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Friday, June 12, 2015

Climbing Eiffel's Tower

Photo by Julian Brown
Though the tower's spectacular lighting is a modern-day addition
(ten minutes, every hour on the hour), day or night the Eiffel's construction
never fails to impress, even those who see it every day (and night).
It's hard to grasp the scale of
Eiffel's edifice until you've stood
in line for an hour or two beneath it,
waiting to buy tickets under one
of the tower's four massive legs.
When one goes to an art museum, the goal is to see the art up close and personal. Never let anyone tell you that viewing famous paintings, sculpture, or architecture on line is even close to seeing the real thing in person. It's not. Therefore, even though I've written in some depth about the Eiffel Tower, let me be the first to tell you, being there is a whole different experience beyond simply seeing it in photos or even researching and writing about it. By the way, despite the title, I did not climb the Eiffel Tower (I couldn't have and wouldn't have, even in my prime), but I did ride a couple elevators that did. Even though I usually write about art, or architecture, Eiffel's tower is mostly a work of engineering. However, having said that, it may well be the earliest modern day example of all three of these elements coming together in a single entity. It's basic shape was dictated by Eiffel and his company's primary enterprise of bridge-building and their concerns with wind velocity. Like a bridge, anything that tall and slender had better not blow over even in the most adverse weather. Yet the engineering demands contributed to the tower's simple beauty, as well as the modern day architectural dictum that "form follows function." It may well be the first structure ever built exclusively as a high-rise tourist attraction. Thus, it is all three.

Just one of two lines waiting to buy tickets to the top. Not surprisingly,
the line for tickets to the stairs is considerably shorter.
Yes, the steps are numbered.
Absorbing the Eiffel experience embeds within the mind unforgettable images. There's the view from the top, of course, but quite apart from that, most people's first impression in visiting is the scale. Each of the four legs (above, right) are stupendous in size--difficult to imagine even in being there--much less the effort to wrap ones mind around the sum total of the tower they support (below). Then there are the lines, probably the longest lines I've ever endured (two hours from queuing up to setting foot at the top). Ticket prices are according to how far you want to go up, currently 15.50 euros to the top, 9.00 euros to the second level, and 5.00 euros to take the stairs (above, left, but only to the second level). Ticket prices go up in September 1, 2015.

By today's standards, the massive base may well be more
impressive than the tower's height.
They aren't kidding.
Once you get past the ticket booth, the main elevators (below), moving diagonally up the legs, are pretty impressive too...quite large, bright yellow-orange, and having two levels. They're also quite crowded. The little sign at right can be seen repeatedly wherever crowds are dense (just about everywhere). They mean what they say, the French even going so far as to warn tourists over the P.A. system when pickpockets are thought to be active (watch your backpack and keep your wallet out of your hip pocket).

An inclined elevator for those not inclined to take the inclined stairs.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The separate entrance to the Jules
Verne Restaurant on Level 2.
Now, about the different levels. Level one is not the ground level. It encircles the tower just above its arches and contains shops, a restaurant (58 Tour Eiffel, below, left) which the French consider medium priced (lunch starting at 41.50 euros, dinner starting at 85 euros). There's also a buffet where I had my one tourist weakness, French ice cream (about eight euros, eaten standing up--very little seating on this level). Level two is where the double decker elevators end their climb, and where you board smaller ones (four I think) which go to the top. There you'll find the haut cuisine Jules Verne Restaurant (below, right) with quite an impressive view if you can get past any indigestion caused by the prices (lunch or dinner, makes no difference, five courses for 190 euros, six courses for 230 euros). The restaurant has its own private elevator (right) and features various packages with prices that are truly on a par with the tower's height.
Lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel. The view
is included in the price.
Dinner at the Jules Verne Restaurant
on the second level
Copyright, Jim Lane
The top of the tower, Eiffel's view
looking down on its lower level tourists.

The top of the tower, contains two levels (below, left), the lower one for the general public to gape at the surrounding urban landscape (left), the upper one originally housing a private apartment (below, right) for Eiffel himself and a few early visitors such as Thomas Edison, the Prince of Wales, Sarah Bernhardt, and "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Eiffel turned down repeated requests to rent the apartment to others, even for one night. Being a scientist and engineer, besides entertaining special guests, Eiffel conducted various scientific experiments dealing with wind velocity and the thermal expansion of cast iron. In 1910, other scientists used the top level laboratory to study radiant energy. They found more at the top than expected, and in the process discovered what are today known as cosmic rays. Today we can look in to see the apartment decorated with period furniture and wax figures depicting Eiffel and Thomas Edison.

A period photo of Eiffel's private apartment
at the top of the tower.
Copyright, Jim Lane
A scale model displays the top
two levels of the tower.

Wax figures of Edison and Eiffel. In
visiting, Edison gave Eiffel one of his
newest inventions, a phonograph.
Of course, everyone stands in line, pays their euros, rides the elevators, and jockeys for a place by the railing for usually about fifteen minutes of taking pictures and admiring the 360-degree view (below). Then it tends to become somewhat boring for tourists who, in most cases, have little idea of what they're seeing--there's the Seine River, there's the Arch du Triumph, over there's the Louvre--okay, let's go back down and hit the overpriced souvenir shops.

Copyright, Jim Lane
A composite shot of the Paris skyline from the second level.
There are two primary views involving the Eiffel Tower, one looking down (below) and the other looking straight up from the plaza on the ground (bottom). All else is simply involves tourist accommodations--getting up, enjoying the view, wringing from the experience every possible euro, then getting back down again. It's a business model repeated again and again in every high-rise tourist mecca in the world from the Washington Monument, which the Eiffel Tower replaced as the world's tallest structure, to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the present record holder (for now anyway). I wonder if you can see the Eiffel Tower from there? Probably not.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Looking down.
Looking up.


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