Summer vacations had set in, and with no prior plans or bookings in place, we decided that going to Paris would be the easiest choice. Flight tickets didn’t seem like the best option, so we got direct trains from and to Turin and the plan was set. We would be in Paris in the 1st week of August, one of the busiest times to be there!
Finding a place to stay was surprisingly easy, with hotels turning out to be safer and cheaper bets than AirBnB or homestays. We found one right near the Gare de Lyon station that offered rooms for around €75/night. For an extra €10 they also gave us couple’s passes for a sightseeing cruise.
We reached Gare de Lyon around 1330 on a Monday and the hotel (Hotel Prince Albert Concordia http://www.hotelprincealbert.com/en/concordia ) was a short 5 minute walk. The hotel is nice, with polite, English speaking staff, clean and comfortable rooms and the best possible location, that’s close to the train station, to metro, to bus stations and also to some good eateries. And then the trip started. The parts in Italics are details of tickets, waiting time and such.
The day started after lunch as we started walking towards the Notre Dame. It was a comfortable 2.5KM walk that took us about 30 minutes. The walk across along the Seine with the many sights on the way and the tiny shops that sell postcards, paintings and likes, was an interesting one.
Notre Dame, literally translating to Our Lady is a huge cathedral, with centuries of history associated with it. It is built on the island of Cité, the original confines of the city of Paris. The cathedral is known for its towers, for its symmetry and for its beautiful architecture and stained glass windows, but what is not commonly known is that some elements in the building are purposely asymmetric, such as the triangular cornice on the left hand arc, but not on the right one. These minor elements have apparently been introduced as imperfections, as it is common belief that no body but God can be perfect. Another important part of the Cathedral is its many bells, Emanuel being the most famous one that is only sounded on Christmas, Easter and every time after the city has been through a hard time, such as the recent terrorist attacks.
We were greeted at Notre Dame by two long queues, one to enter the cathedral and another to climb up to the tower. We took the longer but faster moving queue to enter the cathedral and it took us around 25 minutes to get in. At the entrance we were told that off shoulder clothes are not allowed inside the cathedral, and also that baggage beyond a certain size has to be left out. The visit to the cathedral based on your interest can last from 30-60 mins.
After this we continued our walk along the river and on the way saw the National Assembly, Les Invalides and a horde of other beautiful and prominent buildings. Les Invalides is a beautiful structure, with garden out in the front and a golden dome on top, but what it is known for is housing the remains of Napolean Bonaparte. The entrance is ticketed, but we payed our respect from outside.
We walked further along, a total distance of about 5 km (taking us close to an hour), to reach that one place in Paris that is most visited, and probably takes the longest.
The Eiffel Tower or Tour Eiffel as Parisians call it, has been overlooking Paris for a good 128 years. It was designed and built as the Centerpiece for the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and was supposed to be taken down a few years later. But its popularity grew, and the rest as they say, is history.
We reached the East pier of the tower and stood in line for close to 20 mins to complete security check and be allowed inside. Security does not allow glass bottles, sharp objects etc. Once done with security, we realized that the east pier is the only one that does not have a ticketing office!! The north and west sides have ticketing offices for the elevators, with a live update on estimated waiting time to reach the top. In case the top is closed or saturated, you can always buy a ticket to the second floor and wait there for the counter to reopen for tickets to the top.
Ticket to 2nd floor by elevator: € 11
Ticket to 2nd floor by steps: €7 (available from south pier)
Tickets to top from 2nd floor: €6
The total waiting time from getting to the Champ de Mars to reaching the top of Eiffel was around 2.5 hours for us. But wow was it worth the wait! We reached the top just in time to watch the Sun setting over the Paris skies, rendering them a beautiful golden color.
The even whitish tones of all the buildings below, the green of the gardens and the people in the gardens all added to the colors and magic of the view. Just as we were admiring the beauty of this view, the lights of the tower came on. At exactly 2100hrs, the tower started its ceremonial sparkling! And as if on cue, the city was drenched in pretty lights, every building was lit up, the street lights came on and the river shimmered. It was a mesmerizing sight, the tower above and the city below.
Having admired the views to our hearts content, we started our descent, and on the way looked at the restaurants and shops around. The top level only has a tiny shop that sells Champagne, for people that want to do the popular “Champagne on top of Eiffel” picture. But this picture can cost you dearly. But we did see some really well read tourists who took out plastic glasses and sparkling water from their bags and recreated the picture for free!! That is actually a great choice if you want the picture but not a hole in your pocket.
We then walked across the river to the Jardins du Tocaredo, to seal our visit with a picture. And thus ended our first day in Paris, with the sparkling lights of the Eiffel tower!
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