‘It’s like you’re skating on air’

Holiday on ice takes on new meaning when you’re high above the rooftops of Paris doing figure eights inside the Eiffel Tower.

During the 115 years of the Eiffel Tower’s existence, it has added refreshment stands, trinket shops and fancy restaurants — but nothing quite matches the skating rink in the sky that opened to the public on Friday.

On an observation deck 57m above ground, the ice rink adds a new dimension to the breathtaking views from Paris’s best-known landmark.

”It’s just magical. You see the whole city differently,” said Finnish visitor Hanna Patila (20), who donned a Santa Claus hat and braved a chilly winter morning to be among the first on the fresh ice.

”What a nice touch for the holidays,” she said, the city of Paris at her feet. ”It’s like you’re skating on air.”

Lodged between two of the tower’s immense latticed steel legs, the rink is not big. It measures 200 square metres and fits 80 skaters at once — about a third the size and half the capacity of New York’s Rockefeller Centre rink, which calls itself ”The World’s Most Famous Ice Skating Rink”.

But few visitors seemed bothered by the rink’s intimacy, focusing instead on what one skater described as too romantic an activity to pass up.

”I’ve never put on ice skates in my life. But this, I couldn’t resist,” said Swiss tourist Cecile Giacomotti, slowly skating hand-in hand with her husband, Olivier, who summed up the ambience in one word: ”Fabuleux!”

Part of the idea behind the high-rise rink is to boost interest in Paris’s candidacy for the 2012 Summer Olympics, organisers said.

Banners plugging the bid ring the guard rail, and the centrepiece of the rink is emblazoned with the motto ”Paris 2012”.

The company that runs the Eiffel Tower also hopes the novelty of a skating rink will attract more locals to the monument, which is overwhelmingly visited by overseas tourists. The rink is open everyday from 9.30am to 11.30pm, until January 23.

If opening day was any indication, the French are as keen as foreigners are. Admission and skate rentals are free after paying the Eiffel Tower’s entry fee.

Didier Daigremont, owner of a Paris real-estate agency, closed the office and brought 15 of his employees for a morning ice skate.

”I wanted to give them a little Christmas present,” said Daigremont (53), pausing to appreciate a bird’s-eye view of the golden dome of Invalides, the burial place of Napoleon, surrounded by a carpet of Paris rooftops and monuments.

Gustave Eiffel probably didn’t have this in mind when he designed the 324m tower more than a century ago. Then again, the tower, which was built for the 1889 World’s Fair, wasn’t supposed to survive this long.

”He expected it would be torn down. He never thought it would become the symbol of Paris,” said Eiffel’s great-great-grandson, Edouard Couperie — one of several hundred guests at a private inauguration of the rink on Thursday night.

Waiters in chefs’ toques served petits fours pastries for the inaugural party as guests bundled in winter wear sipped champagne.

Guests were invited on to the ice and then treated to a show by professional figure skaters, as the Eiffel Tower’s glittering night lights twinkled around them.

What might the tower’s creator have thought of all this?

”He was a visionary, so I think he could have imagined this,” said Couperie (48), as he watched his wife and two boys on the ice. ”It’s quite extraordinary.” — Sapa-AP

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Jocelyn Gecker
Jocelyn Gecker works from San Francisco. Associated Press Jocelyn Gecker has over 400 followers on Twitter.

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