We can see it from the airport window, and our chaperones tell us, "We're going there first." I'm sure they did that on purpose - take us to this thing that is so quintessentially, so iconically French right away to get it out of our system. Wouldn't want us wandering the Louvre, or strolling through the streets of Montmarte thinking, "This is nice, but when are we going to the Eiffel Tower?"
We haven't even checked in to our hotel when we pull up next to it; our bags are still sitting in the belly of the bus. Our guide hands us our tickets as we file off the bus, with a warning not to lose them, or we won't be able to get on the elevator that takes us to the observation deck at the top of the tower. We all clutch our tickets tightly - we don't want to miss this.
Surrounding the base of the tower are men who Sell. Cheap trinkets, stolen goods, and designer knock-offs, all spread out on blankets that can be gathered quickly if the police come around. We call them Blanket Men, and we will see them everywhere. There's equipment set up for some kind of photo shoot just beyond the line we're standing in, licensed sellers and their carts piled high with little statuettes and coffee mugs with Gustave Eiffel's face on them. And of course, armed militia.
There's a cry from the far leg of the tower, and a Blanket Man takes off running with a uniformed guard hot on his heels. He nearly catches him - as he reaches out to grab the back of the Blanket Man's shirt, his foot slides out from under him, and he hits the gravel. The Blanket Man jumps the fence, and the crowd goes wild.
From the top of the tower, the city sprawls. Rues and avenues spiderweb as far as the eye can see, and even from up here we can see that traffic is a mess (until I get to Uganda, Paris will be the most terrifying traffic experience I have ever had, even if our bus could easily crush anything in our way).
There are grey clouds on the horizon, and the wind up here cuts right through our lightweight jackets, and while we're all so excited to be here in this place seeing this city, we kind of want to get back down where it's a little warmer. We have another three days in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower will stand strong wherever we go.