hospital for war veterans, as well as the burial tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The museum contains a range of sections from the late Middle Ages to World War II. There is a good days worth of military artifacts to see. I found the suits of armor to be an interesting highlight, with several long rooms of giant helms, shining vambraces, and even equine armor. Everyone went in different directions at the museum, but everyone did see the burial place of Napoleon, an impressively large tomb with a vaulted dome (the outside is covered with real gold), marble floors, bas relief sculptures portraying highlights of his reign, and a plethora of details every way we looked.
Shelley Grubb, a nursing studies student at Carroll Community College, exclaimed over these details while we studied the tomb.
“Look at their faces,” she said, pointing to the golden cherubs up on the ceiling. “It’s crazy to imagine that these are all made by hand, each one of them. That’s insane!”
Les Invalides is a vast resource of information, and a must-see for anyone with an interest in military history, or even simply a beautiful place to see.
We also strolled around the Arc de Triomphe and down Champs-Élysées, both bustling with students and shoppers, and each offering another look at the two major parts of Paris I mentioned earlier: the historical past and the changing present. The Arc de Triomphe is an honorary monument to those who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of their general etched into the walls. And the Champs-Élysées, a long stretch of road filled with stores such as Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Jeff de Bruges.
The evening was spent however each person wished, and we discussed various locations for exploration. I caught back up with Deana later in the day as she and Margaret talked about dinner plans. When the suggestion of the Moulin Rouge came up, Deana laughed and said she has been there before.
“You go there for the flesh, not the food,” she quipped.
So myself and a couple fellow travelers ended up in a little Italian cafe somewhere after a series of metro rides and a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe Paris. The menu contained a slightly strange array of seafood-based pizzas, but we ended up with a couple of cheesy pies, a bottle of red wine, and some good laughs. The owner danced along to the Pointer Sisters “I’m So Excited” and we made ourselves at home.