Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 2 - Paris

Woke up to a dark and cold morning and a devastating lack of internet. Decided to skip breakfast here and went to Maccas down the road to use their internet.
McDonalds is so much better here! They have much more variety – you can get chips or wedges, a burger or bagel or Panini. Not feeling very French, but access to the internet was needed. Made friends with some guys who thought I was French. I had to explain to them I only understood half of what they were saying, but they told me the ‘must sees’ in Paris. Glad to know they’re on my list for today – Notre Dame and the Tour Montparnasse.

Back to the Metro after breakfast, headed for the ‘Ile de la Cite’, which according to our guide on the cruise, was the place where Paris was founded. On this little island you’ll find the Conciergerie, Saint Chappelle and Notre Dame. Saint Chappelle is a little church undergoing extensive renovation at the moment, but it is known for its stained glass windows and it didn’t disappoint. They were amazing. They cover around 2.5 floors, and depict stories like Genesis, the Passion of Christ, and many books of the Bible. The Conciergerie has been both a palace and a prison. It now acts as a sort of museum, with relics of both past Kings and Queens, as well as prisoners and guards. It was here that Marie Antoinette was held before her death.

A little walk around the corner and you can see the Latin Quartier across the Seine, take another corner and there is Notre Dame. It was huge and magnificent and rather imposing. And, as with most of the monuments, heavily guarded. Inside, the cathedral was even more glorious. The little chapels around the edges, as well as all the windows and sculptures, tell many stories. What people come here for, it seems, is not the religious experience but the towers. They warn you, its 400 steps, no toilets, and can only be done in small groups. The wait wasn’t too long, and at first the steps seem ok, but the higher you go the narrower the little winding stairwell became, and years of wear have made it quite slippery.

But the view at the top was amazing. You can see across all of Paris, right across to Sacre Couer in Montmarte. The gargoyles are cute in their own way, and there are quotes from Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, which apparently resulted in restoration work to return the cathedral to its former glory. I went inside to see the largest of the bells, known as Emmanuel, and is only rung a few times a year. Then another tiny winding staircase takes you to the very top of the tower, where the views were once again divine.

After a slow and cautious walk down the stairs, I headed to the Metro to the Champs Elysees. Walked out of the station to find all these little white stalls being set up, for what I believe to be the Christmas market. Hoping to get back there again when it’s finished to see it all.  I continued down the Champs Eysees, watching the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, and checking out the shops as I went. I would have happily bought many items here, but when a pair of gloves is 100 euro, you start to think it’s not going to happen. Except maybe in the Monoprix (think Target, but with food as well).  A lovely baguette with ham for lunch, before visiting the Arc de Triomphe. It’s rather unfair that one city has so many incredible monuments.

MORE STAIRS! Sitting here now my legs are aching from all the stairs I’ve climbed today. But once again, the view made it incredibly worthwhile. Similar views to Notre Dame, but the wonder is in seeing the streets of Paris laid out in their wheel and spoke pattern, and gazing back down the Champs Elysees. After going back down the stairs, I stopped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a very moving sight. Back to the Metro to return ‘home’ for a brief stop before heading out tonight. One of the doors in the station hit me (security is good, it would be pretty hard to get in without a ticket, but they make it hard even when you do) square in the nose. Not bleeding, not broken, but I think it might be blue tomorrow. How embarrassing!

So nose is definitely bruised. There had to be some sort of accident, at least it’s only small =)

Went to the Tour Montparnasse tonight. I believe it’s the tallest office building in Paris with beautiful views. Everything that was lovely during the day is even more beautiful at night. Dinner was a chicken salad and for dessert, an ├ęclair chocolat.

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