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 Friday.
On an observation deck 188 feet above ground, the ice rink adds a new dimension to the breathtaking views from the French capital’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 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 rectangular rink is a little larger than a tennis court. It holds 80 skaters at once — half the capacity of New York City’s Rockefeller Center rink.
Few visitors seemed bothered by the rink’s intimacy.
“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 ambiance in one word: “Fabuleux!”
Ulterior motive: Olympic bid
Part of the idea behind the high-rise rink is to boost interest in Paris’ candidacy for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Banners plugging the bid ring the guard rail, and the centerpiece of the rink is emblazoned with the motto “Paris 2012.”
The company that runs the Eiffel Tower also hopes the skating rink will attract more French people to the monument, where most visitors now are tourists from overseas. The rink is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. through Jan. 23.
If opening day was any indication, the French are as eager as foreigners. Admission and skate rentals are free after paying the Eiffel Tower’s entry fee. It costs $5.30 for adults and $3 for children to reach the tower’s first level, where the rink is located.
Didier Daigremont, owner of a Paris real-estate agency, closed the office and brought 15 of his employees to 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 a rink in mind when he designed the 1,069-foot 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 Thursday night.
Waiters in chefs’ toques served petits fours for the inaugural party as guests bundled in winter wear sipped Champagne. Guests were invited onto the ice and then treated to a show by professional figure skaters, as the tower’s 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,” Couperie, 48, said as he watched his wife and two boys on the ice. “It’s quite extraordinary.”