The day started with a trip to the Eiffel tower. The hot tip was to get there early, well before opening time to avoid the crowds. The ride across town, winding through the city streets and “gliding” over pavé was a great way to get charged for a big day. I arrived about 8:30AM and the queue was already building. There was some maintenance work going on at the tower, which meant the lifts in the South end were out and you could only get access via the stairs. If it meant less time waiting in line I was up for it, so I found a fence to lock my bike to and jumped into the throng. There was a group of kids ahead of me, who seemed to be speaking German and sharing an enormous tin of chocolates. I chuckled to myself as Augustus Gloop came to mine… I asked if they spoke any English, and a girl replied “Oui! Um… yes!” which her friends found very amusing. I asked her how much it was to get into the tower, since I had arrived in such a hurry I took no notice. It seems she didn’t know either. Then I heard a voice of a guy behind me, showing me his smartphone with a list of prices. At first I thought he was American, but it turns out he was a Mexican guy called Humberto. He was on his own like me and we got chatting. He lives in Kühn, Germany right now studying medicine and came across to Paris with his uncle (also a doctor) who was here for a medical conference. We waited, shooing away the hawkers, the beggars, the sham “charity” collectors and Humberto filled me in every now and then on the jokes from the German kids. The official opening time was 9:30AM but 10:00AM came and went with no indication that the ticket office was opening. Knowing that I only had a day in Paris, time was precious and I didn’t want to spend it waiting around. I thought I might try my luck later in the day when I knew for certain it would be open. Humberto mentioned he was planning to visit Versailles later that day, so we decided to leave and head straight there.
We caught a crowded train to Versailles, standing all the way. When we arrived we took a small detour finding the ticket office, then joined the queue outside the palace gates. One thing about Paris is there are a LOT of tourists which means a LOT of lining up! The palace itself is very impressive. The gates are gilt with gold, as is sections of the facade. Then beyond that are the gardens that stretch on and on. Once inside the gates, there was another queue to get into the building itself and pick up an audio guide. By this time we were getting hungry, so we opted to go to another section of the palace first, then find some food. Sculptures, paintings, tapestries, ornate furniture and marble everywhere! It was magnificent, but we were starving…
We found the cafe, grabbed a sandwich each with an apple custard tart and macaroons to share. As we came into the dining hall and looked around, a girl with the distinctive Australian accent offered us her table. She was from North Queensland and has family in Geelong too. Small world 🙂 Once we had eaten, we headed back to the queue for the entrance. We waited in line for a few minutes before realising there was an express queue if you didn’t want an audio guide. Since we had seen half of it already, we decided to jump straight in. After we made our way shuffling through the crowds inside the palace, we came out into the gardens. It was a bright sunny day and the heat was beating down. On the map, we saw the dragon fountain which sounded cool so we headed in that direction. We made our way wandering around the gardens, looking at the different fountains and finding shade where we could under the hedges. We reached the canal and hired a row boat. Humberto did all the work first rowing us out to the middle of the cross shaped canal before we swapped places. Humberto is a pretty good swimmer, so he made the rowing look easy. I on the other hand struggled to get oars to co-ordinate, snaking left and right. Give me a pedal boat any day!! Eventually I got the hang of it. It was so nice just to relax on the water with the sun beating down and admire the surrounding gardens.
By the time we returned the boat, we were starting to feel a bit tired (and hungry) so we headed back to the train station via McDonalds (I know, I know!) The train ride home was much more civilised, we actually got a seat this time and met a couple of Malaysian girls. With people from all over the world, you often don’t know what languages they speak. They were chatting away in Cantonese, as Humberto and I chatted away in English. All of a sudden one of them said something to us in English, and we realised they must have been listening to us the whole time… sneaky 😉 Being from Malaysia the girls explained they know lots of languages (English, Bahasa, Cantonese, Mandarin…) Humberto already knows Spanish, German and English but its his goal to learn ten languages! I’m just glad English was common ground.
When we returned to Paris, Humberto and I made a plan to meet up at the Notre Dame. I was on my bike and he was on the train. There was a service in progress when I arrived, but tourists we still bustling through. It’s a pretty grand building, with massive high ceilings and I made my way briefly around. Lots of candles and idols, not really my thing. When I found Humberto there was a sign saying the towers were closed for maintenance. So we went to the wax museum next. I took my bike, and he jumped on the train. An awesome ride that took me through the Louvre. Unfortunately when we arrived the museum was already closed. The Australia Bar was right next door and we could hear a massive cheer. We went inside to check it out and the World Cup was on the big screen. Mexico had just scored against Cameroon! We watched it for a few minutes then decided we would head off and meet at the Eiffel tower.
This is where things went a bit pear-shaped. I couldn’t find Humberto at the tower and when I got the end of the ticket queue the security made me go inside. I made my way up the first flight of stairs. An amazing view. Then the second flight of stairs. Even better views. There was a big line up for the lift to the summit, and I was still hoping I might bump into Humberto so I headed back down again. When I got the to the first level I heard my name – it was Humberto! He had waited for me downstairs and given up, but we had found one another. We made our way up to the second stage and then finally up to the summit. I’m so glad we did. A most spectacular view with the sun setting over Paris. We even saw a guy propose to his girlfriend, so offered to take their picture. A perfect end to the day.
By the time we got down to the ground floor it was getting late. Tomorrow I had to pack everything up and head off to the Loire valley so I needed some rest! I said goodbye to my new friend Humberto for an awesome day and rode back across town to my hotel.