The thigh’s the limit

Kim eiffel 1I’ve always wanted to go up in the world. But as you all know, I’m hardly flush enough to afford a penthouse in the 16th, and besides, leaving Granny Flat would simply break my heart. So with one of my best friends in tow visiting from the Motherland entrenched deep inside a new punishing fitness regime, last weekend there was only one way for us to achieve my lofty ambitions, for an afternoon at least. Climb the Eiffel Tower. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Kim eiffel 6The sky’s the limit! the old adage goes. Well… sure Parisian rooftops become a distant tableau the higher you climb, but actually your feet can only take you as far as the second tier, and by then it becomes a case of the thigh’s the limit. Buttock-tuning was a secret aim of our mission, but there’s only so much leg-raising our adult bodies could take. Once the second floor had been conquered there was no way we had enough puff power to hit the very top, and anyway a snaking queue, an extra ticket and the dull prospect of being crammed into a lift to get there meant that we were happy to take in the sights from halfway up.

Kim eiffel 2Now I know for those visiting Paris, hitting the famous tower is a bit of a no-brainer. But here’s the twist. Most folk waste their time hanging around in the longer queue to take the lifts, and pay a bit more for the privilege. From September 1st it’ll set you back €11 to get ferried to the second floor or €17 to reach the very top. But where’s the challenge in that? Skip the queues, pay a mere €7 to walk up the way God intended, and use the extra time and money to grab a glass of wine and a well-earned rest at the bar on the 1st floor. Far classier than hopping from one leg to the other in a never-ending line.

Kim eiffel 5Plus, I can’t imagine that the views can be any more stunning from the third floor than they are from the second. Whatever your perspective when casting your eye over the charms of the Grand Old Dame, the beauty always shines through. People-watching from a cafe terrace shows you the finer aesthetics of Parisian life, but from up its most famous structure, you get to see the city as one in spectacular 360° panorama, taking in all of the must-see spots all at once. Rooftops have never been so romantic since Bert and Mary Poppins skipped across them covered in soot in the old Disney classic.

Kim eiffel 4For the daredevils amongst you, 2014 saw the introduction of a portion of glass floor meaning you can lord over the people-ants below like a huge, sightseeing giant (with jelly legs shaking with fear in our case). Those with love in mind will no doubt move in for the smooch at any given opportunity, and there must have been more proposals up the Eiffel Tower than anywhere else in the world. Me, having a squeeze and a glass of wine with my bestie was enough to make my own heart full of amour. And being able to see the quiet beauty of my much-loved home city from the dizzy heights; now that’s amore.

For more info on how to test your thigh power, check out the tower’s official website here.

 

It’s a fine line…

Kim axis 3Pondering the beauty of my home city the other day, it struck me that the ‘P’ for Paris also stands for ‘paradox’ – and I don’t just mean the presence of sheer mountains of dog merde clogging up streets in a place so celebrated for its good looks. When we think of France’s capital, we often think of it as a place to spend a romantic weekend, or a few days’ shopping. Whatever the purpose of your visit, it seems that most of us intend it to be a short one, which quite frankly sells the old Dame a bit short.

With so many gorgeous things to see, having a mini break here seems as nuts as trying to fit your worldy possessions into a 10m² apartment (trust me, despite optimistic projection is NEVER. GOING. TO. HAPPEN.). Your experiences will just end up bulging out of either side, and no one likes squashed memories. Sure, life is busy and there are so many amazing places to see, not just in France but in the whole world, and finding time for a holiday is as difficult as locating a Parisian parking space.

Kim axis 2Coupled with this, we’re used to having things at the touch of a button, in an instant, in a tiny package that fits into the palms of our hands. Well as much as I’m reluctant to move with the times (still resisting that smartphone would you believe), I have to admire the way that Paris caters to these modern needs and provides us with all the best bits in one bite-size chunk. Want to see all the big players in one tidy tableau without spending precious sightseeing time zigzagging the city map encased in the metro? Paris delivers like a pro.

