Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Annelize Venter

Never in my life have I seen something more grand or experienced something more frightening than what I am about to tell you…

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon.  The sun was shining for the first time in four hours and we were drenched from top to toe.  God had christened us on our first ever visit to Paris.  Our walking tour hadn’t go quite as planned and we spend most of the morning running from tree to tree (not quite like Tarzan and his Jane, but close) in search of a bit of shelter against the unexpected spring shower.  We’re in Paris, for crying out loud, it is supposed to be the city of romance:  the stuff bestselling novels and blockbuster films are made of!  Not London where your daily dressing ritual can’t be completed without putting on a raincoat and ensuring that there is two umbrella’s nestled neatly in your over-sized Mary Poppins’ handbag.  (It is two, because the first one always has the knack of turning inside out before becoming a skeleton just before you have mananged to fight your way to the nearest bus stop or tube station).  Nevertheless, so far the ten hours’ coach ride from London to the (now wet) city of Paris has not been in vain.  What an adventure it has been so far!

After our lunch (and yes, some of us had cuisses de grenouilles – tastes like chicken!) we head to the much bespoked Tour Eiffel via a ferry ride down the Seine river.  The scenery on the way is picturesque, but the moment Little Eiffel lurks its head out between the treetops, it takes your breath away.

So many nights before have I dreamt of this moment, but it is not quite what I expected.  It is better!  I got a headrush by just standing at the feet of Little Eiffel, my eyes glimpsing upwards to take in the full perspective.
“Not so little anymore, ‘ey?”
I am almost certain that Eiffel is egging on the wind to whisper its mocking message in my ear.
Indeed not so little anymore.  Far from it, actually.

My tour mates are trying their best to persuade me to reach for new heights.  I am afraid of heights.  Old ones and new ones alike.  Then the whispering wind comes rustling in my ear again once again:  “I’ll embrace you.  No regrets.”

I found myself turning around more than a few times in that awefully long que.  But my tour mates were always one ahead (and one behind and one to each side of me).  No turning back now.

My palms are sweating, my knees are shaking and I can’t seem to catch my breath.  I am reluctant to hand over the twelve Euro.  It is a lot of money to pay for getting nauseous…

The elevator doors open and all my eyes can see is the glistening of the silver pole in the middle of the dark hole.  I take pole position (to the amusement of the other passengers) as I embrace it with both my arms.  Just incase the Eiffel’s message was one of mockery, I wrap my legs around my docking station as well.  I hear the giggles and sniggers of laughter and I feel the pointing of the fingers towards me, but I can see none.  My eyelids are tightly pressed together as soon as I felt the lift-off. 

Suddenly a caressing arm embraces me.  Did the Eiffel indeed honour its promise to protect me?  I relaxed my left eyelid for a brief moment to glimpse at my good Samarithan, but his/her face will forever be a blur.  They never told me the elevator was made of glass!  Why, oh, why, would they do that do me?  Why?

After decades the lift finally came to a halt.
“Nope, not at the top yet!”
I wish I could strangle the mocking wind…  Here we go again!

A millenium later we arrived at the top.  I am forced out of my (now) comfort zone and make my way inch by inch to the stairwell.  All I can see is the stringy wire that stands between me and a 320 metre drop.  It is at that moment that my fear was pushed aside by something else:  a great sense of accomplishment is flowing through my being.  A revelation that is far beyond understanding.  I am in Paris, France, at the top of the Eiffel tower.  I wish I could afford the ten Euro glass of champagne, but if there is a next time, it will definitely be next time.

I am on top of the world!

I am shocked back to reality by the pushing crowds.  I want to shout out:  “Don’t touch me!  Have you any idea how far 320 metres is?”

Slowly, but surely we see our way back to the glass elevator.  I assume pole position once again.  I guess some things in life will never change…