Today we checked off a few more items from our priority list for what to see during our visit to Paris. We enjoyed café au lait ($8 each!) and croissants around the corner from our lovely hotel and then set out for the Metro. We went to Île de la Cité to experience La cathédrale Notre-Dame, or the spectacular and enormous Notre Dame Cathedral. We considered going up the bell towers, but the line was very, very long, probably a 90+ minute wait (& no queue jumping privileges with our Paris Pass). We instead waited in a super long, but fast moving, line to go into the sanctuary. A service was in session, so we sat for a bit to take it in. Then we traveled around the outside hallways, admiring the architecture, stained glass, and monuments along the way. It truly is a marvelous structure – we learned that it took 182 years to complete!
After we viewed the inside, we walked along the Seine to view it from the outside. The gardens are beautiful, the flying buttresses are incredible, and the ornate detailing is phenomenal. I particularly like the “green guys” (i.e., the Apostles) climbing up the spire. In preparation for our visit, Abbie has been watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame repeatedly, and we did so together two nights ago in our hotel. We kept our eyes open for Quasimodo and Esmerelda! 🙂
Next we walked over to Sainte-Chapelle, Reed’s and my favorite cathedral that we’ve seen…like anywhere on the planet. It was built in the 13th century in a medieval gothic style, and it contains one of the most extensive collections of 13th c. stained glass anywhere in the world. We again didn’t have the line cutting privilege with our Paris Pass, but we met a nice woman and her 12-year-old daughter from Southern California while we waited. She approached us and asked about Abbie, as her daughter is also from China. It was fun to talk about our experiences of getting our precious daughters years ago.
Sainte-Chapelle isn’t large like Notre Dame, and you actually have to go upstairs to get to the main chapel, which is kind of cool. The windows that surround it are amazing in both color and story, going through both Old Testament and New Testament stories. There seem to be hardly any walls connecting the windows…you are surrounded by colored glass. Unfortunately, about 1/4 of the windows were behind construction walls undergoing an extensive restoration process where the glass is removed, cleaned, and reinstalled, with new lead where needed. And this included the huge rose window, which was masked by scaffolding covered by a partition with a grayscale image where the window would have been. 😦 The kids were a bit underwhelmed, especially after waiting in line for awhile, and I can’t say that I blame them. Perhaps they will return one day to see the whole thing in all it’s glory.
We descended back down into the Metro (to the very cool Cité station) and took the #1 line to the Charles de Gaulle stop. We ascended from beneath the city to the majestic Arc de Triomphe. It really is a spectacular view, right from the escalator out of the Metro. We were right on the Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous streets in the world. We descended again to go through the tunnel under the huge rotary street that surrounds the monument. Up once again and we went straight for the queue – this time with cutting privileges. 🙂 We climbed the 284 stairs up one leg of the Arc to the top. This is one of the best views in all of Paris – the Eiffel Tower on one side, Sacre Coeur on another; the Grande Arche at La Defense on yet another. It was spectacular.
We descended the stairs down the other leg and then walked around the Arc. It really is hard to get it in a photo when you are right next to it – it is so HUGE, standing at 164 feet high, 148 feet wide, and 72 feet deep. It has ornate detailing on every surface and huge sculptures on its legs. It was commissioned to be built by Napoleon in 1806 – talk about a “Napoleon Complex!” Beneath the Arc is the tomb of the unknown solider from WWI, complete with a burning eternal flame and decorated with flowers. It really was an awe-inspiring experience, both for the kids at their first viewing and us at our subsequent viewing. One quick note, if you want a fabulous view of Paris from above, this is about the best place to go. You miss the long lines at the Eiffel Tower and the view, unlike Sacre Coeur, is unobstructed.
Back on the Metro to our neighborhood to find lunch. We returned to Rue Cler, this time enjoying Chinese food (including beverage), for only €7.5 each; a truly remarkable deal. However, there was a gelato shop next door that we indulged in and blew the budget (€3.6 each!). It was well worth it and perhaps even better than our Grafton Street gelato spot in Dublin. I guess we are quite a bit closer to Italy here. 🙂 What was really nice is you could choose as many flavors as you wanted, even in our small dishes. I went with caramel, chocolate, pistachio, and coffee, and they shape it like a rose when you get it in a cone as I did (check it out at amorino.com). Reed and I also got really good coffee; I think we will return tomorrow.
The boys went back to the hotel, and us girls did a tiny bit of souvenir shopping. Abbie wanted some Eiffel Tower earrings, and we had been searching for non-dangling ones (my rule). We were successful, and I even found a little glass pyramid for Jackson, reminiscent of the ones at the Louvre (with the Eiffel Tower etched inside).
Speaking of which, we returned to the Eiffel Tower tonight a bit before 10pm to view it sparkling. On the hour, from just after dusk until 2am, it twinkles for five minutes. Lots of people gather in Champ de Mars, the long park between Ecole Militaire and the Tower. It is a festive atmosphere with music, drinking, and laughter. We found a patch of grass and joined the party. Right on cue, it dazzled the crowd…one of my favorite things about Paris: how it dazzles me.
Backing up a bit, we went out for dinner at the place we scoped out last night. It didn’t go so well. the snails were not a hit (Jackson did at least try one; Abbie chickened out), the cheese pizza had a LOT of funky French cheese on it (even made me gag), and the bill was exorbitant. Oh well…I guess we are doing our part to help out the French economy.
Tomorrow we will pack up, explore the city a bit more (Hotel des Invalides & Napoleon’s Tomb), and then head to the little Beauvais airport to fly back to Dublin before returning home Wednesday (not sure when we’ll have a chance to update the blog). Even though I would love more time in Paris, I think we all are ready to go home. Thank you in advance for your prayers for “journey mercies”!