Posts Tagged With: Notre Dame

Paris Part 2: Moving Right Along…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

With our weekend trip coming to a close, we had largely by this point accomplished much of what we’d hoped to in the weekend’s time.  We had, at this juncture, just one more site we wanted to visit before heading back to the airport that afternoon.  Off we went once more to the Île de la Cité, home of “Our Lady of Paris” (Notre Dame), for a peek at the somewhat less touted (though spectacular in its own right) La Sainte-Chappelle

La Sainte-Chappelle

La Sainte-Chappelle (The Holy Chapel) is an incredible structure inconspicuously tucked away amidst the buildings of the Palais de Justice, built on the site of the former royal palace of Saint Louis.  Only a street or two away from Notre Dame, naturally this particular church rarely captures the typical traveller’s notice on the island, though is well worth both the wait and the fee to enter should you happen to make a visit to Paris.

The chapel is an exquisite piece of architecture, some 764 years old, and in my opinion, between Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur, wins the prize for possessing the most interesting history.  After waiting outside in a line for what might have easily been 30 minutes to an hour, Jason and I entered the chapel expecting it to look something like this:

Instead, the room we entered looked like this:

Dark and comparatively cramped, it was in no way less breathtaking, simply unexpected.  From floor to exquisitely and artfully crafted ceiling this smaller chamber was a riot of color and patterns with small bits of stained glass providing the majority of the light.  At the end of a short hall was a small altar area roped off that held a number of religious sculptures.  While impressed by its beauty, Jason and I were still somewhat baffled by the difference between the image we expected to greet us and the one that did.  It was not until we turned to leave that we noticed a tiny hole in the back wall.  Here a narrow, spiral staircase led upward to a second level more resembling our expectations.

There is no level of preparation by way of photo for what you see when you arrive in the main chapel.  The room is a vast cavern of color and light, stunning and opulently reverential as every single wall is dominated with soaring stained glass windows.  I am truely grateful we waited until our last day in Paris to visit La Sainte-Chappelle since it was our sunniest day and therefore showcased the glass as it would best be seen.  Benches line either side of the chapel for people to sit and admire the windows, reading them with the assistance of an informational sheet that explains each.

A little bit of history:

La Sainte-Chappelle was built in the mid 13th century to house King Louis IX’s (later sainted by the Catholic Church) relics of the Passion of Christ including the crown of thorns, one of the most significant relics of medieval Christendom, a piece of the original cross, the image of Edessa, and some thirty other items.

The soaring stained glass windows (currently undergoing heavy restoration) are amongst the most famous features of the chapel and are some of the finest samples in the world.  Fifteen enormous windows line the walls with a massive rose window dominating the western wall above what appears to be a giant door.

Each window features a specific tale from the bible.  The three in the eastern end of the chapel (behind the giant altar) feature the stories of Christ’s infancy (left), The Passion (center), and the Life of John the Evangelist (right).  The windows then cycle around the room starting at the western end of the north wall with the Book of Genesis and tales of the Old Testament, then move clockwise around the room covering scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings, with the final windows on the western end of the south wall showing scenes of the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis.

The Rose window on the western wall, added in 1490, depicts St. John’s vision of the Apocalypse.

Notre Dame Part 2

Leaving La Sainte-Chappelle with some time and sunlight left to us, we returned a couple of blocks over to Notre Dame admiring more of the outer structure of the building which we missed on our first pass on Friday.  This included a lovely courtyard in the back and a view of the building from behind just as gorgeous and interesting as the front (Jason has these pictures because while it was sunny it was freaking cold this day).

We wandered around and took a number of pictures before fleeing into the cozy sanctum of a nearby cafe for a quick, warm lunch.

It was here that I was treated to what I would place as my best meal in Paris which included a large, delicious bowl of French Onion soup, a basket of warm baguette, and a goblet of hot, mulled wine.  I was so full and comfortable after this simple meal that all I wanted to do was nap and as loathing the idea of going back out into the blustery cold again.

Jason seemed to be of similar sentiments, and instead of lingering or wandering about Paris further we decided then to head back to the hotel, collect our things, and make our way (early) to the airport.  It was about 3:00pm at this time and our flight wasn’t until 9:45 or so, but we had a rather long journey and preferred to just get settled inside somewhere.

Homeward Bound…or not

After an hour train ride back to Charles de Gaulle airport, Jason began pulling out our papers and tickets for our return flight home.  One stop away he realized with dread that he had booked our return tickets for the wrong day so we were effectively 30 hours early for our flight back home.

After scrambling to try to find a flight (or train ride) home that night and coming up with not a single option cheaper than £500/person, we opted instead to stay a night in the luxury hotel attached to the airport.  Even though I ruined Jason’s hopes of a midnight run of the airport with visions of riding about on luggage carousels and racing the baggage carts around the empty halls by coming down with a sudden and aggressive Parisian ailment (a flu-like head cold mainly…I’m sure the rude waiter that morning must have spit in my “Chocolat”), we settled for a nice, leisurely dinner and then fell asleep to a movie in our posh hotel room.

