We got a late start because we were definitely held back by jet lag. However, once we had breakfast from the elements I got at the store this morning we headed towards the Sein and crossed onto La Ile de la Cite. We thought first to take some time to see the smaller church, Sainte Chappelle, however the line was very long, and we wanted to catch a walking tour in front of Notre Dame at 1 pm. So, we went to the Cathedral, thinking to buy a six day museum pass at the place where they sell tickets to climb the Notre Dame tower. However, the line was twice as long there. We thought to head back in the direction of Sainte Chappelle to see if there was a way to get the museum pass without waiting in line when we spotted a Tourist Iformation Kiosk, where it just so happens they sell the museum passes. After a short wait we asked for the passes and had a longish conversation with the young lady behind the counter as she explained that this weekend many attractions would be free for Patrimony Day.
Translation: those places are going to be insanely busy this weekend.
On the up side, that means that "not free" stuff, like the Louvre, may be slightly less crazy this weekend. We decided that Saturday might be our first Louvre day and Friday our trip to Versailles.
In the meantime, we had about 20 minutes before our tour and we ducked down into the Archaeologicl Crypt of Notre Dame. It is not actually under the cathedral itself, but under the plaza before it. Below were extensively excavated Medieval and Roman ruins, which chronical the long history of Paris, first as a Gaulish settlement of the Parisii, later as the Roman settlement and city Lutecia, and finally as the Merovingian and Caputian (but not Carolingian (read Charlemange etc.) only pre- and post-Caroligian) capital.
The museum was neat and qucik with English language literature and lables for most of the exibits. We spent 15 minutes (already paid for with the museum pass) and then on to our walking tour.
We had two walking tours today. Both with a newish outfit called Discover Walks. The outfit is getting on its feet and offers tours free, with tips appreciated but not required. The tours are done by native Parisians who offer their personal experiences as well as a very enjoyable and professional tour in English. Our first tour was with Tomas, who took us around the exterior and the neighborhood of Notre Dame. He does not do tours inside the cathedral as audio tours are available from the concession operated in the cathedral, and a guide led tour would be disruptive to the daily operations of a cathedral that remains at the heart of French and Parisian Catholicism.
Tomas did a wonderful job. We learned a lot, particularly about the post revolutionary reconstruction of Notre Dame, much of which was admirable, and some of which just expressed the interests, beliefs and ego of the architect hired to manage it. Quite fascinating. Got lots of pictures, some of the even good.
Our second walking tour was of the Left Bank. The themes were the medieaval city, its renovation (and thus destruction of most but not all of the medieval character of Paris), and the foundations of the University system and education. Our guide was Alexandre, who was very good, very knowledgeable and friendly. Unlike Tomas, he did not have the advantage of having a single architectural masterpiece around which to focus a talk. As the streets meadered, so to did his discussions have to follow. Often one train of thought had to be left until we reached a new destination so that the illustration of the point to be completed was in sight. Still, I thought he handled it (and us, particularly a few tough customer tourists who always needed to put in their two cents) very, very well.
We ended the tour, after walking medieval narrow streets, passing the college where the real Cyrano de Bergerac studied, seeing the entrance of the Sorbonne, with architecture funded by Cardinal Richelieu, and passing many other sights (including very handy water fountains given to Paris by an English benefactor in the 19th Century), we finally ended before the Pantheon, once inteded to be a great religious edifice dedicated to Saint Genivieve, it exited the French Revolution as a temple to the heroes of France.
Alexandre left us there, but Laura and I entered determined to tour it (paid for with our museum pass) and to climb to the top and see the 360 of Paris available from its incredible vantage. We got to see the very impressive frescoes and statutes, which reminded me in some ways of the decorations inside the U.S. Capitol and the hall of statutes there. Both are stages where a country is telling its founding myths, the stories and history important to its national political identity and cultural heritage.
Before we could go up, we also had to go down, so into the crypts we went. We saw where the French had placed, in ironic juxtaposition, Russeau and Voltaire across from one another. We saw the room in which are interred Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. We saw the tomb of Louis Braille. There were so many luminaries of French history, and of course, quite a few we knew little or nothing about. Most of the information was in French, so we puzzled out just a bit.
Then we headed up to find the tour that would have us climb sets of stairs to rise 35 meter above the city, around the dome of the Pantheon. We had fifteen minutes to wait and found a bench. This was the first time off our feet since we left our apartment. It seemed that it might be difficult to convince our poor feet to climb the 260+ steps to the summit, and we felt the distinct lack of lunch (second day in a row). Still, as the time drew near, we and about 50 other people assembled and ascended in stages to the walkway around the dome.
The climb was a little harder after a day of walking the city than it could have been. Still, we arrived in good order and saw all of Paris laid out around us, bit by bit. Around each column, it seemed some new wonder awaited. There was the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and many other sights. It was pretty awesome. After resting a bit and going around twice shooting photos and seeing sights, we descended fairly easily to exit.
We then sat again, collecting our thoughts and our plans and deciding to try the Rue Mouffetard area. We settled on a Savoy cuisine restaurant and had the specialty fondu of this Alpine area. It was great.
After that very nice meal we headed out again to see if we could get to the Luxemborg Gardens before they closed. We did not make it as the daylight was ending and the gates closed by the time we arrived. Still, it was a walk full of sights and activity in the busy, student dominated Left Bank zone. As we looked at the beautiful, closed park, we turned with some regret back towards the Sein.
On the way back to our apartment, we stopped and bought some chocolate croissants for breakfast and also stopped at our local supermarket to pick up some fruit and some cookies for a sweet ending to the day.
We staggered back up to our apartment, had a cup of tea with some cookies and started thinking of bed.
Tomorrow, we will likely focus on the Right Bank and start to really seriously use our museum passes.
As you might expect, the daw was GREAT!!!!!!