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Ile de la Cité and Notre-Dame – Jun 22, Tuesday
Thank God the weather has turned warmer. And there was more sun, more blue sky. Last night Cynthia could not sleep well because of a ‘discothèque’ held outdoor near our hotel. I could not sleep well because I had more wine than I should. We were out of bed at 8.30 am thinking that we should re-time our waking up schedule in order to do more in Paris. But then again, the days are long in summer. There are only that many miles we can walk a day, that many stairs we can climb a day.
Out of all the places I have come to know in Paris, I love the area near Ile de la Cité the most. This little island together with an even smaller island called Ile St-Louis are located in the center of Paris, caressed by the beautiful and famous river Seine. Ile de la Cité was first inhabited around 200 BC by a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii. And hence the name of the capital. On the west end of the island there is a bridge called Pont Neuf (literally means New Bridge) built in 1607. When I was a student, I was used to spend a good part of my weekend at the tip of the island watching the gentle waves flowing through the island and the boats that passed by. At that tip of the island, there is a small garden. It is also where the tourists board the sightseeing open top vessels.
On this island – that is accessible by a number of bridges – is Notre-Dame, a cathedral that bears witness to great events in French history such as the coronations of Henry VI (1422) and Napoleon Bonapart (1804). It is also an inspiration to Victor Hugo’s famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame first published in 1831. A large part of the novel’s action takes place in the towers, with pride of the place being given to the bells and their famous bell ringer, Quasimodo. And because the towers and the belfry are so famous, it took us 90 minutes to queue for our turn for the 387 steps climb to the top of the south tower, to be up close and personal with the famous bell “Emmanuel” that weighs 13 tons, at a height of 46 meters above the ground located at the mid-level that connects the north tower (where we went up from) and the south tower (where the roof of Notre-Dame is).
But the view was worth it.
Looking back, I have in the past walked around Notre-Dame for so many occasions, with friends and families. But I had yet to step into the cathedral until this recent trip to France. As in all the Catholic churches and cathedrals around the world, each contains unique relics of its own. I am unsure where Cynthia got the notion that there is a piece of “True Cross” inside Notre-Dame. We have entered the treasury of the cathedral and found something that looks like a piece of wood. Perhaps that comes from the Cross that Jesus was crucified?
The cost of living in France seems high. And once in a while, we settled for relatively cheaper fast food restaurant. One that preferably came with a toilet. We had Subway for lunch. The toilet system was strange. In order to enter, you need to insert a 0,50€ coin at the door to open the lock and then lock the door behind you. If you manage to enter when someone comes out, you do not need to pay but someone may open the door with a 0,50€ coin while you are in the middle of your business. What if you are the one who insert the coin and find someone else inside? Strange and confusing system it is.
After we bought our sandwiches, we found a quiet seat in a garden behind Notre-Dame overlooking the river Seine. Seats were shaded by the trees and there were tourists and locals having a family outing in a sunny and warm summer day. There were kids building sand dunes on the children playground. There were even more pigeons walking on the sand, picking up breadcrumbs, and leaving cute little footprints on the sand. Plenty of footprints. One pigeon in front of us was crippled. And I realized that it has only one leg. I wondered if it could fly at all. Poor little pink pigeon.
Sainte-Chapelle and Ile St-Louis
To enter Sainte-Chapelle, you have get through the tight security check with full body scan because the chapel is inside the massive complex of law courts (Palais de Justice). To enter Sainte-Chapelle, you have to pay too. But it is under renovation. Most of the stained-glass windows are dusty and uninspiring. But I could imagine when all are cleaned up, the chapel could turn ethereal and magical because of the high ceiling and the tall stained-glass windows at the upper level.
After visited the chapel, we took a slow walk eastward, passed Notre-Dame once again, and into the second island – Ile St-Louis, a former swampy pastureland transformed into a residential area with pretty, tree-lined quays and mansions. I was used to spend much time wandering in this second island. Because it is not as touristy as the rest of Paris. On the bridge that connects the two island, there was a live band playing. It was surreal because it was what I have remembered Ile St-Louis of. We have spent much time trying to locate that one ice-cream store that I was used to frequency 20 years ago. Unfortunately, my memory has failed me. There are quite a few ice-cream stores in Ile St-Louis. We ended up having none.
Hard Rock Cafe
Our original plan was to visit Montmartre. However, all the walking and stairs climbing and standing under the hot sun had worn us out. We took a nap at our hotel and headed to Hard Rock Cafe in the evening. We love to get Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts whenever we go. And I am finding it hard to imagine that there is only one Hard Rock Cafe in France. Tomorrow, we would start the day at Montmartre.
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 3 too.