And despite spending the next day curled up like a sniffly cat on an airport chair, all in all, I’d say it was actually a really lovely end to an utterly lovely weekend.



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Paris Part 2…Part 2

I have been acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light… –Robert Frost

Friday, February 17, 2012

Like previous posts, pictures are coming as I’m stealing them from Jason this weekend (promise!!).  

We set out early into a blustery morning – steel gray and drizzling off and on.  Visiting Paris in the winter has its advantages if you’re properly attired for cold (wet) weather.  Primitive of these is the lack of droves of tourist.  We visited a number of the most iconic tourist attractions in Paris this day, and while we weren’t the only ones out there, we blessedly didn’t have to fight massive crowds.  It helped as well that we were out on a Friday while many people were probably still at work.

We started our morning with the intention to head out to the Arc de Triomphe and make a counter clockwise circuit around the city, hitting the Arc, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame while saving Montmartre/Sacre-Coeur and the Louvre for Saturday.  This was an ambitious plan because it entails a lot of walking.  On a pleasant, warm, sunny day this would have been a delightful plan.  On one that is cold and intermittently drizzly it was a bit less so.  Still, I have to say that people absolutely must see Paris on foot.  There is so much to see and admire that would be missed in a car or on a bus that it’s very much worth the walk – regardless of the weather.

Parc Monceau

We started off our stroll with a mind to grab some Frenchy breakfast, but made a quick detour into this park as we passed by it.  There are some gorgeous water features, sculptures, and walking paths here.  I would have loved to see it in spring or summer.  There’s a small carnival area with a Jules Verne inspired merry-go-round and a little shop where you can buy goodies (coffee, treats, bonbons and the like).  For a moment I forgot we were in a city; it was so quiet in the park.  We spent only a little time here, but admired some of the lovely scenery and watched a tenacious mallard waddle around on the ice covering a small pond.  My hands spent most of this day in my gloves so I got very few pictures myself.  Thankfully Jason was dutifully playing his role as master photographer as it would have been a shame not to have gotten pictures here.

A little bit of history:

Parc Monceau has all the makings to be a gorgeous park in spring/summer.  Even in the winter it was a cultivated, manicured haven of nature enclosed by a towering wrought iron gate decorated with gold in the magnificent style of 18th century Paris.  The park’s life began in 1769 but continued to be developed and expanded by one person after another for at least another hundred years.  It features an array of statues of French personages of varying significance, an old toll rotunda from the late 1780s (one of the last remaining in Paris), and some of the oldest trees in the city.

Arc de Triomphe

Leaving the refuge of Parc Monceau behind us we struck out again on our way to the Arc de Triomphe.  We stopped at a small patisserie for an “on the road” breakfast (I got a salted pretzel.  Jason ate some sort of chicken baguette sandwich).  When in Rome…we ate our breakfast as we walked.

I have to say, I was a bit skeptical about how impressive the Arc de Triomphe was going to be, but it was very much so.  From the standpoint of aesthetics, it is a beautiful monument.  It stands on an island in the center of the busy circle, Place Charles de Gaulle, and positively commands your attention as you approach it.  An underground walkway carries you safely to the monument’s site and houses all sorts of pamphlets and information boards giving the history and details of the monument…presumably.  They were in French only so I couldn’t say for sure that’s what they were about.

A little bit of history:

The Arc de Triomphe, arguably one of the most famous monuments in Paris, marks the western end of the Champs-Élysées.  It is a military monument honouring all those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.  Inscribed on both of its inner and outer surfaces amidst 4 massive sculptures (The Triumph of Napoleon and The Departure of the Volunteers of 1797 facing the Champs-Élysées and Resistance and Peace on the opposite two pillars) are the names of all French victories and generals.

Beneath the Arc is France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  It is marked by an eternal flame at the center of the Arc’s entrance between The Triumph of Napoleon and The Departure of the Volunteers of 1797.


Leaving the Arc de Triomphe we headed down the famous Champs-Élysées…one of the most famous and most expensive streets in Paris.  It is lined with cafes, cinemas, luxury and specialty shops and even on a Friday was very busy.  Jason and I nipped into one of the small “malls” here so I could warm my feet up a bit and get some coffee (apparently keeping with the standards of the street itself, Starbucks was easily twice or three times as expensive as usual).  There are a number of a familiar shops, but largely the stores are high-end including names like Cartier, Gucci, Dolce and Gabana, Swarovski, etc.  Needless to say we didn’t do a great deal of shopping.  We were, however, treated to a bit of street performing:

Street Performers in Paris

A little bit of history:

The Champs-Élysées is known as “The most beautiful avenue in the world.”  (La plus belle avenue du monde in French.)  It was definitely pretty, but I wonder who gave it that humble title.

