19 February 2008

Paris's Signature: Eiffel Tower

Every major city has a signature place like for New York it is ‘Statue of liberty’, for Sydney it is ‘Opera House’, for London it is ‘Big Ben clock’ and for Paris it’s obviously ‘Eiffel tower’. So before landing in Paris, I had decided that I will be visiting Eiffel tower first.

Nearest Metro Stations:
  • Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel(RER-C)
  • Bir Hakeim(Line-6).
To get there from CDG Airport:
CDG Terminal-2 to St-Michel Notre-Dame by RER-B; St-Michel Notre-Dame to Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel by RER-C

Eiffel lighting
Worth thousand words !

The visit materialized in a bit dramatic way. After taking rest most of the times on Sunday, the next day I got up very early. Still my body was biologically in Indian time zone. I went to the lobby for breakfast bit late at 9.45 am, as it was crowded most of the times. After a few minutes the in-charge there came and said that the buffet is going to close in 5 minutes so please hurry up. After gulping my breakfast, I came back to my room. Then, Jiwon informed me that I can’t go to office as my laptop doesn’t have necessary security software for net connection to work. Therefore, I was advised to work from hotel itself. I started off with my work and this continued for next three days.

Staying indoors for 3 days

By the third day(i.e. Wednesday, Feb-6) because of lack of physical activity, I became very frustrated and decided to go out for two basic reasons, one to have some different food(had got bored of Maggi and MTR stuffs) and the other that I badly needed fresh air however cold it may be. One major problem was that my hotel was in the outskirts and there were no commercial establishment nearby. The nearest train station was in airport terminal. Before leaving, I read a few lines from wiki travel page of Paris and went thru official site of public transport ratp.fr. Then, I took hotel shuttle to the terminal-2 of CDG airport.

First I checked whether something is available to eat in the airport. At the Paul outlet, no vegetarian stuffs were available. So I decided to take Metro train to some station in heart of the city. The good thing in Paris that you can buy a tourist pass Paris Visite, which will be valid for specific number of days. After doing estimation that I would be doing sightseeing in weekends also, I decided to go for a 5-day pass (cost 47 euros) valid till Sunday midnight.

Comparison with Seoul Metro

I took the metro map, analyzed it for 5 minutes and decided to go 'St Michel' station expecting that there may be something vegetarian to eat inside or outside the station. I boarded the stationary train and it departed in a few minutes. The experience of traveling in Paris metro was bit different to that of Seoul Metro. The coaches are designed to have more seats and in case one has to stand there is nothing to hold on. The doors don’t open automatically, one has to press button when the train stops at a station but it closes automatically.

Lost in St. Mitchel

I got down at St Michel and moved up two levels up to find some food shop. I looked around and everywhere 'Sortie' 'Sortie' something was written. No proper shops were there. With frustration I immediately changed my plan and decided to see Paris’s signature place to make my time and ticket worth. I looked into metro map and decided to transfer to another line. A few meters walk led me into a station of other line. The coaches of the train in this line were bit narrower. I looked into the metro map and no route corresponding to current station was there. I tried to see the boards around to check which are next stations on both sides(which is a common thing in Seoul Metro), no such boards were there. I talked to a guy and told him I want to go here, showing a station near Eiffel tower. He replied that I am at the right station.

So happily I boarded the train and looked into list of stations mentioned inside, but none of stations mentioned there were in my metro map. The station names were Odeon, Mabillon etc. After a 5-6 stops I got down at ‘La Motte Picquet Grenelle’ station and came outside the station. My gut feeling was saying that the station is somewhere near Eiffel Tower. I asked a person that where is Eiffel tower ? simultaneously doing actions in hand. He smiled and showed me the way non verbally. After thanking him and started my walk towards the tower. After walking for a 5 min, top 10-20 metres of the tower with lighting display appeared behind a building. In first impression the tower looked very small compared my imagination, may be because of relativity i.e. in photographs it usually looks tall relative to objects around it.

I continued my walk and approached the tower through a jogging park where many health conscious people were burning calories. As I stepped near the base of the tower the lighting display stopped and I had wait for 40 minutes for the next lighting display. A guy approached me from behind with chum-chum sound and asked ‘Chahiye Kya ?’. I was stunned for a moment, he was a guy from Punjab and was selling Eiffel tower key chains. I bought a few key chains from him and continued my exploration. The queue for the elevator was very long, so I dumped idea of going to the top.

Managing without Tripod

In search of food, I crossed the road and Seine river other side of the tower. There I found a small shop and bought a chips packet for 3 Euros! Besides that there was a monument and many people on the terrace balcony of it were having glimpse of Eiffel tower. It seemed like a good view point for Eiffel tower. Eating chips I walked to the viewpoint which was brimming with people. I somehow found a place for myself along balcony compound. Since there was some more time for next lighting display I continued with my photography experimentation. As the handheld snaps were coming very blur, I cribbed myself for not carrying a tripod. Then, for workaround I placed my cam on the balcony wall which was sufficiently wide and took the snaps for Eiffel tower in longer exposure. It came out very well. While shooting the snaps I recalled a line from a recently read article about the tower 'Initially during construction, the structural engineer was criticized for the weird design, now the same design has turned into symbol of the city'.

Tower Lighting

At 7 pm, the lighting show started and it lasted for 10 minutes. It was breathtaking experience and hardly could have eyes off it, but somehow I managed shoot a 2 minute video and the same is embedded below. In case you know Russian, listen to running commentary of some tourists around me :)

After lighting, it was time to return, and I enquired for nearest Metro station. The station name was Passy and again it was not there in my metro map. I caught an Afro gentleman and asked him how to go to St Michel station. He directed my query to a person in the ticketing window. That person took a small metro map and instructed me encircling the stations. He said “You are at Passy, take Line 6, get down at Raspail, changeover to Line 4, and you will reach St Mitchel”. I followed his instructions and reached St Mitchel.

Arrow Mark confusion

'St Mitchel' station looked like a different place to me than evening. Now I had to take a train back to 'CDG Terminal-2'. I asked a shopkeeper. He took out a paper from his billing machine, drew two vertical lines with dots in between and wrote encircled B on the sheet. He tried his best, but only I understood that I have to proceed straight. I reached a station where some doubles decker trains were moving. I told to myself “Oops! where am I?, which is this line”. Being alone I got even more frustrated. One more confusing thing was arrow convention. Till that day, I had seen ‘up arrow’ to proceed forward but in Paris it is other way ‘down arrow’ means proceed forward !!.

I walked further ahead and found an opening, in which escalators were leading further down. I proceeded downwards and finally I reached the station which at I had got down in the evening. With confirmation I got into a train to airport and reached 'CDG Terminal-2' station without any confusion. From there I took ‘every 20 min shuttle’ back to the hotel.

It was end of eventful, memorable outing initiated by ‘desire for sandwich’ and later transformed into visit to Paris's signature place Eiffel tower. Even though there were minor hiccups (i.e. I got lost in a weirdly designed metro station of Paris), my long wait for Eiffel Tower darshan ended.

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