April 1999 – Paris, France
There are just some things in life that should not be missed, and having no feeling in your legs after all the stairs in Paris is just one of them!
No wonder cellulite is a 20th Century invention. A classic city such as Paris surely did not have electronics taking it’s citizens to glorious views over their cityscape when it was being built. Rest assured, every wince of your calf muscle as you place your foot on the next elevation is well worth the effort.
To get you started, go down stairs, and where better than the Catacombes. If you loved "Interview with a Vampire" then this is the place for you! Those silly Vampires Anne Rice so loved to write about didn’t know their trusty home, the Paris Cemetery, was about to be excavated due to the overflowing of the graves as a result of the plague.
Needless to say, decaying bodies were not good for health. So in 1785, bones of thousands of dead where plucked from their infested soil only to have their earthly remains decadently arranged in 1.6 kilometers of tunneling in the 14 arrondissement. Not just a storage vault for the ancestors of this fairy tale city, during World War II the tunnels where utilized by the French Resistance as their headquarters. Puts new meaning to going underground!
Keeping to the macabre, my journey progressed upwards to the Gargoyles of Nortre Dame. Over 300 very thin, steep and windy steps lead you to a zoo of gothic delights.
The Monsters that originated to frighten other evil spirits sit high and proud as keepers of Paris’s most famous Cathedral. Like these still beasts, who wouldn’t want to be frozen in time on top of a flying buttress with such a magnificent view of this magical city?
Feeling invincible? Take those feet a little higher and put yourself in the romance of the "Hunch Back of Nortre Dame" as you ascend to the heavens for a chance to feel the bell that made this story so much a part of our childhood memories. Those of you whom are taller than this petite reporter will have to stumble about on their knees for fear of banging their heads on the decline!
In 1806, Napolean commissioned the world’s largest roundabout at the junction of twelve avenues to commemorate his Imperial victories. Personally, I think he just wanted to test our stamina, with 273 worn out stone steps spiraling upwards to the top. Yet once your jelly legs get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (and you have scrambled with a nine year old to get to the telescope first) the pure adrenaline of being there takes over. With a perfect 360 degree view, even on a cloudy day there is much to see. A great way to orientate yourself with Paris and to prepare for the stairs that inevitably lay ahead.
Your legs are now in top form, and never so well toned. Let’s keep it up!
Take a stroll through the windy enchantments that make up the Montmartre. At the Sacre Coeur, have a little rest on a very French invention, the Carousel, and reclaim your childhood, before venturing up to the impressive dome of the Sacre Coeur that dominates the landscapes. But take heed, this area is very bohemian and fashionable amongst the art students. They find it their duty to demonstrate their causes by way of egg throwing and flour bombing from the rest points that make up part of the 234 steps to the Cathedral. My advice, take an umbrella!
If you think you can rest up by taking a train, think again. Paris might have just about the best public transport system I have ever seen, but you have to get to it. You got it, more stairs. In fact, an intricate system of tunnels leading you between platforms that go up and down enough to make you seasick! However, once on board it is clean, economical and very easy to follow. Until you have to get off to face another upward challenge at the end of each day!
Now for the real adventurous, the Eiffel Tower. Now we all know this is big, but you will be happy to know there is a lift! Yes a lift! If you want to journey to one of the three levels open to the public on this 320m high structure, then my advice is definitely use the aid of modern technology.
I can’t help but remember that this landmark was built only as a temporary structure for the World Fair at the turn of the century. This makes me a little nervous as the 7000 tonnes of metal constantly move as it shrinks and contracts according to the weather. If you want to see the sunset over Paris then this is the place to do it, just make sure you get there early as the queues for sunset are more horrendous than any staircase you will encounter.
May I strongly recommend that when you visit Paris you take many bandaids for your impending blisters, a pumice stone as you’re sure to encounter calluses from your walking shoes, and last but not least, your favorite foot masseuse. Not only will your feet need it, but this is the city of love after all. However that is a whole different story…
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