Friday, May 25, 2012

Paris Days Two & Three

Thank goodness it’s a holiday weekend. I’m still trying to kick this cough and get my sleep patterns back to normal. Maybe if I sleep lots this weekend, I’ll get my internal clock reset.

All right, let’s see if I can get more than one day into this post. My second full day in Paris also happened to be my birthday, one of the reasons I decided to take the trip when I did. All in all, it was a pretty great day. A little colder than the previous day, but bright and sunny. Perfect weather for exploring the city further, which was what I did.

I started out by going to the Ile de la Cité to see the Saint-Chappelle church. On previous trips, I’d always missed fitting it into the itinerary, so I wanted to be sure to get it this time. Also, they say to fully appreciate the stained glass windows, it’s best to visit on a sunny day. Well, it doesn’t get much sunnier than that day, so I set off on my way.

Along the way, I got this nice, sunny shot of the Concergerie, the prison where Marie Antoinette was held before being guillotined. I visited it last time, so didn't go in on this trip.

Since I didn’t buy a Museum Pass (which gets you in free and lets you jump ticket lines), I had to stand in line to get in, but it wasn’t too bad. I waited about 20 minutes, bought my ticket, and was in. And… was kind of disappointed. The area was dark and low-ceilinged (for a Paris church) and the windows were pretty, but nothing spectacular. I wandered around, took some photos (none that came out well enough to post), didn’t see that there was anything else around, and headed back out. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had a lot of things I wanted to do, and there didn’t seem to be much reason to linger when I’d seen everything there. Well, it turned out I hadn’t seen everything. I was in the lower chapel, and the main part of the church, the part that makes it such a major monument, was the upper chapel. Apparently, there was a narrow, winding staircase off to one side of the lower room, something I hadn’t noticed in the dark. If I had gone up, I would have seen this:


Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Yeah. I feel pretty stupid. I was going to try to go back, but the cheap side of me didn’t want to spend another €8.50, and when I did the math, buying a Museum Pass wasn’t going to save me any money, so in the end, I didn’t return. It’ll have to be on the list next time I go, because while I’m not much of a religious person, I love beautiful old churches. This one looks pretty dazzling, too, so I’m bummed I was right there and missed out. They need bigger signs! This was one time I would have benefitted from not going alone: a traveling companion surely would have said “Hey, we need to look around more. There must be something else here!”

I was going to do a walk all around the island, to see the parts I’ve always missed in the past, but my feet were already starting to hurt, so instead I headed for Notre Dame. The last time I was there, it was a rainy day and there was a big, ugly tent out in front for some kind of festival, so my photos weren’t as good as I’d like. I wanted to get better ones, and it was the perfect day for it. So I did. (I posted one already in the previous post.)

 

I was going to go inside, since last time we went on a Sunday during a church service and it was really packed. But this time, even though it was a Saturday, the lines were pretty crazy. In the end, I figured I’ve already been in there twice, so no reason to kill my feet by standing in line. Maybe later in the trip I’d find myself back there and be able to get in quicker (I didn’t). I had more to see, so I moved on. At the back of the island, behind Notre Dame, there’s a memorial I never knew existed: La Mémorial des Martyrs de La Déportation. It’s a small memorial, built in a former morgue (I didn’t know that until I came home and looked it up), to honor the Jewish citizens who were rounded up and deported to Nazi concentration camps in WWII. Anyone who has read the fabulous Sarah’s Key will be familiar with this. And if you haven’t read it, do. It’s a great book. Anyway, the memorial is a small room with a couple of alcoves and this one long hall (behind bars, so you can’t get closer). According to Wikipedia, those are 200,000 backlit crystals, symbolizing each of the deportees who died in the camps. There’s also supposed to be an eternal flame there, but I don’t remember seeing one (unless it’s at the end of that hall?).

There wasn’t anything else to see or do on the island, since it was too cold to get the famous ice cream I always mean to check out there. I probably should have gotten it anyway, but once again, I thought maybe I’d be back before the end of the week. No such luck. So I crossed to the other bank of the Seine and found a metro that would take me to the Eiffel Tower, my next stop. The one thing I wanted to do on my birthday was have lunch on the grass in front of the tower. I misread my map and got off at the wrong stop, so I ended up walking much further than intended (my poor feet), but eventually got there. And I came upon a great bakery along the way that not only made fantastic sandwiches (the best I had that week), but had an adorable, fuzzy cat lounging in their window to help ease my homesickness for my own kitties.


View of the tower from where I had my lunch.

My next stop was Les Invalides, which houses a massive Army museum and a church with Napoleon’s tomb. It’s one of the places I’d never been, so it was at the top of my “must see” list. Since it’s not too far from the Eiffel Tower, I walked there. As it turns out, the metro stop I used previously was closer to it than the tower, so I would have been better off seeing Invalides first, but my empty stomach was leading me at that time, and it was Eiffel Tower or bust. The church at Les Invalides was beautiful, and for a little man, Napoleon’s tomb was pretty massive.