The Eiffel Tower

After a long trek down the Champs-Élysées you end up in the backyard of the Eiffel Tower.  Another monument that is far more impressive in person than you might initially think.  I was struck by two initial observations. 1.) It’s enormous (apparently the equivalent of an 81-story building).  2.)There is something very interesting/beautiful and terrifying about a structure that is nothing but lots of iron beams and no concrete.

It’s very cheap to go into the tower (and if you’re willing to climb the stairs the wait is significantly less daunting as well).  I can only imagine how heinously packed it must be in the summer.  Once again, I’m grateful for having gone in winter to avoid crowds and lines and three hour wait times.  Steeling myself with one big deep breath, we headed up.

With more than 300 steps to go from the ground to the lowest level, climbing up the tower is an achievement.  The stairs are well guarded with rails, but you can see out the entire way up.  Naturally, the higher you climb, the more frightening the climb gets…I imagine it’d be impossible for someone scared of heights.  Also, good god in heaven is it a work out.  An additional 300 steps lead up to the second tier. (If you climb back down on foot as Jason and I did, that’s 1200 steps total!)  Jason and I went up as far as the second level.  The third and highest level is only accessible by elevator; it happened to be closed the day we went.

The view from either floor is breathtaking.  You have unobstructed access to every cardinal direction of Paris and can see a number of famous monuments from the observation decks.  There’re bathrooms and a cafe on each of the bottom two levels for you to get refreshments, and a souvenir shop or two as well.  I looked desperately for a little Eiffel Tower toy that folded over or stood erect when you push a button (like in the movie French Kiss) but couldn’t find one.

A little bit of history:

Nicknamed La Dame de Fer (The Iron Lady), the Eiffel Tower is a puddle iron lattice tower built in 1889.  It is the tallest building in Paris standing 1,063ft high and was initially built to be the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.

Notre Dame

By the time we had our feet gratefully on firm ground again it was getting dark, and cold–er.  With a potentially long ass walk ahead of us to get to Notre Dame, Jason and I decided to hop on a tour bus and ride the rest of the way to Notre Dame.

Up to this point in our trip, Notre Dame was my absolute favourite thing I had seen yet.  It is more stunning and awe-inspiring than you can imagine simply seeing it in photos.  Beautiful, biblical carvings cover the edifice from the three entrance doors all the way up to its spires and gargoyles.  We had the good fortune to arrive during Evensong (something I’d wanted to experience at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s in London but haven’t had the opportunity to).  The Evensong makes the whole experience even more moving.  I tried to capture the sheer size and elaborateness of the building in the following video, but unfortunately the light in the hall was too low to get a good image.  I’m sorry for the shaky picture.  It was cold, and I was using my iPhone to film.

Evensong at Notre Dame Cathedral

Unfortunately most of the informational plaques here, like at the Arc de Triomphe, were in French so I wasn’t able to read much.  Touring the church is a quiet, reflective experience that I found to be quite emotionally and spiritually moving despite not being a very religious person.

A little bit of history:

Construction on Notre Dame began in the 12th century and did not finish until the 14th century.  The three portals on the western edifice (the front) from left to right are The Portal of the Virgin, The Portal of the Last Judgment, and The Portal of Saint Anne.  The Portal of the Virgin, according to Church tradition, depicts the death of Mary, her ascension into Heaven and her coronation as Queen of the Heavens.  In the center of the Portal of Saint Anne is a magnificent Virgin with Child in the Romanesque style.  The Portal of the Last Judgment was the last of the portals to be built.  It represents the Last Judgment as depicted in the Gospel of Saint Matthew.  The interior of the church is just as impressive with massive arched ceilings, stained glass, paintings and sculptures of saints and other important religious personages, an incredible organ, and numerous pews and confessionals for worship.

The Quest for the Holy Adaptor…

It was pretty much completely dark by the time Jason and I left Notre Dame.  We ducked into a cafe right across the street for a quick dinner.  Then began our epic quest to find an adaptor so that we could charge our phones and Jason’s iPad (continental Europe doesn’t use the same plugs as the UK).  We must have gone into 3 or 4 pharmacies, two grocery stores, and a couple of bags of snacks later we finally found one.  We stopped for one last try in a pharmacy near our hotel.  By some miracle they had an adaptor tucked away on shelf somewhere…apparently we went in just in the nick of time too because the moment we left the guy running the place turned off the lights and locked the door.  Either that or he just wanted to ensure no more silly tourists came into his shop.

We headed back to the hotel with great intentions to go out and enjoy some Parisian nightlife (we were loosely planning to go out for some drinks at one of the pubs near Moulin Rouge or try to catch a show).  We never did end up making it out, though.  Both of us lied down for a nap and didn’t wake up until the next morning…the result of a very busy day of sightseeing.  Ultimately, this was probably for the best; we needed to be all refreshed for round two.



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