(written May 31st, 2012)
At the metro station we went to an automated machine to buy tickets and a young frenchman with a badge dangling from his neck swooped into help us. He quickly motioned for us to follow him to a different machine, after ours had timed out, saying something about how the machines we were at charged more. Thoroughly confused and racing to keep in step he proceeded to buy us day passes to ride the metro on his credit card, after our card failed to work, and have us reimburse him. We did, later finding out he taught us a valuable tourist lesson – don’t follow along when something doesn’t feel right. They were in fact not day passes but good only for one ride. We paid 25 euros. Individual metro tickets are around 1.60 euros. He was very good, not his first American tourist rodeo.
We rode the metro with an ease that made us feel we must be doing something wrong – going the wrong way, bound for Luxembourg, something. But no, we were in fact simply figuring it out. The city has made it very user friendly. Aloha Hostel (where we were booked for the night) was a quick 2-3 block jaunt from the Volontaires metro stop. We arrived to find our 2 person room reservation smiling at us (double rooms aren’t guaranteed) and a secure baggage room we could leave our backpacking packs at while we roamed the city and waited until the rooms were ready. After a quick regrouping and a Coke from the vending machine we set back to the metro bound for Notre Dam Cathedral on the island of Ile De La Cite in the Seine.
When we stepped up into daylight from the winding metro tunnels we searched out a sign for Notre Dam and finally found a hand made paper sign in the window of a store with an arrow pointing the way. Apparently Paris has not seen fit to supply the only metro stop on the island with an actual real sign and the store was either helping a brother out or really really tired of everyone asking where the heck to go.
The Cathedral rose into the sky through the trees like daybreak, splintering the air with its rays. My body instantly tingled with goosebumps, my eyes watering, mouth agape. I was struck by age and a quivering wise and furious beauty. We approached slowly out of a deep, unconscious respect and reverence. I felt ashamed to even hold up my camera and snap a photo. I was in awe. Its lines and statues, weathered colors and textures bearing witness to my shallow breath. It was free to enter and we went in with the masses. I very much appreciated all of the signs around asking for silence inside of the cathedral. We walked slowly and silently through the church. I hardly noticed anyone else there. I was captivated by stained glass windows, ancient statues, cracked columns, pealing ceilings and stone walls. I was a tiny presence in the audience of artisan, devoted intention. After we exited and I saw fit to break the silence I wondered aloud just how in the world this feat of human skill existed. How did they build this wonder? How long must it have taken? How many workers? Humbled and bewildered I limped away with sore and swollen feet.
Next up, the Eiffel Tower. On our way to the metro we came to a bridge over the Seine. Oddly, there were wide stairs leading down right into the river. No bar to cross or barrier of any kind. Just stairs to walk into the river – of course! We kept going and then I turned around. I couldn’t resist casually walking into the famous Seine! Down we went on stone steps, smelling of urine and littered with broken glass, so I could dip my feet into the cool water as long tourist boats drifted by.
Perhaps it was due to our extreme exhaustion but we found the Eiffel Tower not much to look at. I bought a book back home called Go Paris that talks about how when it was built it was the scourge of Parisians because they felt it was ugly and befuddled their city’s landscape. It kind of makes sense. The thrill of the tower was in seeing it simply as one of the world’s famous landmarks. Nonetheless, it is a feat of engineering and my eyes danced around its lines. Later Mike noted how many light bulbs he had seen on the tower and we talked about wanting to see it lit up at night. We awoke around 1:00am, when the hostel came alive, and went for a walk around the block to see it aglow. We could only see the top portion and it was a sad sight indeed. Just a few lights earmarked it in the city scape. Maybe the base was more a sight to see.
After the Eiffel Tower we got some dinner at a restaurant that caters to English speaking folks on a busy corner between the tower and the metro station where I ordered a pizza and a Coke (which we later found out cost 8 euros! – about $10) and Mike ordered the only dish under the heading French cuisine (a cut of meat we’d never heard of, we assumed to be beef, in a mushroom cream sauce) and a glass of wine.
We got to our room and collapsed on the bed after sitting briefly by our large, open faux balcony window overlooking the street below. We fell asleep side by side in the bottom single bunk almost instantly.