October 14, 2012

Views from the Top

The Eiffel Tower and the London Eye are two of the most famous landmarks in the world. They were built over a decade apart but have both been host to millions of visitors. The Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 to serve as the entrance to the Universal Expedition (1889 World’s Fair)   It was named after the engineer, Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower in just two years. It was never intended to last more than 20 years but became such a popular attraction and was such an engineering success that it has been renovated and remains a constant on the Paris skyline. The tower stands 320 meters high, roughly equivalent to an 81-story building. Visitors who chose to venture up to the 3rd observation deck are 279.11 meters above the ground.

Built more than a decade later, the EDF Energy London Eye, at 135 meters high, is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It was conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects and was launched in 2000. It looks very much like a giant Ferris wheel yet all of its “cars” are actually enclosed pods that can hold around 25 people. The complete cycle of the wheel takes about 30 minutes and provides spectacular views of London. The only way that you can really tell that you are moving is because of the change in scenery.

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see both of these attractions and the cities that are spread out beneath them. In 2014, girls who are 15-18 years old will have the opportunity to venture across the ocean to these two cities with Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland council. I encourage you to start saving your dollars so that you can visit some of the extraordinary sites and learn about the cultures of England and France.

London is easier to navigate because of course the locals speak English.  But you soon realize that the Queen’s English is not American.  While traveling around the city you will want to wear your trainers (tennis shoes), eat some delicious fish and chips (fries), stand in the queue (line), and take the tube (subway) to your destinations.  You will also have to get used to using pounds instead of dollars. The paper money isn’t difficult to learn but there are 8 coins that go from one pence (penny) to 2 pounds (two dollars). 

I spent several days in London and saw many of the most popular tourist attractions.  It would be impossible to try and share the entire experience so here are some of my favorite fun facts:
·         If you work at Buckingham Palace, you can live there.  There are 188 staff bedrooms.
·         In the White Drawing Room of the Palace, there is a secret passageway that leads to the Queen’s bedroom.    
·         A wall has to be removed at the Royal Mews in order to get the Coronation Carriage out of the building.
·         There is a statue of an archer with his arrow poised and ready to strike at anyone who threatens the Tower of London. Maybe this is because the Crown Jewels are housed here.
·         During World War II, there were soldiers posted on the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Their job was to extinguish the random flames caused by the bombings before fire could destroy the church.
·         Most public restrooms require that you pay for their use.  Keeping an assortment of coins available is always a good idea.
·         A prayer is offered and a moment of silence is taken once an hour at Westminster Abbey.

Paris is harder to navigate than London because French is the primary language and the subway system is way more confusing.  Money now becomes the Euro, which is used in the majority of Europe.  There are still 8 coins that are used but they are not the same size and shape as the British pound system. The denominations smaller than a Euro are however called 1 cent, 2 cents, etc. like American coins.

Paris has its own highlights that include famous structures like The Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa, and the Champs-Elysees which many Americans recognize as the end of the famous Tour de France bike race.  Some of my favorite tidbits about Paris are:
·         Be sure to put your seat belt on when in a taxi.  New York taxis drive fast but in Paris there are many places that don’t have marked lanes.  What we think of as a two-lane road might quickly become a 3 or 4-lane road with taxis, buses, cars, motorcycles, and scooters jockeying for position.  Motorcycles and scooters often drive right up between two rows of cars.
·         There are 12 roads that join the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe.  It looks like it could make a clock face.
·         If you would like to explore the towers at Notre Dame Cathedral, start getting in shape.  There are 387 steps and no elevator!  You will get a great view of the gargoyles.
·         The boat ride along the Seine River is very scenic.  On weekend evenings, people bring their picnics and just sit along the river chatting with friends.
·         At night, the lights on the Eiffel Tower sparkle for five minutes each hour.

It was an amazing trip and I hope that you all have an opportunity to visit these fascinating cities.  Remember in June 2014 you could be part of the Girl Scout trip.  Keep watching myGSOH for more information.

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