 

Despite my aching feet, I made myself see as much of the attached museums as possible, but to be honest, they didn’t really excite me too much. It was a lot of rooms (and I mean a LOT) of armor, weapons and other military clothing. Room after room after room of the same stuff. If you were into military history, you’d love it. I know my grandfather would have probably camped out in there for weeks if he’d been allowed, but for me, it didn’t do much. And my feet were really hurting, so I probably should have skipped it. That’s my cheap side again: I paid €9 to get in, so I was going to get my money’s worth!

I headed “home” a little earlier that day to rest my feet, and despite every intention of going somewhere special for a birthday dinner, I ended up grabbing a crepe and eating in in the Tuileries garden by the Louvre (I went back there with the intention of seeing a museum before calling it a night, but I missed the metro stop I was aiming for and ended up walking from Les Invalides back to the Place de la Concorde, and by the time I got there, I was too tired and sore to walk any more. So, on my birthday, in Paris, I called it a night at about 5pm. Pathetic, I know.

The next day was light on sight-seeing. At this point, I was planning to get the Museum Pass later in the trip, so I was saving all of the museums and monuments that were on it for later. Also, it was a pretty cold day. Sunny again, but cold. When I got up, i t was 46 degrees! My first order of business was to go to the train station and buy my train ticket for my excursion the following day to Giverny (Monet’s house and gardens). I’d read it’s better to buy them ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in a long line the day of and miss the train. Good advice, and it had the added advantage of letting me time how long it would take me to get there the next morning.

Whoever says the French are rude hasn’t ever been to Paris, as far as I’m concerned. On two occasions that day, a Parisian saved my butt. First, after buying my train tickets, I headed out of the ticket office to a bench to sit down and organize some things. While I sat there, this man came running out after me, holding out my return tickets, which I’d either dropped or left before the ticket agent could give it to me. One crisis averted. Next, once I had all of my things back in order and was ready to head out, I stood up and immediately the man sitting on the next bench over called out “Madame!” I turned, and he pointed to the ground… where my wallet lay. I’d dropped it and would have walked off without realizing it if it weren’t for him. I’d have been in BIG trouble, because all of my cash, credit cards and driver’s license were in there! The only thing not there was my passport. I had a moment of “what if” panic, thanked him profusely, then stuffed it back in my bag and was on my way. My next stop was supposed to be the FNAC nearby, where I could pre-buy my admission ticket to Giverny, but it was Sunday, and most stores in Paris are closed on Sundays. Drat.

When researching my trip, I kept reading how you had to see a street market at least once, and get the fixings for lunch, then go to a park and eat. Well, one of the major markets, at Rue Mouffetard, was open on Sundays, so I metro-ed over to St. Germain to check it out. It was busy, but I think I was expecting something bigger. Still, I got a sandwich and a basket of (over-priced, but very sweet) strawberries, then walked over to the Jardin des Plantes to eat.


Part of the street market. The cat was so cute. :)


The yummy, but expensive, strawberries


Near my lunch bench in the Jardin des Plantes

Next stop: Montmartre. I wanted to check out the cemetery there, and stop by Sacre Coeur for some sunny-day photos (again, it was gloomy there on past trips). And since it was Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist e-mailing my mom a picture of the sex shops I was walking past. Because every mother wants to know her daughter’s hanging out in the red light district on Mother’s Day, right? I also e-mailed her a photo of a flower shop, so hopefully that made up for it. Anyway, the only reason to be in the red light district, at least for me, is to see the Moulin Rouge:


I think this is the first time I've seen it during the day.

The cemetery wasn't too far from there, and I spent a good hour or so wandering around. I love cemeteries, and the older the better. There's something about this style of cemetery, with the above-ground crypts, that I especially love. They're so charming and picturesque. Am I weird for thinking that?

I spent more time there than planned because I had a hard time finding some of the famous graves. This was my own fault: I read a tip the night before to be sure to pick up a map at the entrance. But when I walked in, there were no maps I could see other than the giant sign posted (which wasn't portable). Turns out, on my way out, I spotted a little office where a guy was handing out paper maps. D'oh! But there was another big map-sign in the middle of the cemetery, so I was able to use that and my own Paris map book, which had a small map of the grave locations, and eventually found the two famous graves I was looking for: Edward Degas and Alexandre Dumas. After that, I headed for my last major stop, Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur is my favorite of the Paris churches. It's beautiful, for one thing, and so different than the rest thanks to its gleaming white facade. And it stands up on this hill overlooking the entire city that makes you feel like you're on top of the world. It's also very crowded. Knowing to avoid the main stairs (where the crowds and hair-braiding gypsies hang out), I came to it from the side. This had the added advantage of less up-hill walking, which my feet appreciated. I circled the church, took lots of pictures, considered going in, saw the line, changed my mind, then headed down the steps towards the metro that would take me back to my apartment. Along the way, I killed some time in the multitude of souvenir shops lining the Rue des Abbesses, the main road out of Montmartre (and the location of the metro stop). Every store sells the same stuff, and most of it's tacky tourist junk, but it's still interesting to nose around. I hadn't gotten any souvenirs myself yet, but didn't have much luck there. Nor would I have much luck for the rest of the trip, sadly. It's amazing: Paris is probably one of the shopping capitals of the world, I couldn't find anything to buy! I blame my budget for that one.

That's it for now. Later in the weekend I'll try to do the rest. Au revoir!

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