Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2 1/2 Trips around Planet Earth!

I’ll never forget the first and (for the moment) last time I attempted to climb the Eiffel Tower. I was in Paris with my Lucky-one-and-only (Loo)in the spring before our move. We had been going non-stop all week, touring schools, viewing apartments, setting up accounts, taking care of all the “boring” things that were needed to make Paris “home”. Loo had been such a trooper through it all that I suggested we spend the last day as tourists.

“Name it,” I said. “Whatever you want to do, we’ll do it.” She didn’t skip a beat: a trip to the heavens was what she wanted. We were bound for the top of the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived at the Tower from Trocadéro on the right bank, watching it loom ever larger as we approached. We joined the queue for our ticket over the city. As Paris is a tourist destination 365 days of the year, the line was formidable, but peopled with representatives from all over the world, each one looking up, smiling in awe at the sheer magnitude and antique beauty of Eiffel’s Iron Lady, snapping photographs sans cesse. Sound changes, somehow, under the Eiffel Tower; a soft, calming echo magnifies the song of birds flying among the arches. So, I didn’t mind the wait. In retrospect, I rather enjoyed those lazy moments when my feet were still planted firmly on the ground!

Duo-lifts, resembling cable cars, swoop through the elegant curves of the Iron Lady’s four legs to raise people to her heights. Two of the four mechanisms serve roughly 18,000 visitors a day; a third one is reserved for guests of the aptly named Jules Verne Restaurant; and the fourth functions exclusively for the 500+ personnel – the welders, plumbers, lift operators, cashiers, postal workers, waiters, security guards, etc. – who work ‘round the clock to keep the Tower structure humming. Cavernous basements tucked beneath each of the four pillars house massive hydraulic motors that power the Tower’s lifts. A 3,785-litre tank of water, at one time pumped in from the Seine, provides the counterbalance needed to hoist the cars to the 115-meter second-level landing. From there, visitors to the third, and final, tier join another queue for the vertical journey to the top.

But on that particular day, I’m afraid we didn’t make it to our intended destination…

We were approaching the first level when the car slowed. Then stopped. Then fell. It dropped out from under us! All at once, 40 people were screaming in perhaps as many languages. Loo buried her face in my torso, her arms wrapped so tightly around my waist that I thought I may never breathe again. But I was the mom. I had to remain strong. I could not let her see or feel my panic. I had to be a pillar of calm. So I did what any sensible, near-hysterical mother would do: I looked around for someone, anyone, who might be for me a model of control. And I found him.

The lift operator could not have been more bored. I locked my eyes on his and he nodded that all was okay. He’d clearly been through this before. For him it was not unusual to be bouncing like a rubber ball through space, upward, downward, then upward again, until gravity and inertia had a chance to work their magic and we slowed to a stop at the fulcrum of our fall.

“That was interesting,” I said to Loo, breaking the silence that now gripped the occupants of the elevator.

“We're getting off at the next stop,” she said. And we were thrilled to continue our voyage down the 347 steps through the pillar from the first level to the ground. That is, after we had our share of Paris views from 57 meters, which, quite honestly, was plenty high for me.

Eiffel Tower elevator accidents, I typed into "Google" as soon as I was able. And, you know, in nearly 120 years, it appears there haven't been any. Since Eiffel’s era, the Tower’s lifts have soared smoothly. In fact, each year the combined journey of all four lifts adds up to 103,000 km. That’s 2 ½ trips around planet Earth!

Tour Eiffel Magazine, numero 1, 2009.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Free On-line Photos.
Courtesy of Peter L. Svendsen, Wikimedia Commons and Share and ShareAlike.
Courtesy of
Matthias Jauernig and Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Sarah, My 3rd attempt to post a comment!?
    Was right there with you at the tower, from the tranquility of the birds before your ascent, to your exiting via the stairs! Whew... I have never done the tower in all our trips to Paris, now I wonder?! Lived in the Trocadero for three months, so that brought back memories!
    See your source listings, so professional, I must remember to do that! Not sure you will see my reply to your post on my blog, so want to say, I am your girl, if time is right!

  2. Thanks, Patsy, for your encouraging comments. I will definitely keep you posted (no pun intended) when the available dates clarify themselves! All the best, SarahT