Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Paris, the city of light and fire jugglers



I'm going to continue blogging about my trip to France while the details are fresh in my mind.

Now however, I am going to try and recreate where we went chronologically. I started by sharing with you my story about Saint Namphaise because that was my favorite.

I was surprised a day after I first posted an entry on my blog on the Gouffrey de Lantouy to receive an email from a webmaster in the Quercy region asking for permission to republish the essay on his website. He found out about my post due to the wonder of Google Alerts. If you are unfamiliar with that little wonder of modern technology, go to www.google.com/alerts and sign up to receive notifications whenever the topic of your choice is posted to the internet.

You can read the abridged version of my blog posts on the French Entrée website here.

Now to recreate our journey including pictures from our trip, my husband requests that I put forth the following message: All photos Copyright (c) 2007 Scott C. Nevin and Linda C. McCabe, All Rights Reserved.

Not all the pictures are as good as that the mystical one showing the Gouffre de Lantouy, but in deference to my husband's wishes and in the desire to maintain marital harmony I shall include that proviso. Should anyone wish to reuse these photos, just ask me and tell me in what context it will be used.

:Ahem: Now that those formalities are concluded...

We landed in Paris on a Monday morning and had been traveling for somewhere close to twenty-four hours. Yes, we caught a few hours of really lousy sleep on the plane, but still...we were not on our top form. The goal was to stay awake until nightfall and then sleep until morning. It was our hope that we would then overcome jetlag and force ourselves onto Paris time and no longer be on Pacific Coast time.

After getting through Customs and claiming our luggage, we forced ourselves through the sea of humanity that was Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

We first found an ATM to have Euros in hand to pay for the van and for spending money. For those who haven't traveled to Europe before and are still thinking that you should exchange your dollars and/or bring travelers checks, do not waste your time. You will pay a fee for purchasing money when you can just use your bank's ATM and it will calculate the exchange rate for you. Yes, you may have to pay a withdrawl fee, but that is just a different fee you have to pay. Also, travelers checks are not used very much any more. The easiest thing is to just pray to the Money God and have it spit out the paper Euros in your hand when you land.

Our hotel had arranged a shuttle van to pick us up and deliver us to the hotel. All we had to do was call once we arrived.

The hotel we stayed at in Paris was incredible. I stumbled across it by accident as I was planning my itinerary of historical sights and museums to visit. I did a Google search to follow up on Hotel Dieu the oldest hospital in Paris that was founded in 651 AD. I was surprised to find out that this working hospital also has fourteen hotel rooms.

It is the only hotel on the Isle de la Cité and it is next to Notre Dame Cathedral.

Here is a photo showing its lavish courtyard.

To get to the hotel section you have to enter through the main entrance which is also marked for emergencies, turn down a hallway, pass that magnificent courtyard, walk up a flight of twelve stone steps, go down another hallway filled with historic woodcuts such as this:




Then you enter a hallway and take an elevator to the top floor. There you will find two doors, one to Cardiology and the other to the Hotel-Hopitel.

There is another courtyard which isn't filled with the extensive plant life, but it is still impressive. You can get a sense of the columns and arches that I've never seen before in hospitals.


You can see in the center of that picture a colorful statue. Here it is from the front side in all of its "glory."



I think it looks a tad out of place, but who am I? Just an American who thinks this statue looks strange given the historic setting.

I'm not sure who Polnagreff is, but another blogger claims it is a play on words for a French singer. His blog has a lot more pictures of Hotel Dieu's wards than I took. If you are interested in seeing more about the hospital, check out his blog.

The rooms in the Hotel-Hopitel are are non-smoking, have private baths, and if you are lucky like we were: skylight windows that overlook Notre Dame.


Yes, we were heard the bells of Notre Dame all the time. I was a little afraid that they would be ringing throughout the night, but we didn't hear them after 8 pm, nor did we hear them before 8 am.

The bell ringing was nice. We would hear it ring to mark each fifteen minutes. Usually at the top of the hour you would hear a nice melody and then the marking of the hours. I became enchanted with the sound.

Then, I noticed at least on two separate occasions that the bell ringing did not follow the same melody. That instead of a soothing carillon, it sounded like someone was just clanging on the bells. One night at 7:30 pm it seemed as if it rang for five minutes straight. I was becoming annoyed when it did not stop.

I have no confirmation on this, but the only explanation that made any sense to me for such a dramatic difference in ring tones was if someone slipped the bell master some money so that they could have the opportunity to ring the bells of Notre Dame.

Enough on the bells and the noise, noise, noise!

The day we checked into the hotel, we dropped off our luggage and immediately left to try and get as much sight seeing in as possible. Our goal was to stay awake by walking. I knew that my mind wasn't really into doing a lot of historical research being as tired as I was, but I also didn't want to waste any time in Paris.

The first thing we did was visit Notre Dame. How could we not? There it was larger than life in front of our hotel. Even if it was built centuries after Charlemagne, I couldn't be that close to such a landmark and not go inside. Here is the front door:


The stained glass was amazing.


