Our penultimate day in both Paris and the Euro2008 Expedition. It is also, coincidentally, the birthday of our master travel coordinator. My lovely wife gets to celebrate her forty-fourth birthday in Paris, which, if you can't manage to mark the day in Venice, is probably a fairly nice alternative. So what do you do to celebrate a special day? Climb the Eiffel Tower, of course.
This would be our third trip up Gustave Eiffel's masterpiece. When the tower was originally built for the Exposition Universelle, a storm of popular disgust swept France. Prominent architects such as Garnier (designer of the Opera House) raged against this steel latticework tower that would be a blemish on the Parisian skyline. The original planning permission specified that the tower was only supposed to stand for twenty years. Then it would be dismantled. The Eiffel Tower was saved by the First World War: spotters used it to aim artillery during the First Battle of Marne, and the former eyesore was connected in the popular imagination to that victory over the Germans.
When the Germans invaded Paris in the Second World War, the French cut the lift cables to prevent Hitler from riding to the top of the tower when he visited. The engineers claimed that wartime shortages prevented them from fixing the elevators during the occupation, but hours after the Allies liberated the city, the lifts were again running. The French suggested that Hitler had been able to conquer Paris, but never her indomitable symbol, the Eiffel Tower.
This morning, clouds have conquered the tower, and the upper third has vanished in the mist. This is not a rare occurrence; the tower stands 325 meters high and is often obscured by low clouds. Perhaps it is the weather, or maybe it is just off season, but the huge crowds that normally haunt the Tower's base are also missing. The Tower has logged over 200,000,000 visitors, making it one of the most visited monuments in the world.
Mary has a surprise for us today. Rather than climbing the stairs up the south tower leg (which we have always done in the past) she suggests that we ride the elevators. Old age must be catching up with her. I do not regret this development, as the hike up the 668 steps to the second level is a bit arduous. Old age has already caught up with me.
I am dubious about the value of going all the way to the top of the Tower on such a cloudy day. I don't think we'll be able to see anything in the clouds except for the odd, off-course 747 bearing down upon us. Nevertheless we take the ride to the top. As I had thought, visibility is severely curtailed. I am able to resist Grace's entreaties to give her a Euro to use the telescopes.
In a strong wind, the Tower is said to rock 6-7 inches side to side. Today is very calm so we do not have any sense of motion. This is a good thing as one member of the team suffers from vertigo and only seems to recall this fact midway up a tall building, tower, or mountainside.
The girls mail postcards from the first level, and I inspect the Altitude 95 restaurant, which is undergoing a renovation. We had hoped to eat there for Mary's birthday, but it is firmly closed. The best laid plans, etc.