|Monday morning we were
up and out early. So early, in fact, that we had to walk around a bit until
we found a café kitty-corner from the Ecole Militaire that was open. We
enjoyed our coffee and croissants and watched Parisians go by on their way
to work. After breakfast, we bought our metro passes and set off to explore
We decided to start at the center of the old city and took the metro to the Ile de Cité and Notre Dame. We spent some time outside admiring the statues carved above the doorways, the gargoyles and the flying buttresses. Inside, the rose window at the western end of the cathedral colored the tall columns with dappled light while a spotlight picked out the altar cross. We walked around the side chapels, admiring the carved wooden reliefs that told stories from the life of Christ and shuddering at some of the grotesque tomb statuary. A model depicted the construction of the cathedral in amazing detail - the French seem to have a penchant for scale models as we encountered many different ones in the course of our tour. The tops of the cathedral towers were closed for construction, so we decided not to climb to the roof.
We walked around to the back of the cathedral to visit the Deportation Memorial - a monument to the thousands of French Jews and others who were sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis and their collaborators. Starting from a small lawn, you descend a narrow staircase into a claustrophobic courtyard with a jagged steel sculpture barring a window to the Seine. A crypt contains walls of tiny lights representing the deportees, while dark niches in the stone walls are labeled with the names of the camps. The memorial is a stark concrete and steel reminder of the death camps.
Our next planned stop was Ste. Chapelle, but when we arrived it was closed for a noon chamber music concert. We decided to walk to the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, buy museum passes, tour the museum and then return to Ste. Chapelle. The entrance to the Cluny is the gate to the old stable yard of the Museum building itself - over the years it has served as a monastery, a bishop's residence and a private home. The museum is packed with statuary from churches that no longer exist, tomb carvings, an amazing set of tapestries of a Lady and a Unicorn that reminded me of those in the Cloisters in New York and, hidden away off a side hall, a remarkable little chapel with an arched ceiling and intricate stone work.
We walked through the Cluny's herb garden on our way back to Ste. Chapelle, got a quick lunch and passed an enormous 19th century monument to St. Michael, one of many to him in Paris. He is always shown slaying something evil - in this case, a devil. The monument was designed as a visual end point to one of the grand boulevards cut through the city by Baron Haussman.
We found that, in our absence, the line to get in to Ste. Chapelle had grown quite long. We trudged to the end and waited patiently - Natalie says she even dozed a while. Ironically, we discovered that with our new museum passes, we could have avoided the line entirely! You enter the building on the ground floor - this was the location of the church for the palace servants and lesser beings of the royal court - not too shabby, by the way. To get to the main chapel, you climb a narrow stone spiral staircase, lit only be a few slit windows. You emerge from the dark to find yourself inside a stained glass room - the walls are entirely filled with stained glass and light streams in to illuminate the altar. It must be something like standing inside a rainbow - a remarkable experience. One of our guidebooks described the upper chapel, built by Louis IX in 1240 to house what was thought to be the Crown of Thorns, as a stained glass jewel box.
Coming out of Ste. Chapelle, we found ourselves in the courtyard of the Palais du Justice - the French Supreme Court - and watched lawyers coming down its imposing staircase talking to each other, some still wearing their robes, others with them folded over their arms. We walked through the nearby flower market and past the Cité Metro stop, crossed the Seine and had coffee at a sidewalk café with a view of a monument to Napoleon. The Metro got us back to our hotel for a short rest and we ate dinner at Le Petite Nicoise - a small restaurant across from our hotel.
We walked down to the Seine after dinner and took a boat cruise up to the Ile de Cité and then back down past the Eiffel Tower. We got to see the tower light up with what seemed like hundreds of sparkling strobe lights.