I’m not a big city fan and I try to avoid them as far as possible but Paris was one city in Europe that I have always wanted to visit. Maybe it’s just the sheer variety that the city has to offer. It has everything from tall churches to sprawling parks to museums that have collections that make your head spin.
I wanted to spend at least 4 days in Paris, but time and cost considerations reduced it to two days in Paris and one in the outskirts. ( Versailles and Chartres) This is the absolute minimum time this gem of a city deserves. Any tour which promises to show you Paris in a day is just plain lying or just driving you around in a coach and showing you attractions from the window!! Thats not how I like my sightseeing!
We arrived in the huge Gare de Lyon station from Chamonix at 10 pm. Thanks to the Rick Steves guide book I was already aware of the metro routes and we bought a carnet of 10 metro tickets ( Works for trains, buses and the Sacre Couer funicular ) which saved us 2 Euros. Budget travellers, in case you forgot. After changing trains and arriving at our station La Tour Maubourg we dragged our luggage up the stairs and walked to our hotel, The Hotel L’Empereur which is 100 metres from the metro station. (One reason why I chose it, the others being its walking distance to many attractions and has a superb view of the Invalides dome)
The hotel is a typical Parisian non chain hotel with small elegant rooms, tight winding stairs and an elevator that can carry us or our luggage, but not both. We had booked a room with a view for a few euros more and it was certainly worth it.
After enjoying the view for a few minutes we slept off as we had a long and sightseeing filled day ahead. After having a self made sandwich breakfast we left for the first thing on the agenda, Ile de la Cite where Paris began. We took the metro and RER to Cite on a cold cold morning and walked across to the magnificent Notre Dame. After having read so much and seen so many photos of this historic Cathedral, I was finally there myself.
Notre Dame is the centre of Paris historically, there is a Point Zero from where all distances were measured in the ancient times. After taking photos of the exterior we quickly ducked inside to get respite from the biting cold. The interior of Notre Dame is eerily lit and the lighting is a combination of sunlight through the huge stained glass windows and the candles making it look directly out of a horror movie.
All Gothic styled cathedrals are built in shape of a cross and this is no different. Just everything is super sized from what I had seen till now in the other parts of France ( We went to Chartres later, that made Notre Dame look small!!) After we saw the interiors and just ambled around inside the huge structure. There were no crowds till now thankfully!!
We walked out and went around the exterior to photograph the flying buttresses which Gothic architecture is famous for and makes the huge stained glass windows possible by supporting the stone roof. They look ungainly and elegant at the same time. The tower climb was sadly not yet open and there was no time for it later. Maybe I will be back to spend time with the gargoyles, who knows?
We then proceeded to buy a 4 day Museum Pass at a Tabac store ( Cigarette & Souvenir shop ) outside St Chapelle and stood in the line to enter. The Museum pass is a great money saver for people interested in some serious sightseeing and saved us more than 30 Euros per person in entry tickets over 3 days. ( There is no 3 day pass, its 2, 4 or 6 days)
The next monument was Sainte Chapelle which is a smaller but more beautiful church inside the present day Supreme Court premises. The Museum pass doesn’t allow you to skip security lines but it bypasses the ticket buying lines and saves time. We removed the multiple layers worn to protect us from the cold and passed through security before reassembling ourselves!!
The first thing I did was buy concert tickets for the night violin Bach recital inside St Chapelle. There are daily 2 concerts most of the days of the year in St Chapelle, the mix of good music inside a grand old building just cannot be bettered. Pocketing the tickets we went inside St Chapelle and climbed to the first floor to see the stained glass that all guide books to Paris rave about. It is just beautiful. The details shown in the tall windows and the use of bright colours made brighter by the sunlight passing through it just makes you smile. Even if you are not Christian the artists manage to draw your interest to the stories told in bold colours.
The Altar at the far end was built to house the Crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ. (Its now out of sight in the Notre Dame treasury). Its impossible to believe that all this was built in just 6 years (1242 -8) without having modern machinery. ( To put it in perspective Notre Dame took 200 years!!) After ogling at the windows and taking photos we left as we knew we would be back at night for the concert.
We made a unscheduled stop at the Conciergerie, which is a former prison that held prisoners before their execution during the Revolution. We hadn’t included it in our plans but it was cold, windy and starting to drizzle which made it a perfect pit stop next to St Chapelle.
The Conciergerie is pretty barren inside but beautifully lit and has representative prison cells and other chambers showing the plight of prisoners in the French Revolution. There is also a list of more than 2500 people executed during the french revolution and after finding the Famous names of Louis XVI , Marie Antoinette and Robespierre in the list we moved out and went across the Seine for Lunch at a Cafe with a view of Notre Dame.
You literally cannot get bad food in Paris!! This cafe was no different.After a great hot meal we proceeded to the Louvre for an art filled afternoon.
But that is topic for another post, another day. This is getting too long for comfort!!