This is one post in a series of articles about our visit to Paris.
A little over a week ago my mother had an endarterectomy, a “rotor rooter” procedure that cleared a large blockage from her left carotid artery. The surgery, if not major, certainly wasn’t routine, and while the outcome of the procedure was a success, she’s taking some time to recover.
Dale and I have been staying with her to assist with the recuperation process. I’ll admit it’s sometimes hard to face the fact that she’s not getting any younger, but I’m also happy to have this time with her. I’ve had many wonderful moments with my mother, and this seems like a good time to reflect on one of them–our trip to Paris.
My sister Ronica has called our time in Paris “a trip of a lifetime,” and that’s so true. For as long as I can remember, Ronica and I have talked about a mother-daughter trip to somewhere exotic, and Paris was at the top of our list. I’ll admit that I thought the trip would never happen, that it was something fun to talk about, but considering that my mother was getting older, my sister wasn’t crazy about flying, and Paris was just so far away, it seemed like a nice fantasy more than anything.
But when Dale and I decided last year that we would visit Paris as part of our trip to Europe, I knew that we had to make this mother-daughter trip a reality, and my big-hearted husband went along with the plan. We invited mom and Ronica, and they both agreed, and I’m not sure which one of us was most excited.
Like Dale and I, this was my sister’s first international trip. My mother, however, had been to Europe twice in the past five years, a pretty incredible fact given that, before my dad died in 2010, most family vacations took place within close proximity of Vegas (or some other city where gambling was legal), because Daddy loved slot machines and poker! Don’t get me wrong; Las Vegas was always a blast. The drive west–especially in the time before cars had air conditioning–was always an adventure, and we’ve seen the Grand Canyon probably more times than most Americans, but my mother has always thirsted to see the world. And she made up for lost time after daddy died. Within a few years, she’d been on trips all over the country as well as to Greece, Turkey, and Spain. Amazing. My mother went international years before I did!
So the plan was set–Dale and I would be in Paris in September for ten days, and Ronica and mom would join us for six of those. Ronica and I got together ahead of time to make a list of everything we wanted to see. We had grand plans for visiting all of the most important sites. The wish list was long, and why not? It’s Paris, after all.
Once we got there, however, the six days went by too fast. The jet lag was hard on both of them, but especially mom, so the items we actually checked off of that long list together were limited to a few of the biggies–the Louvre, Versailles, Notre Dame, and of course the Eiffel Tower. That was my mother’s number one priority.
We visited the Eiffel Tower on the night before Ronica and mom were to fly back to the States, and, while there were numerous highlights from our time together, that final evening turned out to be the most fun of all.
First, before going to the tower, we had to eat supper. The Pullman Hotel, where my mother and sister were staying, had a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower but a terrible selection of restaurants nearby, not surprising given that it was in a very touristy area. Over the previous days, we had consumed several expensive, mediocre meals in that neighborhood.
But on their last night in Paris, we finally got it right, going to one of the few nearby restaurants with a decent Trip Advisor rating—an Italian food place. Yep, we had pizza in Paris. Go figure. But you know what? It was delicious, made even better by several bottles of wine that we consumed during the meal. The three of us girls got a bit giddy, especially my mother, who kept cracking herself up, so much so that she had a hard time finishing a sentence. It was delightful. Meanwhile, Dale sat back and just smiled at us.
We toasted, a lot:
- to Paris,
- to pizza in Paris,
- to the Mona Lisa and the naked statues that we saw at the Louvre
- to Versailles, where the crazy excess of French royalty was on full display
- to Bernard, a flirtatious waiter we had met earlier in the week who particularly loved to tease my mother
- To each other. We were experiencing Paris together. Trip of a lifetime indeed.
We also made new friends at the restaurant, two young women from China sitting at the table next to us. Like us, they were imbibing the wine, and, like us, these gals were quite merry. They spoke basically no English, but the communication barrier did nothing to stop an instant, if ephemeral, friendship from forming. They had camera phones and selfie sticks and big smiles, and they wanted pictures with us. We became a part of their Paris vacation photo album, and vice versa.
