For people who imagine that Paris is full of men in berets, black and white hooped shirts, a string of onions around their necks, playing the accordion and speaking like Peter Sellers in the ‘Pink Panther’ films then EPCOT is wonderfully accurate but actually I think I have to say that it is probably one of the worst representations of all in World Showcase.
That’s because I believe that the only way to see Paris is to do it properly as I did when I visited the French capital in 2002 and rather like EPCOT, where you can see a whole country in just a few minutes, I saw the major sites in a foot-slogging, energy-sapping half a day and invented what my son subsequently called ‘speed-sightseeing’!
We started at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées where the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe was extremely intimidating. There are no lanes and none of the usual rules of driving etiquette as hundreds of cars race and weave in and out of each other like dodgem cars at a fairground. The French have a ludicrous driving rule called priorité à droite where vehicles from the right always have priority at junctions and roundabouts.
This rule is in fact so ludicrous that even the French themselves have seen the sense of virtually abandoning elsewhere in the country but it remains the rule here at the busiest roundabout in France (probably) and cars entering the circle have the right-of-way whilst those in the circle must yield. Braking is forbidden and the use of the horn is compulsory, there is no apparent lane discipline that I could make out and entering the roundabout is an extended game of ‘chance’ where drivers simply waited to see whose nerve would fold and who would yield first.
We approached the Arc from the Champs Élysées and as far as I could see there was no safe way of crossing and getting to the monument until we eventually found the underground tunnel which took us safely below the traffic chaos above and into the Place de Charles de Gaulle. We shunned the elevator and climbed the steps instead to the top of the fifty metre high building (the second largest triumphal arch in the World) and enjoyed the views of the boulevards and roads converging and radiating away from this famous landmark. Close by we could see the Eiffel Tower and this was where we were going next.
The Eiffel Tower is an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars and has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world. Named for its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair. It is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-story building. Upon its completion, it surpassed the Washington Monument to assume the title of tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for forty-one years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930.
The tower has three levels but we didn’t have time to stand in the queue for the first stage elevator so we took all six hundred steps to the second level and we would have climbed to the very top if we could but the third level is only accessible by an expensive lift. I have visited the Eiffel Tower four times now; in 1979 on a Town Twinning visit to Evreux in Normandy, in 1990 on a weekend trip with some work colleagues to celebrate a new career, this occasion and finally in 2004, the last time that I visited Paris. Unfortunately on every occasion the weather has been overcast and I have never enjoyed the clear views that should really be possible from the top.
Our next stop was Notre Dame Cathedral but as we had walked quite a distance already we took a Batou Mouche barge ride the short distance the River to the Ile de Cîte and as the vessel made its way through the centre of the city we soaked up the historic sites along both banks from the viewing platform at the back of the boat.
Although we had already climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and half way up the Eiffel Tower we bought tickets and waited in line to climb to the top of the Cathedral but sadly by the time we reached the top and walked around the external galleries the mist had returned and wrapped Paris in a gloomy grey shroud again.
We were beginning to flag by now and as it was late afternoon we walked a little further around the streets of old Paris and then took a metro back to Montmartre where we walked along the boulevard with its seedy sex establishments and grubby shops and into the touristy cobbled back streets of the district famous for painters, night-life and a red-light district. I found a shop to buy some beer and we rested for a while at the hotel before going out again in the evening when we walked to the Sacré Coeur Cathedral which on account of it being built on the highest point in the city involved an energy sapping walk which more or less finished Jonathan off for the day!
The plan was to find somewhere to eat but he was so tired that he preferred my suggestion of returning to the hotel and like all good Parisians I would fetch a McDonalds meal from around the corner and we would just stay in and crash! So we did just that.
The real Paris is a much better experience than the EPCOT version except in one respect – EPCOT has no dog shit all over the pavements which is something that really spoils Paris and most other major cities in France.