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By Eurostar to Paris

The Eiffel Tower is huge. I know that's a ridiculous thing to say. The size is the whole point. But when we stood at the bottom, looking up at all those bolts and rivets and beams climbing high into the air - yes, it really is enormous.

We'd bought stairs tickets to the second level. The climb wasn't actually too arduous, and the weather was cloudy and cool. The heat would arrive later in the holiday. We eavesdropped on a tour guide who was explaining what some of the buildings were, and put a few euros in a telescope to get an even better view.

Crossing the river, we walked up to the Place du Trocadéro to view the Eiffel Tower at a more manageable size. Around us, vendors were offering models of it in six different colours, complete with flashing lights.

The boys were flagging as we continued up Avenue Kléber, although Graham and Toby perked up dramatically when we suddenly stumbled across a hotel with some very expensive cars outside.

At the end of Avenue Kléber is the Arc de Triomphe. It's a good solid arch, but it was the anarchic traffic circle surrounding it that drew our attention. Cars and buses plunged in from one direction, dodged several lanes of traffic, and somehow escaped in another direction without hitting anything on the way.

Next morning we kept things local, walking from our apartment in Charenton le Pont to the Palais de la Porte Dorée. It was constructed for the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931, and currently houses the Museum of Immigration History in an attempt to redeem its dramatic but uncomfortably dated colonial decoration.

It also has an albino crocodile in the basement, along with turtles and piranhas.

In the afternoon we had booked tickets to the Louvre. Apart from Graham googling "best things to see in the Louvre" we hadn't got any plan, so we headed to the top floor and looked at whatever was in front of us. That took us from gigantic paintings of angels to swimming Egyptian ladies, along with monks, saints, and decorative ceilings.

We knew we were approaching the Mona Lisa as the crowds got thicker. It's crazy that this is the one painting everyone has to see. It's in the same room as the museum's largest painting, which gets much less attention.

Just as we were leaving, all the exits to the pyramid area were closed, and we had to be ushered out of a side door. There were several fire engines outside but no obvious sense of panic. We never did find out what was going on.

By the third day the weather had got properly hot. As a change from the Métro (underground), we took the tram to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, in the northeast of Paris. It was a Sunday, so plenty of people were picnicking on the grass or jogging by the lake.


In the evening we went to the city centre again and caught a most spectacular sunset over the Seine. We stood on the Pont Alexandre III and marvelled as the sky turned every shade of pink and orange, and the lights on the bridge came on, and the Eiffel Tower twinkled and glowed. It was awesome.

Feeling that we ought to do some shopping in Paris, I marched my family the next morning in the direction of E. Dehillerin, cooking utensil supplier for over 100 years. It was an odd little place. Everything was in cardboard boxes, making it look more like a hardware shop. It wasn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped, so we drifted along the street and found the Lego store, which everyone found much more interesting.

On the tram the previous day, we'd passed several places selling "French tacos". I had never heard of a French taco. So when we saw somewhere selling them today, we went in and ordered them for lunch. They turned out to be toasted wraps stuffed with sliced potatoes, meat, and sauce. More like a burrito than a taco. And very filling. I didn't take a photo of us eating, but I did take a photo of the view upwards.

Amazingly, Graham and Toby found room for enormous ice creams later in the afternoon. Theo declined, and I had a small sorbet which was more than enough.

On the final day I'd booked the Eurostar for about 5pm, not considering the fact that we would have to be out of the apartment by noon. Fortunately our hosts allowed us to leave the suitcases for a few extra hours. It was hot again, so we spent most of the time relaxing in the shade in the nearby park, the Bois de Vincennes (photos from the previous evening).

A final trip on the Métro took us to Gare du Nord in plenty of time for the Eurostar. In London I'd been panicking slightly as our train from Lichfield was late; this time we knew what we were doing and it was all very relaxed. It's so nice not having to worry about quantities of liquids and sizes of hand luggage, as you do when flying. 

We had an hour's wait at Euston station. The platform was announced two minutes before the train was due to depart, and as soon as it came up on the display, it seemed as if the entire station was running for our train! We squeezed ourselves onto some seats. All went well until our friend Phil picked us up at Lichfield station, when we discovered that the A38 was closed, and we had to do a reckless detour along dark country roads. It felt very late when we finally arrived home.


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