Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!

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I try to report on culture and lesser known tourist spots, but some of the big ones are impossible to avoid.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I did not include a post on the Eiffel Tower in my Paris posts.  It’s one of the world’s most famous structures; it’s become iconic, a symbol of Paris.  Today, Paris’s skyline is unimaginable without its iron lattice structure and spire.

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The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is 1000 feet (320 meters) high and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 40 years.  Named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who (along with a team of engineers) designed it.  Built for the 1889 Worlds Fair (which coincidentally was the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), it was intended to be a temporary structure.  It was so popular (ahem, profitable) that it remained even after the fair.  Elevator ticket sales in recouped almost the entire cost of the structure in just one year. Its popularity was not a given.

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Ironically, pre-construction, critics called Eiffel’s design an eyesore and predicted cost overruns.  What’s more, Eiffel completed the project on time and it quickly became a tourist attraction.  Gustave got the last laugh, he received the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France for creating what became a national symbol of France.

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The Eiffel Tower is repainted every seven years with 50 tons of the dark brown paint.  It’s made from 18,000 pieces of iron that create an elegant art nouveau webbed-metal design.   Eiffel recognized the impact wind forces on tall structures. As a result, he made the surface variation minimal with an open lattice of light trusses through which the wind can blow.  That’s why you don’t see any ornamentation on the building.

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It’s not just a sculpture, you can visit the tower’s interior (be ready for crowds and a wait, prebooking tickets may help).    You can get onto the three platforms by elevators and stairs.  From the top one, there are views of up to 37 miles (60 km). Since there’s wheelchair access to only the 1st and 2nd levels, we didn’t go up.  If I’d planned better, we would have gotten a reservation at the second level Le Jules Verne restaurant and snuck up with him to the higher Bar à Champagne.
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By the way, if you’re climbing the seemingly countless stairs to the first platform, look out for the names of 72 French scientists and other luminaries just beneath the first platform.

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London’s Museums

We left London a whole lot smarter (don’t get me wrong, we are still as dumb as two boxes of rocks).  We went to a few great museums: the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tower of London and the National Gallery.  The Rosetta Stone (below) is one the British Museum’s most famous objects.  It has same inscription written in three different scripts (Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic Egyptian) and allowed modern scholars to begin to decipher hieroglyphs for the first time.

From the statue of Ramses II to the egyptian mummies to statues from Easter Island and more. The British Museum was awesome.  If you rule 1/4 of the world’s population and have the money and the means to bring back treasures, you can amass an amazing collection.

 

 

King’s Library
Winged Lions (with human heads) from Assyria
This used to hang in the Parthenon.
The Elgin Marbles were amazing, his favorite part.
No wonder Greece wants them back.

The Imperial War Museum is in Bedlam.  Yep, that’s right Bedlam, the mental hospital that was so chaotic that it’s name became synonymous with it.  It was a fantastic museum.  They have tons of old bombs, tanks, vans, planes, etc., but there are also great exhibits.  Some of the highlights include: British spying in the 20th century, WWI (including a simulated trench warfare experience) and WWII (with a disorienting air raid experience).

The most astounding part of the museum was the Holocaust exhibit, the most complete in Europe.  They have an immense amount of materials and it is well presented.  Part of the way through, we found ourselves becoming a bit numb.  The content was so disturbing that it was the only way we could continue to the end without falling apart.  I cannot recommend seeing this highly enough.

The National Gallery (one of the world’s best art museums) has an unprecedented and immensely popular exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci.  It just opened and they have already sold out of tickets online.  To see it, I waited in the cold rain for an hour and a half!  It was well worth it.  Da Vinci painted less than 20 paintings over the course of his life and they never had so many together.  Ironically, a lot of the drawings belonged to her majesty the queen!

We were exited for the opportunity to move here, in part, because we knew that we would learn and grow.  This weekend, it started to dawn on us just how much learning is so much more accessible.  We resolved to try to take full advantage.