A wonderful train ride through the Belgian and French countryside, followed by Metro train ride and walk across Paris, brought us La Villa Paris, a small bed and breakfast in District 13, on the south side of inner city Paris.
Our room wasn’t yet ready for check in, so we struggled through the language barrier at a nearby Brasserie (brewery — the closest establishment we could find that we hoped would have food). We could understand enough to know that we were too early for any food to be served, but we were welcome to have drinks. We settled in for a beer, and when it started going to our heads, we decided we REALLY needed food. I went to the bakery next door in the hopes of at least getting a piece of bread. Struggling through more of the language barrier, I finally pointed at something that looked like a baguette with cheese (bonus!). I brought it back, handed it to Bill, and he said, “You brought us a cold hotdog??” Upon closer inspection, I could see that I had purchased a baguette, sliced open, filled with two hotdogs, and covered with melted cheese. Evidently, it was supposed to be brought home and put in the oven because he was right. It was refrigerator cold! This was our introduction to Paris!
Thankfully, the staff at La Villa Paris, especially Marie, could speak English. We enjoyed the jacuzzi, flopped in bed and woke up in the morning to a breakfast that made up for our cold hotdog dinner from the night before! Then we had to physically force ourselves onto an already packed metro train — a train that stayed packed for the entire 16 stops it took to arrive at the Eiffel Tower. Every time someone wanted off the train, several people had to exit with them just to let them out. Then they would get back on, and we would continue our intimate contact to the next stop before reshuffling again. By the end, we were so far back in the train that we were terrified they wouldn’t be able to pry us out of the train when we finally arrived at our stop!
We finally made it to the Eiffel Tower, where our new silent friends did let us off of the train, and our walking tour began. As we climbed the 670 steps to the second floor, which is less than half the height of the entire structure), we got a history lesson from our tour guide, Sebastien. The Eiffel Tower is named after the man who oversaw the design of it. He was already world famous for building the longest bridges in the world. He was so important, in fact, that he didn’t actually even design this project; two of his engineers and one of his architect did!
This feat of engineering was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair and to be the temporary centerpiece of the Centennial Anniversary of the French Revolution, an event we learned really defines Paris’s history. Throughout the day, things were referred to as “before the Revolution” or “after the Revolution.” The Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure ever built at the time, doubling the height of the second tallest, the obelisk of the Washington Monument. The Eiffel Tower was built in metal instead of stone, so it was a very light structure, being only 11,000 tons, compared to the 90,854 tons of the Washington Monument.
As amazing as it is, the Eiffel Tower was only meant to be temporary. The people of Paris would not have agreed to it otherwise because they thought it would be an eyesore! In fact, during its over two years of building, petitions were signed to have the construction of the “ridiculous tower” halted. The tower cost almost 8 million francs to build ($40 million when converted to American dollars of today), and Eiffel himself invested half of that money, in hopes that he would make it back as people paid to climb its stairs and ride its elevators during the 20 years it would be allowed to stand before destruction He made the money back in 6 months, and, as you know, it is still standing almost 130 years later!
With most huge construction projects, there is more than just the monetary cost, but also loss of life. Construction work, especially on tall towers, is dangerous after all. The Eiffel Tower was constructed using 2.5 million rivets (Welding didn’t exist yet, and each rivet needing three people to assemble), but it only took one life in its construction: One of the workers brought his girlfriend to the site after work and was showing off for her by balancing on one of the cross bars. To her horror, down he went.
You may be asking why the Eiffel Tower is still standing if it was supposed to be temporary. Eiffel, who wanted it to remain, began using it for research on aerodynamics, weather, and telecommunications. He went to the French army, trying to convince them that it could be used for radio communications, to which they answered, “Our pigeons deliver messages better.” The army finally did agree to invest in using it for radio communications, which allowed them to intercept German transmissions during World War I. And you thought it was just pretty tower!
Enough of the Eiffel Tower as an engineering feat. What about the romance of Paris, right? At first, I couldn’t see that part at all. It’s a brown tower of steel. Where’s the romance in that? Especially when you have to walk for blocks and blocks to get around the construction zone where they’re now building a bullet proof glass wall around it? And how can you see it when you’re so out of breath from climbing it you’re practically seeing stars? After two days of walking around Paris, we saw the romantic part of it while having dinner at Cafe Francis.