We stayed a bit long at dinner, and by the time we got to the Eiffel Tower, it was late afternoon sliding into evening, and there was a long line for the observation decks. Even in mid-September, this most popular of tourist attractions was packed. While waiting in line, we made two more friends, a young woman named Carolina and her aunt, Gloria, both from Colombia. They’d been traveling around Europe together for several weeks. We learned that when she was younger Carolina was an exchange student, living in the metropolis of Como (population: 700 or so), which is east of Dallas and, as it would have it, just south of Paris (Texas). Both women were very friendly, and by the time we reached the elevators that would take us to the observation decks, we had exchanged contact information and invitations to visit. Hopefully someday we will find ourselves in Colombia, hanging out with our friend and personal tour guide Carolina!
Whether you observe it from a distance or stand underneath it, the Eiffel Tower is awesome to behold, but you get a whole new appreciation for this graceful mass of wrought iron and rivets when roaming its observation decks. We had access to two: the second floor and the summit. (The first floor has an observation deck as well, but it was closed for renovations). The tower offered breathtaking, 360-degree views of Paris, and we could truly appreciate the city’s uniform limestone buildings and well-planned lay-out.
We got there so late that we almost missed seeing Paris in the daylight, but there’s a benefit to being on the observation decks after dark–you get to see the Eiffel Tower when it’s lit up. It’s magnificent at night, glowing with a golden hue, an effect created by the presence of 336 projectors containing yellow-orange sodium lamps.
The tower also has a beacon at the summit that beams light far into the distance.
And then there’s the sparkle. From sundown until 1:00 AM, every hour on the hour, 20,000 light bulbs come to life for five minutes, turning the entire tower into one big mass of glitter and shimmer. We had read about this hourly event beforehand and thought it might be some sort of cheesy special effect, but in reality it was magical. We made sure to see it at least once every night while Ronica and mom were in town, and seeing the twinkling lights from the observation decks was dizzying.
I’m not exactly sure how long we spent on the observation decks (the wine made the concept of time a little fuzzy), but we wandered around, making the loop multiple times while guiding our tiny mom through the crowds, stopping periodically to take in the many iconic landmarks, including Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elyseés, Notre-Dame, The Louvre, and Sacré Couer, to name just a few. After we had our fill, we headed back down to earth.
What a way to culminate a whirlwind week. The best part about going to the Eiffel Tower on that breezy fall evening was that I got to share it with my mom and sister (and of course Dale!). Experiencing the city with them was priceless, and I’m so glad that this wild dream of a mother-daughter trip to Paris actually came true.
Note: I’m so grateful to my sister, without whom our mother may not have been able to join us. She did all the planning for her and mom, buying the tickets, making hotel and transportation arrangements, helping mom get through the airport and customs, and so on.
And even though this post is meant to be a love letter to my mother and sister, I couldn’t resist sharing a few interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower:
- It was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair and only meant to be a temporary installation. Many Parisians disliked it, considering it to be an eyesore, and it was scheduled to be torn down in 1909. City officials changed their minds when they realized it could be used as a radiotelegraph station, and in World War I it proved valuable for intercepting enemy radio transmissions and dispatching important information.
- The Eiffel Tower is the tallest structure in Paris, at 324 meters (1063 feet)
- During the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II, Hitler ordered that the Eiffel Tower be torn down; fortunately for us, his inferiors never complied.
- Today the tower attracts more visitors than any other paid attraction in the world, and it’s still used for radio and television broadcasts.
- It was constructed with over 18,000 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets.
- And as for all those sparkling lights, it took 25 mountain climbers five months to install the light bulbs and everything that went along with them, such as electrical cords and lighting fixtures. What a job!
Tour Eiffel has a great website that discusses everything Eiffel. They have an interactive panorama of the tower that’s worth checking out, although the first window is misleading because the Eiffel Tower doesn’t actually stretch over a street. Other than that, it offers an excellent look at the views that the tower has to offer.