Friday, May 16, 2008

Jeudi, 8 Mai (a very busy day!)

We breakfasted on the Starbucks from the night before, then dressed and got on the train to the Île de la Cité. We had a bit of a situation when the train stopped, a long FRENCH announcement was made, and the native speakers disembarked. My French had it's first challenge asking the gentleman at the station which platform to go to. But we figured it out and headed to the little island where it is said that Paris began. (The Parisii tribe of Gallics lived there around 52 BC. Well, that or a now-sunken island. But I'm sticking to the former. Can you imagine??)

We came to the western facade, and I'm realizing now that we never walked all the way around!

The line to get in was pretty reasonable. (In fact, we had little trouble with lines or weather our entire trip.) The inside is huge. It has countless naves and alters. The church is a Gothic structure, began in 1163 and still used as a Roman Catholic church. In fact, a mass began during our visit. We took entirely too many pictures to choose a reasonable amount, so instead, I offer some candles:

The access to the tower is from the outside, and we got ourselves some crepes and decided NOT to get in the line. Instead, we walked to the front and watched a gentleman hand-feeding sparrows. I approached him to see whether they liked crepes (!) but I didn't speak enough French and he didn't speak enough English, so instead he handed me a piece of bread from his knapsack and held my hand up. Sure enough, moments later I was surrounded by greedy little sparrows, who perched on my fingers and picked at the bread. It was a wonderful moment.

The Crypte Archeologique was closed that day, so we headed to St. Chapelle via the flower market. St. Chapelle ("Holy Chapel") is another Gothic chapel, built to house a rather important religious relic, the Crown of Thorns.

It is a much smaller, much different experience than Notre Dame. And unfortunately, a lot of what we saw was recreation, considering the destruction it faced over the centuries. But there were colors everywhere: paintings, . sculptures, patterned columns, blue vaulted ceilings, stain-glass everywhere, and even the stonework was painted with medallions of saints and martyrs.

We climbed a narrow circular staircase to get upstairs, past the tall narrow windows that once allowed archers to protect it
and walked out to the second floor. It was a bright, colorful, open room with chairs on either side and a man who'd come out every now and again to shush us. I'm not sure if it's still in use for religious services, but they did have posters outside advertising a Vivaldi concert.

Next, we walked across the Pont Neuf. The Pont Neuf translates as "new bridge" but is the oldest bridge in Paris.

Next, we got back on the Metro and went to the Panthéon, originally a church and now a famous burial place for national heros.The inside is completely open with a few interred people and a LOT of statuary. There was also a pendulum in the middle of the room, busy marking off the time along with the rotation of the earth.

This time, we went DOWN a circular staircase to the crypt. It was a large room with smaller rooms spidering out.

Among those interred there are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Louis Braille and lots of counts and cardinals and French historical figures. Some rooms you could walk into and others you could not. Some of the very old vaults had fresh flowers... it was quite an experience.
We had evening plans and didn't want to wait for the next tour up to the top of the building, so we walked around the Latin Quarter, and got a scoop of ice cream and then back to the metro to transfer, transfer, transfer and go back to the Paris Vision office for our one planned excursion.
At around 6:30, we took a bus to the Eiffel Tower and had dinner at Altitude 95, the restaurant on the first level of the tower... 95 meters above sea level. We sat at a less crowded table with an Austrialian woman, a young couple from Denmark and an older married couple from Pittsburg. After dinner, we all walked across the street to take a cruise on the Seine. It was amazing, the number of people on the banks, having picnics, hanging out, doing whatever. And the majority of the personal boats we saw had tons of plants and flowers; the French seem very into nature.

As the boat pulled back up to the dock, the Eiffel Tower light show began. It was another truly incredible moment. There were gasps and cheers from everyone.

Back on the docks, it was back in the bus to head to the Moulin Rouge. There was quite a line for that, and the inside was packed. (One thing M wasn't crazy about during our trip is the close proximity in restaurants and similar establishments.) The "Red Windmill" is a caberet in the red-light district. It's famous for the performances of the traditional French Can-Can. (Yup, the one with longish, filly skirts, high kicks, splits, cartwheels and other acrobatic tricks, accompanied by squeals and shrieks.) Frankly, I thought that was the best of the dance performances; I tended to enjoy the acrobats, jugglers, puppeteers, etc. that were in between musical numbers.

We left the Moulin Rouge at around 1.30 and took the tour bus back to our hotel. It was our most heavily scheduled day: busy but wonderful. I wouldn't have traded a moment of it.

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