You might not have heard of the obscure sport of extreme sightseeing, so let me give you a brief history lesson before I dive into my story about how I spent two days in Paris, including a record day of extreme sightseeing.
- Klaus Klein, kicked out of the German bobsleigh team on route to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, decides to stay on in the city for 1 day and cram in as many sights as he could. It was cold, he was tired, but he pushed through those barriers and completed 12 arduous hours of straight sightseeing. A legend, and a sport, was born.
- Extreme sightseeing soars in popularity. Notable entries into the extreme sightseeing hall of fame include Chet Thompson’s 6 hour jaunt in Rio and Wei Ping, with his 20/20 vision, going to the top of the Empire State Building and picking out (and taking a photo of) every known tourist attraction in New York.
- Emilio Sanchez, Spain’s champion extreme sightseer, dies of heatstroke in Bangkok, having visited every temple in the city. The golden age of extreme sightseeing came crashing down that day, and tourists wanting to see it all as fast as possible quietly faded in obscurity, replaced by an army of slow, authentic travellers who felt it was above them to see popular tourist attractions.
To celebrate the 31st anniversary of Klaus Klein’s awe inspiring feats in Sarajevo, I decided to revive the long lost sport, and Paris would be my field of dreams. I also chose to do it in winter, which added some extra extreme points into the mix. Armed with my gloves, a woolen hat and my girlfriend, I tried to tick off as many tourists sights as I could during a day in Paris, using the first day (I spent two days in Paris) as preperation. Was it hall of fame worthy? You’ll have to find out…
8.30 am – Rue du Commerce, Paris
Is there a better way to start a day of extreme sport than an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s? As I sit here loading up on carbs (or probably just fat), I recall the previous day’s events. I’m taking this extreme sightseeing thing seriously, and any good sportsman knows the winning and losing of it is in the preparation. I warmed up by visiting the contrasting artworks of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. I took down notes on how people maneuvered themselves into position in front of the Mona Lisa, and I appreciated the vibrant colours of Monet’s impressionist works. I also caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower while remembering something I’d learnt many years ago during a televised hot dog eating competition. I only got through 3 hot dogs on that occasion, and in the process learnt that impressive feats of strength and endurance require plenty of preparation. Today will be different, as my first day in Paris allowed me to check out my surroundings and prepare for a massive day of sightseeing.
9.30 am – Musée National Du Moyen Age
I’m starting off easy, an early morning trip to this museum means I won’t have to jostle with many other tourists. This is like a light jog around the block before a grueling marathon. There is lots of stuff from the middle ages here, but my mind is fixed on bigger and better things. There are some elaborate stained glass windows and the museum is housed in a nice old building, but after a short stroll around rooms full of old stuff, I’m moving on to the next sight…
10 am – the Panthéon
I’m making great time here; early morning is golden hour for Paris sightseeing. I visited the original Pantheon, in Rome, just a couple of months earlier, and as everyone says about everything, the original is better. It’s still an impressive building, the amazing artwork on the ceiling really elevates it above being just a tired remake nobody wanted. How did the artist, in the 1700s, paint such lifelike faces up there?
10.45am – Notre Dame Cathedral
We actually visited Norte Dame Cathedral yesterday, but for some reason they closed the tower at 4.45 pm. Do they think it’s too cold for people after 4.45 pm in winter? They obviously didn’t consider that some of us tourists are extreme – we can sightsee in any weather, in any light (or lack of light) and for as long as we want. Anyway, I’m back now and ready to climb the tower. The wait is excruciating – I’m wasting valuable sightseeing time inside a boring room waiting to go up a narrow set of stairs. We finally start to move, and before I know it I’m hanging out with the concrete birds and Chinese tourists, looking out over Paris. It’s a great view – the Eiffel Tower dominates the scene like a god, and I know I’ll have to face him (and his extreme line) by the end of the day.
11.30 am – Sainte Chapelle
This is the one place on my list that I hadn’t previously heard of, so I figured the line wouldn’t be too long. I was wrong. I’ve been lining up for an hour now and I can’t feel my face. It’s probably the cold, but there’s always a chance John Travolta stole it. The line moves at glacial speed, 1 or 2 shuffling in every 5 minutes or so. This church better be good.
I’m finally inside, and I’m… disappointed. Is that really it? A small church lined with souvenir stands? Really? Hmm, I was wrong, there is actually more. I moved on past the unimpressive souvenir room and into an amazing world of coloured glass. It surrounded us all, from the floor to the ceiling, shimmering in the late morning sun. It’s probably the best sight in Paris, and one of my favourite churches in Europe. Thank god for extreme sightseeing, as I probably wouldn’t have ended up going to Sainte Chapelle without it.
2.30 pm – Versailles
After a train ride through the suburbs of Paris, I arrived at Versailles, a place where a famous treaty was once signed. Would there be a treaty waiting for me, possibly bringing to an end the tyranny of proper travellers who judge others for not being like them? Would I be received in the court of kings as the saviour of tourism, the warm little centre that the travellers of the world could crowd around? No, but walking around the lavish palace does make for great sightseeing. I make my way through the garden, past the trees that’ve been robbed of their leaves by the encroaching winter, and eventually into Marie Antoinette’s former residence. Those French royals really knew how to live, when my extreme sightseeing millions come through I’ll probably follow their lead and retire to the Parisian countryside.
6 pm – Arc De Triomphe
The day has been wrapped up in the blanket of night, which would mean an end to sightseeing for some people, but not me, not when I’m so close to fulfilling my dreams, and the dreams of a nation (I’m representing New Zealand in this sport). I frantically try to find the entrance to the Arc, but the circular line of traffic around it shows no signs of relenting. I eventually realise the answer lies underground, so down I go, into the depths of hell itself. Well, not hell, but it’s pretty busy down here – I just hope I don’t have to queue for too long. Electric lines of street lights and traffic flow out from the Arc – it’s quite a view, and my old nemesis the Eiffel Tower looms every closer.
7 pm – The Eiffel Tower
It’s finally arrived, the last (and most important) attraction of the day. It’s been a great performance so far, but can my legs hold out for just one more line, the most extreme line of them all? It turns out to be a fairly short wait, due to the fact that the top floor of the tower is closed! Does this mean my hopes of being a champion extreme sightseer are dashed? I calm down and try to convince myself that half way up (or maybe 2 thirds) is just as good as the whole way – but the sporting press and the folks back home might not see it that way. My girlfriend and I took some photos, and before my legs finally gave out, we jumped back in the lift and into the cold night. At that moment I knew Klaus Klein would be proud. I tipped my hat to him and all the other pioneers of this great sport, and then walked (or limped) back through the streets of Paris to my hotel. It had been a successful two days in Paris — I had a relaxing day to get my bearings in the city of love and then I went for broke on day two in order to see as much as I could.
8.30 pm – Back at the hotel – Extreme sightseeing mission complete (and an end to my all two brief two days in Paris)
I’ve done it, I’ve completed 12 hours of straight sightseeing! From medieval French stuff to iconic cathedrals and a monster made of metal, I vaulted myself into the extreme sightseeing limelight. Where will this rank on the all time list? That’s not for me to say, but if it was, I’d say it’d definitely be in the top five. That extreme day of sightseeing, combined with a far easier “prep day”, meant I saw a lot during my two day trip to Paris. There’s obviously still heaps more to see though, so I’ll definitely be returning.
FURTHER READING: Have more than two days in Paris and are looking for a more off the beaten path Paris itinerary? Check out this article
Would you like to try extreme sightseeing in Paris? What would you visit if you only had two days in Paris? Let me know in the comments below!
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