Do the touristy things, they attract tourists for a reason@jamestwall
“Don’t look down,” a terrified American mom said as the tin can shot up to the sky.
It was the cue for all the rest of us sardines to do just the opposite and watch the city below quickly shrink to a live-action LEGO scale.
Right on schedule, the Eiffel Tower wrapped us in her unmistakable golden gown and sparkly jewels.
She then placed us on her crown to witness the magnificent evening she was about to take on.
An Italian little girl exclaimed, “Mamma Mia!” A Chinese family scrambled to FaceTime the view. A group of Muslim teenagers giggled and took selfies.
The modern-day Babel fell under the spell of Paris in June.
We’d arrived that morning for 48 unapologetically touristy hours in the City of Light.
When we climbed to the Iron Lady’s top, we’d already taken the obligatory Notre Dame selfie, marveled at the perfectly-manicured Tuileries Garden, and window-shopped at Place Vendome.
We also experienced Sainte Chapelle, the 13th-century stained glass collection site, which withstood the Revolution and World Wars I and II.
This entire city is an ode to survival through beauty.
Like Arc de Triomphe, the imposing monument that dominates the elegant Champs Elysées and where veterans carrying red, white, and blue flags pay their daily respects to the Unknown Soldier.
The following morning we visited the Louvre Museum, another excellent example of this spirit.
In 1939, anticipating the fall of France to Nazi Germany, the home of “La Gioconda” scrambled for three days to uninstall, ship, and evacuate its precious collection to private chateaus in the provinces.
Though we dreaded lining up outside at 8:30 AM while nursing a massive hangover, being among the first entering the museum made us feel like we had the entire place to ourselves.
Because of its commitment to aesthetics, Paris is probably the only place in the world that can get away with turning an old train station into a museum.
The Musée d’Orsay is one of those places where the beauty of the building rivals that of the artworks it houses, even when they include the world’s most extensive collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces.
Finished in time for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the “Gare d’Orsay” was considered old-fashioned and unsuitable for modern trains.
After being downgraded for suburban services, and a stint as a mail center, filming location, and potential hotel, the Réseau Express Régional (RER) built a new station underneath.
In the late 1970s, France’s Ministry for Cultural Affairs listed the station as a Historic Monument, which saved it from demolition.
New York City’s old Penn Station left the chat.
With time running out, we headed for Palais Garnier, another place where people go to admire its grand facade, staircase, foyers, and pavilions as much as they go to enjoy the canonical ballets and operas it features.
The world’s most famous opera house owes its celebrity to an 1896 chandelier-related fatal incident, which inspired the iconic scene in Gaston Leroux’s 1910 “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The rest is history.
Like a Private Eye in London
Eurostar pulled in St. Pancras International a little before midnight.
If the French are all about joie de vivre, the English run on stoicism and beer.
Ask the Postal Museum, which reenacts how the Royal Mail kept intelligence flowing through relentless bombing to emerge victorious after WWII.
Like a private eye, you might head next to Tower Bridge. Its glass bottom makes you feel like you could jump and land on one of the boats crossing the River Thames below.
Two miles away, The Eye keeps watching.
You hop on it and ponder your action plan while suspended in a transparent capsule at 443 feet with aerial views of Parliament Square.
Your upcoming move may be to the Tower of London, where one of the Beefeaters might be an undercover agent.
Perhaps your answer lies beyond London, in the Queen’s tomb at Windsor Castle‘s St. George’s Chapel, or among Stonehenge‘s prehistoric stones.
You may need to dig a little deeper into the historic town of Bath or among the nondescript, Medieval stone houses of the nearby village of Lacock.
Keep calm and carry on.