Life, death & lecherousness...
12.05.2011 - 12.05.2011 24 °C
Another beautiful day in paradise, sunny most of the time with a nice cool wind to keep things comfortable. I started the day with the most delicious croissant and pain au chocolat - flaky & buttery, the best ever! And I even found an almost decent coffee - definitely the best I've had here so far. Went to go to one place & their coffees were 5.10 euros - $10 give or take a few cents so I didn't get it from there!! Most are around 3.80 or 4.00, which is still pricey when you convert it.
Intended to go to Notre Dame first, but turned the wrong way so decided to see the Pantheon which I hadn't intended doing. So glad I did, it's an incredible building (I think I'm going to run out of superlatives for this trip, so expect a few repetitions of words like amazing & incredible!) with amazing sculptures & paintings inside. And if you stand at the top of the steps facing away from the building you look straight across to the Eiffel Tower in the distance - awesome! There's also a crypt under it where people like Victor Hugo and Voltaire and war heroes from a couple of centuries ago are interred in sepulchres.
Inside the Pantheon
Had lunch at an English pub then headed to Notre Dame, where the queue was so long so I took a look in the archeological crypt under it first. It's OK, but I'm glad I didn't have to pay to get in (thanks Paris Pass!) or I would have been disappointed. Then I went to Sainte Chapelle which is a royal chapel and has the most stunningly beautiful stained glass windows. The lower level is lovely (have a look at the photo), but the top level is exceptional, with some 26 windows, including a gorgeous rose window (also in the pics). The photos I took don't do justice to the colours, which are so vibrant. I was following 2 ladies up the spiral steps to the top level, and I heard one of them gasp out loud when she reached the top - when I got there I could see why! The time it must have taken to create them defies belief. Twelve of the windows are to be restored, at a cost of 5 million euros, half the 10 million that has been put aside for the chapel.
Sainte-Chapelle shares a courtyard with the Palace of Justice, where the Ministry of Justice is housed. Just to get in, any bags are put through a scanner like at the airport and you have to walk through a scanner - also like the airport - and the security guy passes a wand all over to make sure you're not carrying any bombs or the like. My bag was also checked at the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon.
Notre Dame is so gothic, I found it quite dreary despite the stupendous architecture and lovely stained glass. It just didn't feel like a positive space to me and I was quite pleased to get out into the sunshine. Most disappointed there wasn't a hunchback - maybe I should complain!
When I was at the archeological crypt, I picked up a leaflet for the Catacombs so I decided to head over there. The best way was to take the RER rail, which is pretty much the same as the Metro but some of the track is above ground & it does different routes. Arrived just before 4pm, which is when they stop letting people in but I managed to squeak through. I wish I hadn't. There are 500m of tunnel to walk through after descending 20m on spiral steps. It's dug out of rock - was originally a quarry. Then you come to the ossuary, where the bones of 6 million people are stacked neatly (some in patterns!) for what seems like miles. The bones were transferred from cemeteries in the 17-1800s because of the health risk they posed to the living. For the first 5 minutes or so it was pretty amazing - then it quickly became depressing and creepy, really chilling (and not just because it was cold), and I was so happy to get out of there 45 minutes after walking in. Try to imagine walking between walls of tightly stacked bones about 5 feet high, skulls staring at you, for some 40 minutes. The sunshine and bustle in the streets never felt so good and it took me a good half hour to feel warmed up again. Won't be rushing to do that again! When we came out, the guy searched our bags again to make sure we hadn't taken anything. He had 4 skulls & a few bones next to him that he had taken off people today. Grave robbers!
Took the train back to the hotel to rest my weary tootsies for a while. Had dinner along the road - onion soup, salmon & creme caramel. Was OK, a good price - with a lecherous (ugly, fat, middle aged) waiter thrown in (I've definitely arrived in France!). He was all over me like a rash after about 20mins - kissing my hand & touching my shoulder. Said I was beautiful and offered to give me a "souvenir of Paris" - what a charmer (my second shudder of the day!!). Couldn't get out of there fast enough!
Will go to the Louvre tomorrow, and if I have time, the Musee d'Orsay. Only one more full day here in Paris. If I lived here I'd never leave!