KIm axis 1If cityscapes were apps, the Axe Historique would gain top marks for usability. An axis, or straight line extending from the centre of the city out to the west, it connects a large number of the most famous sights, meaning that if you’ve no other option than to limit your time to a couple of hard-won days off, or God forbid, mere hours (shudder), you’ll get to bask in the delights of the city’s most revered structural gems without sacrificing too much time.

Kim axis 6The concept of this handy continuous perspective across the city (clearly completely impossible these days in our cram-’em-in pile’em-high urban tangles) was hatched back in the 17th century with the creation of the straight-as-a-poker Champs-Élysées, and encompassed the neighbouring Tuileries gardens (and ancient palace that has since burned down). These days the collection of famous faces has swelled, and now includes from east to west: the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Place de la Concorde and its central Obelisk, Champs-Élysées, Place de l’Étoile dominated by the Arc de Triomphe (regular) and the modern Grande Arche in the satellite CBD way out at La Défense. Currents plans will see it extend even further into the well-to-do suburb of Neuilly.

Kim axis 5I’m hardly the greatest fan of modern scourge the ‘selfie’ (savour life through your very own peepers, not through the screen of your blinking’ phone!) but even I have to admit the gold star value of this particular spot. Position yourself at the eastern end of the Tuileries gardens and the Eiffel Tower will also be in clear view (seriously, what more could you want?!), and turn 180° and ponder exactly how drunk the builders must have been to ensure that the great pyramid of the Louvre will forever be frustratingly off-centre*. Perfectionists beware.

*Said drunkenness is probably not in the slightest bit historically accurate.

Out and a spout

Kim strav 1Summer attracts folk to water like bees to a fallen scoop of raspberry sorbet. Paris Plages’ artificial beaches hugging the banks of the Seine are an option if you don’t mind your tides weak and murky, but for me it doesn’t come close to sating my need for the rolling waves and golden sands that I grew up with on the south coast of England.

Fountains provide the continuous liquid tinkle of relaxation if you park yourself next to them, and if we’re talking about out-spouting the rest, then you can’t beat the graceful flow found at Versailles. But maybe your donkey’s out of order, and the city centre is the only option there is. Where to go to soothe the soul with the gentle stream of calming water music?

Kim strav 2Nestled in a corner of the 3rd arrondissement in the patch more familiarly known as ‘Beaubourg’, you’ll find the modern colour extravaganza that is the Stravinsky Fountain. Just make sure that your eyes aren’t too preoccupied with the neighbouring fantasmic Pompidou Centre, or you’re bound to miss it. And that would be a crying shame – this puppy is like no fountain your eyes will have ever beholden before. If a water feature ever mated with A Clockwork Orange, this would be the happy result.

Kim strav 4Bright and quirky in equal measure, it comprises of a shallow basin (which doesn’t mean you can hop in and have a paddle) housing sixteen sculptures reflecting the different works of naturalised French citizen and composer Igor Stravinsky. If you study each piece for long enough, you’ll be able to identify such characters as ‘the firebird’, ‘the frog’, ‘love’ and ‘death’. It’s a living fountain too – the pieces move and spray water making those fountains at Versailles look pretty one dimensional in comparison.

Kim strav 5Inaugurated in 1983, it was the work of sculptors Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle. Not only does it celebrate Stravinsky’s work, but it was designed to put the Pompidou Centre is some kind of context. On its own, Paris’ modern art gallery is like a scary alien invader amongst the traditional architecture of the city, but with the fountain keeping it company, its progressive, contemporary charm suddenly finds a happy home. Even Dali approves, looking over the water play from a giant mural on a neighbouring wall.

Kim strav 3Once you’ve been suitably hypnotised by the liquid enlightenment and spinning parts, don’t hurry off too soon. That modern artistic spirit has spread to the streets, and this is one part of town where you’ll find some of the weirdest and most wonderful street performers keeping the passers-by mesmerised with their own unique brand of grass roots art.

If you’re immune to all of this creativity, all is not lost; on one of the fountain’s perimeters are cafes and terraces galore, including the home of some the best crêpes in town. Hear that dripping sound? That’ll be your mouth watering…