Air France had us scheduled to have a three hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport, but we were delayed in Tel Aviv, so we ended up arriving in Paris around 2 with our flight across the Atlantic scheduled for the next morning. I had never been to Paris before, and I intended to suck the marrow out of my few hours there.
I and several other people took the shuttle bus from the airport hotel in which we were placed by Air France, back to the airport where we could catch a train into the heart of the city. We stayed on the train about 40 minutes and it went underground when it came to the city. In order to reach the Eiffel Tower, we would have to transfer from one train to another at a specific stop, but when I heard the name of that stop to be Notre Dame, I had to climb to street level and take a look. I did not regret:
We heard the bells before we saw the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, across the Seine. What an introduction! I could have just stood there and listened, remembering how much I enjoyed the bells of St. Paul’s in London, but I was with a group of hungry travelers. We walked up the Quai de la Tournelle searching for a worthy venue for dinner, and the first place we considered was a little Italian spot just down in an alley. I’m sure the food would have been fabulous but I could not stomach the idea of using the precious little time we had to eat Italian food in Paris without even a view. My fellow pilgrims agreed and we kept walking. The air was crisp but not cold; the voices around us were french; the sky was dusk, and I hardly felt my swollen ankle given the air I was walking on.
I could hear murmurings among my friends of hunger and the walk to the Tower being too long. Someone spotted a Mexican restaurant just a few yard off the main street, and our people, having been away from the comforts of home for some time, were pulled to the idea of fajitas as a break from falafel and shawarma. I couldn’t blame them, so we all ducked in to the Mexican spot. As I glanced at a menu though, I was overcome with the idea that I had Paris only for the next couple of hours, and I could have Mexican for the rest of my life. I excused myself, explaining that I would walk the distance to the Eiffel while they were eating and taking the train. We could meet at the Eiffel Tower. Just saying that made me smile.
I limped out to the street again and found myself strolling down Quai Voltaire, on my own, enjoying the evening breeze. I could hear the voices around me, the occasional distinctive siren, and the horns of city traffic. I walked out to the middle of the Pont des Arts and slowly turned all the way around, soaking it all in. The Louvre to the north, Pont Neuf to the southeast, and the Seine running below, with its famous long, low boats taking people on evening cruises.
I soon found myself in the street light shadow of Mr. Thomas Jefferson, as he had been the first official ambassador to France from the United States. He followed in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, and to some degree John Adams in representing our earliest interests and apparently gained the respect of the French enough to earn a prominent spot.
As I continued my walk, marveling at the immensity of the Louvre across the river, I soon found myself pausing to study the architecture of the Musee’ de Orsay. I soon as my eyes finished this task, the Musee’ de l’Orangerie caught my attention from across the river. This building houses 8 of Monet’s Water Lilies murals, but I had no time to enter. So close, yet so far. The same street that was the Quai Voltaire was now the Quai de Orsay, but I didn’t mind the sudden name change at all. I was wondering what the building was at the other end of the magnificent lawn to my left – the Esplanade des Invalides. It was about this time that I caught sight of a beam of light – a spot light shining from behind some buildings to my left and in front of me. Almost simultaneously though, the rounded glass roof of the Grand Palais stole my attention. I recognized the structure, but did not know what it was. The Grand Palais is an exhibition hall built in 1900. The glass roof is beautiful, especially at night with lights shining up through it. I walked out onto the Pont Alexandre III to get a better look, and from there I discovered that the spot light was coming from the top of the Eiffel, as I could now see just the tip top bit of the tower itself.
This motivated me to ignore the pain of my ankle that much more and continue walking, as little by little I was catching more of the famous tower of light through the trees and buildings lining the street. I turned right onto the Pont de l’Alma, hoping to catch my first full view, but it was premature. Buildings still blocked most of it.
This is where the street changes names yet again, to Quai Branly, but I was too full of anticipation of the climax of my walk to let it bother me. Here I found an interesting museum of African tribal exhibits that I will certainly visit if ever I have the opportunity. Just as I stepped past its walls though:
There it was. The Eiffel Tower. I reached it at just the right time for the light show, so I walked around under its majesty gazing upward, taking my chances on tripping over whatever might have been in front of my feet. Once the light show stopped, I bought a sausage in a baguette with cheese – they called it a hot dog but it was not an American hot dog – from a street vendor. I walked on air again, crossing the Seine by way of the Pont d’lena for a better view of the Tower.
This is me, hoping the guy to whom I handed my phone didn’t run with it. I was happier than I looked. From here I met my group, who were happy and as satisfied with their dinner as I was with mine, and we took the train back to our hotel. We would wake up in board our flight in a matter of hours, where I would sleep my way across the Atlantic to reach home again. Home. MC&L. As I have quoted Mr. Pooh before, “Home is the comfiest place to be.” And yes, as the old saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”