Once upon a time, 15 years ago, I traveled to Paris with my best friend. I didn't really know what I wanted to do or see while I was there, other than the iconic touristy things. Naturally, the Arc d'Triomphe was on that list. I didn't really know what it was, or what to do once we got there, but knew that it should be on the list. Dutifully, we walked up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc. It was late February, and a drizzle was falling. "Drizzle" doesn't sound threatening, but that slight bit of moisture while trudging uphill made it hard. We had already done a lot of walking that day, this was quickly turning into just an activity to check off a list.
When we got to the intersection, THE INTERSECTION where about 10 or 12 roads converge into a huge round-about, getting to the actual edifice seemed like just one more undesirable obstacle. I looked at the Arc, noting how much HUGER it is in real life than any movie or photo book can prepare you for, and said, "I'm done."
Cim said, "But we're almost there. Look! It's right there!"
"Yep," I agreed. "There it is. It's big." Pause. "Okay, what's next?"
"Aren't you even going to go TOUCH IT?" she exclaimed incredulously.
"Nope, I've seen it. Besides, I am not going to take my life into my hands more than necessary to get across that crazy intersection. There are no crosswalks! C'mon, let's go."
"But, look! There's an underground pedestrian access tunnel."
"Yeah, I've seen it. Let's go."
And so we left. Without touching the Arc d'Triomphe. It did not seem logical that there would be an underground pedestrian tunnel to it. It just was this huge THING in the middle of this crazy street surrounded by crazy drivers, and I was tired.
This time around when we were planning this trip, I had the option, because of my shortened timeline, of going to EITHER London or Paris. I love London. It is safe to say that it is my favorite city. I hadn't loved Paris before. I was glad I had gone and had enjoyed myself, but I hadn't really fallen in love with it the way you're supposed to. I had been yelled at on the Metro ("SORTIE!"), I had been pushed, shoved, thought the city was dirty and the people rude, and was glad when it was time to go back to London. This was my repentance opportunity. The more mature, experienced me wanted to make amends with Paris. And I knew that part of being forgiven would entail actually TOUCHING the Arc d'Triomphe this time around.
Did I mention there were stairs? Not only did I embrace the formidable Arc, we paid for the privilege to climb to the top. One hundred and eighty-nine stairs in the spiral staircase, and another three - four stories to get to the outdoor plaza.
Spiral stairs, at least this many of them, are hard to climb. Not that they're more steep than other stairs, but there is no sense of distance achieved since it is just a never-ending circle.
The Champs Elysees:
We walked around the entire top of the Arc. I spent some minutes watching each traffic intersection, hoping to see an accident. I heard a statistic that there is an accident every 15 minutes (or I'm making that up), but I didn't see a single one. Lots of close calls, but no actual collisions.