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UP THE TOWER AND DOWN THE RIVER (Pottering in Paris 5)

The Eiffel Tower from the River Seine

The Eiffel Tower from the River Seine

Today we are going to climb the Eiffel Tower, and take a boat trip down the Seine – the river that runs through the heart of Paris. We take the Metro into the centre of Paris – we are quite the experts at Metro travel by now – and find our way to the Champ de Mars. The Eiffel Tower is the iconic iron lattice tower (named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built it) that dominates the Paris skyline. Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticised by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world!

We have both been here before – I first came more than 50 years ago – but neither of us has actually climbed the tower. Last time we came, 11 years ago, the crowds wanting to go up the tower were so great that we decided not to even attempt to queue. But this time we are determined to climb it. The tower has three levels for visitors, with the third some 276 metres or 906 feet above the ground level. Fortunately, the queues are reasonable – one of the benefits of visiting Paris in November – although we are told that the highest level is closed because it is too windy. After about 20 minutes queuing we purchase our tickets for level two. We then join another queue where there is a sign telling us that it will be another 20 minutes before we get to another sign telling us that it will another 20 minutes before we board the lift that takes us to the second level? Eventually we squeeze into a packed lift and take the scary journey to the second level. The views of Paris are spectacular and we take lots of photographs. The weather is once again warm and sunny (even though we were told that it would be wet and cold for the whole of our two week holiday when we were back in the UK) and we can see for miles and miles. After we have been up on the second level (which seems pretty high to me) for some time, it is suddenly announced that access to the highest level is now open. There is a mad rush for the pay booths where, for another few euros, you can purchase tickets for the single lift to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. There are crowds already queuing for this lift and, looking up at the top of the tower from the second level, the top viewing platform looks a long way up. We ‘chicken out’ and decide to stay where we are. My fear of heights (strange for one so tall) is heightened (if you will excuse the pun), rather than assuaged, by a rather panicky woman (not Julia by the way) who grabs hold of me, crying out in desperation, ‘How can I get down? How can I get down?’ Eventually Julia and I descend back down to street level. It has been quite an experience. We are pleased to have done it. We have lots of photos to remind us. I do, however, wistfully look back up to the top level of the Eiffel Tower and wish that I had had the courage to go right to the top after all!

After a break for lunch – another lovely picnic by the River Seine – we buy our tickets for the hour long river cruise down the Seine to Notre Dame, round the island in the middle of the river where the cathedral is situated, and back again to the Eiffel Tower. We board the boat and go up to the top deck where we will be able to see everything clearly. We have done this trip before so we have come prepared with warm clothing, scarves, gloves and wooly hats! The weather is warm but we know how cold it gets on these river cruises up here on the top deck. There are quite a number of ‘brave souls’ like us on board, and up here on the top deck. Some of them somewhat ‘scantily dressed’ given the warm weather. We wonder how long it will be before some of them leave us and head back down to the heated insulated cabin below with its hot coffee available (for an inflated price, of course)?

We loved this trip down the River Seine last time we did it, which is why we are keen to do it again. There is an interesting and informative commentary describing all the historic buildings we pass by and the lovely bridges we pass under. Some of the views you get from the river are found nowhere else – especially the view of Notre Dame, looking back at it, as the boat turns round for our return journey. We pass some of the fabulous riverside residences belonging to the rich and famous, see some of the fascinating statues and buildings along the banks, and note the various ‘lovers bridges’ festooned with numerous locks (where lovers have written their names on padlocks, locked them in place on the railings of the bridge, and then thrown the key into the river as a sign of their eternal love for each other). We have chosen exactly the right time of the day for the cruise. We started in bright sunlight on the way out, and the light is just beginning to change for our return creating a lovely atmosphere to see Paris. The river cruise is over far too quickly. Only Julia and myself, and a few other hardy souls, remain on the top deck. The ‘scantily dressed’ tourists have long forsaken the sites of Paris from the Seine for the warmth and highly priced coffee of the lower deck. We both wish that we could have gone further on this fascinating journey down this magical river.

Reflecting on our day, later that evening, I find myself thinking of the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the people of Ephesus (and for us?), ‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:17-19). Yes, I do wish that I had climbed higher up the Eiffel Tower? As our guidebook says, ‘People say it doesn’t matter if you only go as far as level two … but it does!’ Yes, I do wish we had been able to go even further down the River Seine? There is so much more to be seen. On the other hand, we did go up the Eiffel Tower at least some way! We did go down the River Seine so far! Lots of people don’t even manage to do either? And yes, we have grasped something of the width, and length, and height, and depth of the love of God … but we long to go higher and further!

Jim Binney

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