Saturday, July 27, 2013

Paris (Day 1) - Sunday at Notre-Dame

Arriving in Paris in the afternoon was a good thing. We'd slept a bit on the plane so facing the prospect of staying up until night wasn't as bad as it might have been. Unfortunately Paris is dead on Sunday, and we could not find any restaurants that were open...except American fast food. Let me tell you there could not be a less enchanting first image of Paris than to see a well-dressed French man sitting pensively at an outdoor cafe....that was a KFC.

So we sucked it up and consumed caloric content from McDonalds. We were staying at the Place de la Republic along the edge of the Marais, and the square was fantastic for people watching (plus the metro access was phenomenal). So we got some energy before exploring.

By the way, have you ever noticed that famous French novelists had a habit of almost always naming the streets their characters walk down? I haven't picked this up in other country's literature. It's like these authors draw you a map. You feel you could walk the route Jean Valjean and Cosette used to escape from Javert into the Petit-Picpus convent. Or the path D'artagnan took towards the Musketeers barracks. Or follow one of the winding rambles of Claude Lantier from The Masterpiece. Trusting their genius, I will adopt this convention in my Paris posts!

So after there an ironic synonym for 'meal' I could insert here?...we went walking. We took the Rue du Temple toward the Hotel de Ville and then walked along the Seine. While almost everything was closed and shuttered, we could still enjoy the architecture and get a feel of the Parisian vibe. Old Paris has an odd but appealing mixture of grit and historic ambiance. It was a bit jarring against what 'Paris' was like in my imagination but, once I connected with reality, I quickly warmed to it.

We crossed the Pont d'Arcole, evaded hoards of 'deaf' gypsies, and found ourselves on the Ile de la Cite. Passing a dozen tourist trinket shops, we arrived Notre-Dame. I didn't take many pictures of the church itself as there are loads of brilliant stuff to be had on the Internet. What I liked best about the church was the intricacy of the facade. All those dour looking priests and saints and such! (Click on photos to expand them)
The inside was magnificent, naturally, and there was a mass going on so the singing and the sermon lent atmosphere to the medieval interior (fortunately the sermon was in another language so we could relegate it to background noise).  Loved the art on the ceiling with the giant white bird flying from a white bearded God to a Byzantine-looking Jesus. There was also this atmospheric smoky quality to the way the light passed through the air. Maybe from all the candles that are lit? And of course there was lots of stained glass, statues, woodwork and mystical niches to be seen. 

We spent a good amount of time inside Notre-Dame but, to be honest, Jim and I are not the 'let's see every church in Europe' types. Yes, the history and architecture are amazing, but we prefer to pick the highlights and move on to other activities.  Once we left the church, we  checked out the Square Jean XXIII behind Notre-Dame. There was a garden with plenty of roses in bloom. We sat and watched people (and the absolutely enormous Parisian pigeons trying to mate) before wandering across the Pont Saint-Louis to Ile St. Louis and then across the Pont Louis Phillippe back into the Marias.

We found plenty of cool little back streets, which we slowly wandered about in as we made our way back to the hotel. I can't really remember where we ate dinner as, by this point, I was all about wanting to get some sleep. I think we just ate around the back of the hotel at a little bistro we could see from our window. Then it was back to the hotel room for planning which activities we would undertake on our first real day in the City of Lights. And then...sleep!

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