We arrived at Charles de Gaulle in late afternoon. Based on my brother Matt’s experience, we headed for the Air France bus to take us into the city center. Right to the Arc de Triomphe, in fact. From there, my college French came back, at least enough for us to snag a taxi, communicate our hotel’s address and be delivered safely to its door. Now this was 1987, way pre-Euro, so francs were still the currency du jour. I’m not quite certain, but I think to this day, I probably tipped the cab drive MORE than the actual fare cost. Ah well, c’est la vie! It was Paris! Who cared?
Our hotel – the St. Louis – was small and charming, on the Ile’s main street. Twin beds, our own bath, and we were settled. Time for dinner. We walked to the corner, gazing in wonder at the back view of majestic Notre Dame. The small Café des Flores offered a simple but delicious dinner, and fortified against the February evening’s chill, we walked across the Seine to the Metro.
After London’s tube, the Metro was easy. We felt like old hands at public transportation now, and descended via the old wooden (yes, wooden) escalator to the platform. With our map in hand, we found the route that would take us to the City of Light’s Holy Grail…La Tour Eiffel. It must have been a quirk of Fate, or guardian angels intervening on our behalf, but the destination stop we chose put us out at the Trocadero. All we knew is that signs pointed the way to Sortie to the tower. We emerged into the night wind, tightening our coats and glad of the hats and scarves we both wore.
We climbed a few steps to the wide plaza flanked by two imposing neo-classical buildings, and our breath was taken away. Glittering with light, arising in the night sky directly in front of us. There it was. The single most recognizable monument in the world. The Eiffel Tower. We just stood, in awe. I don’t think I have the words, even now, to accurately convey the amazement that struck me as I took it all in. I, who had dreamed of this city my whole life, now stood in Paris, the Eiffel Tower in all its riveted glory in MY presence. No wonder you can’t keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree! No siree!
We made our way down the majestic steps, alongside the fountains, crossing over the Seine again, to join the throngs in line. Tickets in hand, we gained the summit past the massive, turning cables, to the very top. All of Paris lay in our view. From Notre Dame, to Sacre Coueur, to the relatively modern (and of no interest to us Paris purists at all) skyscraping Montparnasse. Yes, we were freezing. Yes, the wind threatened to lure our hats from our heads. But could we have been any more thrilled to be there? Surely not.
There is only ever ONE first time that you see Paris. And I’ll never forget that I was able to make our dream come true… together.