The entire cathedral was filled with ornate and beautiful artwork. It was dazzling to the eyes and yet it still could inspire private reflection.


There were also many statues of saints that graced the various alcoves. Here is Sainte Jeanne d'Arc.

And another image of her. The Maid who took up arms and inspired the army of France in the Hundred Years War.


Outside the cathedral is covered in statues. Here is the patron saint of Paris, Saint Denis. He's the one holding his head.



Then above the door are the kings in the Bible. During the French revolution they were thought by some people to be representing the kings of France. Since during the frenzy of that time anything to do with kings or royalty was attacked, they lost their heads. These statues have been restored and you cannot tell from your average street level vantage point that at one time they were mutilated.


We did not want to wait in the long line to go up to the bell tower, so we left the cathedral and we were really hungry. We went in search of food and walked past the numerous restaurants in the shadow of the cathedral because we didn't want to succumb to tourist trap food. We wanted something better than that. We walked around the island and found a salon de thé that served lunch.

My first real attempt at understanding French when it was spoken to me did not go the way that I had hoped. The waiter greeted us as we entered the restaurant and asked us if we were there for tea or for lunch. I had forgotten that déjeuner was the word for lunch in French. My mental gears were grinding and I remembered that petit déjeuner meant breakfast and I did not understand why he was asking if I wanted breakfast.

The vacant stare in my eyes told him that I didn't understand. He repeated the question in English.

I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We were dooooomed.

One year of French lessons and I could not even understand that simple question.

I did not flog myself too badly because I knew that I was not at my top form. I was hungry and really tired. I hoped that I would redeem my linguistic skills later when fully rested and fed.

We sat inside the small restaurant and as we were reviewing the menu, some people who had been sitting at the outside tables left. I had wanted to switch tables because the pull of sitting at a Paris sidewalk cafe was something I felt I needed to do.

A woman came to take our order and I tried asking if we could sit outside. I did not have the right words to make myself clear and then she showed us a different menu. Scott thought that they must have different pricing for inside tables and outside tables. At that point, I decided, I will just sit here and order.

In retrospect, I think she was trying to switch menus to the tea and not the lunch.

I did my best to order in French and thought I did a reasonable job. Thing is, they had sold out of the quiche that I had wanted and the woman tried telling me which ones they still had. I did not understand what she was saying and after another attempt she left in frustration and the waiter returned and explained that she did not speak any English.

After the mix-up was settled, we had a wonderful lunch of saumon quiche, salade, and oignon soupe.

Afterwards we started walking again and we went to the right bank. I had a target which I had thought we wouldn't have time to visit, so I hadn't done much research on what it would contain but I liked the name Le Musée de l'Histoire de France. I don't know what I expected to see, but we arrived late and as I tried to buy tickets, we were directed to a door for the gratuit entrance.

The courtyard was pretty spectacular.


We quickly learned in Paris and later on in the rest of France, to keep your eyes out for artwork in the nooks and crannies everywhere.


Once we got inside all that was open to the public were ornate living quarters.

It was here that I saw for the first time in France my favorite Greek goddess, Athena. This is not my favorite depiction of her, but I did not realize that I would be seeing her again and again on my trip. She is everywhere in France. I do not know if I saw more depictions of Athena or of Joan of Arc.

It is the helmet and the sword that is the dead give away that the artist is depicting Athena.



There was a second portrait of her as well that looks even less than what I consider to be Athena's character. Here I get the feeling of that instead of Athena it is Aphrodite donning the helmet of the gray eyed goddess of wisdom and victory. Maybe the artist just preferred Aphrodite and every woman he painted wound up resembling her.


We left and Scott wanted to see the gardens in front of the Louvre. So we walked there.

It was then that our legs and feet started feeling sore. We walked and walked.

We didn't get lost because we had good maps, but we continued with our plan to stay awake by keeping busy. Here are the Tuileries.



There is also a triumphal arch in front of the Louvre.



Here you can make out the Ferris wheel the is centered in the arch.


The Tuileries Gardens is filled with sculptures. This is one of my favorites because it reminds me of the famous Laocoon statue. Yes, that is a huge snake that is coiled around the man and child. Pretty dramatic, eh?

I was growing hungry again, and I thought to just get a snack from a sidewalk vendor selling pastries. As I stood in line and looked at the offerings, I decided instead to get something more substantial. I chose the Quiche Lorraine.

It was sinful; drenched in butter and lighter than air.

Scott who only wanted a cookie from the vendor had a taste of my quiche and then proceeded to challenge me for every last bite.

That was enough for one day.

We needed our rest and would begin in earnest the next morning to see the various sights and museums I had chosen to visit.

One thing we were unprepared for was the reality that the square in front of Notre Dame is a gathering spot at night. There were sometimes hundreds of people just hanging out.

One night as we came back from dinner we saw a crowd gathered around some street performers who were juggling with fire.

Personally, it seemed a bit sacrilegious to be doing that in front of a church, but it was a crowd pleaser.

Sorry, but we didn't get a picture of that, however here is Notre Dame at night.




More on Paris next time...

Linda
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